In July Netflix started streaming all the Star Trek series (except Deep Space 9 for some reason), and I started going through and watching the 79 original episodes in all their remastered glory. I hadn’t gone through all the episodes systematically since I bought all three seasons on DVD when they first came out in that format.
During that previous viewing the only thing that I noticed that was new to me was the fact that McCoy wore a pinky ring. Fascinating! This time through, however, I became aware of something much more significant.
As progressive as the original Star Trek was in terms of inclusiveness and tolerance of other cultures and points of view, I noticed that the show was still a product of the 1960s when it came to the treatment of women.
Yes, women have some prominent roles (including the ship’s first officer in the original pilot “The Cage” with Capt. Pike, but the presence of women as professionals and their treatment as equals aboard the ship still left much to be desired.
First, miniskirts. Now, in the two pilots, women wore pants (or were they slacks?), but once the series got going, women wore minidresses. Actually, they were a lot like skorts. I’m going to let this go only because it was the 1960s, and the show needed ratings (this is what Mo Fuzz from Tapeheads would have called “production value”). But I want to remind you all the Deeana Troi from TNG didn’t wear an actual jumpsuit uniform until the show’s 5th season.
But let’s move on. Remember “Charlie X”? He’s a 17-year-old human who never met another human until he was 17. When he meets Yeoman Janice Rand, he points to her and says to Capt. Kirk, “Is that a girl?”
I was expecting Kirk to say something like, “That’s a woman,” but no, instead he replies, “Yes, that’s a girl.” Now 45 years after this show was produced, we look at that an realize that Kirk would have had a potential lawsuit on his hands for referring to an adult female crewmenber as “a girl.” There’s a fundamental lack of understanding here that in a story that takes place hundreds of years from now women would still be referred to this way.
And that’s not all. Whenever a professional women with a certain specialization, whether a historian or scientist, when she is first shown, there is a pause as the men take it in that the ship’s expert in blank is a woman. Don’t these men have the ship’s crew records? Often these women become the object of one of the men’s affection (such as McCoy or Scotty).
In one such episode, Kirk takes in the woman officer and remarks to Dr. McCoy that she’ll probably find a guy, get married, and leave Starfleet some day. Again, the concept of a professional woman not quitting her job once she gets married is so foreign to the writers/producers that they don’t even realize they’re making this kind of gaff. I expect this kind of talk from Mad Men, but not Star Trek.
In “Space Seed,” the episode with Ricardo Montalban as Khan,the Enterprise’s chief historian, a woman (Lt. Marla McGivers), quickly falls in love with the alpha-male Khan and betrays her captain, her ship, and her duty. Yes, women are such slaves to their emotions that they’re unable resist a hunky psychopath with aspirations of world domination.
Similarly in “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (the one where they meet the god Apollo), Lt. Carolyn Palamas, the archaeology and anthropology officer, falls for Apollo and almost betrays her ship, but Kirk is able to snap her back to reality. Would Kirk ever betray his ship for a woman? He had plenty of opportunities, but if he ever tried to seduce a woman who was a potential enemy of the ship, he only did it to gain information from her, not because he was helpless around her. It’s usually his duty to his ship and crew that snaps him out of any sex-crazed obsession, even if it’s medically induced (like in “Dagger of the Mind” or “Elaan of Troyius”).
One more thing about “Who Mourns for Adonais.” Scotty falls for Lt. Palamas (which eventually leads him to challenge Apollo for her–not a good idea), and Kirk and McCoy have this exchange when they see Scotty flirting with her:
McCoy: I’m not sure I like that, Jim…
Kirk: Why Bones? Scotty’s a good man.
McCoy: And he thinks he’s the right man for her. But I’m not sure she thinks he’s the right man. On the other hand, she’s a woman. [a beat] All woman.
This dialog isn’t just horribly sexist, it’s horrible. While in Mad Men, the men may talk about the women in a sexist way, they wouldn’t say anything that hackneyed. What does that even mean, “All woman”? Yes, she’s all woman, and she has the Y chromosomes to prove it.
Let’s look at one more episode: “Turnabout Intruder.”This is the last episode and one of the worst. In it, Dr. Janice Lester, an old flame of Capt. Kirk, is able to switch bodies with her former lover and take over the Enterprise as Kirk. Why does she do this? First, because she’s nuts, but her reason is that “Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women. It isn’t fair.”
Yes, that’s a direct quote from Dr. Lester, and Kirk doesn’t challenge her on that either. Starfleet doesn’t allow women to be starship captains. Again, really? Throughout the series, the characters talk about how far humans have come since their violent past. They’ve been able to do away with poverty and tyranny on Earth, but there’s still a glass ceiling.
Lester is an insane woman who is angry at the fact that she is a woman, and she focuses that anger toward Kirk as if it was his fault. Once she becomes Kirk and takes over the Enterprise, it’s only a matter of time until she cracks under the pressure and raises the suspicions of Spock, McCoy, and Scotty. Meanwhile, Kirk, in the body of Dr. Lester, has a heck of a time getting Spock to listen to his claim that he’s not Lester.
In the end, they switch back, and Kirk’s assessment of her life is that it “could have been as rich as any woman’s, if only… if only…” As rich as any woman’s indeed.
Okay, one more thing before I close this up. Kirk has a reputation for sleeping with just about every woman in the galaxy, and I wanted to see exactly what his track record was. I did my best of compiling a list of women in the original episodes and if they actually hooked up with Kirk or another Enterprise man. Here is what I came up with:
I’m going to define this broadly as women whom Kirk seduced (or tried to), women who seduced Kirk (or tried to), women who had a relationship with Kirk at some time in his past, or women Kirk genuinely fell for during an episode. And the total? Nineteen. That’s right, 19 out of 79 episodes, or 25%. He didn’t even have sex with the green chick like everyone thinks. He tried seducing her to get information from her, but when he realized that she was crazy (this episode took place in an insane asylum), be backed off quickly.
So while we’re at it, how many women did the other Enterprise men get during the original series:
Sulu: 0 (hmm…why do you suppose…)