Star Trek: TOS (Tons Of Sexism)

As Orion slave girl "Marta" in the S...

You're only proving my point, Marta--Image via Wikipedia

I’m a fan of Star Trek: The Original Series (often shortened to the lovely sounding acronym TOS) and when my buddy offered to lend me Star Trek 8 (Six Exciting Adventures From The Award-Winning Television Series Created By Gene Roddenberry), adapted by James Blish I nearly hugged him. Star Trek 8 belongs to the class of books that are the grandparents of our modern DVD collections of television series. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Tricky Dick was still the Vice-President iTunes downloads, DVDs and VHSs didn’t yet exist so television shows hired writers to adapt the screen plays for their shows and publish them so the general public could relive their favorite episodes of Buck Rodgers and The Honeymooners (to be fair, I don’t know if those shows were ever adapted but I would totally read them). ST 8 is the adaptation of Spock’s Brain, The Enemy Within, Catspaw, Where No Man Has Gone Before, Wolf in the Fold, and For the World is Hallow and I Have Touched the Sky (which wins for the best title ever.)

A few things struck me while I was reading this delightful collection:

  1. Grammar is not optional, people. Seriously, if I had come across one more misplaced quotation marks I would have returned the book all smeared in feces.
  2. The sixties were an awesome time for dramatic writing. I think the last time I encountered the word Cain it was in the comedy Year One but in The Enemy Within we get sentences like, “His Cain was roaming the Enterprise in a mindless, murderous search for a vengeance that would appease the bitterness of years of denial-the years it had spent as a prisoner of conscience, of duty, of responsibility.” My stars and Garters, The Drama! (And “Cain” is used thrice in that story.)
  3. Three cheers for sexism! Now I know that Star Trek did in some ways represent a step forward for women given the time period it was produced in (Number 1, Uhura, Nurse Chapel (my love),  and a few other instances) but can we just set that aside and look at how it appears from the modern eye?

The modern eye finds the sexism in Star Trek a bit startling, and if you and I share modern eyes we also find it a bit humorous. There simply isn’t an instance where we have a woman who isn’t overly emotional and completely irrational (alright, Uhura is pretty stable and Nurse Chapel does stand up for herself in For the World is Hallow and I Have Touched the Sky but just barely).

I think my favorite moment is when we have Kirk tell “Sylvia” in Catspaw that “When you took the form of a woman…you also assumed the female compulsion to talk too much.” He might as well have added, “Now make me a sandwich and get me some natty brews.” (Yes, in my mind Kirk basically is a bro.)

Let’s run through the female main characters in these six short stories:

  • Kara the Leader (Spock’s Brain): Mindless and gorgeous, just how Jesse James likes his women (oddly enough for me I became really fascinated by the Bullock-James divorce and for weeks was defensive of Sandra and spent hours each day raging at Jesse), Kara is completely incapable of doing anything for herself. Take this conversation between Bones and Kirk: “[Bones said] ‘One thing is sure. She never preformed the operation.’ ‘If it required intelligence, she certainly didn’t,’ Kirk said.” Zing! And that’s their leaders.
  • Janice Reed (The Enemy Within): Poor woman, it’s not her fault that she fell in love with the captain and when Kirk’s Cain tries to take advantage of her she just can’t say no. And then when the real Kirk talks to her about it later she tries to apologize!
  • Sylvia (Catspaw): God, women, they’re irrational controlling bitches who just can’t shut up. Stupid witch. (Basically just transfer my previous quote regarding her and bring it down to this bullet.)
  • Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Where No Man Has Gone Before): “[T]all, slim, in her mid-twenties, a potentially beautiful woman if she cared to be one, which she didn’t.” First of all I’ve seen this episode and thought that Dr. Dehner was gorgeous, mostly because she wasn’t all dolled up like Marta (picture, top right hand corner of this post). Second of all, Dr. Dehner meet Hillary Clinton. At one point Gary Mitchell actually goes, “It’s a walking refrigerator, by gum!” Basically Star Trek: TOS has a hard time creating women who are good at what they do and are professional but can’t seem to do so without sacrificing their humanity. Oh yeah, she also goes emotionally crazy and does everything for a man.
  • Kara (Wolf in the Fold): Erotic dancer. Murdered.
  • Sybo (Wolf in the Fold): Sensual empath. Murdered.
  • Karen Tracy (Wolf in the Fold): “Extremely attractive shape and features”. Murdered.
  • Yeoman Trancis (Wolf in the Fold): Murdered.
  • Natira (For the World is Hallow and I Have Touched the Sky): Remember Kara (no not the murdered one, the first one)? Yup, it’s Kara. And while this lady does question her heritage and the general authority she is still a child. Which makes Bones falling for her all the more creepy.

But like I said, this is cultural. TOS broke several barriers: A black woman on the bridge, the first interracial kiss, the first interspecies kiss and a few others. I mean their pilot had Number 1, that kick ass female Commander (yes, I do have the tiniest crush on Majel Roddenberry), and while they did have to cut her at least they managed to work in some strong female characters.

But Kirk is still a bro.

 

"Let's make me a sandwich, hoe"

 

 

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5 Comments

Filed under The Bookshelf

5 responses to “Star Trek: TOS (Tons Of Sexism)

  1. Yes.

    And let’s not forget that, despite being strong characters, Uhura does the space equivalent of a switchboard operator job (in a frightfully short skirt) and Nurse Chapel is hopelessly in love with Spock, like she’s just too boy-crazy truly to be single. Then again, I can’t blame her for being in love with Spock 😉

    • I think that in the context of their culture (the 20th Century not the 22nd) they are surprisingly strong.

      I have to say that I’ve been looking over your blog today and am really enjoying it! Have you read M.F.K. Fisher’s “An Alphabet for Gourmets”? The idea reminds me of it but with a twist of Bill Bryson (that was totally meant to be complimentary.)

  2. JRS

    Star Trek’s not sexist! It’s feministly challenged!

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