We’d like to start this off by thanking Star Trek: Voyager for not giving us a reason to put it on this list. With Captain Janeway, Chief Engineer Torres, and Seven of Nine on the ship, we don’t have much to call out – okay, Seven of Nine’s outfit was problematic, but she transcended it. Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond gets a shout-out too, for being such a kick-ass character. As for the rest of Trek, there have been far too many moments when its treatment of women was just shabby. The worst culprit, unsurprisingly, is the original series, which was written and produced in the 1960s. While we give it a break for being very much a product of its time, that doesn’t make it any less fun to point out some of its really unfortunate choices when it came to women.
Here are the parameters: this is a look specifically at moments when a crappy attitude towards women was considered okay by the crew or, by association, the show producers. We’re not complaining about sexy outfits, or sex in general; we like sex in general. Kirk himself was treated as a sex object multiple times, The Next Generation put men in some memorably skimpy outfits, and frankly, we have no objections when our intrepid crews get some action. It’s not sexiness that’s the issue here; it’s sexism.
We’ve left off an original series episode that most might name first, though. “Spock’s Brain,” in which one of the lovely-but-vacuous women (Eymorgs) utters the unforgettable, “Brain and brain! What is brain?”, isn’t on this list because the men in that one (Morgs) didn’t come off any better than the women. They were just as dumb. And that’s equality, sort of! So we left that one out, along with some other cringeworthy but possibly defensible examples. And please folks, let’s not lose our sense of humor here; some of these are pretty hilarious. These are 15 Really Terrible Moments For Women In Star Trek.
15. TOS (The Original Series): Elaan of Troyius, A Planetary Leader, Gets Threatened With A Spanking
Great place to start. Elaan, formally known as The Dohlman of Elas, comes aboard the Enterprise so they can take her to Troyius, where her marriage to their leader will end a war. She does wear the requisite 1960s female guest star outfit, but that’s not what puts her on this list.
When she first arrives, and Spock is surprised by her nasty temperament, Kirk explains why it’s predictable. “Mister Spock, the women on your planet are logical. That’s the only planet in this galaxy that can make that claim.” Come on, Captain, we know Elaan is a selfish, tantrum-throwing despot, but do you really have to throw all women under the bus on this one?
Later on, when Elaan stabs the Ambassador who’s supposed to teach her the ways of her new planet and Kirk takes over, he gets frustrated with her, and in a not-so-Captainish moment, tells her, “If I touch you again, Your Glory, it’ll be to administer an ancient Earth custom called a spanking.” The only thing worse than that? After the chemicals in Elaan’s tears make Kirk fall in love with her, and he’s fully under her spell, she brings it up again. “Captain, that ancient Earth custom called spanking, what is it?” she asks, in what’s supposed to be a sexy moment. Ew.
14. TNG (The Next Generation): A Woman Is Given As A Gift
We’d like to think that in the future, men will stop seeing women as trophies, but even in the mostly enlightened Next Generation, it has yet to happen. In “The Perfect Mate,” Famke Janssen is Kamala, an empathic metamorph, the first one born in over a hundred years, and she is a gift to a political leader. Like Elaan’s, her marriage will bring peace between warring planets. She was supposed to stay in stasis in her fancy egg, but some nosy Ferengis knock it over and it opens prematurely, setting our story in motion. Picard and Riker are appropriately horrified by the whole concept of a sentient being getting treated as cargo, but Kamala insists that she is doing it all of her own free will. Even after she demonstrates that her intelligence and abilities match her astonishing beauty, it doesn’t change the fact that she’s still somebody’s present. Isn’t this supposed to be the 24th century?
Her special power, by the way, is that she imprints on a man (once she’s out of the egg) and becomes his perfect soulmate. This is what she was born for. When she gets near men, she flatters and fawns. She matches their temperament and is fascinated by their interests. And then she becomes the coolest woman in the galaxy by imprinting on Picard. Just like Elaan, Kamala must bid her Captain-love farewell, in her case to go marry the dull and indifferent Chancellor Alrik. The tragedy of this is supposed to be that she’s become Picard’s perfect mate, and they’ll never see each other again (unless you count the X-Men movies), instead of the fact that she’s doomed to a life of servitude and boredom, because it’s not really about her. It never was.
13. TOS: The Women Get Scared
It’s one thing for civilians to freak out in the face of danger, but Starfleet crew members? Aren’t they trained to deal with such things? There are two embarrassing standout moments worth including.
The first comes in the episode “Balance of Terror.” The Enterprise encounters the Romulans for the first time, and they don’ t know if they’re going to survive the ordeal. As their enemy fires on the ship, Janice Rand, the sexy Yeoman with the basketweave hairdo, moves up behind him, suddenly afraid of what’s about to happen. Kirk reaches his arm around her and holds her protectively, pulling her in close. We’re sure he’d do the same for Chekov, though. Right?
Later that same season, in one of the best Trek episodes of all time, “City on the Edge of Forever,” McCoy accidently wipes out centuries of history and leaves the Enterprise landing party stranded on a barren planet, their civilization gone. While Kirk and Spock start working on a plan to fix things, Uhura speaks up. “Captain,” she says, “I’m frightened.”
12. TOS: Kirk’s Kisses Overwhelm A Female Android
In the unfortunately titled “What Are Little Girls Are Made Of?”, Kirk and Nurse Christine Chapel go in search of her long-lost fiancé, Dr. Roger Korby, and find him living with a bunch of androids. The episode is supposed to be about how you can’t replace humans with machines because they lose their humanity, but apparently female androids are a whole other ball game.
One of the androids is a shapely, soft-voiced woman called Andrea. Chapel totally calls this one, referring to her as a mechanical geisha, after Dr. Korby raves to Kirk about how he perfected the warmth of her flesh. Andrea, of course, sports a sexy, skin-revealing outfit instead of the jumpsuit almost everybody else is wearing. This makes Korby somewhat lecherous but not entirely reprehensible, given that she’s not really a person anyway, and he wanted some eye candy down in those caverns. He insists to Chapel that she’s just an android, and can’t love; she can only do what she’s been programmed to do, which is supposed to be, um, scientific research. Or something.
It’s weird enough that Kirk overpowers her physically the first time they meet, given that she’s an android, but what’s weirder is how he’s able to throw her off the deep end completely with a kiss. He’s so powerful, and women, androids or not, are so weak, that one big kiss and then a rejection sends Andrea into a tizzy from which she never recovers. She kills the Kirk duplicate android (long story) after it rejects her, and then all she can think about is how she’s going to get more kissing. Why? Because women, even android women, are weak, especially once Jim Kirk gets ahold of them. She was android putty in his hands.
11. TNG: Women Use Flowerpots Instead Of Swords
This is already a pretty wacky episode. In “QPid,” Q casts the crew of the Enterprise as characters from Robin Hood, triggering the classic Worf line, “Sir, I protest. I am not a merry man!”
Picard’s romantic partner in this one is Vash, who we’ve met before, and she almost makes up for the embarrassing moments to come. She’s supposed to be the helpless Maid Marian, there to be rescued by Picard’s Robin Hood, but she’s not the victim type, and repeatedly plots and schemes her way out of the situations she’s put in. This is a woman who clearly does not need rescuing. Go, Vash!
All the Enterprise men have been transformed into specific characters: Worf is Will Scarlett, Data is Friar Tuck, Riker’s Little John, LaForge is Alan-A-Dale. Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi don’t have specific roles assigned; they’re just, you know, some extra chicks.
Come confrontation time, the Enterprise crewmen draw their swords and engage in battle. It’s all very exciting. So what do the women do? Do they use their Starfleet combat training? Do they kick ass like Jaylah, or their old friend Tasha Yar? Nope. Troi and Crusher find some flower pots and smash them over their opponents’ heads… and then look really surprised, as if they didn’t know they had it in them.
10. Random Stripping
While the J.J. Abrams-produced movies rely heavily on bro-friends and therefore the male cast members, they generally aren’t explicitly sexist. Uhura holds her own on the bridge as well as in combat, and Star Trek Beyond gifted us with Jaylah, who’s now off to Starfleet Academy, and hopefully will return for the next movie.
But before Beyond, there was Into Darkness, and because that movie was all about re-introducing us to characters that hardcore fans know from way back when, it includes Carol Marcus. Here’s what the fans know about Carol, according to the Star Trek canon: she gets involved with Jim Kirk when they’re young, and the relationship is serious. She gets pregnant, and raises their son David on her own, after asking Jim to stay away. She and David, both scientists, create Genesis, which Khan eventually uses as a superweapon. Kirk has dated a lot of women, but Carol Marcus is the one that got away. Bottom line, their relationship matters.
In Beyond, she’s played by Alice Eve, who’s young and hot just like Chris Pine’s Kirk. She meets him when she takes on a fake identity to join his crew. Spock finally tells Kirk who she really is, and that she has information on the mysterious torpedoes they have on board. So Kirk confronts her, during which she randomly has him follow her into a shuttle, then tells him to turn his back. She strips down for no reason within the story we can fathom, and when he turns to catch a look, there she is in all her matching underweared glory. She even poses for him, in mock indignance. Blah.
9. DS9 (Deep Space 9): The Double Date From Hell
Star Trek: Deep Space 9 has some pretty fabulous women on it. Major Kira and Lieutenant Dax are strong, smart, fearless, and endlessly nuanced. Love ‘em.
But they share the space station with some Ferengi, who are known for their backwards culture. Ferengi women don’t wear clothes or have any power. They can’t travel or earn profit, which is the MO of the Ferengi species, and they’re not supposed to go out alone or do anything other than nurture their men. So it’s not surprising when Quark, Rom, and Nog act like chauvinists; in fact, it’s to be expected.
But in “Life Support,” Jake Sisko takes Nog with him on a double date. Nog acts like a pig. He insults the girls, and calls his date dumb. “No one’s asking you think think, my dear,” he tells her. “Here, make yourself useful. Cut up my food for me.”
So yeah, I get it: the Ferengi are sexist. We like that this repulses Jake, but we stop being on board with him when he decides that it’s okay. The message is supposed to be about accepting diversity, but it sounds too much like the argument people make who are against inclusion, when they demand that everyone tolerate their intolerance. We can’t swallow the idea that it’s okay because it’s Nog. Would Captain Janeway have given Jake the same advice his dad did, that it’s just a different culture and he has to accept it? Would Kira? Would Dax? We’re glad the boys stay friends, but this is a time when agreeing to disagree just doesn’t cut it.
8. TOS: Romance Ruins The Romulan Commander
“The Enterprise Incident” is a bit of an embarrassing episode in general. For one, the whole story unfolds when Starfleet decides to steal a cloaking device. That’s pretty unethical behavior from an organization that claims to live on the moral high ground. But we digress.
The Romulans are fierce, dedicated warriors, and their commander is a woman. She’s the first woman we ever see in command on the original series, which makes it that much worse when her undoing is so easy. All it takes is some orange juice in square glasses and some finger-to-finger touching and she’s ready to believe that Spock, a decorated career officer, has killed his captain (with his improvised, fictional Vulcan Death Grip), and is going to betray Starfleet for her. She doesn’t suspect a thing, and soon enough, the device is aboard the Enterprise, and so is she… in an evening gown. She’s failed at everything. Starfleet has the cloaking device, the Enterprise survives despite her orders to destroy it, she’s a captive, and Spock lets her know that he liked her, but not enough.
And then, in a little burst of condescendingly sexist behavior, Kirk gives her quarters instead of putting her in the brig, which he wouldn’t be doing with a male commander, who might actually be a threat to security.
7. TOS: Yeoman Barrows Wants To Be A Princess
In “Shore Leave,” the crew is investigating a planet for some much-needed shore leave, while a secret device follows them around and creates physical manifestations of whatever they’re thinking. It’s a particularly fun episode, with the final outcome being that the planet is really a super-sophisticated type of amusement park for superior beings, who are so smart that they know how important it is to take time to play.
But until the crew figures that out, danger abounds as the things they’re thinking about start appearing. The men mostly think of he-man stuff, like guns, guys they want to punch, fighter planes and tigers. The two women in the group aren’t quite so aggressive. One just follows her boyfriend around as he educates her about strafing runs and big cats. The other, Tonia Barrows, gets romantically paired up with McCoy, which is fun, but when her thoughts come to life, they’re depressingly old school. Barrows is walking around on a gorgeous planet and all she can think about is how she’d like to wear a princess outfit and get rescued by a brave knight. Yep, this is the fantasy of a 23rd century Starfleet officer. Disappointing, especially to girls in the 1960s watching the show whose fantasies were about being a 23rd century Starfleet officer INSTEAD of a princess.
6. TNG: Counselor Troi Spends Almost Six Seasons Out Of Uniform
Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi, once described her TNG first season wardrobe to a New York Comic-Con crowd as a “cosmic cheerleader outfit,” and suggested it was more suited to a caged go-go dancer than a Starfleet officer. We agree! It was silly.
But it didn’t end there. The only reason we can come up with for Troi’s bizarre, non-standard outfits is that she was supposed to be the show’s hottie and they wanted to show off her curves. Tasha Yar wore a uniform. Beverly Crusher wore a uniform. ALL the women wore uniforms, except Troi, which made no sense whatsoever.
She went through some odd costume changes. After the cheerleader outfit, she wore a strange purple bodysuit with a plunging neckline, and then a long dress that looked more like she was going to a cocktail party than serving on a starship.
Finally, in season six, temporarily-in-command-of-the-Enterprise Captain Jellico (played by original Robocop bad guy Ronny Cox) orders her to wear a proper uniform, and while the request is supposed to indicate his inflexibility and general meanness, we will be forever grateful to him. And so, apparently, was Marina Sirtis.
“I was thrilled when I got my regulation Star Fleet uniform, or the regulation space suit, as we call it. First of all, it covered up my cleavage and, consequently, I got all my brains back, because when you have a cleavage you can’t have brains in Hollywood. So I got all my brains back and I was allowed to do things that I hadn’t been allowed to do for five or six years. I went on away teams, I was in charge of staff, I had my pips back, I had phasers, I had all the equipment again, and it was fabulous. I was absolutely thrilled.”
5. Captain Kirk Selects Ilia’s Wardrobe
Here’s a good one from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This was the first time, but not the last, that someone added a hot and sexy crew member to the gang of regulars to spice things up, and counted on a ridiculous wardrobe to seal the deal.
In the movie, Indian actress Persis Khambatta stars as Ilia, a Deltan navigator who has a romantic history with Commander Decker, played by the now-disgraced-but-then-young-and-fresh Stephen Collins. There was a lot of hype about her before it came out, mostly because she was a beautiful actress/model who shaved her head for the role. It’s actually kind of great that they wanted to do something non-traditional with beauty, and it got them a lot of press before the movie came out.
Not long into the story (although for many, it sure felt long), Ilia is taken by V’ger, the giant space probe that’s threatening Earth. Later, she reappears in her own quarters, in her sonic shower, but she’s been turned into a probe. She looks pretty much the same, except she now has a glowing disc in her throat. But instead of being in her uniform, which she was wearing when she was zapped away, she’s naked. So Kirk, in the interest of decorum, punches up something on the console by the shower, so she’ll be clothed when she steps out.
For the rest of the movie, Ilia walks around in a shortie robe and high heels.
Okay, we can buy that Ilia might wear a short robe around her quarters, but does she really have to wear it for the rest of the movie? And why the heck would her programmable post-shower lounge wear include a pair of high heels? We don’t know, but that’s what Kirk put her in and that’s what she stayed in, for that and every scene that came after. 1979, folks.
4. TOS: The Enterprise Men Get Creepy Over Miranda Jones
The episode title’s a bit of a giveaway: “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” But it’s actually a pretty good one, in terms of the overall story, and Spock gets some great lines about the nature of humanity when Kollos, the pure energy being, is using his body.
When Kollos comes aboard, he’s accompanied by Dr. Miranda Jones, a scientist and telepath who has spent years studying Vulcan mental disciplines. None of that means anything to most of the male senior staff on the Enterprise, though, as they can’t get enough of how gorgeous she is. Since Kollos is a Medusan, a formless species considered so ugly that they cause madness to any human who sees them, the men are particularly incensed that she wants to mind-link with him and spend her life among his people.
“I can’t understand why they let you go with Kollos,” Kirk tells her, at a dinner party where she is the only female guest and the men are all drooling. “The male population of the Federation. Didn’t someone try and talk you out of it?”
They have a philosophical discussion about beauty, which gets interesting, and then he proposes a toast, proving it all washed right over him. “To Miranda Jones, the loveliest human ever to grace a starship.” McCoy chimes in: “How can one so beautiful condemn herself to look upon ugliness the rest of her life? Will we allow it, gentlemen?” Yes, he really did say allow it, as if they get to have a say just because she’s so hot. Dr. Jones counters with the notion that they won’t allow McCoy, who’s so full of joy, to look upon disease and suffering. She really gives it a go. But after she leaves, McCoy says to the room, “Now where I come from, that’s what I call a lady.” Dude, seriously? It’s 2268, or something. C’mon.
3. TOS: Carolyn Palamas Is Too Beautiful For Starfleet
“Who Mourns For Adonais?” is an episode that speculates on the origins of the Greek gods, and gives us the “giant green space hand” that Scotty talks about in Star Trek Beyond. It also gives us Lieutenant Carolyn Palamas, and some very regrettable dialogue.
Lt. Palamas is a stunningly beautiful woman, and Scotty is smitten. Kirk and McCoy think she’s out of his league. Is it the hair? The figure? The smile? We don’t know, but Apollo will see it too, and she’ll break his heart.
Before all that happens, we find her standing on the bridge, talking to Uhura and a googly-eyed Scotty, while McCoy and Kirk talk about her from less than ten feet away. McCoy doesn’t like the romance that might be brewing.
“Scotty’s a good man,” Kirk tells a concerned McCoy. “And he thinks he’s the right man for her,” McCoy replies, “but I’m not sure she thinks he’s the right man.” He continues. “On the other hand, she’s a woman. All woman. One day she’ll find the right man and off she’ll go, out of the service.” And Kirk agrees, right before the giant green space hand shows up.
2. TOS: It’s Specifically Stated That Women Can’t Be Captains
It’s bad enough that this episode, the final one of the series to air, spells out that women are not allowed to be Starship captains. This was policy?!
Janice Lester, a former flame of Kirk’s, uses some ancient technology to switch bodies with him. Lester is suffering from radiation poisoning, so that leaves Kirk trapped in her weak body while she’s out there enjoying the strength and swagger of his. But since she’s a woman, she starts acting it pretty quickly, displaying “emotional instability and erratic mental attitudes,” according to Dr. McCoy. So that’s why women can’t be captains! We can’t control our emotions.
“Her intense hatred of her own womanhood made life with her impossible,” Kirk says about her, from his trap inside her still-frail body. The entire episode backs up the idea that women are too unstable, too emotional, and too erratic to command. And that leaves us with the very last line ever spoken in the original series, said by Kirk after he gets his body back. “Her life could have been as rich as any woman’s.” Not as rich as yours, though, right? Ugh.
1. TOS: Spock Gets Creepy
This one is especially gross. Famous sci-fi writer Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man) wrote a really intense episode about a transporter accident that splits Kirk into two parts. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it makes for a great story anyway; one of the Kirks is gentle and weak, the other (called “the imposter”) is aggressive and strong. This leads to lots of conversation about the two sides of human nature and their inter-relatedness, but all that intellectual talk isn’t much help when evil Kirk is running around menacing people.
His main target is Janice Rand, the yeoman with whom he’s always had sexual tension. He goes after her more than once, and tries to rape her. Unfortunately the senior officers don’t seem to grasp the gravity of this. Then Spock, the one person you’d think you could count on to not ever be a pig, says something super creepy to her. After the Kirks are reunited into one being, and Janice has recovered from her ordeal, he raises an eyebrow meaningfully and says to her, almost leering, “The impostor had some interesting qualities, wouldn’t you say, Yeoman?” Is he really asking if her experience with an attempted rapist was a turn-on? Sadly, he is.
Spock! We expected better.
The newest series, Star Trek Discovery, premieres in January 2017 and may star a female captain.