There is probably no other franchise in all of television that broke as many boundaries as Star Trek. From interracial kisses in Star Trek to kisses between actresses of the same sex (Saying same-sex kiss is a bit oversimplified with the Trill) in Deep Space Nine to presenting, throughout the franchise, a society that had moved on from the racial and gender issues that divide us so starkly today. Despite being far ahead of its time in most respects, Star Trek rarely broke the mold with strong female characters until Deep Space Nine.
The original Star Trek featured Lt. Uhura as a member of the bridge crew. I would criticize Star Trek for failing to develop Uhura as a character, but Star Trek was about the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Everyone else, regardless of race or gender, was an afterthought. Nearly every other female on the show was little more than window dressing or a love interest.
21 years later (or 100, depending on your perspective), Star Trek: The Next Generation threatened to introduce a groundbreaking female character. Lt. Tasha Yar, Enterprise-D’s though-as-nails security chief, was Trek’s first strong female character since the nameless Number 1 in the failed Star Trek pilot. Unfortunately, she was killed by an alien tar monster after she realized her character was going nowhere. With Yar’s subordinate Worf already a recurring character, it made storyline sense to simply promote Worf rather than introduce a similar female character.
Doctor Beverly Crusher was probably the least developed and least interesting TNG cast member and Deanna Troi’s job was dealing with emotional issues, helped by her ability to sense others’ emotions. A woman, clad in a low-cut uniform, in tune with feelings? GROUNDBREAKING! Next Generation’s intentions were good, but the show was hampered by male writers who had no clue how to write female characters. Only 12 out of TNG’s 176 episodes were written by women.
Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had even fewer female-written episodes, they got it right. Lt. Jadzia Dax was a sarcastic friend and mentor (again, Trill are complicated) to Captain Sisko, but only when she wasn’t busy out-Klingoning Worf or otherwise kicking ass. Major Kira Nerys probably had more crowning moments of awesome than anyone this side of Bill Adama. She was strong, badass, and confident, but still in touch with her femininity, giving her an advantage over Tasha “Man with Boobs” Yar. DS9 showed a generation of sci-fi fans that it was okay to be a woman and awesome at the same time.
The less said about Star Trek: Voyager’s cat-suits, or just Voyager in general, the better. Enterprise featured an intelligent, sexy, powerful first officer, the Vulcan T’Pol. However, the other female regular, Lt. Hoshi, was criminally underdeveloped.
The Star Trek franchise deserves all the credit it receives. Even if, by today’s standards, the franchise wasn’t always successful in challenging gender conventions and stereotypes, it undeniably helped blazed the trail for future shows to get it right.