Throwback Thursday: The Girls, Girls, Girls of Trek!

By September 24, 2015 Blog 7 Comments

Kenny Madison is a guest-writer on the Axanar blog.


If you are here, reading this article, then you know that the basic philosophy of Star Trek is that everyone is traveling on a spaceship that is a symbol of Planet Earth (Spaceship Earth, I think it most commonly goes by). However, the show is certainly not the sparkling spire that shines brightly within our memories. In fact, in deeper examination, one can find very dated opinions and politics contained within the original series, especially in regard to women in Trek and their treatment in the original series.

While it’s to be expected, as the show is almost 50 years ago, some of the sexism is downright unpleasant.

One thing that has been stuck in my craw ever since I became aware of it was its gender politics. While Roddenberry tried to insert Number One into the show as first officer in “The Cage,” it didn’t hold. What’s more, as the show went on, the show certainly caved more to societal pressures of the time that audiences wouldn’t accept a woman because she was considered less than a man.

The Gender Politics of The Original Series
Whether this was Roddenberry’s fault, or him having to cave to the pressures of the studios, isn’t the thing up for thinkpiecing right now. What we do have to examine is Star Trek’s gender politics. The franchise as a whole has certainly been through peaks and troughs with its depiction of women in the universe and, quite frankly, the official canon hasn’t done a bang up job of it.

Most famously, the final episode of Trek boldly declared that “women can’t be starship captains.” Roddenberry had bailed from Trek for the most part by this point, but the point still stands. Sexism was rampant in the original Trek. The women were originally in pants, but were then changed to the much more scantily clad miniskirts and boots after the first two pilots.

This was made all the worse when they decided to ditch Rand and, instead, have a woman of the week. Instead of spending time with a potential love interest for Kirk and building a multi-faceted relationship with a capable officer and woman, the producers traded on cheap peeks of skin and the prettiest guest stars they could find. Women were no longer equals by that time; they were trophies that were acquired if Kirk had successfully won the day.

Sexism and 2009 Trek
This changed when the movies and Next Generation came around. However, it’s very worth talking about the sexism in the original series, as it has been perpetuated through the latest incarnation of “official” Trek. In the 2009 films, instead of giving Uhura a uniform capable of function, she was once again clad in a miniskirt and short, short sleeves, while the men were able to run around with full uniform garb.


Abrams was capitalizing on the nostalgia of the original Trek and, more than likely, thought the miniskirts were a.) fun, b.) nostalgia-cool, and c.) sexy. What he neglected to put in was the insanely demeaning nature of the uniforms. Certainly, Chris Pine’s Kirk wasn’t being objectified nearly as much as Zoe Saldana’s Uhura.

In one fell swoop, and due in part to adhering to the fabric of the show, the gender politics of Star Trek had been thrown back to 1966. For me, that’s not cool.

Luckily, we have smart people at Axanar that do the insanely smart thing of cherry picking canon. Choosing not to slavishly adhere to what has passed, they smartly cast Kate Vernon as the fierce Captain Sonya Alexander. She is no medal to be won; instead, she is the one that is winning the medals.

What’s important after analyzing all of these things is not taking it as a piece of rage prose. This is not condemnation, but truly embracing these aspects as part of the fabric of the darn thing. You can’t just ignore the most awkward elements of this show. If you’re like me, you love this show like one of your family. Instead of just running away from the worst aspects, confront them and try to understand where it comes from. Trek was not perfect, but it always aspires to be. For that reason above all, trying not to be better, but to do better, is what counts.

With Axanar, we can hope to see the further advancement Trek’s gender politics. While the franchise has certainly had its ups and downs, the smart people of the team, along with the greater awareness of what has come before, will lay down the groundwork for a better Trek – and a better tomorrow.


  • Hmmm… interesting post…

    While the girls, correction: *women*, of TOS were *undeniably* sexy / beautiful, i don’t think I ever saw them as simply sex objects…

    Political correctness / gender equality are good… but please don’t kill the sexy time…? 😉

    REALLY looking forward to seeing Capt. Sonya kick some klingon @$$!! =D

    P.S.: …I hate to see *any* reference to nu-trek here (it really does suck…) =(

    • StarTrekkieIowa says:

      I have to agree. When I first saw Menagerie and in particular, Majel Barrett playing the ‘No. 1’ character, I was excited to see Trek represent women in a more professional setting. And her uniform was in line with the Captain’s if I remember correctly. And I didn’t find her to be ‘less sexy’ at all. In fact, seeing her in a power role was quite sexy to me. Why? Because it widened the gap between the professional woman (when on duty) and the recreational woman who may have still been sexy and playful in an appropriate setting. This gave her a more dynamic persona in my view.

      Unlike TNG which from time to time showed the women in a more relaxed environment (like the holodeck or the gym), TOS failed to take advantage of similar opportunities like the Olympic-sized pool they had on board (which we never got to see).

      Although I loved many of the female characters in TOS (Elaan stands out in my mind), the fact that they all had to be put into skimpy, overly revealing outfits (like Elaan) was for the most part, very disappointing. I watched Trek for the extraordinary story telling and the vision of the future I too hoped for, not the exploitation of women so common in the world then and even today.

  • Kyle Sulcebarger says:

    I’m a middle-aged man, and don’t consider myself easily offended, but I physically cringe when I see “Turnabout Intruder”. I don’t even want to think about the concept of this woman (even if she IS bat-**** crazy) wanting to be a man.

  • Jason Moon says:

    According to “These Are The Voyages, v.1″(Which I recommend you purchase, by the way, since all 3 books of the series are excellent) by Marc Cushman, the studio offered as their explanation for nixing Number one was that, while they had no real objection to a female officer, they didn’t feel that Majel Barrett was strong enough to play someone like her(Gene had a tendency of casting his more attractive girlfriends in lead roles).

    As to Dr. Lester in the series finale, while many fans have tried to retcon her statement into one meaning “Kirk’s dedication to duty didn’t allow for ANOTHER captain in his personal life, Gene said somewhere that he did unintentionally write sexist dialog.

    Star Trek was a visionary as it could be in the 1960’s. Hell, I like Robert Heinlein, but he’s a homophobe and has written some unbelievably sexist dialog(look in “The Puppet Masters” which he wrote in the 1930’s). Ol’ Admiral Bob was as visionary as he could be for someone born in 1909.

  • Michael Miyabara-McCaskey says:

    Eh… as a guy who has 2 teenage girls, what I normally have to make sure they don’t buy or don’t wear – is greatly more sexy than anything I ever saw in TOS. While I see your point on the specifics of the “outfits” – they were never over the top enough to catch my attention, I do as you mentioned recall the pants in the first few episodes but I never sat down and said gee why was the woman the scientist in the first few episodes in pants, and later when I saw blue shirts they were in skirts – but that’s probably because I don’t recall any recurring scientist roles later in the series, I only saw “yeomen”.

    And on the topic of yeomen, I’m happy TOS did not overly emphasize some type of ongoing duality of purpose of Kirk really wanting a long term relationship with a woman vs. the duty to his ship… seriously that is so overdone, I tend to turn it off or skip the episode much as I did when they did the whole TNG Picard love interest thing – keyboard and flutes – yuck!

    Getting back to the point, I also have been around enough women to know, if they want to wear something sexy – they want to wear something sexy. So I guess I never really thought about TOS women being required to wear skirts – (as I’d seen them wear pants) – I guess I just perhaps wrongly assumed they wanted to wear something to differentiate themselves and figured they had the choice of pants vs. skirts – unlike those oppressed men that could only wear pants and not shorts! hahaha….

    Anyway – I am happy to see Axanar cast Captain Sonya – I always appreciate a strong woman as a lead role. (As most of them time they can be much more vicious cold and calculating than any man can be! hahaha)


  • Rick Newton says:

    Part of the reason that the character of Janice Rand disappears is due to Grace Lee Whitney’s addiction issues as she has indicated herself in her autobiography, and has been mentioned by many others privy to the show from the inside.

    The “woman of the week” is indeed a fall back to old stereotypes and there is nothing to clearly state where the directive came to add this aspect to Star Trek — it indeed could be as simple as “formulaic TV,” or a little of Gene’s underbelly of womanizing finding its way into the show and then just become “de rigueur” going forward.

    I’m also fairly certain that I’ve read interview commentary, and attributed to Ms. Nichols, indicating that at least to some extent the miniskirt design of the female uniforms was in response to the fashion trend at the time for young women to wear miniskirts as a “statement of their liberation.” In the same vein as the “bra burning” of the late 60s and early 70s was considered a “feminist statement.”

    Looking at the show in retrospect is valuable as a measure of how society has changed with respect to many “barometers,” but then their needs to be a recognition that Star Trek, as well as any other TV show (or movie), is a product of it’s times; despite any desire to appear more advanced, or more civilized, etc. Even Sci-Fi writers with their vision of the future, the fantastic, are rooted in the reality in which they are spun.

    Yes, Star Trek (in all editions) shows, underneath, aspects of the state of society at the time that the show originally aired — something easier to see in retrospect (that “hind sight” thing…) — and which are “dated.” But, the real question, IMO, is does it fair well even when evaluated “today” when compared to other TV shows/movies of the same era? If the answer is yes, then perhaps a comparison with “newer” TV/movies is more a testament to where society has managed to grow than Star Trek (each incarnation now a fixed point in time).

    Perhaps what this says is that society has grown since each incarnation of Star Trek and that the next one; for example Axanar; will display the sensitivities currently held by “modern” society. And, hopefully, Axanar (and the like) will appear just as “antiquated” in its views — meaning things have become even more “enlightened” — some 50 years from now (we can only hope!).

  • brian333 says:

    Women like to be sexy, (sometimes,) and they like to be professional, (sometimes.) Uhura, (either actress,) does both well at the same time.

    We should remember not to infringe on a woman’s liberty to dress how she likes while we protect her right to equality. If a woman chooses to dress in a hawt outfit this should not in any way detract from her authority as an officer, either of a company or a starship crew. It is our sexism that says a woman must be either sexy or professional and cannot be both.