Thu
Mar 15 2012 11:10am

Redskirts

We’re all familiar with the Star Trek cliché of the guy in the red shirt who bites it in the first moments of the episode to show that whatever peril the crew is facing in the episode is really serious. But when Kirk explained the make-up of his crew in “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” it was roughly 50% female, and not all crew members on away missions were guys in red shirts – some of them were women in short red skirts. NBC’s internal limitations on the ways that women could react to dangerous situations on screen – Nichelle Nichols recalls not being allowed to punch in fight scenes – meant that a woman’s death sent a different, less dramatic message than a man’s death. Under these constraints, a woman’s corpse slumped dramatically in the Vasquez Rocks before the opening credits could easily suggest that she should have stayed on the ship, rather than that the away team is in Serious Danger. So what happened when a woman was on the away team?

Ugly Peril – “The Deadly Years”

Lt. Galway In this episode, the away team is carrying out a routine re-supply mission to a colony on Gamma Hydra IV. While the team struggles to locate the colonists, Ensign Chekhov walks into a dark building, and finds a corpse. Hysterical screaming ensues. The rest of the team comes running to investigate. They discover the corpse of an old man, and then the rest of the colony, which is aging at an unusual rate. Captain Kirk’s ex-girlfriend is on hand, and is an endocrinologist, which you might think would come in handy in a situation like this, but unfortunately she stands around being useless while most of the away team deals with wrinkles, graying hair, arthritis, and memory loss. Lt. Arlene Galway, the only member of the away team who does not also serve on the bridge, is the first, and only, member of the crew to die, and her death reminds everyone that their other problems (which are legion, in this particular episode – they need to reach Starbase 10, they’re close to the Romulan neutral zone, and Kirk and his ex have work-life balance issues) are trivial in comparison to figuring out why she died wrinkly, but Chekhov still looks like Davy Jones.

 

Sexy Peril – “Shore Leave” and “Menagerie”

Yeoman Barrows spots a new outfit!In the first of these episodes, Yeoman Tonia Barrows beams down to a newly discovered planet with Captain Kirk to enjoy some shore leave. While Kirk and McCoy are tracking a mysterious white rabbit, Barrows is attacked. The attack is one of several clues that help the crew figure out what the planet is and how to control it. This is an unusually friendly planet, and the guy with the cape and the jeweled dagger who partially undressed her in the woods is just part of the planet’s effort to make Barrows happy. She gets a cute princess outfit to go with her old-school Don Juan romantic fantasy. Unfortunately for Barrows, the planet is also interested in making McCoy happy, and his romantic overtures towards her die a sad, cold death when the planet offers him some chorus girls made out of plant cellulose.

Number One builds a bomb“Menagerie” is all about rejecting the prison of pleasant illusions in favor of the difficult but rewarding path of personal freedom. In pursuit of this neat little moral, Captain Pike is imprisoned by a manipulative alien race that wants him to breed so he can perpetuate the human race in captivity. They offer him a choice of two women from his crew as mating partners – Number One, his otherwise un-named first officer who has “superior intelligence,” or his red-headed Yeoman J.M. Colt, who they note has “unusually strong female drives.” Number One didn’t claw her way through the ranks of a sexist fleet to let a big-headed alien talk about her like a prize cow. She jury-rigs her laser pistol (this is the flashback portion of the episode – they had laser pistols) into a bomb to ensure the away team’s death when it looks like their escape plans might fail. Colt, in contrast, sinks deeper into indignity after their safe return to the Enterprise by trying to ask Captain Pike if he would have picked her.

 

The Last Woman Standing – “The Apple”

Yeoman Landon, before the massacreAfter landing on Gamma Trianguli VI to investigate anomalous sensor readings, Kirk loses three redshirts in rapid succession (to a poisonous plant, a lightning strike, and an exploding rock). It’s the worst away mission ever, and the Enterprise is trapped in a decaying orbit while something on the planet drains its antimatter pods. Yeoman Martha Landon spends the first half of the episode gazing adoringly at Chekhov, which turns out to be a plot point because the spray-tanned natives have been busy feeding fruit to the papier-mâché snake head that represents their mechanized overlord and have never seen kissing before. Watching Chekhov and Landon canoodle is such an affront to their sheltered sensibilities that they turn to violence, taking out yet another redshirt (they hit him with a big stick – there was a village-wide instructional demonstration involving a melon).

Landon throws one of the villagers to the ground and kicks another before the crowd is subdued. She takes the lead in confining them to a hut. Deprived of its regular supply of fruit, the mechanical snake-head weakens, and the Enterprise is able to finish it off with a phaser attack from orbit and escape. Kirk makes a half-hearted attempt to tell the natives how babies are made, and the ship heads back into space. In a philosophical moment, Kirk and McCoy wonder if they inadvertently drove the planet’s population out of paradise, even though they mostly stood around hogging the camera while Landon drove the action. They abandon this fruitless line of speculation to make fun of Spock’s ears, and everyone forgets about the Yeoman who arrested an entire village without disarranging her astoundingly elaborate coiffure.


Ellen Cheeseman-Meyerhas been a Star Trek fan since the early 90s, but only started watching episodes in 2009. She teaches history and reads a lot.

13 comments
TW Grace
1. TWGrace
Or turned into a block of styrofoam and crushed...
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
2. EllenMCM
One of the major handicaps I face in writing about Star Trek is that I haven't watched the entire original series yet. I'm about two-thirds of the way through season 2. Who got turned into a block of styrofoam and crushed? Which episode was that?
Kristoff Bergenholm
3. Magentawolf
That would be By Any Other Name where the Enterprise gets hijacked by beings from another galaxy. Alas, poor Yeoman Thompson, we never knew ye'.
Mike Conley
4. NomadUK
'Landing party', please, not the inane 'away team'.

Also, do note that Yeoman Barrows chases the Playboy bunnies away at the end of 'Shore Leave', reclaiming McCoy for herself. Sadly, this never seems to go anywhere during the rest of the series. Inter-episode continuity wasn't such a major issue back then.

Also, for what it's worth, Uhura does get to do some rescuing of the rest of the landing party at the end of 'Mirror, Mirror', quickly disarming the mirror-universe Marlena; and she gets to do a little bit of weapon-wielding in 'The Gamesters of Triskelion', but both she and Chekov are contractually upstaged by Kirk.

And there are some others who do get to do a bit more here and there. But, still -- yes, women on the landing parties don't get to do a whole lot of ass-kicking, or much else, really. It's a man's life in 1960s Starfleet.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
5. EllenMCM
Mirror, Mirror is one of my favorite episodes, mostly because of Uhura. It's a great story, and it shows how under-used Uhura is most of the time.
j p
6. sps49
NBC had a policy mandating what?

For other women from Star Trek, see here
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
7. EllenMCM
It's not clear exactly what NBC mandated. It is clear that they had a Broadcast Standards Department that reviewed scripts and material scheduled for broadcast, as all television networks did at the time, to make sure that it was "appropriate." Like the comic book and movie industries did, they used internal self-regulation to protect themselves from the possibility of legislation that might set limits on content. I have not been able to locate a copy of NBC's policies. I think there might be such a thing, if one ever existed, in Rodenberry's papers, which are held by UCLA (the citations to Daniel Bernardi's July 1997 article for Science Fiction Studies,"Star Trek in the 1960s: Liberal Humanism and the Production of Race" contain some references to memoranda between Rodenberry and the NBC Broadcast Standards Department.) I do not have access to UCLA's libraries.

Nichelle Nichols has reported the policy, and my viewing thus far gives me no reason to doubt her report. I have seen women in ST throw, kick, and push opponents, and sometimes throw objects or threaten opponents with weapons, though they mostly stay out of fights. The show pushed the envelope on sexual assault in a few episodes, resulting in Rand scratching Bad Kirk in "Enemy Within," and "Gamesters of Triskelion" has the creepy scene with the shadows in Uhura's cell. "Return of the Archons" is also pretty disturbing. I can't be certain without access to the network memoranda, but I'm fairly sure that these episodes (and probably a number of others) are representative of broadly-framed standards, mindlessly applied. ST showed many kinds of violence against women, but was restricted from showing women fighting back.

Bernardi's artice is online:
http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/72/bernardi72.htm
Cait Glasson
8. CaitieCat
"By Any Other Name", EllenMCM, about the Andromedan desire to return to their galaxy. Two redshirts get "cubed" - a Black man who's a security crewmember, and a white woman in her redskirt. They both get "cubed", then by way of demonstrating their vulnerability, one is crushed - of which the alien leader says, "This person...is dead."

"But this one-" he throws the "cube" (really a non-Platonic something-a-hedron) to the ground - "can be restored." And he pushes his Magic Device button, and - shock, horrors! - the Black man is restored, leading Kirk to get to make a heartfelt "oh she was so young and beautiful and hadn't ridden my space rocket yet!" speech. Which one doubts he'd have given had the young Black man been the victim, but there it is.

It was probably horrendously shocking for the time, when women really just didn't die much on TV unless they were the Murder Victim of the Week, or died Heroically Fighting Cancer, or some other tropetacular demise.
j p
9. sps49
I wasn't doubting that such a policy existed, and I shouldn't have been surprised. 60s TV- yeesh.

And I was surprised in the 70s when I first saw Yeoman Thompson was the one killed. Females were never ever the ones killed!
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
10. EllenMCM
"By Any Other Name" is the next episode up for me. I know what I'll be doing this weekend!

Sps49, NBC's broadcast standards have led me a merry chase for the last few months. I was beyond excited to share my non-results. I have been able to confirm the "Avoid the open mouth kiss" memo, and I have an unsubstantiated rumor that Broadcast Standards also explain the hypospray. But I really want more.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
12. EllenMCM
She's also a LT - all the others are yeoman. Which makes me wonder if there was maybe more to her character in an earlier draft of the script.

Number One and Yeoman Colt don't wear red either, and IMO, their uniforms are ghastly. I can see that the darts and ruching were intended to be figure-flattering, which was a nice idea, but the cowl neck and the choice to execute the top in fuzzy velour result in a garment that makes the wearer look like she's being strangled by a muppet.
DSL
13. DSL
Have you watched "The Corbomite Maneuver" yet, EllenMCM? This could have been one of the original series' best episodes (breakdown and recovery of crew discipline and morale utress life-threatening stress) except for the ultimately comical nature of the antagonist, and the fact that Lt. Uhura, who should have had a crucial role in that episode IN HER JOB AS COMMS OFFICER and not just as a miniskirt in peril, was kicked to the curb so Nimoy could have more lines.

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