Spock Is From Mars, Kirk Is From Venus

What Women Really Think
May 12 2009 12:11 AM

Spock Is From Mars, Kirk Is From Venus

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/05/12/star_treks_genderbending_history/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Like every other former sci-fi geek in NYC, I (sorry) trekked out to see the Star Trek movie on Friday night. My assessment? J. J. Abrams has turned out a well-made B movie: The film moves along at a crisp pace, hits all the key retro-nostalgia moments, and is designed to be pleasing to many audiences-old and young, boys and girls. It’s less hard-core sci-fi than pleasing pop kitsch. While the movie contains a lot of references to Captain Kirk’s unredeemed womanizing, it takes them utterly casually. The real focus here, as in the original TV series, is on the dynamic between young Kirk and young Spock.

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But that relationship might appeal more to women than to men, even. When you think about it, for all Kirk’s off-ship womanizing with nubile young female types on new planets, the original show always contained some funny gender-bending in it. You could read Spock and Kirk according to traditional male-female roles, with Spock playing the ur-rationalist (Men are from Mars/Vulcan) and Kirk the heart-on-the-sleeve emotionalist (Women are from Venus/Earth). Kirk was always risking what he shouldn’t risk because of a feeling or an intuition. It’s interesting that in a galactic space, as more species crept in, our vision of a leader was allowed to be more stereotypically feminine in some ways, even though Kirk’s physical type, stocky and solid, had not a little John Wayne to it. Interestingly, as Newsweek reminded us , Star Trek has spawned tons of so-called "slash" fiction about Kirk and Spock’s homosexual love affair. More interestingly, someone at the Huffington Post noted a few years back that most of that fiction was written by women . So, gals just like this friendship. Is that because it messes with our traditional role in a way we find pleasing-because we get to roll our eyes at Spock’s emotional density while identifying with the masculine captain too? Or do we actually identify with Spock, who always seems so oddly vulnerable in his difference from others? Or neither. It seems to me, in the end, that it’s the messiness of the dynamic between the two, the way that the roles can’t be neatly divided along chromosomes, that appeals to female (and male) viewers tired of being pigeonholed by gender.

Meghan O'Rourke is Slate's culture critic and an advisory editor. She was previously an editor at The New Yorker. The Long Goodbye, a memoir about her mother's death, is now out in paperback.

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