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Women of sci fi #74: Captain Kathryn Janeway

Tonight’s contribution is from a new visitors/contributor to the site Elveray. Thanks so much, and here’s to further collaboration. She is filling a gap I have long been aware of.

Captain Kathryn Janeway Star Trek:Voyager

Captain Janeway is a unique phenomenon in the Star Trek Universe. There were female captains and even admirals in ST before her – but, you see, they never had enough appearances to get noticed. The very fact they finally give us a main character female captain is an improvement. Perhaps the idea doesn’t always work smoothly. Perhaps the show’s authors just can’t handle it sometimes. But let’s get to Janeway.

Kathryn Janeway finds herself in quite a difficult situation: on her very first mission as captain her ship is captured by a mysterious alien force and taken to the other side of the galaxy, thousands of lightyears from Earth. Under the circumstances that would make almost anyone give up, she is not only ready to take one-of-the-million chance to get her ship and crew back home, but she also is quite determined to keep the highest ideals of the United Federation on her ship. As she travels through an uncharted part of the galaxy and faces challenges the Federation doesn’t even know to exist, she shows herself as bold, intelligent, determined, resourceful and able to handle all kinds of emergency situations. She also shows excellent diplomatic skills, making contacts and negotiating treaties with alien races. Her interaction with her crew is also remarkable, even though she can sometimes give you an impression of a “mother” (remember me saying that the authors of the show do not always handle the idea of a female captain very well? That’s it.) but still, she does her best to keep them from going awry. She can manage battle too: she defeats enemies as deadly as the Borg or the Species 8472 and she is very good with a phaser rifle. (An interesting fact about Janeway: she actually managed to take out the Borg, while the male captains Picard and Sisko were only lucky to escape from the Collective with their lives.)  She gets her heart broken when her husband unscrupulously dismisses her as missing in action, but she won’t let this break her will. She has complexity, she faces hard choices, demonstrates remarkable compassion and understanding, and as far as I am concerned, she represents a positive depiction of a woman in SciFi.

And she is by the way the first explorer of the Delta Quadrant. Or, at least, the first one who actually came back in one piece.


There are three things to remember about being a starship captain: keep your shirt tucked in, go down with the ship, and never abandon a member of your crew.

3 responses to “Women of sci fi #74: Captain Kathryn Janeway

  1. I’ve thought about writing a post on Janeway myself, but have never managed to reconcile my liking for the character with the problems in the way the show represents her, so I’m glad Elavary took the responsibility off my shoulders! I do love Janeway, but the writers seem to go out of their way to undermine her. It’s a testament to Kate Mulgrew’s acting chops that she still manages to make the character pretty awesome. Voyager is a strange show – it has the most potentially interesting female characters in leadership roles of any Star Trek series, but also a lot of really, really sexist writing. I guess those two things are not unrelated! The writers seem to feel threatened by their own creations. But Janeway is still an important representation in SF and broke some new ground.

    • I was wondering when Janeway would show up. I was expecting her before Guinan. I stopped watching the show during the original airing of the series when aliens took over the ship and started playing NAZIs on the holodeck. I just couldn’t take it anymore. But Star Trek does have an authority trip and she had to be too macho. Cordelia Naismith of the Vorkosigan series is a better female captain character.

    • Elveray ⋅

      Can’t argue with that. Some Star Trek writers clearly lack an open mind. And that’s a strange thing for a SciFi writer! I’ve been thinking about what you said in your article about Kes: it’s set in future, over 300 years from now, but sometimes still looks like last century. It’s in many ways too conservative and really has a lot of awfully sexist moments. The one I hate most of all is that many times repeated situation when some alien misogynists harass one of Federation female officers and the others say “oh they’re different culture, we should respect their traditions.” Sometimes that interstellar diplomacy really sucks! And I hate what they’ve done to Kes in “Fury” and to Seven in the last season. But still there are awesome female characters in Voyager. Next time I’m going to write about B’Elanna Torres.

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