Friday, 17 April 2015

The "First Lady of Star Trek"

"When we started out in '64, um, I was playing Number One, which was a woman second in command of a starship. Now that was innovative, but of course NBC got ahold of it and 'You've got to get rid of the broad. No one will believe a woman second in control of a big star ship'. They said, 'You've got to get rid of the guy with the ears 'cos he looks too Satanic'. But the third thing was you've got to make it more men than women, because otherwise they're going to think there's a lot of hanky panky going on in the starship. Gene, realising that he was hitting his head against a wall, and realising what the mentality of the people who were making those decisions was, figured he would do in my case, although he knew it was going to break my heart, figured he would fight and keep the Spock character and marry the woman. So we all got basically what we wanted, and as far as the women are concerned, he figured that 30 good women could handle a crew of 300 anyway. So that's how we ended up with our crew." 
Majel Barrett Roddenberry

Majel Barrett-Roddenberry (1932-2008), born Majel Leigh Hudec, was a US-American actress and "the First Lady of Star Trek". She married Gene Roddenberry in 1969 and had several roles in Star Trek, such as Nurse Christine Chapel (who later became Doctor Chapel) in "The Original Series," Lwaxana Troi Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed (Counselor Deanne Troi's Betazoid mother) in "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine" and provided the voice of the computers in most of the episodes and movies (via).

"A desire for equality was clearly integrated within Star Trek from Roddenberry's pilot episode, although representations of gender do not always fare particularly well - in the first instance because of network and audience objections." (Johnson-Smith, 2005)
In 1964, Majel Barrett appeared in the very first Star Trek pilot "The Cage" where she played the USS Enterprise's first officer "Number One". She did not represent the typical 1960s woman since the character written had "a highly superior computerized and logical mind", made her own decisions (Foster, 2011), was cool and efficient (Johnson-Smith, 2005). The "character's strength and authority in the Star Trek universe as a woman was unsettling" (via) so NBC insisted on Roddenberry giving the role to a man (via) because the network felt the public was "unprepared to see a woman in such a position of authority". Reactions of the test audience were ambiguous ranging from resentment to disbelief (Johnson-Smith, 2005). Both men and women in the test audience seemed to be uncomfortable with turning traditional gender roles upside down. Roddenberry was particularly disappointed with the reaction of the women to seeing a woman in a command role (DuPree, 2013). He said: "You might have thought the ladies in our test audience would have appreciated 'Number One'. Instead, their comments were, 'Who does she think she is?" (Wildermuth, 2014, p. 79). According to audience questionnaires, however, they liked the actress (Johnson-Smith, 2005).
The network did not like Spock either so Roddenberry "kept the Vulcan and married the woman, 'cause he didn't think Leonard [Nimoy] would have it the other way around." (via). The second pilot, in fact, was made with Spock as second-in-command. Obviously, "audiences could cope with an alien man as second-in-command more readily than a human woman" (Johnson-Smith, 2005).

"Back in those days before women's lib was even heard of, I put a woman second in command of our starship." Gene Roddenberry (quoted after Wildermuth, 2014, p. 79)
"The Cage" came out one year after Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique" which criticised social circumstances that encouraged women to stay in the home. "The Feminine Mystique may well have been the seminal feminist work of the 1960s and in part responsible for the birth of the modern women's movement, but the reactions to Roddenberry's efforts to raise the public consciousness of women's rights suggest that Americans did pay attention to science fiction art and literature." (Foster, 2011).

"When Roddenberry filmed "The Cage", he tried something remarkably cutting-edge. He gave the role of the ship's first officer to a woman. Majel Barrett, Roddenberry's lover and future wife, played the role of "Number One", Captain Christopher Pike's second in command. Roddenberry drew particular attention to the fact that women served as active members of the crew, even if his main character was not comfortable with the idea. In the episode, the starship Enterprise had recently run into some nefarious aliens, resulting in the death of a few of her crew members. Pike's yeoman, who had been killed in the incident, was replaced by a young woman named Gilman. When Gilman appears on the bridge to deliver Pike a report he was expecting, Pike yelled, "Gilman, I thought I told you when I'm on the bridge, I don't want you (here)!" Number One pointed out, "She's replacing your former yeoman, Sir." Pike replied almost apologetically, "She does a good job alright. It's just that I can't get used to the idea of having a woman on the bridge." Realizing his faux pas, Pike said, "No offense, Lieutenant. You're different, of course." His first officer's reaction suggested that she did not know whether to be more bothered by her captain's discomfort with having women on the bridge or by the implication that he could not see her as both a valued officer and a woman."
Foster (2011, p. 37)

- DuPree, M. G. (2013). Alien Babes and Alternate Universes. The Women of Star Trek. In: Reagin, N. (ed.) Star Trek and History, 280-294, Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
- Foster, A. E. (2011). Integrating Women Into The Astronaut Corps. Politics and Logistics at NASA, 1972-2004. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Johnson-Smith, J. (2005). American Science Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate and Beyond. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. Ltd.
- Wildermuth, M. E. (2014). Gender, Science Fiction Television, and the American Security State: 1958-Present. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- photographs via and via and via and via and via and via  and via


  1. This made my week!!! THANK YOU!!!!

    1. Big thanks, Derek :-) Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Wooooooooooooooooooo

  3. Beautiful posting, great article.

    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful feedback, Kenneth.

  4. Personally, I think the character would have been superior to even Spock, had She been allowed to be in TOS. As a 15 year old, when I 1st saw "The Menagerie", I thought the character was awesome. Watching Majel as "Number 1" allowed me to serve in under women when I was in the Navy without a single thought to the contrary. Majel, wherever You are, I thank You for helping my life to be so much better!