Love and Frustration with Star Trek
I'm a Star Trek fan. I am, for the first time, working my way through Star Trek Enterprise, and while I love the series, there's also something incredibly disappointing.
The science officer is a Vulcan called T'Pol, played by actress, Jolene Blalock. It might seem great to have a female character as a first officer (and their science expert). The disappointment runs beyond the fact that the character wears, essentially, a full body leotard in all episodes, except in scenes where she's in decontamination, and then it's just underwear.
There are at least three episodes where three different male officers' sexual interest is made a theme of the episode.
On the "subtle" side, there's an episode where Malcom, played by Dominic Keating, believes himself stranded in a shuttle pod and sure to die, confessing his attraction to T'Pol's bum to Commander Tucker and dreaming about her as the oxygen supply depletes. This "story" forces actress, Blalock, into one her multiple incredibly awkward scenes where she must feign attraction to one of her male officers.
The most disappointing, though, is season 2, episode 5, titled "A Night in Sick Bay."
THE ENTIRE EPISODE
The entire episode is dedicated to the story that Captain Archer, played by Scott Bakula, has been getting progressively grumpier with T'Pol because he hasn't gotten laid in a while and (of course) is sexually attracted to T'Pol.
And no surprise, he "dreams" about her and actress Blalock is forced into another awkward scene of embrace with yet another male cast member.
I probably don't need to spell out that it comes across as insulting that the highest ranking female officer is used over and over again as the one creating sexual tension.
Related to that, the narrative is a bit insulting for men. The male characters are written as though, not only that they *must be sexually attracted to her, with no other possible alternative, but also that they are seemingly incapable, these highly trained men, of keeping it to themselves.
We are supposed to believe that Captain Archer, a highly trained officer that has made it to the rank of commanding earth's first interstellar star ship, needs hours of coaxing by Dr. Phlox to see that all his pent up grumpiness is just from not getting laid and that that’s why he’s taking it out on T’Pol and not, say, Commander Tucker?
No eye roll can possibly be big enough for this.
Girls (and I mean young girls) watch Star Trek. It is DAMAGING to see the fictional characters you respect and look up to portrayed this way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with T'Pol, or any woman, being sexy. The issue here is that the portrayal of her sexuality is (like most media) always through the lens of the men who are attracted to her. It's as though she can't have both sexual autonomy and also be their object of carnal desire. I have to suspect, that all these bits were written by heterosexual men.
Regardless, the writers/producers deliberately went out of their way to heavy handedly point out her male colleagues inability to not see her as a sex object.
As someone now working in STEM, I hope the general media of late is doing a better job in the way they portray powerful women and sexuality in general, but I won’t hold my breath.