The Original Series of Star Trek was ground-breaking for its era, even if many of the stories seem dated by our standards today. During a time when the initial idea of a female captain was rejected, as producers thought a woman would never rise to that level, Gene Roddenberry still pursued his vision of a more egalitarian future. As a result, episodes such as this attempted to show women challenging societal norms, but identifying those barriers depends on the culture.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy faced barriers of their own when arriving on the planet Capella IV to negotiate a mining contract. The native Capellans are a warring race, similar to the Klingons already present at said negotiations. The two peoples contrast their values with the more peaceful and passive Federation officers. Nevertheless, Klingon bragging is the least of the Enterprise crew’s worries, as disagreement over the contract turns physical and the Capellan leader is killed by a jealous rival. Eleen, the former leader’s pregnant wife, is condemned to death because her unborn child is now a threat to the new chief’s rule. Of course, the landing party can’t allow this, even if they promised not to interfere in other cultures. Kirk and crew break Eleen out and escape into the hills.
The oppression felt by Eleen, and all Capellan women, is as internal as it is external. Once in the hills, she refuses to acknowledge the child as hers because in her culture the child belongs to the man. With no father, this child would belong to no one. McCoy tries in earnest to teach her that the child is hers, that she has every right to claim it as hers, but the concept is foreign to her. In contrast, she does recognize the authority to prevent any other man but her husband from laying hands on her, a power which hinders McCoy’s medical assistance until she chooses to grant him exclusive permission. Is this tradition liberating for Eleen if it may also imply that she is the leader’s property?
Whether she felt liberated or not, progress was made when Eleen finally learned to accept the child as hers, and she agreed to the Federation’s mining contract through the authority of her son. This must have been a radical change in Capellan culture, even if to an outsider it seems minor. Progress is made in increments, through the small actions of individuals. You don’t have to lead a major revolution, only keep your mind open to new ideas.