“Mudd’s Women” and a Brief Look at Gender in “Star Trek”

 

Gene Roddenberry created the wonderful world of Star Trek which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.  The late Roddenberry remains seen as a beloved visionary who created a progressive idea of a future with no racism, no poverty, and no war.  That world was better fleshed out and given greater ideological dimensions through other writers, especially those from the 1990’s onward.  The greatest difference between Roddenberry’s Star Trek and the Star Trek we know today is, well, Roddenberry.  While Roddenberry envisioned a world without racism, poverty, or war, sexism was still alive and well in his utopia.  While the original series of Star Trek is a product of the gender mores of its era, Roddenberry was a misogynist.  A recent article in National Review, stated that “Roddenberry was an insecure misogynistic hack” (Continetti 1).  While there exists plenty of information to show sexism in Roddenberry’s personal life and interactions with others, the 1st season episode of Star Trek, “Mudd’s Women,” clearly illustrates Roddenberry’s vision of a misogynistic future.

The episode of “Mudd’s Women,” originally broadcast on October 13, 1966, involves the crew of the Enterprise apprehending the pilot of an unregistered cargo ship, Harry Mudd, and his shipment of women.  This cargo, the eponymous “Mudd’s Women,” are a trio of alluring women Mudd plans to sell as brides for settlers at a distant colony.  The sexual allure of the women comes from their continued use of the “Venus drug” (provided by Mudd) in order to maintain their beauty. Mudd arranges a situation where Captain Kirk has little choice to trade these women to the miners on Rigel XII in order to get the needed dilithium crystals to repair the Enterprise.  The episode presents some rather interesting ideas about gender in society and beauty.

Harcourt Fenton Mudd: Woman trader extraordinaire
Harcourt Fenton Mudd: Woman trader extraordinaire

“Mudd’s Women” was originally one of the episodes Roddenberry conceived and suggested for a pilot.  His original draft for the episode (then called “The Women”) read “Duplicating a page from the Old West; hanky-panky aboard with a cargo of women destined for a far off colony” (Roddenberry 1).  The teleplay was later written by Stephen Kandel, and supervised by Rodenberry.  NBC was hesitant about greenlighting the episode and did not select it to be the series pilot because they had reservations about its central theme of “selling women throughout the galaxy” and the guest stars being “an intergalactic pimp” and “three space hookers” (Solow 65).  “Mudd’s Women” was one of many episodes where NBC executives disagreed with Rodenberry about his portrayal of women and, according to William Shatner, “that NBC allowed ‘Mudd’s Women’ to be produced at all is still a minor miracle” (Cushman 144).  Even for its day, “Mudd’s Women” presented views of gender roles that were contrary to a shifting public opinion.

Analyzing “Mudd’s Women” we get a very specific idea of gender, where women are property belonging to a man.  Mudd is arrested and put on trial for operating a starship without a license, the act of human trafficking is not seen as a crime.  Mudd makes an emotional appeal to keep ownership of his cargo, in order to deliver the women to their intended destination at a distant colony because those women would have nothing else to do.  This conforms to an old belief that the highest role a woman could achieve in society was that of wife and mother.  When these women are exchanged as trade goods with the miners on Rigel XII, and the women settle into cooking and doing housework, a bit of unrest starts when it’s discovered that these women actually aren’t beautiful, that their beauty is manufactured through a drug.  Spock has one of the women take some of the “Venus drug” in order to regain her beauty.  Spock then explains that he gave her colored gelatin, a placebo, and that the ability to be beautiful was something all women can do, with just self-confidence.  It is because of this ability to be beautiful in order to attract a mate and achieve self-actualization through marriage that the episode finds its happy ending.

Mudd's Women
Mudd’s Women

Let’s focus on that point of self-actualization through marriage.  In 1963, just three years before this episode aired, psychologist Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique and sparked the beginning of second-wave feminism in America.  Friedan pointed to the unhappy women of her day and criticized American culture which insisted that fulfillment for women could be found in marriage and housewifery.  Friedan insisted that “We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says ‘I want something more than my husband, my children and my home’” (Friedan 71).  Friedan’s exploration into society and culture showed that while women had fought hard for a voice during the era of the suffragette, they’d lost that drive to success and settled into culturally prescribed gender roles that robbed them of power, voices, and self-actualization.  These gender roles were prescribed through media, through the portrayal of women in television and advertising.  Friedan came under a lot of controversy for daring to challenge the portrayal and roles of women.  Work that was just starting as Star Trek hit the air waves.

The cultural differences between the original series of Star Trek and the rest of the franchise certainly can be explored more in depth.  “Mudd’s Women” is one, very extreme, example of how society felt about women in the 1964.  Many men, such as Roddenberry, held firm to the thought of women as property, that their highest goal should be their willing submission to a male authority.  While this particular view did not carry on into later Star Trek series, each does have the cultural marks of its era.  Roddenberry may have had some misogyny in his world view, his idea of a utopia with subjugated women was not too different from many others of the time.

I will continue to explore the cultural lessons that can be derived from Star Trek.  This brief examination of one episode is just the beginning.

I'm sure I'll have plenty to say later about THIS episode.
I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say later about THIS episode.

Works Cited

Continetti, Matthew. “The progressive visionary behind ‘Star Trek’ was a misogynistic hack.” 2016. National Review. Web http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439900/star-trek-gene-roddenberry-was-misogynistic-hack. Accessed November 21, 2016

Cushman, Marc and Susan Osborn. There Are the Voyages: TOS Season One. 2013. Print. Jacobs Brown Press.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. 1963.  Print. WW Norton & Company. 2010.

Roddenberry, Gene. “Star Trek Is…” 1964. Web http://leethomson.myzen.co.uk/Star_Trek/1_Original_Series/Star_Trek_Pitch.pdf. Accessed November 21, 2016.

Solow, Herbert F., and Robert H. Justman. Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.

3 thoughts on ““Mudd’s Women” and a Brief Look at Gender in “Star Trek”

  1. I like this examination of sexism in Star Trek. I think you hit the nail on the head. There are broader cultural questions to do with Trekkies and dressing up. People- both men and women- enjoy the cultural aesthetic of the original Star Trek. How do you read that? Is it OK as a kind of erotica almost, like dressing up as Beau Brummel? Or is it a retrograde cap-doffing to an outdated world-view?

    You can make similar arguments about high art culture such as Jackson Pollock’s painting or Charles Olson’s poetry, I guess.

    Like

    1. When it comes to that gender representation in contemporary cosplay, it does present an interesting question.
      On the one hand, being accurate to that costume and character establishes the sexist ideals of those episodes. Granted, people aren’t typically dressing up as the lesser, extraordinarily eroticized aliens. Typically cosplay is all about the appearance, and the majority of sexism in Star Trek TOS was based on social interaction and gender roles. When people do a kind of erotic Star Trek cosplay, that’s their choice, they are playing with social interaction of our era, using Star Trek costumes is more of a nostalgia “kink” than actual sexism.

      Liked by 1 person

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