Women in SFF: Kathryn Janeway

Saturday , 22, July 2017 16 Comments

Another day another nontroversy, with the usual crowd this week cheering the announcement that the next Doctor Who protagonist will be a woman and simultaneously gnashing their teeth at the mouth-breathers who aren’t ready for a Strong Woman Doctor! Meanwhile the rest of us carry on not watching Doctor Who and not caring much either way.

Continuing on with my series on awesome women in scifi/fantasy (Brackett, Bradamante), I’d like to highlight a well-done female character from a much better scifi series – Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. That’s right – for all the talk of women breaking new ground in film and TV in recent years, 22 years ago we were introduced to a badass female commanding officer from one of the most popular scifi franchises in the world.

Now I know I’m probably in the minority in my love of Voyager, but I’m going to put a pin in that for now and focus on why Janeway was such a great character and my favorite Star Trek captain.

Somewhat reminiscent of the Iowan Captain Kirk, Janeway was raised on the plains of Indiana, spending much of her childhood years on her grandfather’s farm. She was both curious and outdoorsy, and would later muse that there were no anomalies more frightening than a thunderstorm on the plains. Much like Kirk, Janeway’s diligent, defiant, and pioneering American spirit would serve her well in the captain’s chair.

Star Trek: The Next Generation saw a more even-keeled, “refined” leader of the Enterprise in Jean Luc Picard. Not to say the guy didn’t have grit; the “four lights” episode wins major kudos for the Frenchman, and it’s not as if he were afraid of a scuffle. But he wasn’t a brawler. He wasn’t a man’s captain. Kirk was. So was Janeway.

Sure, Janeway was pleasant and knew how to be diplomatic. That comes with the rank. But she didn’t take crap and she wasn’t afraid to use all the cards in her deck. A couple of choice examples:

 

This is the first part – not only was she smart and charismatic, but she was tough. But as I talked about with Bradamante, that’s not enough to craft a good character, woman or man!

Janeway was feminine. Now she wasn’t intended to be the show’s hottie. There were, erm, others for that role.

But Kate Mulgrew was’t hard on the eyes, either. And there’s something about powerful women that can be quite alluring when done right. 

Although Janeway did have her brief romances, she wan’t intended to be a femme fatale. She was more of a Hawksian woman, a Dale Arden type experienced and skilled enough to climb the ranks and take command. And she grew into the mother-bear of her ship. Unlike any of the other Star Trek series’ vessels, Voyager was on its own in the wilderness. As the show progressed, Janeway learned that her crew had to toughen up and become more self-sufficient. After stranding her crew halfway across the galaxy, she began to play almost as fast and loose with the Prime Directive as Kirk, because her crew had become more important.

She was both protective and nurturing as a captain, and like any good mother she doled out punishment and discipline on plenty of occasions. I guess what I’m getting at is that yes, she was a Strong Woman. But she was very clearly a woman, with very feminine characteristics. She was on equal footing with the men around her, but she didn’t shame them or “out-man” them.

No, if Katheryn Janeway were pissed at you she wouldn’t round-house kick you or knock you on your ass with a bo staff. She’d just order Lt. Tuvok to blow up your ship.

PCBushi can also be found on Twitter or at the PCBushi blog, where he ruminates on scifi/fantasy, games, and other spheres of nerd culture.

16 Comments
  • SJWs in Spaaace says:

    I always considered her a lantern-jawed, chain-smoking-voiced Leftist matriarch who made the show nearly unwatchable, but to each his own.

  • H.P. says:

    Two references to Hawksian women in three days. I approve.

  • Fenris Wulf says:

    Voyager was an adventurous, almost pulp-y show, even if the writing was sometimes weak. Janeway was a believable, non-feminist, non-superpowered captain. The episode where she out-bluffs the alien medical researchers was especially memorable. Tom Paris and The Doctor were likeable characters, the others were a bit pretentious and annoying.

    • PC Bushi says:

      Indeed. I’ve watched the series several times now and I’ve come to see that the writing wasn’t always that great. Interestingly I seem to like/dislike different characters to different degrees with each watch-through, but I always enjoy Janeway and The Doctor.

  • Loyd Jenkins says:

    Janeway’s biggest problem was that the writers wouldn’t stick to one way to portray her. She never came across as feminist to me but competent, very much a Hawksian woman (a term I had never heard before).

  • deuce says:

    “Continuing on with my series on awesome women in scifi/fantasy (Brackett, Bradamante)…”

    Hey Bushi! Just wanted to correct a statement of mine from your “Bradamante” post. Roy did NOT make Bradamante Arak’s comrade-in-arms. Upon further research, it was actually Valda, DAUGHTER of Bradamante, which took care of any niggling continuity problems regarding previous tales. IMO, Valda was a much better character than Red Sonja, whom RT also (semi-)created when he was still an S&S greenhorn.

  • Terry Sanders says:

    The word in my hearing at the time was, Janeway was a woman because that was the only way they would be allowed to give the captain balls.

    That said, I freely admit they cast her well. Kate Mulgrew made the character work.

  • Xavier Basora says:

    One of the most criminally underrated substories of the Voyager series was the maquis subplot. I’d’ve liked to have seen more tensions between the straightlaced Federation crew and the maquis.
    And Cheqote would’ve made for a really enjoyable repaetee between and Bogartian man and Hawksian girl.

    One of the things i really liked about the Tom Paris character was his hommage to the puply film noir/novel.la negra holographic program subplots. They made the dreary episodes enjoyable. also he was the most interesting as he was charged with treason for his support of the maquis.

    I never liked the frivolousness of his character. He should’ve been a James Cagney character trying to go straight but sometimes the rogue in him flares up.

    In fact the writers should’ve done an episode within an episode once in awile to solve the problem du jour(tm)

    As for Janeway, it was the writers’ inconsistency that really bugged me.

  • Robespierre says:

    I haven’t seen all of the Voyager episodes but I’ve seen quite a few and have enjoyed them. Janeway is a pretty likeable character but the show does seem rather fem-centered. The main female characters have the strong assertive personalities. I think this comes across because the men are so mild. The only character I’ve seen really take on the captain is another woman – the ex-Borg drone who is learning what it is like to be an individual. Seven appears utterly fearless. And I’m not complaining about Seven – they can put her in every scene as far as I’m concerned. I’d watch her dust the blinds or chew bubble gum. I just wish she’d smile more – darn those Borg – and slip into something more comfortable, like a bubble bath.

    But the show is almost hilariously PC. The original Trek featured a ship of mostly white males with a smattering of other people. Voyager seems to do the mirror opposite.

    The principle bridge characters include, one North American Indian, one black man with pointy ears (is there an episode that explains why there is a black Vulcan? Is he part human, or did another ethnic type naturally evolve on Vulcan? His hair type is not Vulcan, nor does he have the pasty Vulcan skin), one white man, one East Asian man, and one white woman to command them all.

    The only other main character white man is The Doctor who isn’t really a man or even a biological entity. Although he is patterned after his creator.

    The chief engineer officer is a tough gal. As is Seven.

    The only other male (but non-human) main character is Nelix and he’s the cook and the cruise director, and occasionally the babysitter – hardly an alpha male type.

    The show would be a lot different if it featured a womanizing alpha Kirk as the XO. Or what would it have been like if Wes Studi played Chakotay? I can’t really imagine Wes Studi taking orders from a woman a million parsecs from nowhere and cut off from their military command and control. I can see Graham Greene as the mild-mannered XO.

    I haven’t seen a whole lot of white men as extras or even in small speaking roles, although there are certainly some. And I read that the crew is half or more than half women.

    • PCBushi says:

      Yup, fair points. I guess I didn’t really take much notice because the series had been drifting in that direction. I mean TNG and DS9 were plenty diverse, especially the latter.

      I didn’t really think of Nelix as an Alpha either the first time or two I watched through, but I’ve come to have more respect for him. He’s not particularly aggressive after the first season or two, but he definitely steps up whenever the situation calls for it.

      The Kirk XO thing had been done already with Riker – that was basically his shtick. And yeah, Seven was the only one who consistently challenged Janeway, but both Chakotay and the Doctor did too on occasion. For the most part all of the male characters were always or became (like Tom) deferential to Janeway. But I think Harry was really the closest thing to a Beta male, and that’s mostly just because he was the youngest and no one really seemed to respect him a whole lot. Only dude to attend officer meetings who remained an Ensign for the whole damn trip!

  • Mark says:

    I’m with Chuck (www.sfdebris.com) when it comes to Janeway.

    That is, she was an awful, *awful* character.

    He’s done plenty of Voyager episode reviews, but there are lots of nice clips on YouTube if you just search “sfdebris janeway” on that site.

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