I had an unexpected free evening so I decided to go see Star Trek [insert colon here] Into Darkness. I settled in, ready for good popcorn movie fun. But as the movie progressed, my joy in Benedict Cumberbatch and in Kirk and Spock’s bromance began to fade. My immersion in the story ended as I started to realize that this movie was failing the Bechdel test.
Evidence for that failure and other bits of sexism:
1. Although two women are featured secondary characters, they never speak to each other. And both are defined in relation to men — one through her relationship with a fellow officer, the other through her relationship with her father and through audience awareness of her future relationship with Kirk.
2. The women still wear skimpy dresses with short sleeves and boots while the men wear pants and long-sleeved shirts. At the very least, they are chilly.
3. Obligatory scene of woman in bra and panties.
4. Woman is allowed on-board the Enterprise not because of her impressive academic credentials, but because Kirk thinks she’s hot.
5. All but one of the senior command of Starfleet are men.
Sure, the movie is based on a 1960s tv show — isn’t this what we expect? But Star Trek: The Original Series was a forward-thinking program. For a show of the 60s, it was progressive in its explorations of race and culture. The first scripted interracial kiss on television was on Star Trek. In his determination to remain true to TOS, J.J. Abrams freezes the crew, halts the progressivism. He doesn’t reimagine a crew — he replicates a crew. Unlike the Battlestar Galactica reboot which recast two major characters as women and depicted a post-feminist world by virtue of a nearly post-human world, Star Trek Into Darkness merely adds loud special effects and lots of lens flare to a world that is basically still 1960s America. Abrams had all the possibilities of the future and he chose to depict the past.
I’m tired of the assumption that geeky action movies are only for men. Half the audience in the theater tonight were middle-aged women. I’m tired of the assumption that men want to see objectified women. Many men are feminists. I wish I had an answer, a solution. I do know that we geeks fight hard. We got a cancelled tv show made into a movie. We brought back Futurama from the dead. Let’s be geeky about feminism. Let’s demand more shows like BSG, like Firefly, like Buffy. Let’s demand a female Doctor, a female Obi Wan.
Let’s see what happens when a movie like Star Trek creates female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. And what happens when a big-budget science fiction movie imagines the future and reflects the present.