On Star Trek and the radical feminism of believing women

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2016/11/09/on-star-trek-and-the-radical-f.html


This was a trippy episode where spoilers trapped in a shrinking artificial universe existence continually gets smaller excluding people along the way.

So yes, an unprecedented level of trust for somebody who appears delusional, but if you really do put yourself in that context - what is the risk when the universe consists of a handful of people.

Well to be fair in Star Trek the chief medical officer is the only person aboard the ship who can relieve a captain from duty. So if I was Picard I’d probably play along for a good bit.


I have watched nearly all of the old Trek episodes. Some again, some for the first time (I thought I had seen most of them, but evidently not.)

Anyway, I know the show was pretty progressive for the time, but there was still a lot of “hubba hubba” type sexism in it.

Fun fact - the lady who played Dr Pulanski, Diana Muldaur, guest starred in two episodes of the original show.


Interesting read.

I always understood that episode as a reflection of “trust in people”/“I have no proof but trust me” vs. “trust the logically obvious facts”. It’s obvious to me that the computer is the archetype of “inhuman logic”; it is not so obvious that the computer is meant to symbolize a “tool of the patriarchy”.
But I’ve been raised to believe that the stereotype “men are logical, women are emotional” is a piece of sexist crap, and so the episode gets no special feminism credits from me for assigning the role of “I’m acting irrationally, believe me anyway” to a woman.
I also never saw the idea to have a woman on the bridge “whose skill set is literally empathy” as particularly progressive - there it is again: “emotions are what women are good at, leave the logical thinking to the men”.

And in the end, Beverly is vindicated. It turns out a freak accident transported her to an alternate reality, and the rest of the crew is frantically working to retrieve her.

What does “vindication” even mean for a person who is alone in her universe, who is watched by a TV audience who knew all along that she wasn’t crazy? Also, she does not turn out to be right. All the people she’s been interacting with were basically products of her subconscious mind.
She succeeds at figuring that out in the end, but it’s not a powerful message that she was right all along.

So no, I don’t see any radical feminism here.

The original Star Trek has been cringeworthy in in its sexism for quite some time. And it looks really bad compared to the contemporaneous German show Raumpatrouille.


I certainly have no desire to justify Star Trek in that regard(indeed, the ‘aliens are totally sexy chicks, only green’ trope is so egregious that it’s hard to even pull off with a straight face anymore); but the fact that you identify the ‘hubba hubba type sexism’ suggests that there is distinction to be made between the flavor of ‘sexist’ where you overtly or covertly belittle the intellect, competence, reliability, etc. of women(which can, though doesn’t have to, be done with absolutely nothing of prurient interest); and the flavor where the female characters are strongly defined by their utility as objects of prurient interest; but they needn’t necessarily be idiots just because they are also there to be ogled.

This is not to say that either flavor is a good thing; just that these are at least two distinct flavors of sexism; and while you can employ both simultaneously, you can also lean heavily, even exclusively, in one direction or the other.


The radical feminism part is in the structure of the story, not its contents. The writers and showrunners all agreed to present the story this way. Compared to the reality its audience lives, that’s radical.

The same idea was touched on in an episode of Enterprise where a mind meld continues even after T’Pol says several times she wants the Vulcan conducting the meld to stop. Archer absolutely believes her, despite the lack of physical evidence that she was forced. Star Trek certainly has its flaws, but this is pretty astonishing feminist stuff to include in genre TV shows (incorrectly) assumed to be primarily for a male audience.


I’ve been rewatching a lot of TNG recently, with the help of the Greatest Generation podcast, and it’s amazing how much it (a) went out of its way to examine surprisingly progressive viewpoints, yet (b) repeatedly and forcefully stepped on the exact same rakes whenever it wasn’t dealing with them explicitly.

Like, a story about domestic violence will show the Federation’s “enlightened” stance, but then in a story about (say) Android rights, you get stuff like a character flirting with Picard by joking about how he probably wants to knock her teeth out with a chair(!).

In a very messy way, I think it makes the show better overall– you realise just how far the writers were often going beyond their own (messed-up) social norms at the time. It’s like the trite observation that one of the main characters’ amazing superhuman power is… knowing what other people are feeling. It tried to stretch its audience’s horizons in ways that a modern intelligent show would be too self-conscious to attempt.


One of the things that has always struck me is the amount of trust that is placed in everyone in that show. Every viewpoint is heard and considered, even Worf, who is constantly shot down in his ultra-conservative (as necessitated by his job) approach.

This in contrast to real life, where most disregard and are disregarded… it’s a weird idealistic model of a team that always has left an impression on me.



I get the sense that a lot of that was the network meddling with Roddenberry’s original vision. The unaired pilot later re-cut as “the Menagerie” had a highly competent female first officer and all the women wore pants instead of miniskirts. The rest of the show… not so much.


Yes, well part of Wesley’s arc was that he was earning a seat at the table. It didn’t turn out that way, since he went a different direction, but yeah… I didn’t mean that they took everyone seriously. (DaiMon Bok, for example, they didn’t take seriously ENOUGH)

But everyone who had proven themselves trustworthy was granted an extreme measure of both personal and professional trust.


And left me permanently unable to remember which was Diana and which was Maria

This was a great episode starring Crusher.

Pity all the other episodes about her are steaming piles of shit. (Troi had the same problem.)

I was under the impression that all the crew in Dr Crusher’s “reality” were figments of her imagination, which would undermine the premise of the article somewhat.

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Well, that meme & quote is from first, possibly second season, so we don’t count those episodes. :stuck_out_tongue:

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[quote=“Brainspore, post:11, topic:89027”]
I get the sense that a lot of that was the network meddling with Roddenberry’s original vision.[/quote]
Roddenberry created strong roles for women in many of his productions. On the other hand, the women in Genesis II were pretty shallow, its remake Planet Earth (with Diana Muldaur!) has proto-MRA themes, and he also wrote the screenplay for the rather repulsive Pretty Maids All in a Row.

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