My dad has always been into science fiction, and although his interest rarely got above casual – he has donned no strange outfits that I am aware of – he is sufficiently obsessed that even now I retain some useless information on the differences between Romulans and Vulcans. He still reminds me, when we talk of books, that I ought to read Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land before I die. (And I still remind him that my imagination has always preferred to roam the moors in empire-waist dresses and climb apple trees in late nineteenth-century Prince Edward Island.) So while the parents were visiting this past weekend it seemed only natural to see the big screen version of Star Trek, directed by Geek Extraordinaire J.J. Abrams himself.
Many other blogs have covered the new film’s gender trouble, or perhaps more accurately put, its near-total lack of interesting chicks. Oh sure, dress Zoe Saldana up as an “expert in xenolinguistics,” but her miniskirt and “exceptional oral sensitivity” (oh how I wish I were joking) belie, Mr. Abrams, something of a lack of commitment to this whole grrrl power thing.
Interesting chicks, of course, have never been a forte of the Star Trek universe. One imagines that the creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn’t know very many. And were I writing the kind of post I sometimes do where I am making fun of weird male geek proclivities (like Transfuckingformers) I would chalk this up to the usual kind of nerd longing for what he fetishizes as unattainable beauties (read: self-fulfilling prophecy) and be done for the day.
Abrams has changed the tenor a bit, as I’ve mentioned, both explicitly (space-time continuum disruption) and implicitly (no. more. odd. pauses). But it’s more than slightly depressing, to me at least, that of all the things the production team thought to change/rev up, the lack of strong female characters was not one of them.
Not to make mountains out of molehills, of course, but this is more distressing in Star Trek, to me anyway, than it would be somewhere else. The thing about Star Trek is that it is something of the idealist among the largely romantic denizens of the science fiction genre. Its adherence to logic extends beyond Mr. Spock. Other epics are concerned with myths and archetypes, but Star Trek tends to be bloodless, rational, almost antiseptic at times. This new movie, for example, has the most blood I have seen in any of the movies/television series so far; hand-to-hand combat is less prevalent in Star Trek than being stunned and/or killed by summary phaser blast. And the overarching themes of the series seem, sometimes, to have emerged from post-colonial studies classes: the first law of Starfleet, known as the Prime Directive, holds that Starfleet does not interfere with the internal affairs of other civilizations, and more particularly that it will not interfere in the indigenous technological development of those civilizations.
Of course, women are ignored all the time, everywhere, but there’s something particularly stinging about being written out of the future of civilization itself. I hate to paint such grand strokes about what sometimes is a wooden and cliche-ridden piece of popular art, but I will maintain until my dying day that the way we imagine things is sometimes equally as important as the way things actually are. Put differently: fantasy life matters because it tries to set out what we wish we were, instead of what we are. And the more wooden and idealistic, the more this fantasy is solely about our aspirations. And I guess some people don’t find inclusiveness a necessary element of their utopian ideals.
It is a lot to ask, I know, of most of these geek men, this kind of recognition. Having always seen themselves reflected at the helm, encouraged from birth to steer themselves and their families because it is What Men Do, they hardly can tell what exclusion feels like. They like to tell us that they are not sexist, look at this TV series starring a woman oh and over there I totally gave her a PhD to make the point that women can have those too. Sexist is a dirty word these days, nobody wants to be one, and as soon as you bring it up you may be assured you will be be bombarded with self-defense. “Do you think all art has to be inclusive? Art is apolitical! It’s just a TV show.” And so on, and so on…
Count me as one of the people who is disappointed on more than purely representational grounds that there are still dudes out there who do not think that this kind of thing demands serious revision, remake or no remake. I’m not looking for a mirror in popular culture. I am looking for a place in your utopian ideals. I want women to be the kind of people we imagine steering the universe one day, not casually, not as accessories to wise men, not as that one seat on your guiding councils, not as background extras. In front, unquestioned, not your mothers or your sisters or your sacrificial lambs. Not wearing go-go boots or leather catsuits or any other kind of ridiculous uniform of the sexuality that seems to be the only thing you find noticeable in us. Just there, in whatever we felt like wearing that day and without some other reason to justify our presence. There because we belong – not just to your future, but to our own.