Because I’ve been thinking about all of this a lot lately, and I decided I should probably channel that thought into something.
It’s interesting that this post came across my dash today because I just rewatched The Search For Spock and I was actually going to make a post about how it portrays female characters compared to Reboot.
The Search For Spock (made in 1984, written by Gene Roddenberry and directed by Leonard Nimoy) does not pass the Bechdel Test. It is most definitely a movie about dudes, but (imo) what makes it so strikingly different from the Reboot franchise, is that while there are only a few female characters, they are not sexualized or objectified in any way. There are only two female characters of note - Uhura and Saavik - and both of them are Starfleet officers who wear uniforms identical to the male officers and both remain fully dressed at all times. (There is one female Klingon with a few minutes of screentime who wears a dress that shows quite a bit of cleavage, but the majority of her shots are framed from the neck up, so it doesn’t come across as a gratuitous male gaze thing. There is also a female Vulcan healer at the end who wears robes nearly identical to the male Vulcans, as well as a handful of female Starfleet officers here and there wearing the same uniform as the men.)
There’s a scene with McCoy in one of those shady intergalactic bars popular in space movies, which feels like the perfect opportunity for a bunch of half naked exotic lady aliens with five breasts or whatever, but there is no noticeable difference in how the female background characters are dressed compared to the male characters. The waitress is dressed in a spandex outfit, but like the Klingon in the beginning, her speaking shot is framed from the neck up, and McCoy does not flirt with her or make any comments about her appearance.
So while this film does not pass the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t give me any skeevy feelings wrt the portrayal of female characters. The film is about the lengths that Kirk (and secondarily, the rest of the Enterprise crew) will go to in order to save Spock, and that’s the focus of nearly every scene. For all his reputation as a ladies man or a playboy, Kirk does not flirt with any women or make any sexualized comments about women in the entire film. In fact, I don’t think there is a single gendered or sexualized comment made by anyone, and the only relationship that gets any significant attention is the one between Kirk and Spock.
The Search For Spock does not achieve the equal gender representation that Gene Roddenberry talked about, but the women who are in the film serve roles equal to the men and are not depicted as objects of desire. Uhura is awesome in this film and I desperately wish she had more scenes, but her supporting role is equal to that of Sulu, Scotty, and Chekhov. She gets her moment to be the hero, and it’s not sexualized in any way. Saavik intervenes when the shell-of-Spock is going through pon farr, but it’s not remotely sexual, which is actually pretty amazing when you consider what pon farr is all about. She remains fully dressed, and the scene is one of grim determination rather than sexytimes. I’m pretty sure JJ Abrams’ version of fuck-or-die would not be two fully clothed people awkwardly touching fingers while keeping as much distance as Vulcanly possible between their bodies.
So yeah, needs more ladies, but the ladies who are in this film are not sexualized and serve similar purposes to the male supporting characters. The women are not depicted as objects of desire to either the male characters or the audience, and the only character who gets (sort of) fridged is a man. This is such a perfect example of why JJ Abrams is an idiot for throwing in gratuitous scantily clad ladies in order to appeal to the “rather large male fanbase”: The Search For Spock did not objectify women, and yet somehow the Star Trek franchise continued on for seven more films and four television series before the Reboot. Imagine that. It’s possible to make a film about all those dicks on the Enterprise without being a giant dick yourself.
am i the only one who is pretty sure this is a water bending move?
I’m a firm believer that the best benders are those who look beyond their own element’s bending techniques and discover new ways of bending. Look at Toph, she bends completely differently from other earthbenders, and she’s one of the most powerful benders in the world. Look at Iroh, he devised lightning redirection from waterbending. This just shows that Zuko is a great firebender.
I think it probably has more to do with the way Zuko changed from the beginning to the end of the story. Each bending art is modeled after a martial art that closely mimics the element. Perhaps Zuko’s change in bending style is supposed to represent how his once fiery spirit had become more tranquil like a water bender’s.
ImprovedAltered version of this post because people kept commenting that they were surprised it didn’t end with “old as balls.”
The Reboot’s Uniforms & Why They Are Sexist
Why are you ranting about this? you ask rhetorically.
I ignore the facetiousness of your tone and tell you anyway.
Starfleet is a para-military organization. It’s structure follows a chain of command. Responsibility and authority flow from the top of the command structure down. Authority and responsibility are not invested in the people, but in the positions they hold. For example, if Dr. McCoy is relieved of duty, he would not longer be Chief Medical Officer aboard the Enterprise. The next person in the chain of command would take his place.
Now, let’s play a game with hypotheticals, shall we?
Let’s say that instead of Dr. McCoy being relieved of duty, he is incapacitated while serving aboard the Enterprise. This happens during an emergency situation. People are pouring into Sickbay, and many of them are from different departments, with no idea who is in-charge in Sickbay. They need a way of quickly knowing who is in-charge so that they can be treated. Luckily for them, Starfleet has foreseen this calamity. All they need to do is look at the uniforms and the badges. They look for blue, see a medical comm-badge, and then glance at the acting CMO’s sleeve. They immediately know who is coordinating medical treatment in this crisis.
Now, let’s play another round of this game…
In this version, Dr. McCoy is incapacitated during a medical emergency just like the last situation, but in this situation, the acting Chief Medical Officer is a woman. People pour into Sickbay from different departments, not knowing who is in-charge. They look around for blue shirts and medical comm-badges, but the highest ranking personnel they see is an ensign. They ask him for help, interrupting what he is doing. He directs them to the acting CMO. All of this happens over the span of a few minutes, but in the chaos of the emergency, these minutes make the difference between life and death of the people being treated.
You can see why this might begin to cause an issue.
Similarly, let’s say that Lt. Uhura commands a random ensign to do something of the utmost importance. On a ship as large as the Enterprise, this ensign does not recognize Lt. Uhura. They know who she is, but they haven’t seen her that much, spending most of their time in Engineering. They then spend the time to ask who she is before following the order. In an emergency situation, that time is precious.
Perhaps that example works even better with Lt. Marcus, who is actually a new addition to the Enterprise crew. It is highly conceivable that her new crewmates would be unaware as to her identity and rank.
There is literally no mechanism for crewmembers to immediately asses the rank of the women serving in Starfleet. For all some new crewmember knows, Uhura could be anything from an ensign to a lieutenant commander.
But, you say having listened to me drone on, women can choose to wear variations of the uniform!
Ahh! Not so fast!
You see, women in TOS could do that too.
As you will note, this is a uniform cut for a woman
that has pants.
The lack of piping indicates that this woman rocking pants is of a lower rank, and is probably an ensign or is enlisted. She still has a means of displaying rank.
Even TNG flipped this standard on its head, but showing men in the background wearing the skant version of the uniform in the 1980s.
But see those pips? That’s his rank indicator.
You see, much like TOS and TNG, the Reboot has thus far relegated modified uniforms to a few select background extras. What’s the problem with that?
Only allowing a unnamed background characters to wear the variant uniform is not the same as seeing Lt. Uhura or Lt. Marcus occasionally wear it.
Additionally, the cultural context of the miniskirt has changed. While it was once seen as a symbol of liberation, it is now interpreted as one of objectification. That is not to say that the miniskirt is inherently one or the other, but that a very clear message is sent within our own cultural context today when the vast majority of the women seen onscreen are wearing it.
Within film, and also television, there is a saying, “Show, don’t tell.” Film is primarily a visual medium and secondarily an audio medium. The majority of the information in film is communicated to the audience visually. That means that seeing one or two extras wearing variant uniforms in shots that last perhaps a few seconds within the context of a feature-length film does not show us much. It has almost the same effect on the audience as a throw-away line of dialogue of Uhura saying, “I prefer the short-sleeved dress to the other options” would. That is to say, it has almost no effect at all, because that is not what the audience sees for the vast majority of the film.
Saying that women clearly have the option of wearing the variant uniform is like saying R2-D2 is a Star Trek character because he appeared as a bit of debris for a few seconds in both the Reboot films.
You see, even in the TOS Mirror-verse, women still show rank.
See that braid around the collar of Uhura’s top?
That signifies her rank.
Even the corrupt Terran Empire, with its midriff-baring uniforms, still has a means by which women can display their rank. After all, the Terran Empire might be vicious and terrible, but it also has to function properly.
So when high-ranking women officers have no way of displaying rank on a starship that routinely faces danger, it causes problems in emergency situations, and annoyance in everyday life.
It makes no sense functionally within the world of the universe.
The world of the universe is a fictional one, however, so why does this all matter?
Well, real people made the decision to not include a way for the women officers to display their rank. It probably wasn’t a decision made out of malice. The costume designer might’ve been too worried about the "large male fanbase" that "JJ wanted to appeal to”. Perhaps it just didn’t occur to Micheal Kaplan.
But then why didn’t anyone notice it? Why wasn’t it corrected before filming started?
In my opinion, the answer lies in how the women characters are treated by the script.
In short, the women aren’t scripted as officers in the same way that their colleagues who are men are.
That’s why something so small has taken on such a larger meaning. The lack of rank insignia has come to be a symbol for the problematic and sexist ways the Reboot has treated its fictional women. It so eloquently captures the attitude that many of the people in creative and executive positions have expressed toward the women characters, and fans who dare to voice such criticisms.
As an actual female military officer, (US Navy, meaning our rank system functions identically to Star Trek’s) this is important. I can guarantee you that each of my uniforms has a rank, and there’s no way the military would eliminate that in the future.
There are times when military officers do not wear ranks. For example, in active combat zones when it would be too easy for enemy snipers to pick out the high ranking officers thus devastating command authority, but that rank removal would apply to everyone, from the lowest ranking enlisted to the highest ranking officer, definitely not just the females.
Selectively stripping females of their rank insignia essentially strips them of their power and the respect they’re due. When an enlisted personnel (or lower ranking officer) passes a higher ranked officer on the street, they salute them. It doesn’t matter if they’ve never met before. The lower ranked person knows to salute because that person deserves their respect. End of story. No debating it. You respect the rank. Taking away women’s ability to show their rank destroys the culture of respect for women that Star Trek tried so hard to create.
[aggressively hums the Game of Thrones theme at you progressively louder over the next month]
SEA IS FOR COOKIE!
what perfection this is
" Break the rules to find new ways to tell stories." — Felicia Day