We still have a long way to go as a culture when it comes to sexism. Patronizing, objectifying, or otherwise stereotypical portrayals of women, for instance, abound in pop culture. And yet in my recent viewing of just a handful of original Star Trek episodes, I can’t help but think that we’ve made significant progress. A random sampling of those episodes revealed plots that crucially depended on sexist presuppositions — they would be incomprehensible if you didn’t presume that women were ultimately feeble creatures who are easily captivated by a display of male power. It’s not a character flaw of an individual woman, but the condition of woman as such.
In the episode that introduces Khan, for instance, the ship’s historian falls instantly in love with the villain and submits to his abusive behavior with little argument, agreeing to betray her crewmates. While she does rescue Capt. Kirk, she ultimately decides to go into exile with Khan. In another episode, an evil double of Kirk created by a transporter malfunction tries to rape a female crew member, a recurring character who by all accounts appears to be a normal adult woman — and later in the plot, she uses that experience as a jumping-off point for sharing her sexual attraction to him. Now I think that the latter plot would be considered far beyond the pale in contemporary culture, even for something like Family Guy. In the former case, it’s conceivable, but her behavior would have to be thoroughly explained — most likely through some type of explicit mind-control powers.
This is not to say that we’ve done enough or “arrived,” of course — it’s more to point out how deeply, incredibly fucked up things were to begin with.