Warning: This review contains spoliers about the first episode of Enterprise, currently shown on Sky One on Mondays. It will be shown on Channel 4 later this year.
A new Sci-Fi show begins with a woman singing about believing in yourself and space exploration, that kind of cheesy thing. The main character, a spaceship captain, is female: there are six other members of her crew, four female, only two male. The two men don’t really talk to each other, but the women sit around bonding together, laughing and joking, confident and cocky. Apart from the two men, all of the other people on the ship are female. When the captain communicates with the bridge, a woman answers. There’s one other “man”, of course: the ship itself. “Take him out, Ensign. Slow and steady,” the captain commands when the ship leaves the docking bay.
Their mission is to take an injured female alien back to her homeworld. Their superiors in the Federation are women, as are the Vulcans who advise them.Their enemies are other alien women, and after many fights with them, they manage to take the injured alien home. She is received by the all-female council of her homeworld. As they are sent on their next mission, the captain fondly remembers her most important moments – with her mother, teaching her to fly a model spaceship.
This programme would never get made: it seems like some freakish trip into a disturbing parallel matriarchal dimension. Yet simply reverse the genders and you have the first episode of the new Star Trek series: Enterprise, shown on Sky on Monday. Out of the seven major characters, only two were women.
Of the various extras who got speaking parts on the show, only one was female compared to at least five men (and she got killed off).
Men laughing together, working together, fighting together
There was a strange “boys together,” macho feeling about the first episode of the new Star Trek series. It’s men together, in space, exploring the new frontier. Men laughing together, working together, fighting together. They share innuendo about three-breasted alien women. They leer at weird female alien strippers, surounded by other men. They snigger and smirk at the Vulcan female, one of the two women, when she arrives for duty, and revel in her uneasiness as they tuck into – guess what? – big, macho steaks. They fight other male aliens, while the one human female character cowers behind them. The captain saves the Vulcan woman’s life in a daring act of heroism.
Enterpise is supposedly representing the formative, historic years of humanity’s first steps into the galaxy. Yet it just seems to say that space exploration is men’s work. The two female characters have absolutely no interest in exploring space, while the men are chafing at the bit go zooming off at warp 9. They’re the ones who’re making the history here.
In the future, judging by Star Trek, women are not 52% of the population, they’re reduced to less than 30%. Star Trek, it seems, can only cope with female characters if they’re in the minority. What’s going on here? Why can’t Star Trek cope with an equal amount of men and women in its shows? It’s an interesting phenomenon: If women and men appear in equal numbers, the women appear to dominate. And we can’t have that, can we? So in Star Trek, we get this odd quota: 5 men to 2 women.
And another thing: why don’t we ever see female characters rescuing other women? And why do we never get a ‘female bonding’ scene? I can’t recall one moment in the show when two women were alone together, but I can think of plenty when men were. The two female characters barely spoke two words to each other.
We seem to have come some way from the original Star Trek series, when women said things like: “it’s better to be dead than to be a woman alone,” where a disfigured woman opted to stay on a remote alien planet rather than be taken home, because the way she looked meant she could never go back, and where the captain complained angrily about women on the bridge, even in the 23rd century.
“You allow fe-males on the bridge?”
Then for a while we had the self-satisfied Next Generation, encountering primitive aliens who pointed and gruffly said things like: “you allow fe-males on the bridge?”, allowing the characters to look smug and enlightened in comparison. But even then, the women were pretty counsellors, gentle, caring doctors. The only women in a non-stereotypical role (security) was killed off. And still we had the same quota: 5 or 6 men to 2 women.
Deep Space Nine presented rounded, interesting, intelligent and powerful female characters, yet still the same quota of main characters, more or less. Voyager was the first to give us a woman captain, and brilliant she was too – but still there were more male characters than women.
The thing is, if there is a majority of male characters with a smattering of women, this is considered normal. If it were the other way round though, it would be noticable and weird. In one episode of Voyager, the powerful alien Q suddenly takes all the men from the bridge. “What is this?” he mocks sarcastically at the women left, “the ship of the Valkyries? Going off to save their menfolk?”
A bridge with only women on it is something to comment on, something fundamentally strange. A bridge with only men on it is simply normal. There simply could not be a male equivalent of Q’s comment.
Star Trek has always reflected the concerns and style of the current day
Since the 1960s, Star Trek has always reflected the concerns and style of the current day. I wonder what this means with Enterprise, a gung-ho adventure in which primarily men deal with male aliens in a male dominated universe, where the rare female characters are usually blatently sex objects: as well-endowed as Lara Croft circa Tomb Raider 3, and about as skinny as Victoria Beckham. Of the five women I remember seeing in the first episode of Enterprise (including non-speaking background extras), all but one were portrayed in a blatently sexual way. Two were alien strippers. One seduced the captain, prowling round him, trailing fingers over his chest before kissing him. The female Vulcan parades around the ship in a skin tight figure-hugging suit, and there was a totally gratuitous scene when she slowly rubbed gel into her body in a shower cubicle.
Ironically, Enterprise seems to mark a return to the old days of Star Trek. I await the “so what is this human thing you call kissing?” line with trepidation.
It’s incredibly disappointing that even in the year 2150, the makers of Star Trek can imagine a universe filled with mind-boggling aliens, yet they cannot imagine a programme representing an equal world, free of the view that a male majority equals a representation of normal life.