Sometimes, being a nerd girl is stressful. Yesterday, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness and there was so much I loved. I wanted to write a stellar review of it and post it here, but something was stopping me. In writing down my notes, I realized that there was also a lot that was upsetting me about the movie. As you may have noticed, when I get upset, I dwell. I research. This time, it took me from Star Trek to Sherlock via Benedict Cumberbatch, and from there to Doctor Who, via Stephen Moffat. What do these fun and fantastic things all have in common besides my love? Unfortunately, a horrifying treatment of women and prime examples of a misogynist male gaze in tv/film.
If you haven’t seen STID, Doctor Who, or Sherlock, be aware that this entire article contains SPOILERS.
Now let’s talk about Star Trek: Into Darkness. First, the good:
- Zachary Quinto is really fantastic as Spock. His character is one of the only well-rounded characters in this new Trek series, and I would be perfectly fine if he captained the Enterprise instead of Kirk. In fact, most of this movie and its predecessor to be honest, focus on how absolutely unfit Kirk is for command. He repeatedly makes decisions based on his gut, but in every instance this time around, his gut is wrong. Basically, Kirk sucks as a commander and Spock should rightfully pilot the Enterprise. And why not? In the last movie, Nero messed everything up in their timeline, so why can’t Spock be the star of this new universe?
- Unlike in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Uhura is actually allowed to speak Klingon! It’s like she almost has a point in this movie besides showing the audience Spock’s humanity.
- Scottie. Everything he does. Simon Pegg is fantastic.
- Benedict Cumberbatch. Now, I’m far from a Cumberbitch, but I could swim in his voice. He does a fantastic job with very minimal information in the script. Is he good? Is he bad? (Spoilers, he’s KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!)
- Mickey Smith from Doctor Who appears briefly, as does a tribble. Basically, I had Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Star Trek all collide fantastically. Oh, also Peter Weller shows up. That’s right. Robocop is in this movie.
- John Cho got to be relatively badass, although without a sword this time. Same for Bones, who ties Spock for best lines in the movie. Seriously, I would watch the shit out of this Star Trek series if they kept the whole crew but tossed Kirk back into the Academy for a few years where he belongs.
- The action is great. Most of it is nonsensical, but who cares when you’re having so much fun?
- Anton Yelchin, you are totally adorable as Chekov, but wtf is that accent?
- We have demolished both London AND San Francisco, but it’s ok in the end because Kirk makes a speech about how they got Khan in the end?
- Show, I don’t understand your physics. The gravity drive fails, and now people are falling all over the place like in the sinking of the Titanic. Wouldn’t everyone be kind of ok if the gravity drive failed?
- Magic blood. No one has to die or even be injured ever again. Thank you for removing all threats of danger from this series forever.
- Leonard Nimoy shows up to say “I really can’t tell you anything about your future, BUT since I’m here, let me tell you absolutely everything about Khan and how to defeat him.” >.<
- I liked our ambiguity in terms of villains (is Khan really good? Is the Federation really bad?) but by not deciding who the real villain was until the very end, it made it hard to care.
- Benedict Cumberbatch runs through San Francisco and randomly stops to pick up a long leather jacket. This serves no purpose other than to make him look sexy and would actually slow down his running speed. Why would you do this? His fangirls watch Sherlock. We know what he looks like in a long coat. He even wore one earlier in the movie! Does he feel naked without his coat?
- “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” actually made me laugh when I should have been crying. Also, on that point, Spock was crying. Let’s look back at Nimoy’s Spock of 1967, from “Amok Time:”
Spock: [wipes a tear from Christine's face with his finger] Your face is wet.
I guess this Spock cries because of timelines from Nero messing everything up? The genocide of his race makes him more human instead of more Vulcan?
- Why does Dr. Marcus have a different accent than her Robocop father? Timelines again?
- I would like to defer to the brilliant Felicia Day who wrote on the dearth of female characters in power in this movie. Seriously, there are two female characters with names and they both exist as romantic foils for the leading men who seem far too interested in their bromance with each other than with their female counterparts. There are a couple of random women working on the Enterprise, but none of them have names and fewer have dialogue. In the big council of all the Captains and First Officers, there are no women at all. Troubling.
- We are introduced to brilliant powerful women who are eventually shown to be useless except as damsels in distress. Uhura works as an intermediary to speak Klingon, but is immediately captured and nearly killed. She spends the rest of her time worrying about Spock and their relationship. Ugh.
- Dr. Marcus is introduced as a potential baddie and a far more interesting character than she turns out to be. Appearing as a genius woman of mystery, she instantly becomes helpless eye candy who is only relevant because of her relationships with more powerful men (her father Admiral Marcus and her future lover Kirk). After being a vehicle via Kirk for the male gaze of the audience (more on that in a moment), she is nearly killed by Khan and then…doesn’t do much else until the end when she’s somehow still part of the Enterprise crew.
Now let’s talk about the male gaze and how it affects Star Trek: Into Darkness. The opening of the movie has already established Kirk as a womanizer. He’s shown in bed with twin hottie aliens, but that’s apparently not enough. Carol Marcus decides to change her clothes (for no apparent reason) before a mission and politely asks Kirk to turn around while they’re talking. l Of course, he only turns for a moment before ignoring her wishes and checking her out. To put that in contemporary terms, Carol Marcus was just sexually harassed by her boss. Her employer willfully ignored her wishes and stared at her in a state of undress. Because the viewers are supposed to identify with Kirk, Alice Eve as Carol gets to be ogled by the entire audience, as well.
What purpose does this scene serve other than to show us that Alice Eve is hot? We know she’s attractive, and she’s already filling in the much needed diversity slot on the Enterprise for thin, busty, blonde, white women. Apparently Uhura isn’t eye candy enough. We need a white girl, dammit! And make her a damsel in distress, too, or no one will buy it. Apparently the writers and director of Star Trek want us to accept this random bit of pandering because they showed Kirk topless in bed earlier. However, a demonstration of his prowess in the bedroom is hardly the same thing as a woman being viewed sexually against her will.
In addition, a deleted scene of Khan having a shower of anger has been thrown around the internet as proof that the underwear scene isn’t misogynistic. Ignoring the fact that the scene was deleted and shouldn’t even be used for comparison, Cumberbatch is naked in that scene and standing alone (not being watched by a superior). Also, he is having a moment of cold fury as opposed to being undressed for absolutely no reason at all. The deleted scene shows Khan’s power, while the stripping of Carol Marcus shows her complete lack of it.In interviewing J.J. Abrams, Conan O’Brien changed the purpose of the shower scene to be a sexual one, and by doing so for comedic effect, made the scene more equal to the Ms. Eve’s moment. Of course everyone laughs, because we’re unaccustomed to seeing men portrayed as sexual objects in sci-fi or fantasy. It makes the shower look stupid and fan-servicing, which is something that we have become far too comfortable with when it comes to women’s bodies.
Sadly, this treatment of women in science fiction is far from unexpected. Michael Bay’s films require a random hot girl to do nothing except look pretty, and no one disputes that as part of his oeuvre. What is so distressing about the sexist treatment of women in STID is that it’s exactly the opposite of what an audience expects going into a Star Trek movie. Star Trek has had female captains, commanders, doctors, and horrifying villains. Like Doctor Who and Sherlock, it’s often cited as a “thinking person’s” show. Unfortunately, Doctor Who and Sherlock, both written by Stephen Moffat, suffer from their own special form of misogyny.
“There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married – we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands.”
I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor if you hadn’t read that quote until now. Viewing Doctor Who and Sherlock through that misogynistic lens, the treatment of formerly powerful women Irene Adler and River Song becomes clear. Unlike in Doyle’s story, this Irene Adler isn’t allowed to best Sherlock. In fact, she strips naked for him and forgoes lesbianism because his appeal reaches beyond gender preferences. In addition to that, she has to be saved from an evil Middle Eastern executioner by Holmes, effectively changing her from one of his greatest nemeses to the ultimate damsel in distress. A femme rendered completely un-fatal. Also, unlike the original Irene Adler who worked on her own, this incarnation is nothing more than a pawn for Moriarty. It always comes down to the boys in this Sherlock. Women are merely there for tasty intrigue, and of course, looking sexy.
Moving to Doctor Who, let’s look at how Moffat created and then destroyed River Song. Despite the fact that her introductory episode had one of the most flagrant instances of sexism ever seen in nu-Who (in short, only ugly women can be smart and no matter how adventurous a woman may seem, all she really wants in life is to settle down and raise children) she remained a total badass and a cipher. She knows more about the Doctor than he knows about himself and she sacrifices herself to save him. Then, she’s “saved” by being put in a virtual prison where she can raise computer code children for the rest of time, and somehow this is a happy ending for our rugged adventurer. That being said, I was excited to see more of River and was thrilled when she showed up again. I was eager to watch her courtship of the Doctor…until, of course, Moffat ruined it.
The more we learned about River Song, the more I pitied her. Instead of a powerful woman who wins the Doctor’s affection by being his equal in human form, she’s shown to have been constantly manipulated throughout her entire existence. Her whole being is because of the Doctor, from her conception on the Tardis to her obsession with him throughout her childhood. She becomes an archaeologist to have a better way to get in touch with him. She becomes a doctor because he mistakenly tells her she will. She goes to jail for a crime she never committed (murdering the Doctor), but it’s ok because occasionally he takes her out for dates that we never see while always returning her to prison at the end of the night.
All of River’s fun adventures with the Doctor happen off-screen. Even her wedding to the Doctor is an afterthought, something he seems to do just to shut her up instead of because he loves and respects her. In her introduction, she knows the Doctor’s name and he says there’s only one reason he would tell anyone that. In “The Name of the Doctor” we find out that she knows because she nagged him to death until he told her. Wow. Glad I waited three years for that to be resolved. Moffat, I love your show. Please stop ruining your characters.
Nerdlings, I love sci-fi. I love fantasy. I grew up watching Star Trek and STNG with my parents. One of my earliest crushes was on Levar Burton, because he was Geordi LaForge AND Reading Rainbow! I loved Star Wars and ignored the fact that there’s only one female character. I wanted to be Han Solo and run off and have adventures with Chewbacca and Lando, and save the universe! Part of what I love about sci-fi is that all societal rules are off. You can get rid of racial and sexual discrimination by saying that in the future, people are so evolved that those things don’t exist. Anyone, no matter their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or even species can be whoever they want to be. Sadly, the stories of the future are written by men in the present who seem to be very tied to their ideas of what men and women should be. We can’t see the change in the future without first creating it ourselves. As geeks, nerds, and general audiences, we should demand better.
Oh, and one more thought on Khan: