Sexy or Sexist? How Star Trek Into Darkness turned Heroines into Damsels in Distress

As per usual Star Trek Into Darkness has sparked much fan discussion and even disagreement, but but if there’s one thing we can all agree on: we love seeing Alice Eve in her undies! True, of course, until anyone bothered to ask a woman. There has always been scantily clad females throughout Trek history – it’s a part of what makes Kirk so Kirk – so, why should this one scene be causing such a stir? Why have female fans responded so strongly in this case? Read my analysis below, but beware of SPOILERS.


Gratuitous Underwear: How did we get here?

As if you need me to, I’ll set the scene. Kirk accompanies Carol Marcus to a shuttlecraft to discuss sending her to a nearby planetoid to try and diffuse some of these mysterious photon torpedoes aboard the Enterprise. She’s the logical choice since, as we learned in her introductory scene, she holds an advanced degree with a specialty in weaponry. Great, nothing out of the ordinary here, I’ll just go ahead and OH! You’re in your underwear! That’s just great.

But, let’s back up a second. Why exactly is she in her underwear? She tells Kirk to turn around, doesn’t mention why (were we expecting here to require a change of wardrobe?) and then acts coy when Kirk sneaks a peak at her half-dressed body. The scene was flat out gratuitous. It had no point. There was no reason for her to change clothes. There was no reason for her to change in front of Kirk. There was no reason for her to change in a shuttlecraft with the back door hanging wide open. The writers threw the scene in for pure, testosterone-driven shock value. (Side note: lucky she was wearing her brand new Victoria Secret push-up bra. I’m sure that’s real comfortable under her uniform, especially in a combat situation)

Think I’m being harsh? Even Damon Lindelof himself, co-writer of Into Darkness, publicly apologized for the scene saying over a few tweets:

“I copped to the fact that we should have done a better job of not being gratuitous in our representation of a barely clothed actress. We also had Kirk shirtless in underpants in both movies. Do not want to make light of something that some construe has mysogenistic [sic]. What I’m saying is I hear you, I take full responsibility, and will be more mindful in the future.”

Damsels in Distress: Where are all the women?

But, we’ve seen our fair share of half-naked women (and men!) throughout Star Trek. Even in Star Trek (2009) we had one hot Orion woman in her undies as well as Uhura changing for us all to see. Why was it okay then but not now? Two reasons: 1. Those scenes were built into the story well (i.e. it was not gratuitous), and 2. Those scenes did not detract from their characters.

She undressed with purpose!

The Orion girl was undressed because, well, she was getting naughty with Kirk! As for Uhura, she was changing because she was in her personal quarters and unaware that some “mouth breather” was looking on from underneath her roommate’s bed. Those moments had purpose; they made sense. Randomly disrobing in the back of a shuttle craft? Gratuitous.

Secondly, and most importantly, the Marcus underwear scene detracted from the only truly strong female role in the entire film. Let’s start from the beginning. A terrorist attack has occurred (after a MAN bribed the FATHER of a dying child), and all of Starfleet’s finest are gathered together at a round table to talk options. Who do we see? A bunch of old white human males (with maybe a token woman thrown in). Cut to our introduction to Carol Wallace (aka Carol Marcus). She’s cute, she’s sexy, she’s got great hair! But, she’s also brilliant and trained in advanced weaponry — a force even Mr. Spock is threatened by. Meanwhile, Uhura does little more than follow Spock around moaning about him having a death wish. For the girls, it’s Carol who is going to represent us as a strong, smart, beautiful, independent woman! Aaaaand, then she threw her clothes at Kirk the first chance she got. Role model no more. (It’s worth noting that Felicia Day, famed nerd girl/actress, has posted similar thoughts about this on her blog.)

Uhura, who many would point to as a shining symbol of strong African-American women, isn’t without her girl power moments in the film. On Kronos, Uhura really gets to strut her stuff as the only person able to speak Klingon and decides to go up against a whole swarm of them (according to Mr. Barris, 12 Klingons constitutes a swarm). This for her is a moment of true courage. Much of that courageous character is lost, however, throughout the rest of the film as Uhura is given the primary role of humanizing Spock.

Uhura has a moment of courage and strength

Now, I am by no means a feminist [UPDATE: See author’s note below]. As a woman, I’m all for the equal treatment of women. But, I take a pragmatic approach. I’ll let you guys in on a little secret: women sometimes like looking at other women naked. Women, particularly those starring in blockbuster Hollywood films, are beautiful things, and us girls like looking at beautiful things (I’m convinced it’s the same for men looking at men, but I can’t get my boyfriend to admit it). But, even more than that, we like looking at a beautiful, strong, independent women. We like watching someone who we want to be like, and we like being told that you can be smart and beautiful. You can also be strong and beautiful, evil and beautiful, gay and beautiful. After the underwear scene, Carol was just dumb and beautiful.

Don’t look or my clothes might fall off

What about the men in STID? Should we be outraged?
“What about the men!” you say? I’ve heard the argument that we saw men in tight diving suits and a shirtless Kirk, so the Marcus underwear scene should be no different. I couldn’t disagree more. First of all, those diving suits? Hardly flattering for many of the men in question (I was seriously surprised that the costume department didn’t fix that one — wetsuits tend to make one look pudgy). And besides, we saw both genders in those dive suits. Secondly, and I’ll say this again, those scenes had purpose and didn’t detract from the character like the Marcus scene did.

So, tell me: where are all the women in Star Trek Into Darkness? Are they strong, independent role models for our daughters, or are they just dumb blondes?

Follow me on Twitter: @kaylai.

[UPDATE]: Author’s note
When I wrote this article, I wanted to discuss issues important to women in Trek, in Hollywood, and in the world at large, but I did it while making sure everyone knew that I am “by no means a feminist”.

I have now changed my mind.

At the time I wrote this, I did not understand what the often loaded term “feminist” really means. I though it was coming from a place of hate – an “us versus them” mentality. I could not have been more wrong. After reading the comments here, I have learned what feminism truly is. It’s about equality. For all. But, it’s also about recognizing the sacrifices that women before us have had to make and the struggles we are still fighting to overcome today.

Today, I’m proud to say: I am a feminist.

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I thought the scene played fine – not sexist at all. None of the girls that I saw the movie with had a problem with it either…just sayin’

Good article, but I think you meant to write “clothes” (short for clothing) instead of “cloths” (which could mean fabric or a pile of rags).

You see her in her underwear for a grand total of about 2 second. Yes, if by gratuitous you mean unnecessary, then it was gratuitous. Hardly any cause for all of the hullabaloo, though.

Agreed, the scene made no sense and I’m amazed it made it into the final edit. Where did McCoy get changed? There was plenty of time for him to get changed and wander over to the shuttle so why Carol was stripping down immediately I have no idea…

Regarding the Starfleet Command meeting, yep, there was maybe one woman in there, which is crazy enough, no non-humans either, which also seems pretty bad. Even in the future it’s old white men in charge with no diversity…

I’m actually glad the woman in the command meeting was mostly edited out of the final cut as in the trailers we saw her get shot, start screaming, and Kirk has to save her… Ludicrous!

One other thought, I’d love to see a woman in a Starfleet uniform with pants rather than a skirt next movie.

Not female, but I still found that all really anachronistic and a little uncomfortable.

Little nitpick though: clothes not cloths. Unless that’s what you meant?

Thank you for writing this, Kayla. Completely agree with most of your points, to be sure, the Carol underwear scene was absolutely inexcusable, and the fact that Abrams has half-defended it by claiming Kirk shirtless (while having a threesome) is the equivalent is totally asinine.

I’m almost even more bothered by the Starfleet roundtable scene. I looked back at Anthony’s screenshot of it from one of the trailers. Out of 20 people, 5 are definitely women, possibly 7. It’s better than none obviously but I consider it so disappointing, obvious, and really, a missed opportunity.

We know the majority of Enterprise crewmembers the film chooses to focus on are male. This is largely a function of it reflecting TOS (which was made in a less gender-equal age), which is somewhat troubling, but I do understand why there is a desire to focus on the same characters that we love from the show.

So: WHY not counteract that with making the roundtable scene, say, 12 or 13 women out of 20? It would have been a strong statement about a gender-equal hopeful future. I would really like to ask anyone who was involved in the film’s production — boborci, are you there? why the choice was made to have clearly more men than women at that roundtable. Because it reflects the way such an equivalent meeting probably would be in today’s world? Power inequity when it comes to gender is a problem we are still trying to deal with today and I would like to think the people who make Star Trek believe the future will be better about it. They had a pretty easy opportunity to make a simple statement about that and they totally blew it.

Just one question Kayla — why do you say you’re “by no means a feminist”? As I understand it, if you believe in men and women being treated equally, you’re a feminist.

Again, thank you so much for writing this piece, and thank you Anthony for publishing it.

Well FIRST: i dont think so!
Second: i am male:)


Wait, strong female characters who also show a bit more skin than might be appropriate? Sounds like Star Trek.

I forgot about the scene until now. I think Alice Eve Aka “Kirk’s baby moma” is Hot. I like seeing her that way , I am a healthy straight male.

That being said, I honest forgot about the scene in the context of the story.
To be fair the scene does not seem to have any relation to the story.
There was no logical reason for her to change in front of Kirk in the shuttle craft. I played Star Trek the game there is a room in the shuttle bay where you can change into space suits.

Hmm, it’s not as if she (Carol Marcus) didn’t risk her life diffusing a torpedo bomb from going off, while displaying more smarts and heroics than the male in the scene, McCoy… Convenient enough to leave that out of your article…

Additionally, any human being has the right to scream when their friend, let alone father’s head is CRUSHED by someone else’s bare hands in front of them!!! Add some real context and maybe your article will be taken seriously, versus as a misleading one.

Garbage journalism.

It’s probably the most pointless scene of the movie and it IS sexist. There’s no reason for her to undress in a shuttle in front of Kirk and not tell him that she does so. Naturally, he looks. Apart from there being no reason for her undressing, this makes her look stupid because she has to know he’d look. So in consequence: Does she like him and wants to come onto him because of his “reputation”? If that were the case, you’d think as a strong woman she’d make that more plain and also in different circumstances – NOT while solving a potential crisis. That would make her unprofessional.

The character is underwritten in general, but this basically says: Here’s a stupid blonde. She’s here to be looked at and has no other purpose. Great thing to aspire to for women, especially young women……

And TrekMovie has become Daily Mail! Oh, the outrage! The scandal! And the scene is so shocking, here – here is the picture again! The scene isn’t even about her – it’s about Kirk being a gormless idiot, as any man would be, when he is supposed to be focused on something far more important, like the mysterious Harrison. I thought Alice Eve was amazing, sweet, intelligent and beautiful – yes, can I say that, without causing offence?! A fave moment of mine is when she begs her father to stop the attack on the Enterprise only to be beamed, without her consent, away from the people she is trying to protect. This article belittles her, and her character, more than that, now infamous, shot! If the shot of BC in the shower had been in the movie, women would be going crazy for it – and we’d all be jealous as hell, but we wouldn’t attack Star Trek for being sexist! … I want you all off my ship! Now.

You girls can go ahead and run with this. Have fun.

I agree, #10. This is a non-issue. So sick and tired of reading about
‘diversity.’ Yawn.

She was a great character and I loved having her in the movie. Oh and by the way she is eye candy for sure.

The scene would have played differently if we’d seen them both get into their skivvies. I think in that case no one would have had a problem. But as it stands, it’s a pretty stupid scene. Admittedly, it lasts for all of 2 seconds, but it was featured so prominently in the trailer that it was obvious what they were going for. Still, good on Damon for admitting it was a bad decision and promising to keep it in mind in the future.

And I do hope Star Trek 3 has women in greater numbers and expanded roles. I had mentioned to someone recently that you could have made Adm Marcus a woman with next-to-no script changes and it wouldn’t have changed the dynamic much at all.

I voted for “maybe a little bit” because certain scenes and elements were borderline but the film on the whole was fine. Just the underwear scene is a little dodgy and Uhura’s character has issues for the reasons listed in this article. I still love the movie though and am not bothered enough by these issues for them to pose a major problem for me.

I thought it was freaking awesome. People really need to learn to relax a little.

Oh, but I do disagree that Uhura was just there to humanize Spock. She’s given a lot to do (so much so that a certain section of fandom continues to cry foul of her increased prominence in these films). She holds off the Klingons (she’s the only one that actually stabs one!) and she stops Khan from turning Spock into tomato paste. Yes, she’s concerned about Spock’s behavior, but Kirk spends half the film obsessing over Spock’s behavior too, and I don’t think that diminished him as a character.

i agree that the scene in question should not have happened .
But that was my only problem withe Carol Marcus character.
I liked Alice Eves portrayal , and, I hope she returns .

@ Pretty Confused “Regarding the Starfleet Command meeting, yep, there was maybe one woman in there, which is crazy enough, no non-humans either, which also seems pretty bad. Even in the future it’s old white men in charge with no diversity…”

See I don’t think anyone really wins in a discussion like this. Lets suppose the room was full of different races and they all get slaughted. We’d get “sure the head white guy in charge survives but the black guy gets shot”

Or lets say Admiral Marcus was played by Denzel then we’d get “oh sure make the bad guy black”

There’s always going to be complaints like this and 99% of the time they’re completely invalid.

The movie was awesome! Just leave it at that.

I’m afraid I must agree with #10.

In addition, Felcia Day posted a “rant” about “where are the strong women” roles, which I can agree with. She didn’t mention the underwear scene; it wasn’t about that. I’m not certain that qualifies as “similar” to this piece.

They have made effort with Uhura but where are Rand & Chapel or Ilea?
Why not more female captains & officers on the ship perhaps even a character?

And it’s perfectly fine to admit the movie was a bit sexist and still enjoy it. Most all entertainment has problematic elements.

As for the underwear scene?
It was no accident on the writers or characters parts.

Rand, I agree! For me, the Kirk and Rand will-they-won’t-they was the best bit in TOS! He said… in a manly way.

Thanks for this article/commentary. Wether you agree (I do agree that ST should be smarter about the portrayal of women and also that it is also an old problem)or not, I think it shows that Star Trek fans can debate important topics.
Would love to see another article that summarizes the several articles I’ve seen this week about the terror/political issues that STID raises. I’ve seen 3 (on NPR, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic), there are probably more.


Chapel apparently transferred after her relationship with Kirk went south (this is discussed in a scene between Kirk & Marcus).

I really dug the new navigator that took over for Chekhov, she seemed pretty badass. And possibly Deltan!

I totally agree in regards to the space undies scene, but I have to partially object to the characterization of the meeting as, “A bunch of old white human males (with maybe a token woman thrown in).” As others have pointed out, of the 20 people at the table, there are 6 or 7 women, plus 5 or 6 non-white humans, plus at least 2 aliens. While those numbers could be much better, and I think they should have been much better, I think the characterization as “a bunch of old white men” is unfair.

I agree that scene was utterly unnecessary but what I think is far worse is the lack of women in high command positions at Starfleet. They would just be background/token in any case, so why not just have them there, to show you have some understanding? And these non-apologies from Lindelof and JJ are annoying. Either apologize or don’t. The “we’re baffled that some of you apparently misconstrue” thing is not an apology.

I seem to recall Uhura being rather key toward the end there (not saying anything spoilery)… the Uhura character in general has been greatly increased in the JJverse. I don’t see that really mentioned in this article

My ONLY complaint about Star Trek 2009 was that Uhura’s underwear was so boring! It could have been a little more futuristic, you know?

Oh, and I like that the green girl was shapely, sexy – not a stick insect, like you’d expect.

THAT pic of Carol Marcus, it’s… it’s like being punched in the heart. Every. Time.

Well, Damon Lindelof has admitted the mysogeny of the scene. No doubt about it, it is sexist.

Not to mention that the writers have misunderstood Kirk. During TOS, Kirk would respect a woman’s right to privacy and not merely turn around, but leave the shuttle. Kirk in TOS had flings with a bunch of women, but he was always respectful towards them, and there was always an element of romance in there.

Hopefully, they will delete this and the catwomen scene out of the movie and replace it with Khan in the shower, which was deleted for some reason.

I’m beginning to believe that a woman changing clothes in the middle of a scene has become something of a trope in the JJ-verse. Along with Kirk hanging from things, Spock losing his stuff, Bones spouting metaphores, and Uhura kicking ass.

Hey Bob Orci- give us ladies some eye-candy in the next one. I suggest Vulcan Yoga.

I really have no problem with the controversy, it’ll make people want to see the movie for themselves to find out if it really is an issue. My guess is that paramount probably did this themselves just to try and get more viewers. But I may just be a conspiracy theorist.

No fuss was made in TRANSFORMERS and such, when the girls were, well… camera-abused by Bay.


Kirk threatened to spank the Dohlman in Elaan of Troyius. Not the show’s (or Kirk’s) finest hour.

A gorgeous, gorgeous actress in her underwear – I like how we’re all so repressed that we can’t even comprehend such a thing! If Alice Eve didn’t want to shoot that scene, she wouldn’t have. I’ll bet she did, because she is hotter than that volcano at the beginning…

Well the poll settles it :) back to looking at eve mmmmmm

Has it occurred to anyone that Carol Marcus decided to undress and told Kirk not to look specifically because she was trying to attract his attention and gave a cop out reason to make it happen. That was how I took the scene in the movie. She had already heard that Kirk was incredible with the ladies and, while working hard in order to save the Federation and keep her daddy from ding something stupid, she wanted a little action and Kirk hadn’t taken the bait yet. So she baited the hook with something a little more attractive. I didn’t think it detracted from her character in the slightest. It did give her a little bit of the “incredibly book smart but a little naive when it comes to relationships” appeal as far as I was concerned.


You are mistaken. Just Google ‘Michael Bay sexism’. Many people dislike his portrayal of women.

Who honestly cares what Felicia Day has to say about anything?

Great article (though I disagree with a few minor details). Speaking as a female and a Trekkie… yes, that scene was entirely unnecessary and gratuitous. Many critics have also been agreeing with that assessment as it has been mentioned in several reviews of the film. A few examples…

Flick Filosopher

…apart from one outrageously gratuitous shot of Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus in her underwear, for which Abrams doesn’t bother to provide even the slightest contextual pretense…

Screen Invasion

New introductions to the universe such as Alice Eve‘s Dr. Carol Marcus, on the other hand, don’t even serve a purpose – well, at least beyond taking her clothes off in an embarrassingly contrived and sexist scene.

Coming Soon

The film’s female characters fare even worse, relegating Zoe Saldana’s Uhura to nothing more than “Spock’s girlfriend” and treating Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus as expository eye candy. That scene in the trailer where she’s in her underwear? That’s it. She just takes her clothes off in front of Kirk for a second for no real reason. It all feels dangerously misogynistic and very, very far from Gene Roddenberry’s egalitarian future.

What Culture

To that same token, many characters are given practically nothing to do, and it too often seems to be the females; as Carol, Eve has little agency, paraded out in her underwear in one unbearably perfunctory scene, and is simply a touchstone to allow the next plot beat to abound. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, meanwhile, is demoted to the role of nagging girlfriend to Quinto’s Spock, even if it does generate a few haughty laughs.

Film Blerg

Alice Eve also joins the cast as scientist Dr. Carol Marcus, reminding the audience that no matter how far discussions on feminism and the female gaze in cinema go, there will still always be room for at least one flagrant voyeuristic shot of a female scantily clad in underwear for no real apparent reason.

End of Show

Alive Eve as Carol Marcus is a good attempt at bringing in a female character with a purpose other than exciting Kirk’s genitals, though it was one of her scenes which left a bad taste in my mouth and was the low point of the film. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for her to be shown in her underwear. No reason whatsoever. The plot did not require it and the character did not require it, which makes it gratuitous, which makes it sexist, which makes it old fashioned and an embarrassment.

It is ridiculous how people view this as sexist. JJ was of successful in achieving the goal to show that Kirk was a womanizer. People are just too focused on her breasts to notice that Kirk was enchanted by her and it said something bout his character. That was what the shot was about. If you can’t understand it don’t turn to a discussion of whether it was sexist, or not. I bet 99% of the people thinking this was sexist are fans of the series and think it was out of taste which would be contradictory anyways because sexual tension between genders especially between different species was apparent in all the trek series. Also, I bet those who think this is sexist wouldn’t look at Z. Quinto and Chris without a shirt on would be out of taste, which also would contradict them. Alice Eve is a beautiful creature and if you can’t bypass the cultural construct that constitutes sexism to appreciate her body, each she obviously works her to maintain, then you would reevaluate yourself a little.

I really appreciated this article until the words: “I am by no means a feminist.” A feminist is just someone who believes in equality between the sexes–that’s it. Writing an article expressing concern over sexism and saying you’re not a feminist is completely ridiculous. I am so sick of women saying, “I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist.” That phrase makes NO SENSE; it’s absolutely contradictory. There may be definitions of feminism out there that make it out to be radical and man-hating, but those are false definitions meant to discredit the movement. Feminism is about equality and nothing else, though there may be different ideas among feminists about the best ways to achieve equality or what equality looks like.

Now to move on off my soapbox, I would just like to say that I am a feminist, and I love Star Trek. I am getting a Ph.D. in English with an emphasis in feminist theory, and I have seen Into Darkness four times already. Do I think this scene is gratuitous, sexist, and exploitative? Absolutely. Do I think Uhura’s character is annoying and whiny? Definitely. But I still loved this movie.

Part of it is because Star Trek has always been a Kirk and Spock story. Spock is my favorite character, and I would rather see more Spock or even Scotty or Bones than Uhura, who’s just boring. These writers seem to have a hard time with female characters in Trek (which is weird, considering they worked on Alias).

The other part of it is because I’m so damn used to it. Yes, this scene is definitely gratuitous, but this is nowhere near as bad as half of Hollywood’s other movies. This is far from Michael Bay territory, for instance. At least this Trek attempts to make women smart and put them in command positions. But I also don’t think a little sexism should be simply dismissed just because there are worse instances of sexism out there.

I actually think part of the reason this is getting so much attention is because the filmmakers have addressed it. And you know what? Kudos to them. Most of the time the filmmakers don’t even acknowledge these issues, even when they’re raised by filmgoers. As a feminist, I definitely want to see more women who aren’t simply sexualized love interests. And I would like to see them in Trek. I’m glad that the filmmakers are responding to these concerns, and I hope that the next Trek will address these issues.

On a more interesting note, people are saying that Khan kicked Carol in the stomach – but I thought he broke her leg… He cracked her leg, right?

#42. Michael Li:

Alice Eve is a beautiful creature and if you can’t bypass the cultural construct that constitutes sexism to appreciate her body, each she obviously works her to maintain, then you would reevaluate yourself a little.

The body she unhealthily worked to maintain, you mean? Because here is a link to an article where she admitted prior to filming STID, she went on a diet of eating nothing but spinach for two months. Which any nutritionist would tell you? Not healthy.

…which pretty much sums up the problem with objectifying women in media. It’s damaging, psychologically, and in this case, physically to women. But of course some of you don’t care about how objectification effects we women, of course not, why think of anything that doesn’t effect you directly yet gets in the way of your ogling?

Maybe she just had a tequila right before the scene.

#45. Danielle:

Very well said! Thank you!

Sure BC worked out like crazy to shoot the shower scene, but that’s different, right? Somehow…