“…Where where no man had gone before, and

“…Where
no Woman has gone before”

            The opening to every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series would begin with a hopeful narration
by the intrepid ship’s captain: “Space, the final frontier. These are the
voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s five year mission: to explore strange
new worlds, to seek out

 new life and new civilizations, to boldly go
where no man has gone before” (Platos Stepchildren). It always seemed funny
that a progressive show like Star Trek
would emphasize the idea of going where no man
had gone before, and not no one, no
person, or no body. Star Trek was
about change and hope for a better future, but for women, this television show
was much more of a burden to them, than something of progress.

            Star Trek was created in 1964 with the pilot episode “The
Cage”, but was initially rejected by networks and eventually picked up with a
slightly changed cast by NBC in 1966. In order to look at how women are used in
Star Trek, we need to have a brief summary of the pilot episode. The USS
Enterprise is captained by Christopher Pike (later James Kirk when the show was
picked up) and the first officer is a female who is referred to as “Number
One.” The Enterprise is investigating a possible ship crash on a planet. When
they beam down, they meet a group of scientists and a young female, Vina. A
group of aliens manage to kidnap the captain, and Vina. The aliens cage the
captain and use telepathic powers to make Vina look beautiful to the captain in
different ways, as she is disfigured from her initial crash. The aliens
eventually decide he would need a familiar face to interact with, and they
transport Number One and Yeoman Colt to where the captain is. Together, they
capture one of the aliens and use him to escape to the planet’s surface. Once
they reach the surface, the alien reveals he wanted this to happen, and was
choosing which woman would stay and help repopulate his planet. The captain
offers to stay with Vina, if the alien sends back the female crew. Number One
grabs her phaser(weapon) and threatens to overload the phaser and kill them all
rather than leave the captain a prisoner. The alien agrees as he realizes
humans are too violent for his needs. Everyone returns to the ship, except for
Vina, who stays behind because she feels she is too ugly to return to her own
planet (The Cage).

            While evaluating this episode of Star Trek, we need to
look at a few assumptions that are made by most feminists. Lois Tyson gives us
a few to look at. First, women are oppressed by patriarchy in economical,
political, social, and psychological ways (Tyson 87). Second, women are
objectified and marginalized and defined only by her difference from male norms
(87). Third, all feminist activity has as its goal to change the world by
promoting women’s equality (88). These are not all the assumptions Tyson makes,
but these are the ones we will be focusing on while looking at “The Cage”.

             When looking at
“The Cage”, this episode is very complex and does not have a simple feminist
interpretation. While the show is progressive, it is also highly sexist as
well. This episode gives us a full range of how women can be portrayed, from a
sex-object, a homemaker, and a damsel in distress, to a resourceful and strong
female officer. Sexists elements appear right away in the episode as Yeoman
Colt is shown to have a job on the ship that equates to being a secretary. Her
job is to carry paperwork for the captain(The Cage). This view of Yeoman Colt
shows viewers that in the Star Trek world, certain jobs are still segregated by
sex. The separation of these jobs is hierarchical as well as patriarchal, with
women serving in positions of lesser importance, such as carrying paperwork,
and only exist to serve the men in charge with their main jobs.

            In Colt’s few interactions with the Captain Pike, she is
viewed as clumsy. When we first meet her, she bumps into the captain on the
bridge while she was giving him some forms. The captain at first yells at her
for bumping into him and coming to him on the bridge, but then she tells him
that he requested her to be there at this time. When she leaves, the captain
openly apologizes to the crew for his behavior, but then uses the excuse that
it was difficult to accept women on the bridge (The Cage). We can look at this
scene in a few ways. His impatience with the Yeoman and then his apology could
be representative of an underlying fear that women are beginning to intrude
into traditionally male work spheres. We can also view this scene as a direct
insult to the captain’s second in command, Number One, who is also a woman.

            After the apology, Number One looks at the captain and he
apologizes directly to her, and adds that he does not see her as a woman, or at
least not in the same sense as Yeoman Colt (The Cage). It seems, in this
instance, that the captain does not deem her a “real” female because she does
not act like any of the stereotypical ways a woman does in Pike’s eyes. She
presents herself as calm and cool under pressure. She is smart and a leader
when she needs to be. She seems to be portrayed more as a man than as a typical
woman. I think this is telling us that if a woman enters the workplace that is
dominated by men, she may have to give up being considered a “real” woman by
her male peers. As the episode goes on, we get to see images of what Captain
Pike views as “real” women and what is appropriate for them. It is worth noting
that Pike’s attitude towards Colt is also sexist towards women in general. His
comments show that he associates female roles and their gender with the traits
he sees in Yeoman Colt. He views her as clumsy and passive, and we can see that
this is the view he has of women in general.

            The images the aliens use for Vina are stereotypical and
sexist as well. In the first illusion, the aliens put Pike in a scenario where he
must fight a huge enemy to save Vina, who is portrayed literally as a princess
in distress from medieval times (The Cage). This portrays Vina as weak, useless
and needing saving by the traditionally masculine Pike from the evil and
violent person out to get her. The wrong parts of this scene are found in the
idea that women are weak and need saving. It is considered sexist to assume
that in every situation; a woman cannot take care of herself. It is also
equally sexist that Pike is this stereotypical view of masculinity. In this
scene, he is the hero that saves the girl and the day. He kills the “monster”
in the illusion and takes the role, for that moment of an epic hero warrior of
mythology. This ideology would say it was ok for Pike to use violence to
resolve the present situation.

            The second illusion puts Vina in the part of a 1950’s
style wife on a picnic back on Earth. She adores him, and is wanting to dote on
his every need (The Cage). This image of women is the idea that women must also
be domesticated servants to their husbands. She talks about raising kids and
having a family with Pike, showing the conservative family values that women of
the time were expected to follow. This also reaffirms his previous views of
women, similar to how he viewed Yeoman Colt.

            In the final fantasy, Vina is shown as a scantly clad green
skinned dancer. She is dancing for Pike in a manner consistent with the views
of harem girls of middle eastern stereotypes (The Cage). Here, exemplifies the
idea of a woman being objectified for her body. As her dance is meant to seduce
Pike, it could also be said that this shows the image of a woman as a
temptress, using her looks to get men to give in to her sexual advances. All
three illusions are different, but traditional stereotypes that men have
concerning women. Vina encompasses what Pike views a woman should be.

In
all the illusions, Pike is placed in a position of authority and power, since
the illusions are created specifically for him, and not Vina. This could
possibly be the best example of female submission and reliance on a male for
all needs by a woman. In the entire episode, she continually begs Pike to pick
a fantasy of HIS choosing. Vina’s wishes are never addressed during her time
with Pike. She just wants to give HIM whatever HE wants(The Cage). This gives
an image of women who are happy living lives where they do nothing but cow tow
to the whims and wishes of their male counterparts, instead of going after
their own wishes and dreams. Even the introduction of Vina in the episode gives
women a bad look. When the landing party meets her for the first time, she
beckons Pike to follow her to an opening in the hill where he will be taken by
the aliens, which also shows women as deceptive and using traps to get
potential husbands.

            It is worth noting that at this time in television
history, there were a set of codes that existed regarding how a person created
a television show. These codes are used to create and reinforce meaningfulness.
These codes take the form of characters, sets, lighting, even costumes. The
meaningfulness is then focused into a preferred meaning (usually dictated by
the patriarchy) that usually demonstrates dominant ideologies (Fiske). In other
words, what we see on television is usually a way for creators and networks,
especially networks, to show morals and ideologies that they feel are important
for the people to see. Considering how we have seen the character of Vina and
Pike so far, it would be fair to say that studios wanted to enforce a
traditional view of male dominance on the show, and show women as subservient
to men.

            This is very clear at the end of the episode. The
character of Vina is given a choice to stay with the aliens or leave the planet
with Pike. Vina tells Pike she wants to stay with the aliens because they can
make her beautiful again. The aliens have been hiding her disfigured face
during the entire episode through their illusions. She is afraid to return to
Earth because she is ugly (The Cage). What this is telling us as viewers is
that if you are ugly and not physically pleasing, it is ok to live in a fantasy
work and to hide away and not show your true self. How you look to other men is
more important.

            These images of Vina are turned around a bit through the
character of Number One. She is a view of a more progressive woman at this time
in history. Even though she was excluded from this initial landing party, her
role as second in command becomes important once the captain is captured. She
assumes command immediately and sets out to rescue Pike (The Cage). Her swift
and strong decisions show her to be a strong and capable leader who is
respected by other male crewmembers. She is not shown with any of the
stereotypes that Vina has shown us in the episode. There is one small
discrepancy here. She does save the captain through her wits, but she threatens
to take her own life in order to do it (The Cage). This could be seen as a
brash solution that is not in step with the male actions of fighting through
combat to win. That moment aside, Number One would be symbolic of the type of
woman that the women’s liberation movement wanted to see. She does not need a
man, and when her male superior is captured, she succeeds in finishing the job.

            In looking at these two women, Vina and Number One, we
see a stark contrast. Vina represents everything that women in the 1960’s were
conceived as, and Number One represented everything they could become. The only
issue with Number One is the fact that despite all her independence, she is
still only second in command, behind a man. She does not have the complete autonomy
and freedoms that women of the time were clamoring for. When Pike ordered the
landing party, he told Number One to stay behind for two reasons. One, he
needed a competent officer on the ship in case of emergency, and two, to
protect her from danger (The Cage). This could be read two ways. The first is
that he views her as a more progressive woman, and feels she is strong and
capable of handling things on her end. The other way is that Pike is trying to
be the knight and shining armor, and Number One is just like Vina is going to
be, a princess in distress and he needs to save her. Both seem like possibly
valid explanations. The question at that point is whether Number One is in a
category of her own as a progressive woman, or is she in the same pool as Vina?

            We never got to further explore the character of Number
One, or anyone else in the “The Cage” (except for Spock, who has a small role
in the Pilot) due to the series not being picked up by the network. There isn’t
much explanation as to why the studio did not go with Star Trek in 1964,
although the potential image of a strong female character could have something
to do with it. The show was retooled for 2 years, and then pitched again to
NBC, this time with a new cast, save for the aforementioned Mr. Spock. Gone was
Pike, in command was Captain James T. Kirk. Gone was the character of Number
One. Gone was the entirely white crew. What replaced Number One is possibly one
of the most important characters in television history, and yet just as
subjugated, Lt. Uhura. Lt. Uhura is an interesting mish mash of Number One and
Yeoman Colt.

She is an officer on the
bridge of the Enterprise, and is chief of communications. The most important
thing of note, is that the actress, Nichelle
Nichols, is a black woman. To have a main cast member, who was an officer of
color and not just some extra, was unheard of. She and Kirk are responsible for
what is known as the “kiss heard ’round the world”. In “Platos Stepchildren”
Kirk and Uhura are forced by alien influence to kiss(Platos Stepchildren) in
this episode, though the kiss is the first inter racial kiss on television,
Uhura still is still nothing more than a sex object for Kirk, even if it is a
forced moment.  She was not the only cast
member of a different ethnic background, as we also had Lt. Sulu, who was of
unspecified Asian descent, also a first in TV history.

            The problems with her as a character seem to be an
interesting combination of Yeoman Colt’s and some new race issues. The first
thing with Uhura is her job. Lt. Uhura is responsible for communications aboard
the ship. This is of course an important job, but throughout the show, we
rarely see her outside of this capacity. Many of her lines in the show are
about answering calls from Starfleet and opening hails to other vessels. She is
given nothing more to do than to answer phones. This is where she is like Colt.
Colt’s job was to be a secretary. Uhura does not seem to be much different. The
only difference with her is that she is an officer and the color of her skin
(Farkas).

            Another female character, although far less prominent
than Uhura is Yeoman Rand. She is as close to a literal analogue to Yeoman Colt
as we can get. She also has the job of bringing Captain Kirk reports and other
delivery style tasks. As an example, to how Rand is used we will look at the season
one episode “Miri”. In this episode, Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy, a male security
officer, and Yeoman Rand are beamed down to a planet to investigate as the
Enterprise usually does in most episodes. They find a planet filled with
children, and all the adults are dead. The party find that the children are
hundreds of years old and were scientifically created not to age. However, if a
child enters puberty, they develop a skin disease that causes bouts of anger
and aggression, sometimes violent outbursts, and then death. Everyone except
Spock becomes infected with this disease (Miri).

            Everyone in the landing party is given a job to do to
help find a cure, except Yeoman Rand. Kirk is in charge and delegates. Spock
researches records on the planet for more information. McCoy uses his medical
knowledge to help create a cure. Rand is given either no tasks and just stands
as decoration to the narrative, or she is given very gender based tasks, like
walking with children or assisting Dr. McCoy (Miri). This shows that
ideologically, women were not viewed to have important jobs, or to contribute
even to the narrative of the story. It must be mentioned that Yeoman Rand is a
beautiful young blonde, similar in comparison to a Marilyn Monroe type. She is
there to look pretty and give the captain someone to save if he needs it. Also
considering what she is wearing, which is a very high miniskirt, she could be
viewed as a sex object for Kirk. Just as Vina in the pilot was there to
perpetuate female gender roles, so does Yeoman Rand. In other episodes such as
“The Man Trap”, we see her carrying a food tray to Kirk (The Man Trap). In
“Balance of Terror” the only thing she does is stand next to Kirk on the bridge
during what could be considered one of the Enterprises most dangerous conflicts
(Balance of Terror). She does nothing but perpetuate the female stereotypes
forced by the patriarchy. In the episode “Charlie X” she is used as a sexual
object more actively. She is found attractive by a young man who has never seen
women before (Charlie X). During the episode, her face is framed in a close up,
and the only thing lit are her eyes, indicative of the male gaze and “othering”
of women (Mulvey 62). This young man even harasses Rand by slapping her in the
behind, which the show uses for comedic effect. The music playing during these
moments is more lighthearted, and shows a lackadaisical approach to what is
clearly indicative of societies acceptance at the time of the marginal
treatment of women. During that episode, Kirk finds it humorous as well that
Rand is treated this way. He eventually talks to the young man, but more for
comedic affect again than an actual moral lesson (Charlie X).

            That leads us finally to Kirk himself. During the series’
three seasons, it was a regular occurrence that Kirk would usually fulfill the
same role that Pike did in the pilot episode. In episodes such as “Mudd’s
Women”, “Plato’s Stepchildren”, “The City on the Edge of Forever” and so many
more, it is not uncommon for Kirk to get the girl, or at least steal a kiss at
one point or another in the show. Kirk was less forward vocally compared to
Captain Pike about his views on Women, but his actions would speak otherwise.
It was also not uncommon for Kirk to have the same “male gaze” shown onscreen
as Yeoman Rand did in “Charlie X”. While Rand’s was used to demonstrate a male
gaze on her, or any other woman in the series that this technique was used on,
the use of it on Kirk could be Kirk’s gaze on whatever he saw fit, whether it
was a pretty girl, or the thrill of the mission. Kirk follows the same gender
stereotypes that Pike fell in, and the series never did much to change that.

            Though it seems Star Trek was a poor example for
feminism, it did give birth to multiple series that would turn the world of
feminism upside down. In the mid to late 1980’s, a spin off of Star Trek was
created call The Next Generation. During its 7 year run, it would have no less
than 5 major female characters on the show, and each one had important story
arcs and character growth. In the mid 90’s, we saw two more spinoff’s staring
both a female first officer, and eventually a female captain. Currently, we
have a new Star Trek series that stars not only two female leads, but both are
minorities. The first series may have been slow in bringing women to the
forefront of equality, but their legacy cannot be ignored. Star Trek may have
done a poor job for women, but Star Trek the franchise will live on forever as
the gender equalizing franchise it is today.

 

 

Works
Cited

“Balance
of Terror” Star Trek: The Original
Series, season 1, Pilot, NBC. 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com

“The
Cage.” Star Trek: The Original Series, season
1, Pilot, NBC. 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com

“Charlie
X” Star Trek: The Original Series, season
1, Pilot, NBC. 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com

Farkas,
Michael Eugene. “The Final frontier: Critical theory and the Star Trek
Phenomenon.” 1993. Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Paper 3998

Fiske,
John. “Television Culture.”

“The
Man Trap”. Star Trek: The Original
Series, season 1, Pilot, NBC. 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com

“Miri.”
Star Trek: The Original Series, season
1, Pilot, NBC. 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com < https://www.amazon.com/The-Man-Trap/dp/B005HED11Y/ref=sr_1_4?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1512710000&sr=1-4&keywords=star+trek>

Mulvey,
Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.”

“Plato’s
Stepchildren.” Star Trek: The Original
Series, season 3, episode 10, NBC, 24 Nov. 2017. Amazon.com

Tyson, Lois. “Feminist
criticism.” Critical theory today.

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