Care to Debate That? Anti-Feminism in Treklit

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Title: Care to Debate That? Anti-Feminism in Treklit
Creator: Johanna Cantor & Susan Matthews
Date(s): 1978
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: fanon, Star Trek: TOS, explicit fanworks
External Links:
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Care to Debate That? Anti-Feminism in Treklit are two short essays intended to generate discussion. It is in R and R #6/7.

One essay is by Johanna Cantor, the other by Susan Matthews.

The essays are an installment in a series of essays and their following discussions called Care to Debate That?.

Susan Matthews' Essay

Someone must explain to me why there are no women of command in the ST universe; why — in New Voyages II — it is stated that the captain would not only be unable to command in a woman's flesh, but stands in danger of losing qualities of command by virtue of biology. I was under the impression that Star Trek types considered themselves enlightened to a degree. Jean Lorrah gave a woman command in the story "Time of a New Beginning." I've heard that Winston A. Howlett is giving Uhura command. Other than that, I can think of no woman commanding within the Federation. The strong women on the series were either bitches, Romulans, Klingons, or other peoples' wives. In [1967], I can understand that. In 1977, I cannot.

There must be people in the world — poor insecure, insignificant types — who actually believe, or see fit to pretend to believe, that women are unfit by nature for command. These individuals — what can I say?-— are misguided. The majority of commanders of my acquaintance acknowledge that women have held few commands in the history of the US military — though more than history recorded. These commanders have been of the opinion that times change, people with them, and women of command exist today in the system. If today, why not tomorrow. I am horrified to realize that from my position, the social structure of the Federation represents a regression. We have outdistanced the predictions made on the status of women in the series. But I don't see fan writers keeping up.

I will be leaving the ... soon, effecting a transfer to the ..., where as a first assignment, I will be in command of a company. Were I to write Mary Sue, a time shifted story, I suspect that "my" first action would be to defect to the Romulans. They treat their women better....

Johanna Cantor's Essay

You're so right, unfortunately. It seems so ironic to me (though well in keeping with the history of Western women) that the put down of women in fanlit is coming from women. We have met the enemy, and she is us. Star Trek itself, 1967 or no, seems to me to compare pretty favorably with a lot of current tv in showing women doing a competent job. All right, I'm not crazy about "Captain, I'm frightened" either, but at least it's possible to argue that in a universe in which a captain can tell his Vulcan first officer "talking things over with you gives me a sense of emotional security" "Captain I'm frightened" is a human statement rather than a feminine weakness. And even at worst, the ST women tend to be doing something better than worrying about ring around the collar. My impression is that this is due to GR. He kids about it, but he does seem to have a genuine belief in equality — not the kind of equality that must deny differences, but the kind that is built on accepting them.[1]

We got shafted by Blish, who seems to have been a mcp [male chauvinist pig] of the first water. It has always annoyed me that in "Immunity Syndrome," McCoy tells' Kirk "half the people on the ship just passed out." In Blish, it's "Half the women"— that kind of thing. And compare his ending to "Turnabout Intruder" with the show's.[2]

Blish's prejudices, however, are generously compensated for by Alan Dean Foster. And if Roddenberry's comments are any indication, the new ST (now planned for the Tri-Centennial) will go further along the lines of presenting women as competent humans and humanoids.

Where the put down you discuss is coming from is, damn it, us fans, and largely from women fans. It is women — the Dodges, the Marshaks, the Culbreaths — who are reflecting and therefore perpetuating the contempt so many women have for women. I sometimes wonder: might that be the answer to the popularity of the K/S stories? Is it possible that deep down, many of us believe that only a man is worthy to love a roan? That only a man can meet a man's needs?

The antifeminists have a right to their opinion, of course. But their presentations should not go unquestioned. A fan story that put down any racial or ethnic group would be sharply challenged — if it ever got printed in a zine, let alone NEW VOYAGES. Stories that put down women should be. equally outside the bounds of decency. I can never remember who said, "let me make a nation's poetry, and I don't care who makes its laws" — something like that. But whoever it was, had a point.

Some time in the 1920's or 30's a witty, genial, intelligent and humane essayist, Irvin S. Cobb,, wrote a story about a man, believed to be white, who died in a train accident. Just before the train struck, a survivor recalled, the victim cried out "Rhinocerous" in an African dialect. The denouement was that one of this man's ancestors, many generations before, had been a black African. The generations of inter-mixture a lifetime of living as a cultured white, meant nothing. In the supreme moment, racial memory asserted itself, and the man "reverted to type."

My point is that this type of trash could be written by an intelligent, well educated American less than a generation ago with enough sincerity to make a good story. You'd have to go pretty far to even find that kind of thinking now. And can you imagine it as the basis for a nationally circulated story? There's still room for improvement goodness knows. But there has been great progress. And that progress was made not only by legal means, but by the stories, articles, etc. — the "poetry"—that debunks the myth of racial superiority.

Given that ST fandom is, as I believe, a microcosm — a "holograph" if you will, of the real world, formed by a certain meaningful structure, I truly believe it behooves us to look at some of what's going on on our "little planet"!


  1. ^ As time passes and people associated with the show begin to speak out more openly, it is becoming clear that nearly all the emphasis on gender equality in the show came from co-creator Gene R. Coon. Although Roddenberry believed in racial inclusion, he was a devout sexist. The 1/3 female crew were intended as Playboy bunnies; providing socio-cultural visibility, let alone giving a generation of girls the idea that they could be scientists or astronauts, was completely unintentional on his part.
  2. ^ James Blish, who with his wife J.A. Lawrence wrote twelve volumes of short story adaptations of Star Trek episodes, worked from the original scripts. Because he was in England, he did not see the episodes as aired until long after his stories were published. This is the real reason his work differs so greatly from what viewers saw. If the original script said "half the women", that's what he wrote, Corrections to scripts happen up to the very last minute in television, and the "women" vs. "people" change may have been such a correction. Blish's ending to "Turnabout Intruder" consisted of: "Her life could have been as rich as any woman's, if only--" He paused and sighed. "If only. .." "If only," Spock said, "she had ever been able to take any pride in being a woman."