Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sexism and the Star Trek Universe (Jim Kirk on the Rag?)

I've been amusing myself the last few weeks re-watching the entire original Star Trek series from start to finish.  To my shock, I actually found a couple episodes I'd never seen before. Maybe, in syndication, the TV powers-that-be decided those were the lowest rated and not worthy of being repeats? Or, more likely, they contained material deemed too controversial to air to young audiences. (I recall watching reruns of Star Trek at some early evening hour...like 5pm, right before dinner.)

I just finished watching the final episode of the series, Turnabout Intruder (Season 3, episode 24).  Wow. I think I now know why I'd never seen THAT episode before. What a buttload of sexist and misogynistic crap.  I have a deep affection for Gene Roddenberry because I love all things Star Trek and his over-all vision for the future, but he really gave this fan girl a slap in the face with his Freaky Friday tale.

Not horrible as a story line, but the execution was just plain awful. Kirk is forced into an alien device that causes him to switch bodies with an old lover who has deep resentment against Star Fleet for their rules against women being in command of star ships (not to mention her hatred of just being female - transgendered? I wonder.)  In defense of Gene, in the 1960s this was a political hotbutton topic...women in the military.  My Dad served in the Air Force so I had a lot of exposure to military life back then. And male-dominated attitudes.

In the early to mid-60s, women weren't allowed to rise above a certain rank and were not allowed to take on many jobs, even if they were technically qualified, because the job was considered too masculine. Women were given "women's work" in the Military. WACs (Women's Army Corps) and WAFs (Women in the Air Force) were not given any combat or weapons training, taught to apply lipstick and nail polish correctly so it would match the red color of the braid on uniform hats, and generally relegated to position with little power or influence.

Thankfully, President Johnson signed Public Law 90-130 in 1967. This lifted restrictions on military grade/promotions and gave women in military service more rights. But real change didn't arrive until 1976 when women were accepted into the military and treated much the same as the men. WAF/WAC was abolished. Even the US Air Force Academy began accepting females...but before this blog entry becomes a major history lesson, back to the topic at hand.

Mr. Roddenberry would most likely have been aware of the new Public Law (Star Trek originally aired from 1966-1969.) It sure did make a lot of waves! So, why then, did he envision a future where women were still barred from command? Worse yet, Bill Shatner's portrayal of Jim Kirk as a woman in a man's body was rife with sterotypes from the era. Women as hyper-emotional and unable to react well in stressful situations. Like all women were hormonal messes, perpetually suffering from PMS and unable to make command decisions. Hell, why didn't Lady Kirk just direct the Enterprise into a space telephone pole? Women are such bad drivers too, right?  Ack!

While Gene made some strides in the fight against racial predjudice on the show (I will always love his integrated and ethnically diverse vision of the command deck,) he really struck out on the women's rights issue. It saddens me that this was also the series' finale episode. What a weak way to end such a visionary TV program.

I'll leave you with a quote from the Armed Services Committee of the 1967 US House of Representatives:

"...there cannot be complete equality between men and women in the matter of military careers. The stern demands of combat, sea duty, and other types of assignments directly related to combat are not placed upon women in our society. The Defense Department assured the committee that there would be no attempt to remove restrictions on the kind of military duties women will be expected to perform. ...It is recognized that a male officer in arriving at the point where he may be considered for general and flag rank passes through a crucible to which the woman officer is not subjected—such as combat, long tours at sea, and other dangers and isolations."

Looks like Gene agreed with the military men's club at that time and doomed women in the 23rd century to the lower ranks, mini-skirts, and go-go boots. Yes, I supposed he could have been playing devil's advocate in making his female ship's captain wannabe such an emotional wreck and a bad example for all women everywhere. Then I see the women in uniform and remember what a GUY he was. *wink*

Your thoughts?