Sandra McDonald

writing all the time

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People of Estrogen in Star Trek
More thoughts on women in the current Star Trek movie, with spoilers.


I have one job to do on this ship. It's stupid, but it's mine!

For all of its fun bits, Star Trek #11 does a piss poor job with portraying strong, capable women. I'm been disappointed that amid all the squeeing, few people (especially few people who support strong sf/f female characters) have talked about this. There are only 3 women of note in the movie:

1. Amanda. She only has two scenes, iirc, and exists only so that Spock's love for her can be used against him at key plot points. She plays the goddess role: wise, patient, beautiful. She is not seen as sexually desirable, since she and her husband are never on screen together. She has obviously never read tips on where to stand during an earthquake (e.g., at the edge of a roof, at the edge of a cliff, poised over sharp objects...)

2. Jim's mother. She exists only as proof of George's virility and to carry out her mission of carrying Jim to life. I'm surprised she didn't die of a broken heart, a la Padme Amidala, immediately after birth. (Notice that labor is no easier on a shuttle than it's been for most of human history: five or six medical staff around her, and no one thinks of a painkiller?) She is never seen in the movie again and is obviously no major influence on young Jim's life. (We don't even see him call Mom before going off to the academy.)

3. Uhura. The maiden. She is never shown doing the things most valued in the movie: hand-to-hand combat, getting choked, more hand-to-hand combat, getting tortured, did I mention the hand-to-hand combat, self-sacrifice, sword-fighting, surviving improbable monsters, high-altitude parachute jumps, etc. Instead she does the things women are valued for in the movie: being the object of romantic attention, being fought over, being groped, stripping to her underwear, kissing her superior officer in the turbolift (we call that fraternization), being romantically involved with her instructor (yes, that's fraternization as well), wearing revealing clothing and non-military jewelry, and engaging in a public display of affection in the transporter room (which should have mortified everybody). There's a lot of talk about her linguist abilities but I don't think we actually ever see her doing it. Translating languages is not high on J.J. Abrams's cool-shit list.

(A separate note on languages: Chekhov is obviously Russian so we can have pronunciation humor. I thought it would have been cool if he could just talk to his console in Russian. Uhura and Spock could have conversed in Vulcan with subtitles.) (Separate note on separate note: Chekhov could have easily been a teenage girl, and my estimation of the movie would have notched up significantly higher)

The green girl was fun, but only had one scene and existed to show Jim's virility. Notice she's all for getting hot and heavy (but Jim is annoyed that other men have had her first) while Uhura's underwear is standard issue white cotton. (Don't talk to me about uniform regs. Eight years in the Navy, and nobody ever cared what color underwear I had on under my khakis.)

(Edit: Note also that the photographic symbol of Nero's need for revenge is his smiling, pregnant, unnamed wife. He destroys Vulcan because the proof of his own virility was destroyed.)

I suppose it's a positive step to get rid of the yeoman position but that means no Janice Rand, and I didn't see Nurse Chapel either.

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This stuff is a dealbreaker for me. I'm really surprised nobody's commented on it yet. Maybe because objectifying the female characters is the way the franchise has always done it? To have empowered women in Trek would be a violation of canon?

I don't know why people aren't talking about it. I think it's important. My flist has been full of "oh! it's the most awesome Trek ever!" and I'm like, er, maybe, but what about the women, eh?

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"I only have one job on this ship. It's stupid! But I'm doing it."

I don't understand why this stuff is so difficult. But I guess that's why I'm not a famous Hollywood producer.

LOL! Where is Sigourney Weaver when we need her?

Someone I read did note this movie is a lot like Galaxy Quest played straight.

It's puzzling (and frustrating) that women's roles were so downplayed/marginalized, compared to the later Trek series like Voyager. Hopefully, they will fix that in the next movie. I know the original show was made in the 60s, but they updated other elements.

Regarding officer to officer relationships, it was clear that the writers had little understanding of military chains of command and related issues. (By the way, I think it would have been more dramatically effective to have the attraction between Uhura and Spock remain unspoken and not acted on.)

Of course, Star Trek insists it's not military: Pike even gives the party line in the bar while recruiting Kirk. Explore strange new worlds, seek out new civilizations, boldly go, etc - all while carrying around enormous military payloads and shooting at each other.

At the same time we have uniforms, rank, class divisions between ranks, etc.

There is always hope the next movie addresses some of these problems - but not a lot of it, alas.

Ditto on Uhura and Spock unresolved sexual tension!

I haven't seen it -- and although seeing the trailer and the reactions have made me excited about seeing it I had a foreboding feeling this might be the case. Especially after my experience with Iron Man, which was IMO a shockingly sexist film -- and I didn't see that discussed either.

Oh, I agree re Iron Man! Pepper is valued not for her ideas or intelligence per se, but because she is devoted to every aspect of her boss's life.

There's still a lot to enjoy in Trek, but it comes with a big side order of gender crap.

Oh, go ahead and harsh my squee! (ETA: to add a smiley face, because I AM kidding there. ;-)

I think the biggest reason that people haven't really talked about this is that we're well-trained by now not to expect strong women in Star Trek. Janeway was an exception. But honestly, even the men in Hollywood who are supposed to write great women characters (aka Joss Whedon) don't do a good job of it, in my opinion. BSG, as much of it as I watched, seemed to be the most gender neutral in terms of people just being people and their gender being part of who they were instead of defining what they got to do and where they got to sit on the ship.

As I said in my own post on the subject, I didn't see Uhura's demand to be on the Enterprise as blackmail; it very much read to me as Uhura standing up and demanding what she knew she was qualified for--in fact, the opposite of what you're seeing. She was denied her rightful place because of her relationship, and she set Spock straight.

Yeah, okay, I'll grant you all of this. But it was a fun movie and a good reboot, and I'll hope for more but not expect it. And the fact that we are having these conversations proves to me that there's a far better chance we'll see stronger women characters in the future--not penned by Joss Whedon. Because as much as I loved Zoe, why couldn't she have been the ship's captain instead of the first officer? THAT would have been different, for sure.

Edited at 2009-05-12 02:52 pm (UTC)

LOL - yes, she should have been made ship's captain! That would be fun :-)

Where is Number One when we need her, anyway? So that's 3 female characters that haven't been rebooted - Chapel, Number One and Rand.

Uhura's egotism seems highly over-inflated. Sure, Spock gave her good grades. But she's not valedictorian of her class, is she? She's a cadet. There are at least 25 years of linguists ahead of her - officers who are in the field and working hard already. We don't see her demonstrate any competence on screen and she has no field experience - but she has passion, both professional and personal (as noted above, the movie values passion).

Also, it doesn't matter what a military officer wants or deserves - the needs of Starfleet always come first, and presumably the Enterprise is already staffed with many fine linguists. (But not the guy on the bridge that we need to bump, so he doesn't get to know Romulan).

I am no Joss Whedon fan. There's some parts of Buffy that I like, and a lot I abhor.

But there are a lot of other fun parts of Trek, so we can squee on those :-) I think Chris Pine is fine to watch, and Quinto did a great job, and the visual effects are great, and I love the shout-out to the original end credits.

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I don't know that they were an improvement over TOS. We still have the same sexist uniforms and window-dressing jobs.

Number One - gone but not forgotten!

I actually thought that Uhura was pretty strong, without needing to fight anyone, though of course she could have done more. The scene where she tells Spock "No, I'm on the Enterprise" made me really happy that she stood up for herself. The fact that she's a big reason for why the Enterprise survived Nero's attack because she'd intercepted a Romulan transmission was huge, and then she replaced another officer on the bridge because she was better at her job. The romance with Spock surprised me, not in a good way--I wasn't sure whether it had been going on for a while or not. The flirtation was there in the original series, but I got the impression in this case she acted on it because she could see that he needed to know someone cared. And she also continued to stand up to Kirk throughout, even when he was nominally her commanding officer. I was also impressed that she didn't attempt to cover herself or anything when Kirk sees her in in her underwear; if she doesn't think it's a big deal, neither should we. So I think yes, there's room for improvement, but Uhura was more than just a pair of legs on the bridge.

As for Mrs. Kirk, I suspect she must have been a Starfleet officer, since they didn't exactly keep families on board the ships as they did in the TNG days. Regardless of how little we see her, she did raise Jim on her own (though I'm not sure if it's his uncle or his stepfather who calls him in the car, so maybe I'm wrong on that point).

And re: Amanda, she may not have been seen as "sexually desirable," but Sarek admits that he loved her. And she has to be strong in order to live as the only human on Vulcan, married to Sarek, and I like that she stands in the face of all Spock's training and tells him it's okay to have feelings.

So again, these are all valid concerns and maybe they're a dealbreaker for some, but I think there's hope for better in future installments. And Star Trek is all about hope :)

The Enterprise doesn't survive because she intercepted off-screen some Romulan transmission (transmission to where, by the way? Why can it only be heard in San Francisco?). It survives because Kirk puts the pieces together - pieces he picked up while trying to bop his alien girlfriend and while being aboard the Enterprise illegally. The win is Kirks, not Uhura's - she's a stepping stone.

I wondered if Mrs. Kirk was an officer or not. I thought it was the uncle who calls Jim in the car.

Amanda can not be seen as sexually desirable because she is a goddess of wisdom, serenity, etc. (I was disheartened by the hijab, though). We don't know that she's the only human on Vulcan in this timeline, however.

It's true - we can hope women play a better role in the next movie :-)

Actually, a lot of my friends who have seen the movie have been talking about precisely this issue - so many that i've pretty much decided that Paramount is not getting any money from me, despite my status as a first-run TOS Star Trek fan.

I'll wait until it gets shown on TV sometime, if I really want to see anything in it.

Netflix it in about six months!

There are fun things in it, and it's nice to see a different spin on Kirk, Spock, et al. But the angle on women is overall very disappointing.

(Separate note on separate note: Chekhov could have easily been a teenage girl, and my estimation of the movie would have notched up significantly higher)

I dare you to post this at any of the hardcore Trek sites. You'd cause more than a few heads to explode into flames.

Of course, what they could have done is to leave Chekhov off the bridge entirely, since he isn't supposed to be there until the 2nd season, anyhow, and put a competent, proactive female (like Number One, or a reimagined Yeoman Rand) in that chair instead.

Jim's mother, I have to imagine was on the Kelvin crew, since there's no good reason for Lt. Kirk to drag his nine-month-pregnant civilian wife off to fight Romulans. Unfortunately, since she disappeared after the main title card (and presumably retired to the deserts of Iowa), we'll never know.

Were there even any females on the Starfleet Academy review board, or the Vulcan Academy admissions board?

LOL - it would be fun to watch heads expode :-)

Excellent idea about leaving Chekhov off until the next movie!

I wondered about Jim's mom being part of the crew, but that just reinforces the gender stereotype about those military female officers - they check onboard, and the next thing you know, they're knocked up and missing time because of pregnancy.

I think there were females on the Academy review board, and the Vulcan Science board - but they didn't talk. There was a woman who got sucked into the vacuum of space, and a woman transporter operator who needed 17 year old Chekhov to save the day.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but from the discussion here, I see it will be disappointing for me. Not a deal-breaker, because I come to expect female characters to be treated this way not just in sci-fi movies but in movies of other genres as well. I'll tolerate it and try to enjoy what's good in the show. It's the same disappointment I feel pretty much every time I see a commercial targeting women on television: haven't we come further than this? I'll probably wait until it comes out on DVD now that I know it's more of the same.

It's worth seeing on the big screen for the special effects and grandeur - there are some very nice visual sequences! I will watch it again on DVD but it won't be the same viewing experience.

The green girl was fun, but only had one scene and existed to show Jim's virility. Notice she's all for getting hot and heavy (but Jim is annoyed that other men have had her first)

I actually read that scene differently, because I thought the implication was her having had other men there quite recently -- right after telling Jim she loved him. So I felt she was using him / undermined whatever conquest he may he have thought he was enjoying, and pretty much liked her for it.

Oh, I'm totally for her - I love that she punctures his bubble, so to speak :-)

I think Uhura is a wasted character. She's written as though she's strong, but her moments of competence take place off screen. I wanted her doing something to get the thug cadets off Kirk in the bar. (On the other hand, when Spock is beating on Kirk, everyone on the bridge just stands around an gawks.) She got more screen time than Chekov and Sulu, but she didn't get a great moment, and she needed one.

As for getting assigned to the Farragut, I got no implications of black mail. (I saw it again last night and was watching for it.) I saw it as her challenging Spock to reverse his decision because he'd made the wrong one and knew it. She was demanding to be valued as an officer, not as his love interest. It was an indication that the character had more to offer that the filmmakers didn't allow to pay off.

In re: Kirk's mother, the uncle says during the convo. in the car that "while your mother's off-planet, you listen to ME". So she must be in Starfleet or the diplomatic service or something that takes her away. It's easy to miss, but it IS in there.

Uhura was a bit of a let down. Kirk's mom being pregnant on a starship was a bigger shock. Hello, condoms, anyone? We have lasers that can shoot through space, matter/energy converters and FTL travel, but we can't be bothered to fabricate birth control? Or, if James was a deliberate decision...having a kid in the middle of a metal can in space strikes me as poor judgment, to put it mildly.

When Spock and Uhura were having their romantic/tragic moment, I burst out giggling, because it's just too ridiculous. And when Spock started beating down on Kirk in public? That was just as bad. Or equally priceless, depending on how you look at it.

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