Throwback: The Women of Star Trek

Hello my tiny audience!  I have been somewhat ill and rundown this summer, so I haven’t been posting as consistently as I would like.  To keep my blog going despite this challenge, I declare this a throwback week.  This is an older article that was up on the blog when I first began writing Hopeless Trekkie almost ten years ago.  I revised it somewhat (my writing was terrible back then!), but the message is the same.  Enjoy:

One of the more intellectually useful things about having a franchise that spans many decades is that one can analyze how the times have changed through the lens of this specific media.  I can see this very clearly when I contrast the Original Series with Voyager.  For this post I will focus particularly on the view of women in the past fifty years through the eyes of a Trekkie.

In the sixties women were thought of as being more fragile and always needing men to come to their rescue.  The Original Series has many women aboard the Enterprise, but they were more like servants and nurses and not anyone with a particularly high status.  However, one woman in particular, Uhura, was on the bridge.  At the time this was a huge step forward for the liberation of minorities because not only did they feature a woman on the bridge, a place of command and authority, but an African American woman.  In a sense, Uhura represented the emancipation and liberation of two distinct groups that had been historically repressed.  Not bad for the 1960s, but looking back at it, the Original Series had a long way to go.  As a girl myself, I can understand where some of the stereotypes may originate and I really don’t have any hard feelings for the producers of the ‘60s TV show.  I just find it amusing that many of the women under Kirk’s command are so dependent on the men and don’t often stand up for themselves.

Captain Kirk and Uhura
Oh Captain help me, I’m so weak!!

 

It seems like TV was trying to portray the same image over and over again of the perfect woman.  She is gracious, submissive, and always follows the orders of the man.  She can’t help herself with anything, but always must rely on the man to come save her.  Women are not captains or commanders, they belong in the home.  If they want to have a career, they will be a nurse or assistant to the man.  If this is what a woman consciously chooses to do than it is fine, but for a woman who wants to take charge, it is a hard stereotype to fight.  The difference is in her having the freedom to choose.  It is also important to note the psychological impact of forcing a stereotype upon someone.  Telling girls over and over again that they are helpless and can’t do anything without a man can be debilitating to their sense of self-worth.  It is also crippling for those who don’t have a man in the first place and they are told, by society and the media, that they are useless without one.  The Original Series featured many strong women for its time, but I know it could have been better.

Then Voyager came along.  In the same way that the Original Series pushed the limits of society at the time by featuring a female bridge officer, Voyager crosses new frontiers with a female captain!  (and a good one I might add)  In addition to having Janeway, the ship was basically run by strong and honorable women.  The engineer was female; on a Starfleet ship, to have both a female captain and the engineer is a huge deal.  In addition to all this estrogen, the ship also has Seven of Nine as an astrometrics officer and adviser to the captain, and the smartest person on the ship.  So we have three main women, one at the highest command, one at the head of all the technical aspects of the ship, and one as the most intelligent.  This is very much in contrast with the earlier views of women.  Another thing about the Voyager series is that it also features women villains.  Sure, the Original Series may have had a few strong bad girls, but this was nothing like Voyager.  The Borg queen (another position of high power) is one of the most feared enemies in the galaxy, Seska is a notoriously strong leader, and the female “Q” is kind of a bitch, which leads me to my next point.

It is often the case that when a female is in a position of power she is labeled as a bitch.  Taking Janeway as an example, I think she acted in all the ways a good captain should act, but for some reason she comes off as more harsh than if it were a man saying the exact same thing.  I personally think it was Picard who had the most anger problems: he overreacted to Wesley in “Encounter at Farpoint”, which was our first impression of his character.  In contrast Janeway often keeps a level head considering all the crazy situations she had to deal with.

Captain Janeway being badass
GET OFF MY SHIP!

Nevertheless, the verbal cat-fights were fun.  Since the women don’t always get along, I’m surprised there weren’t more physical fights aboard Voyager, but there were many situations in which one could easily fit.  Despite all the difficulties, this ship that ran on girl power did very well, both in the Delta Quadrant and in proving that women can be strong and intelligent.  Where Uhura often still needed the captain for help, Janeway was courageous and independent.  We’ve come a long way.


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