March 22nd is the future birthday of Captain James T. Kirk, and while this post is a day late, I felt the need to honor the Star Trek: The Original Series captain. I have always asserted that James. T. Kirk is actually a feminist despite the caricature that people have made of him in both the new movies and the fandom. In the new Star Trek movies, Kirk is often portrayed as a scandalous womanizer. He sleeps with Uhura’s roommate, then leers at Uhura while he changes on her bed. He also never backs off when Uhura tells him that she isn’t interested in him. Then he watches Carol Marcus change clothes when she specifically tells him not to. This is not the Kirk of TOS! I’m convinced that those who think he is a womanizing sexist have either never watched the series or are possibly projecting their own beliefs onto the character, because Kirk is most assuredly very pro-women and there is a ton of evidence to prove it.
There are so many episodes I could name that shows how feminist Kirk actually is, but I’ll stick to a few where I think Kirk really shines. One such episode is “Charlie X”, where the crew picks up a strange teenage boy with supernatural powers. Charlie is immediately attracted to Yeoman Rand and keeps attempting to get her attention. Eventually, Charlie crosses the line and starts harassing Rand. At first, since he has been deprived of human contact, the crew assumes Charlie just doesn’t realize what he is doing is wrong and Kirk tries to talk to him. He explains to Charlie, “You go slow. You be gentle. I mean, it’s not a one-way street, you know, how you feel and that’s all. It’s how the girl feels, too. Don’t press, Charlie. If the girl feels anything for you at all, you’ll know it. Do you understand?” This is not Kirk explaining to Charlie how to properly seduce a woman but how to respectfully pursue her, as well as explaining that the woman has to be interested as well and it’s not all up to the man.
Add to this the fact that Kirk has often shown that he likes Rand as well, and it seems that he would like to try a relationship with her, but refuses to because she is under his command and that wouldn’t be right since he has power over her professionally. (He feels the same about Uhura and few other women who have come and gone on the show, but again, never acts on his feelings.) He never gets territorial or even jealous, because he knows he has no say in who likes Rand or who Rand likes. Kirk is quick to defend her when Charlie doesn’t take Kirk’s advice to heart and attempts to assault her. So here we see a Captain Kirk who is against rape culture in all its forms and is definitely a large proponent of consent.
Along the same lines, we have an episode where Kirk stands up for reproductive rights. If you frequent any Star Trek tumblrs, chances are you have seen this gifset floating around. It is from an episode called the “Mark of Gideon,” where Kirk meets a young woman named Odona who is from a planet where they have a huge overpopulation problem. Her father, Ambassador Hodin, has infected Odona with a virus in order to help curb their overpopulation problem. The virus is meant to kill people. Hodin explains to Kirk that Odona will be an example to other young people to offer themselves up to die to solve this problem. Kirk asks why they don’t just use contraception, but the Ambassador objects, saying his people would never use contraception because of their love of life. This of course pisses Kirk off, and he yells at Hobin, “Yet you can kill a young girl!” He’s enraged that Hodin would profess a “love of life”, but would be willing to kill a young woman. This very clearly parallels the reproductive issues we have seen today from pro-life groups that claim to care about life but don’t seem to care about anything but the fetus. Captain Kirk was not fucking around when it came to protecting the lives of women.
The biggest argument against Kirk being feminist is that he uses women for sex. Because there seems to be a different female character on his arm almost every episode, people assume that Kirk is something of a player. We see in the new Star Trek movies that Kirk doesn’t even remember the names of some of the women he has been with. In TOS, however, that is not the case. The few times we see Kirk’s exes, their relationship always seems to be good, despite the fact that they are no longer together. In fact, most of the time it seems like the women break up with Kirk, either to further their career or because Kirk is always too busy with his captaining. Either way, Kirk seems to greatly respect and fondly remember all the women he has been with. Furthermore, it’s not feminist to judge someone’s feminism based how many people they’ve slept with.
That being said, Kirk does not sleep with every woman he meets. Now yes, that might be because the censors wouldn’t allow such scenes, but I think even if they had, Kirk would have had fewer random sexual encounters than most people would think. He flirts a lot, but most of the time TOS seems to portray Kirk as a hopeless romantic. He seems to fall in love easily and is often in contrast with Spock, who struggles with emotions, and McCoy, whose past relationships left him more scarred. Kirk loves love, and genuinely seems to like each women he is flirting with as a person and not as a sex object.
But perhaps one of my favorite episodes that shows Kirk’s relationship with one of his former love interests is “Court Martial”. The episode shows how Kirk ejected a pod with one of his men inside. Kirk claims this was necessary, but there are some discrepancies in the report. Kirk seeks out his old girlfriend Areel Shaw for help in his case, but she reveals she has been assigned to prosecute him. Kirk gets another lawyer and is proven innocent by the end of the trial. Shaw goes after Kirk with everything she has and she never holds back despite their past relationship, because that’s her job.
If this episode was remade today, no doubt it would spend a lot of time talking about how hurt and betrayed Kirk was with Shaw and maybe even have the episode end with the two no longer being friends. Yet in the actual episode Kirk is never once shown as feeling hurt or betrayed by Shaw. If anything, he just seems a little nervous, as he knows what a good lawyer she is. The end of the episode even shows Shaw and Kirk saying goodbye with hopes of seeing each other again; they part with no bad blood between them whatsoever. We’re able to see that Kirk isn’t really the womanizer we think, but rather a hopeless romantic who falls in love easily and who doesn’t let personal relationships interfere with his work.
Overall, while Kirk could certainly still be labeled problematic in episodes, he is definitely a very feminist captain and hardly the sexist womanizer that he has been painted to be. So as a belated future birthday present to Kirk, let’s not spread false rumors about him! Hopefully future movies will be better about how Kirk is portrayed.
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I thought, in Star Trek: Into Darkness, the gratuitous Carol Marcus changing scene was with Dr. McCoy, not Kirk…?!?