Professional Women in Star Trek, 1964 to 1969
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 24, Numbers 1-2, 1994
- pp. 47-59
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Film & History, Vol. XXIV, No's. 1-2, 199447 Majel Barret and Leonard Nimoy in the first pilot episode "The Cage". Photograph Courtesy of Paramount Communications Inc. 48 Henderson / Professional Women in Star Trek Professional Women in Star Trek, 1964 to 1969 Mary Henderson The first woman to appear in Star Trek was the second-in-command of the starship Enterprise, a calm and courageous professional. The last woman to appear in the series was also a professional woman, but she is unable to control herself or her actions, and is last seen being led away in hysterics. Images of women in the original Star Trek television series are often confusing, conflicting, or ambivalent. For example, Mary Jo Deegan sees the starship Enterprise as "a male-dominated and male-definedworldwherein women are shadowy figures who play two primary roles: to provide romance or to illustrate women's 'abnormal' desire for power."1 On the other hand, Marleen S. Barr refers to the starship Enterprise as a "ship of nurturing that ventures into the sea of space to explore, not vanquish," and carries a crew of women and men who make decisions as a family, not based on "manly rage and rivalry."2 Actually, there is no single generalization that can cover the range of ways that female roles appear, and this variety of imagery is due in some measure to the different people who had a hand in the making of the series: writers and directors varied from episode to episode, producers from season to season. It is also due, however, to the multitude of influences surrounding the lives of,women at the time. The images of women presented in Star Trek are in many ways as complicated as the changing roles of women in the sixties decade itself. In its own way, Star Trek both reflected the more traditional expectations of society, and contributed to "stretching the envelope" as well. Star Trek is bracketed by the first pilot, "The Cage" (filmed in 1964, but seen by the public as part of the broadcast episode "The Menagerie" in November 1966) and "Turnabout Intruder," the last episode filmed and also the last aired in June 1969. Both were written by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and mirror some of his own perceptions about women as well as reflect general cultural attitudes. The female characters in these two "bookends" reveal extremes of feeling in the sixties surrounding women in professional life. The first female character to appear in Star Trek was Number One, played by Majel Barrett in the original pilot episode "The Cage." The last woman to appear in the series was Dr. Janice Lester, the "Turnabout Intruder." Each took over the Enterprise for a time in their respective episodes. The important difference was that for Number One it was as part of her routine professional duties as second-incommand of the ship, but for Dr. Lester, an "unimportant, middle-aged female," it was a desperate and ill-fated attempt to have "the exciting life and prestige of a Starship Mary Henderson is the Chairman of the Department of Art and Culture at The National Air and Space Museum. This essay is excerpted from her forthcoming book Star Trek: An American Odyssey. Film & History, Vol. XXIV, No's. 1-2, 199449 Captain."3 While Number One was shown as a competent career woman, apparently content with her role as a man's partner albeit in a position of secondary importance, the hysterical Dr. Lester is unsatisfied with her career choice, which has been limited by her gender, and wants the man's job for herself. If one were to infer social attitudes about women in the workplace in the sixties only from "reading" these two episodes, one would conclude that a woman could be accepted as a "help meet for him,"4 but that she should not even aspire to take a man's place in the world. A few months before Roddenberry's script for "The Cage" was complete, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed into law; Title VII outlawed discrimination in hiring and employment on account of gender as well as race and national origin. Women...