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Top Five Sexist Moments in the Original 'Star Trek'

Despite the cultural impact, 'Star Trek: The Original Series' came up short at times.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Star Trek was groundbreaking on unprecedented levels. Of course, it couldn’t rise above the flaws of the time in every instance, and despite the egalitarian outlook, Roddenberry envisioned, sometimes women remained in the same regressive time period that the show existed. That doesn’t diminish the show’s prescience and neither does pointing it out.

Amok Time

So Spock gets the hots and has to get to Vulcan to cool his heels. Yes all goes awry and T'Pring does a flawlessly logical number on her consort in waiting. We definitely admire, and finally get a first sense that Vulcan women can hold their own as well as their pointy eared male brethren. No one actually hurt and the feelings characteristically left in stasis, Star Trek sexism comes to a head back on The Enterprise.

Nurse Chapel does get the nod as McCoy's hand is revealed, and Kirk is revived after dropping an oxygen atom from the tri-ox compound. But eager to join the revelry,  she gets dispatched. “Can you excuse us, nurse,” McCoy condescends and lets any ladies in earshot know - boys only.

And if that’s not disrespectful enough to Trekkettes, the good doctor forgets this isn't a children's story. “What happened Spock, the marriage, the girl,” he implores

The girl - are you kidding me? T'Pring was far from a girl. She was a woman of means.

Not getting her proper due, the sexism overflows when the always categorical Spock misses the mark too. “Ah yes, the girl,” he joins the colloquialism. Stunningly uncharacteristic, the boys should count themselves lucky that Spock's loins were the only thing that came crashing down.

Space Seed

When Jim Kirk relegates Khan to the pit, he did more than give rise to the pinnacle moment that The Wrath of Khan represented. "It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and learn what crop had sprung from the seed you planted today,” he poses the most profound postulate in the history of the franchise.

Unfortunately, none of it would have been possible without the unsteady allegiance of lieutenant Marla McGivers. Upon first sight, she's more like a little kid who just scored an ice pop on the stick than a Starfleet officer with a keen interest in history. But who wouldn't be moved to go back in time for a primary source such as Khan?

Kirk, Scottie and Bones for three and we certainly give them the wiggle room to oscillate between admiration and abhorrence of the long astray despot. The history major, though, cannot govern her passions.

So taken, McGivers drops her doctorate and does her own quantum leap to a much earlier time. “Sit and entertain me,” she abides Khan’s first advance.

First impressions don’t quite get her there, but Khan has a way when she attempts to waver. “This grows tiresome. Now you must ask to stay,” he insists.

A fine operations manual for 12-year-old boys and everyone first in line at comic-con. Thank you Lieutenant, that’s a lot of kids stuck in their parent’s basement because of you. But at least McGivers gets an honorable out on Ceti Alpha 5, and she’s spared the indignity of feigning the same silly subservience when Star Trek flowered for everyone else in 1982.

Who Mourns for Adonais?

Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas serves as the focal point in a far less seminal Star Trek moment but sets women back just as well. Palamas not only mourns for Adonais, she puts him on a pedestal. You know, so she can look up his skirt because apparently, the 23rd century has her perfectly fine with abandoning the stars for tending sheep. “Life in paradise. As simple and as pleasureful as it was those thousands of years ago on that beautiful planet so far away,” Apollo has an audience of one.

She’s not immune to the sweet talk either. “Yes. You are beautiful. You would do Aphrodite credit. I will tell you a thousand tales, stories of courage and love. You will know what it is to be a goddess,” Apollo’s goes old school on her.

The lesson plan also leaves her indoctrinated and Starfleet suddenly becomes a distant memory. “Oh, but you don't understand. He's kind, and he wants the best for us. And he's so lonely. What you ask would break his heart. How can I,” she rejects her duty.

Fortunately, Jim Kirk has his pair to lend, because he never lets himself dangle when something stands in the way of Roddenberry’s vision. Her strength summoned, she spurns him, and the tears can begin.

Of course, the introspection does a side step around the humanity Palamis exhibits and lands in the purview of the boys only club. “They gave us so much. The Greek civilization, much of our culture and philosophy came from a worship of those beings. In a way, they began the Golden Age. Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves,” opines Kirk.

Compelling and once again, Star Trek put female frailties on display so the whole gender can take one for the team.

Wolf in the Fold

The Enterprise stop on Argelius isn’t offensive by definition. “The Argelians think very highly of their pleasure,” Kirk explains this hedonistic society.

But the amore is decidedly one sided. The women are all young and hot, while the dudes all seem to have been dusted off the middle-aged white male character-actor roster.

Even so, the sexual free-for-all means jealousy is highly frowned upon. The sin is one sided again. Women are left out of the equation because there’s no irrationality or possessive emotion when no man is worthy of holding onto.

Nonetheless, the sheep fall, and the episode goes in search of a wolf. As the mystery unfolds, Spock has a startling lapse in logic. “A creature without form, that feeds on horror and fear, that must assume a physical shape to kill. And I suspect preys on women because women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species,” the first officer reasons.

Now that is scary, and Star Trek would have been better served by setting the sentiment on the widest possible dispersion too.

The Changeling

Nomad was not one for tolerance, and Lieutenant Uhura found out by having her mind wiped after providing insufficient data. But who knew Spock would be the one to join cause with the misguided old earth probe. The moment in question takes place on the Bridge as Uhura is humming a tune. She is unable to explain the purpose of her communication so no expense is spared in search of clarification.

Nonetheless, Nomad is left at a loss as he drains her brain. “That unit is defective. It's thinking is chaotic. Absorbing it unsettled me,” it laments.

Spock does not shine in his weak attempt to placate the device. “That unit is a woman,” he’s almost complicit and sets Nomad up for the beat.

“A mass of conflicting impulses,” the robot deadpans. A soulless robot even leaves Star Trek women the butt of a joke.  

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