"GET OUT YOUR PHASERS, LADIES"
KATHRYN JANEWAY, FEMINIST HEROINE
From Now Voyager
by Michelle Erica Green
We are fairly certain that Kate Mulgrew does not approve of this column. To
paraphrase the immortal James T. Kirk in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock,
we are therefore running it anyway.
Let's think for a moment about what Janeway would have been like thirty years
ago, as a character on classic Star Trek--a series I still love. Picture her
in a tight red minidress and black boots, all that hair up in a bird's nest 'do.
Schwing. "Captain," she'd sigh in that throaty voice, gazing up at an imperious
Kirk. "I'm afraid we'll never get home..."
"Don't worry, Yeoman," Kirk would leer, slipping an arm around her waist. "They
taught us in command school that maneuvering a lady like the Enterprise is a very
delicate matter--Kathryn, isn't it?--but over the years I've learned that
sometimes you just have to punch your way through..."
In my fantasies, Janeway then whips out a phaser and shoots him in the...just
kidding, of course. KIDDING!
Kate said that line about getting out our phasers at a con. Someone had asked
whether she would support feminist issues now that she's a household name, and
she didn't like that label one bit. I've heard feminists stereotyped as nasty,
angry women before, but it hurts more coming from someone who plays an icon of
female accomplishment. Kate probably did me a favor by reminding me how
negatively many smart women perceive feminism; I get deceived into assuming that
the majority of people understand the difference between real feminism--women and
men united for a better world, with a better understanding of the role gender
plays in our lives and livelihoods--versus what Rush Limbaugh calls "feminazism."
I certainly believe that it's every woman's right to choose her own affiliations.
We get boxed in enough by labels that aren't of our own making, which categorize
us by gender and race and age and sexual preference and social position and
family and appearance and career and attitude. It's fine with me if Kate doesn't
consider herself a feminist: I can very much relate to the desire not to get put
into yet another box. Plus, there are enough issues which separate women from
one another and from men without turning feminism into a point of divisiveness.
So I don't want to talk about Kate, except to add that I'm grateful she changed
her tone at the next con. I do want to talk about feminism, and about Janeway,
and about us. Take me, for instance. I'm a mother and teacher and Trekker and
grad student and wife and writer and nice Jewish girl--and, I declare proudly, I
am a feminist. But some people hear the "f" word, and red alerts go off in their
Look at how they describe us: sometimes as dressed-for-success, briefcase-
carrying executives whose children languish in day care, and sometimes as hairy-
legged lesbians who'd sooner get cancer than stand naked in front of a man.
They accuse us alternately of yelling too much and crying too much. They imagine
us as either coveting some man's job or sabotaging the entire capitalist system
he works for. They don't want us to be frigid workaholics yet they don't trust
us to have independent sexuality. They call us baby-killers regardless of our
varying stances on reproductive rights. The backlash is not consistent, but it's
vicious, and it's everywhere.
So, you may be asking, what does any of this have to do with Captain Janeway?
Maybe nothing. Maybe the criticisms we hear about Janeway are just an extension
of the usual nitpicking which Trek fans seem to relish. Or maybe we should
discuss whether Janeway is too bitchy or too wimpy with mutineers, and if she
should stop looking like she's going to cry when she doesn't look like she's
going to bite someone's head off. Then we can move on to the issues of how long
her hair should be, how we feel about her wearing nightgowns off duty and
lipstick on duty, and how she flirts too much with bridge officers. Maybe these
are legitimate dilemmas for all fans, and have nothing to do with sexism. I
We don't really have a standard by which to evaluate Janeway as a female captain
because we have so few role models to go by--in Trek, on TV, and in the U.S.
army. I've seen people quote everyone from Sun Tzu to General MacArthur to
Captain Kirk to demonstrate that Janeway doesn't bond with her troops in proper
fashion. I've listened to comparisons with Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks and
Bruce Boxleitner by people who don't think Janeway can command. I was startled
most by some of the comments on the Internet, which either relegate Janeway to
insignificant status or portray her as a domineering shrike.
These oft-repeated, contradictory gripes aren't the true problem with Janeway.
Moreover, I don't think I've read one criticism about the character that really
has to do with the actress who plays her. The whining about her voice and how
she puts her hands on her hips only serves to evade the crux of the matter:
There are a lot of people who don't like Janeway commanding a starship. Not
because it's Kate. Not because it's Janeway. Because it's "her."
Even in this enlightened age, when a woman succeeds in an area dominated by men,
she often finds herself the target of extreme criticism and name-calling. It's
happening to Janeway, and I suspect it will happen to Kate Mulgrew as well. I
have a feeling Kate will learn that because she embodies Voyager's captain, she's
going to get called a feminist heroine whether she considers herself one or not--
and the term won't always be used as a compliment.
I'm sure that even some of you progressive Trekkers are sitting around saying,
"It's just a TV show!" Well, if I thought that were true, I wouldn't be
bothering with any of this. Janeway is going to be a role model for thousands of
children, male and female. They're going to grow up taking it for granted that a
woman can command a starship without her gender ever becoming an issue. And
adults who hated the idea of a woman captain are going to find themselves liking
her--and more important, believing in her.
And if you think feminism had nothing to do with the Janeway we all love or we
wouldn't be here, go watch Star Trek circa 1966-9 and enjoy Janice Rand or Janice
Lester. Janeway may be going where no man has gone before, but she's definitely
going where no woman has gone before.