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.