Gender, Race, and Star Trek

Recently I’ve started watching Star Trek the original series on Netflix. One of the first things I noticed when I was watching it was the fact that there is an impressing representation of men and women (i.e. at least 1 woman to every 3 or 4 men) with the women playing supporting roles on the show. The cast is also pretty racially diverse with characters like Uhura and Sulu playing a predominant role.

When you think back to the fact it was 1967, what the heck do you expect to be honest? Not that! My visions of TV in 1967 are shows like I Dream of Jeannie, The Andy Griffith Show and Gunsmoke none of which really broke through prevailing social norms of gender and race. TV in 1967 seemed to me to perpetuate an unsurprisingly cliche representation of women and people of color in an era where women were still struggling for basic rights and freedoms and things were far from racially balanced.

Now lets be real, even though there were more progressive elements to the show from my modern day perspective, women still play a minimal role in the show, are often portrayed as weak or hysterical and emotional and supporting roles are occupied by the “people of color” unlike the cis white male majority and two leading cis white males. There are not any racial slurs tossed about though there are more than a few jabs at women- man can explore space but still hasn’t explored gender equality and patriarchal male privilege and its harmful stereotypes. Oh well.

Of course I could give a major shit because Star Trek is awesome and despite all thoughts about the antiquated attitudes that occasionally slip into dialogue, it is still a well done, excellently thought out exploration of space, philosophy, and all with an inclusive cast. Also, like I said, it’s 1967, what do you expect?

Besides the above, what happened 50 years ago isn’t necessarily relevant today. I take the show and its supposed flaws with a grain of salt because i feel that for the era, that was ground breaking and admirable. I took the time to point this out because i am writing this piece 50 years and some change later reflecting on the state of women, people of color and the Starship Enterprise in this time and space.

Here we are in basically 2013 with less diversity and less progressive qualities to TV than there were when women were still confined to secretarial work and persons of color had only had desegregated bathrooms for about 3 years!

In the year 2013 you like to think that things are moving forward and bringing more integration and social representation into the popular culture but that just isn’t the case. As I’ve started to notice this stuff, it becomes increasingly more distracting watch television and movies. Women are almost entirely absent from positions of power or have a small role in comparison to a predominantly male cast. Ladies are treated like walking prostitutes, irrational or stereotyped as lonely spinsters and sexualized or mocked for their lack of sexual appeal. People of color have “token” representation, are relegated to cameos, or are entirely absent from the fantasy worlds presented on screen. Without making this an entire thesis on media portrayal of everyone else but cis white males, the gender and race diversity has actually declined in my opinion. If not declined, then it has certainly not progressed forward by the same radicalness that was the first gen Star Trek universe.

Now take the new Star Trek “reboot” after Kirk and Picard and all else- here goes a great opportunity to expand upon this radical casting and integrate strong women characters, more persons of color, and make this Trek as impressive as the first. In a time - the millennia 2000 - when women and people of color are making great strides and generally perceived as almost equal (in practice not generally so) this new Trek is less diverse than the original series.

There is only one female crewman and she is in a relationship with Spock. She’s of course sexualized (as eye candy for the young alternate version of Kirk), she is the only woman on board the Enterprise and she is seemingly able to excel because she is in a relationship with Spock. Not saying Spock pulls strings (not even sure if that was an allusion from the movie or assumption anyone could make) but being “off limits” by being tied up with a superior officer and “logical” Vulcan ambassador makes it easy for people to look straight toward your performance over anything else that might usually inhibit their opinion of your capabilities. She is also representing the only other person of color next to Sulu. Kill two token birds with one casting, eh?

Disappointing to realize that 50 years earlier in an era known for its stubborn repugnance for equality and the Vietnam War, people were making more efforts to accurately represent races and genders than in the present moment where it’s boasted that women can do and be anything and racism has supposedly been history for 50 years.

Of course this says nothing about the exclusive silence and non existent inclusion of any gender other than cis men and cis women so please do not think silence in that regard is ignoring that disgrace. The point is that even something as simple as moving forward with inclusive casting has not happened in the 50 years since one awesome little science fiction show went on the air to amuse.

That absence of progression and failure to progress is unacceptable. While one wants to be amused by nerd-induced reboots and even just mainstream modern television, it’s incredibly distracting to be shown a world where prime time is cis white people and women are token figures or serve as romantic interests for the men who take the lead. That’s not reality and even in science fiction it’s hardly interesting or believable to watch a universe explored by cis white men. There’s more diversity in an alien bar than there is on a ship or even on prime time television.

It’s high time we explored the new frontier of diversity in gender, race, and sexuality representation in mainstream media and popular culture for the long awaited equality that this fan hopes Star Trek laid the foundation for all those years ago.

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