Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek movie is anti-feminist

Okay, so this isn't a rhetorical analysis. And it'll probably have spoilers.

The new Star Trek movie is cool. But it is a step backwards in the portrayal of gender. And when I say it's a step backward, I'm not judging based on the recent movies or Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm saying that the 1960s TV show was more progressive in its portrayal of women.

Aside from smart and successful women like Lt. Uhura and Nurse Chapel, we also get bombarded with single episode female scientists. They're typically quite attractive, but also quite intelligent. Women are sometimes (often?) portrayed as being essentially different from men, particularly in their goals, which usually revolve around romantic relationships.

In the movie, women exist to serve men. They are patient and supportive. They have babies and get killed, which give their men motives to advance the plot.

Let's run down the list of Star Trek women.

On the series:
  • Uhura. Ship communications officer, crushes on Kirk, slightly exotic female presence
  • Janice Rand. Wow, a female yeoman. Seems to be around so that creepy guys can sexually harrass her, but is strong enough to stand up for herself
  • Nurse Chapel. Crushes on Spock, but is otherwise strong, smart, and a bit mouthy.
  • Spock's mom. (Yes, I know her name, but it seems irrelevant for the character also referred to as "Ambassador Sarek's wife.") Supportive of Spock, encourages him to cultivate his human side while usually respecting his choice to be Vulcan
  • Janice Lester. She's the one who switched bodies with Kirk. I mention her here since the female/male body switch is a pretty important episode as concerning gender roles. She wanted to be a Star Fleet captain--really loving her newfound upper body strength but was truthfully hurt that Kirk had chosen his career over her. She was found out because she was too "hysterical" to be a man.
  • The Romulan commander. She might have a name, but I'm not looking it up. She's relevant since Romulans are a big part of the film. She runs a star ship, but reveals her feminine needs and goals to Spock, which turns out to be her undoing.
In the film:
  • Uhura. The object of Kirk's attention, emotional support for Spock. She's good at what she does (xenolinguistics), but takes on a very traditional feminine role.
  • Kirk's mom. She's a baby oven. Couldn't Kirk at least have learned something about life from his mother since she was actually around when he was growing up?
  • Spock's mom. Supports Spock whether he chooses Vulcan or human ways. Her death gives a revenge motive.
  • Nero's wife. Makes a brief appearance as Nero's motivation for destroying planets.
So how could the film do a better job depicting strong women who exist for their own sake, not as someone connected to a man? Scottie's assistant could be a woman--and not necessarily his assistant. Olsen, the guy who gets burnt up, could be a woman. The Romulan ship should have women on it!!!! For that matter, Nero could be a woman. Uhura should be less patient all the time. And Kirk's mom should do something other than give birth.


Jha'Meia said...

Oh god, no, not Olsen being a woman. There're enough women dying for this movie to work. =/

I have HUGE dissatisfaction with how the mothers are portrayed in this film, particularly the absentee-ism of Kirk's mother. As I recall, those fancy starships DID have centralized childcare centers, so there was absolutely no reason why his mom would have left him in the care of a stepfather who sounds like he helped shape the asshole Kirk would become.

I would have liked (LOVED) to have seen more women on the Vulcan council, and among the Federation leaders.

And FFS, those uniforms. =/

Ron Borland said...

I've always considered the Lester episode of the original series also anti-feminist. Lester rails against the inability of women to rise to captain status hysterically at the beginning of episode thus rendering her stand uncredible, steals a man's body and tries to kill him to get her chance, and breaks down pathetically when she loses out in the end. Always seemed like a knock on the Steinem crowd to me.

Amy said...

Ron--I totally agree about Janice Lester. That episode is painful to watch. But I did't want to conveniently overlook it. :)