In this week’s installment of Trekette, we’re going to take a look at The Original Series episode, “Turnabout Intruder.” The 79th and final episode of the series ventures into new territory: an admission by Kirk of the sexism that Lester had faced in Starfleet Academy. Dr. Lester attributes her sex as the reason for her failed ambition to become a spaceship captain. Kirk even agrees with Lester, who claims, “Your world of spaceship captains doesn’t admit women. It isn’t fair.”
Ah, the plight of women’s equality in the workplace. It’s so unjust to think that a person’s gender, something over which they have no control, could dictate the direction of their career. We are left to assume that there is some kind of glass ceiling which no female could shatter to enter into the ranks of starship captains. However, in this case, Dr. Lester’s gender was not the factor that curbed her ambitions.
Now you know the indignity of being a woman. For you this agony will soon pass, as it has for me. Quiet. Quiet! Believe me, it’s better to be dead than to live alone in the body of a woman. It’s better to be dead.
It is Stardate 5928.2. The Enterprise has sent an away team to the surface of the planet Camus Two in response to a distress call from a group of scientists stationed there to explore ruins of a now-dead civilization. Among those scientists is an old flame of the Captain’s, Dr. Janice Lester, who is one of only two survivors found on the planet. Dr. Lester, the expedition’s leader, is apparently suffering from an ailment which her companion, the expedition’s surgeon Dr. Arthur Coleman, claims is radiation damage. The other members of their company are all dead. As the rest of the away team leaves to search for life signs, Kirk and Lester find themselves alone, discussing the unhappy end of their former relationship.
Dr. Janice Lester has little in common with other females who were single-use, disposable love interests for the captain or other members of the crew. Her status is that of a leader, in charge of a scientific expedition. Clearly, Lester possesses qualities which would qualify her for this in her own right, whereas many other one-episode female characters on the show came into their authority through family connections, or tradition. Nor has her fate descended upon her due to her feminine helplessness, as is common in other female non-recurring characters. Lester is nothing like one of Mudd’s women. For example, her motives are inspired by a desire for power, not a desire to catch herself a husband.
Dr. Lester’s failing stems from her pathological need to grasp for more than she rightly qualifies for. Being a leader of a scientific expedition, a position rewarded to her based on her qualifications, is not enough for her- instead, she craves authority which she neither deserves nor has the temperament for. She couldn’t cut it as a candidate for command, but instead of looking to her own deficiencies, she externalizes her failings. Sexism means to be prevented from an equal opportunity based solely on ones gender, despite any skills they might have to make them an equal or better candidate for a position. There are many women who have experienced this, but Dr. Janice Lester is not one of them. Rather than accept that her actions and personality have barred her from the elite order of captains, she indulges in the idea that she has been unfairly dismissed due to her gender.
A starship captain must face his (or her) Kobiashi Maru: accepting that there are “no-win scenarios.” A good captain must have the temperament to move forward in the face of difficulties. You’d never catch Captain Janeway stamping her foot and throwing temper tantrums — this is the very reason that Lester could never have become a captain. Deeply disturbed, hysterical and sadistic, Dr. Lester presents no redeeming qualities which would lend sympathy to her cause. To suggest that her character represents an unfair treatment of women in general would be highly illogical. In this case, the blame which she shifts from her own shortcomings delegitimizes the plight of others who have actually faced sexism.
Dr. Lester, you are making all female Starfleet personnel look bad. Clearly, it is not your sex which caused you to fail in her pursuit of a command- instead, it is your mental instability, your willingness to go to murderous lengths to get your way, which disqualify you. Luckily, Uhura didn’t appear on this last episode- she would have been ashamed on behalf of all female professionals.
So beam me up, Scotty: there are no positive female role models on this episode.
“Trekette” is an ongoing series by Victoria Wright looking at Star Trek through a female perspective.