Vulcan society was introduced early in The Original Series through Spock, who was the only member of the original pilot “The Cage” to make it into the new pilot, “The Man Trap.” Throughout TOS Spock tried to uphold the Vulcan principle of logic above all, showing emotions only in times of great duress, such as the episode “The Naked Time,” where all of the crew fought their own emotional upheaval due to a strange substance infecting the crew. Yet as Star Trek continued, cracks began to appear in the Vulcan armor. The Next Generation had no Vulcans as part of the main cast, but all series following TNG prior to the Kelvin Timeline reboot movies show how Vulcan society had some very illogical gender roles. In particular, the predominance of women in religious roles. Most, if not all, of the powerful Vulcan religious figures are women. Compare that to human society where logic is associated with masculinity and emotion with femininity; as a consequence, most religious figures of great power in human society are male.
It is very interesting that the first Vulcan woman we meet is Spock’s previously unmentioned betrothed, T’Pring. Her position in her only appearance in TOS, “Amok Time” is very interesting and shows how logical she is – she does not want to marry Spock so she invokes an ancient ritual, koon-ut-kal-if-fee, where she may choose a champion to fight for her. She chooses Kirk because she has deduced Kirk will not choose to marry her if he wins, and Spock will refuse to marry her for choosing to invoke the ritual if he wins. That means no matter who wins, she would be free to marry her own choice, Stonn. T’Pring outlogics Spock himself in this brief appearance. It is also interesting to note that the dialogue makes it clear T’Pring would become the property of the victor. Did T’Pring consider this illogical so she devised her all win scenario where she could be with Stonn?
“Amok Time” also sets the later path of gender roles Vulcans follow, prior to the Kelvin timeline. T’Pau is a high priestess whose presence leaves McCoy and Kirk stunned. Kirk comments that T’Pau is a deeply respected Vulcan and the only person to turn down a seat on the Federation High Council. While her role in the episode is limited, her role as a high priestess is striking. A society based around logic has a religious community, and later movies with the TOS cast feature women as the main religious leaders.
In The Motion Picture Spock attempts to go through the kolinahr ritual that purges all emotions from Vulcans. The master of the ritual, named Pai-ad in the first draft script and T’Sai in the novelization, mind-melds with Spock after his emotions seem to surface just as she is about to set the necklace for completion of the ritual around his neck and comments his answers lie elsewhere. While other masters of kolinahr are male, they are silent and often unnamed, even their actors uncredited. This trend continues in later films in other Vulcan rituals.
Following his death at the end of The Wrath of Khan, Spock is returned to life in the fal-tor-pan ritual, led by another female high priestess, T’Lar. While T’Lar is not a major character in the film The Search for Spock, the presence of yet another female Vulcan high priestess who performs a major role in the series, while her male counterparts are silent points to either a higher ratio of female Vulcan priestesses or Vulcan women being ‘assigned’ to the religious life for some unknown reason.
Yet one of the most underexplored Vulcan high priestesses only receives a passing mention in The Final Frontier. Spock admits that Sybok, the Vulcan who has rejected logic and now embraces emotion, is actually his half-brother. Although they are both sons of Sarek, Sybok’s mother is a “Vulcan princess” according to Spock. While she is never named in the movie and barely mentioned, her existence leaves the audience asking about her story. In Sarek’s appearances in TNG, “Sarek” and “Unification, Part I” he is said to only have had two wives – Amanda Greyson, the mother of Spock, who has died offscreen after Spock’s resurrection, and Perrin, who becomes his widow. This implies that Sybok’s still unnamed mother was never married to Sarek. Novelizations imply that her title was equivalent to princess or priestess and that she left Sarek to become a master of kolinahr. Even though she is unnamed and not seen on screen, she joins T’Pau, Pai-ad/T’Sai, and T’Lar in being a Vulcan female who is a religious figure who is integral to the shows or movies they appear in.
While TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager lack prominent Vulcan women, the brief cameos of Vulcan men also point to some interesting ideas about Vulcans to consider. It is also odd to consider that a female Vulcan, Doctor Selar, did appear as part of the crew on TNG, but she only had a prominent role in “The Schizoid Man” then sporadic references as an implied ‘second tier’ doctor on the Enterprise who is called on when Pulaski or Crusher are not available. As a doctor, Selar seems to be following a route different from T’Pau, Pai-ad/T’Sai, or T’Lar, but she is still a Vulcan woman in a position of power and had Gates McFadden not returned as Dr. Crusher, possibly Selar could have taken over for Pulaski from season 3 onward.
DS9 has one prominent male Vulcan guest star, Chu’lak, in the episode “Field of Fire”, who is revealed to have murdered three Starfleet officers. His reasoning appears to be illogical, possibly indicating he is suffering from an early onset form of Bendaii syndrome, the illness that claims Sarek’s life in TNG, or possibly Chu’lak has some form of PTSD due to the horrors of the Dominion War. Are Vulcan men more prone to developing Bendaii syndrome or emotional trauma and that is why so many Vulcan religious leaders are women?
Voyager had only two Vulcans as members of the crew, officer Tuvok who filled the role of Spock to Janeway’s Kirk and Vorik who is briefly a recurring crewmember. Tuvok, however, supplies some of the most important information about Vulcan women. Tuvok is a father to four children prior to the beginning of the series and becomes a grandfather during the series as his eldest son and daughter-in-law have a child prior to Voyager returning to the Alpha Quadrant. As an experienced father, Tuvok often utilizes the knowledge and experiences of fatherhood to reveal more logical Vulcan approaches to parenting. For example, when Neelix admits he does not know what to teach a son, Tuvok replies there should be no difference in what you teach a child based on sex or gender, that he helped raise his children the same way. His relationship with his wife, T’Pel, is only seen with her as a vision or hologram, but they are clearly devoted to each other and respect each other. It is mentioned that T’Pel had prayers said for Tuvok when he got lost in the Gamma Quadrant so there is yet another connection between women and religion on Vulcan, but we never go further into detail about this, leaving the topic unexplored.
Enterprise introduces T’Pol as the Vulcan liaison to Captain Archer on the original Enterprise, but she truly breaks the mold for Vulcan women set prior. Much like T’Pau from TOS, she is not part of the Vulcan religious community, but T’Pol often suffers from a combination of inconsistent writing and male gaze as more of her plotlines involve her being mentally attacked by Vulcans who have turned from logic, like Sybok, or having to defend herself from Archer’s anti-Vulcan sentiment then her very uneven relationship with Tucker that goes from antagonistic prodding, much like Neelix with Tuvok, to romantic complete with an odd not quite clone child who does not survives, yet proves a Vulcan-Human child could be carried to term, decades before Spock’s birth.
Throughout Star Trek’s pre-Kelvin timeline, Vulcans have been there, even in minor roles. From the religious leaders in the post-TOS movies to the more action oriented women like T’Pau or T’Pol, Vulcan women in particular have undergone some very fascinating changes as Vulcan society seems to sometimes imply gender roles that defy logic, such as the predominance of Vulcan women in religious roles, to the women who outlogic many of their male peers, even while espousing gender equality. Vulcans and gender is a rich topic Trek should keep returning to.