Captain Kathryn Janeway is the first woman starship Captain to regularly appear in a Star Trek TV series.
The character is depicted by Kate Mulgrew in Star Trek: Voyager, which ran for seven seasons from 1995 to 2001. Janeway’s male Maquis sidekick, Commander Chakotay, plays a traditionally feminine role by faithfully providing emotional support for Janeway’s traditionally male command decisions.
Remember this was the 90s (or mostly the 90s) and sex-role stereotypes were still fairly entrenched in the popular psyche. So Trek is trying to be progressive but we can ask if the show is really just flipping two stereotypes into their opposite genders. To me, a really progressive outlook would get rid of the stereotypes altogether and realize that human beings, regardless of gender can be aggressive/passive, sneaky/honest, ruthless/kind, domineering/nurturing, selfish/generous, etc.
Some women argue that only true women have a “feminine mystique” arising in part from their anatomy, female chemistry, and so on. But I think this is debatable. Not all women exude a sensual or sexy air traditionally associated with “desirable” women. By the same token, not all men radiate “manliness”—that is, male sensuality or sexuality as traditionally defined.
This is an issue that I think some of the more extreme social justice warriors overlook today, whose polarized views only reinforce more cultural lies. Perhaps in more backward countries, which tend to be ethnically homogeneous and isolated from the rest of the world, we find this limited and limiting kind of mindless acceptance of socially constructed sex-role stereotypes… reversed or not.
My point is — forget gender and look at whether the person is being a jerk or not. If we do this, all inequalities – like the wage gap – should progressively clear up. For example, only a jerk would pay a woman less than a man for the same kind of work. Similarly, only a jerk would exclude men from traditionally female pastimes and pleasures, a little nasty which still happens a lot today.
Basically, I’m talking about getting at the root of the problem… which in a word is prejudice.
Judging before assessing.
Three decades before Voyager, creator Gene Roddenberry tried to offset traditional sexism by creating a woman first officer – No. 1, played by Roddenberry’s future wife Majel Barret – in the 1965 pilot episode, The Cage.
NBC network brass were lukewarm on the pilot so demanded big changes. This brought in William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, and James Doughan respectively as captain, doctor, and engineer aboard the Enterprise. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) replaced Barret as No. 1. Barret herself was recast far less visibly as Nurse Chapel, a female role deemed more acceptable for mid-1960’s America.
However, Barret’s female voice also appeared as the ship’s talking computer – an early kind of Cortana, Siri or Alexa.
Barret – who later married creator Roddenberry – played in two Star Trek feature films. She also returned in Star Trek: The Next Generation as ship counselor Deanna Troy’s flamboyant mother. Also, her voice is heard in subsequent Trek productions as a female sounding computer.
So the considerable success of Janeway – the character that sparked this entire discussion – as Voyager’s captain suggests that the time was ripe for rethinking traditional sex-role stereotypes not only in America but in most culturally progressive societies.
But as I say, Voyager’s “progressiveness” was limited to where most of us were in the 90s. Today is another story. Or it should be.
I remember reading on an internet forum about a woman meeting Kate Mulgrew at a Star Trek function. The woman apparently told Mulgrew that she was an “inspiration” to which Mulgrew replied, “That’s what they all say.”
Hard to know just what Mulgrew meant there. But the woman posting on the internet was very disappointed.
Myself, I think Mulgrew was fine but just short of stellar in depicting Captain Janeway. It was the total crew and especially their emotional dynamics which I liked most about Voyager.
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