Star Trek: Boldly Going Not Far Enough

Star Trek proclaims that it will take its viewers “where no man has gone before” to see strange and wondrous things in a strange and wondrous future. Unfortunately the gender stereotypes of the 1960s are all too present in this 2260s world. Star Trek has inspired spin off shows, movies, toys, games, and books steadily for the last forty seven years making it one of the most prominent pieces of science fiction ever. Therefore the portrayal of women and minorities in this show has a strong influence on how women and minorities are portrayed in the science fiction genre as a whole. Understanding these representations can help one better understand other pieces of contemporary science fiction.

For the 60s Star Trek portrayed a progressive world with a multiracial and multigendered crew going into the galaxy on a mission of peaceful exploration. However, the dominance of the white male in this narrative is unquestionable, the three main characters, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are all white males and the two from earth are both American. While there is a woman of color on the bridge with a position of some authority Lieutenant Uhura is really nothing more than a glorified secretary and all other women on the ship seem to be short skirted yeomen or nurses. While this project will focus on the women in Star Trek it is also noteworthy that despite having many nationalities on the crew the only non-European with any significant amount of power is Mr. Sulu who is ambiguously Asian (the actor is of Japanese ancestry but Sulu is not a Japanese name). Despite its perpetuation of gender stereotypes the show was very popular with some of the female science fiction writes of the time such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Joanna Russ, and Vonda McIntyre.

For my project I will examine the opinions of contemporary feminist science fiction authors Joanna Russ and Vonda McIntyre about Star Trek. I will be comparing the world of the television show1 with the world of the Kirk/Spock slash fiction2 written by Joanna Russ and the novelization Enterprise, The First Adventure3 by Vonda McIntyre. In addition to comparing the works of fiction directly I will seek out quotes from the authors sharing their thoughts. I will search for sources in the special collections4 and on the internet5 I have identified some promising preliminary sources but anticipate needing more. I hope to discover how these women felt about how the world of Star Trek compared to both the world as it was in the 60’s and how they imagined it should or would be in the future. The obvious expectation is that these women will feel that Star Trek was not progressive enough. Where I expect to find the most interesting differences is in how the authors rework the world in their own fiction. I will compare their views on Star Trek with my own opinions and with what progress has been made up to 2013 on the issue of gender equality, both in the real world and in our modern Star Trek fiction.

(1) Star Trek: The Original Series, 1966-1969, accessed via Netflix (2) Joanna Russ Papers, University of Oregon, Box 14, folder 12 & 13 (3) Enterprise, the first adventure, Vonda N.McIntyre – Pocket Books – 1986 (4) Joanna Russ Papers, University of Oregon, Box 15, folder 39 (5) Stefan Blitz  and Vonda McIntyre, TREK WEEK – Novelist VONDA N. McINTYRE interview! Forces of Geek, http://www.forcesofgeek.com/2009/05/trek-week-novelist-vonda-n-mcintyre

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One response to “Star Trek: Boldly Going Not Far Enough

  • cstabile

    A lot is going to depend on how much you can find in the archives concerning these SF writers and their fandom. I know that the original Star Trek comes up in Le Guin and McIntyre’s correspondence as well, so that might be another place to look. You might also consider McIntyre’s novelizations of the Star Trek films (II, III, and IV) as a form of imminent critique (and also a great excuse to watch the films again and then read the novels :D).

    At any rate, I’m sure you’ll have some excellent questions for when she visits class.

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