Smithsonian Starlog: Favourite Character

After what turned into a giant post on Star Trek canon, let’s see if I can keep this one simpler:

“Who is your favorite Star Trek character?” Feel free to discuss any character from the franchise. Why is this character your favorite? Is it someone you personally connect with? Is it someone who played a particularly powerful role in the franchise? How is this character grounded in the social or political time of his or her creation? 

The hardest part of this question is picking a favourite. Mine has changed over time, from Deanna Troi when I was first watching Star Trek as a child to Captain Janeway in my tweens and teens, and on to more complicated characters like Kira Nerys and Sylvia Tilly.

Today I’m going to talk about Captain Kathryn Janeway. She’s been top of mine since we interviewed Kate Mulgrew on our podcast recently.

I first started watching Trek with my parents and older siblings during TNG. When I was 10 and Voyager was announced, my siblings had moved out. So Captain Janeway was my Captain. I was so excited that finally we were going to have a Trek series helmed by a woman. As a smart kid who didn’t always fit in with the popular kids at school, Janeway spoke to me of possibilities for my future, as much as the future of humanity.

As I got older I was able to articulate some of the characteristics I appreciated most about Janeway: her curiosity, her empathy, her open-mindedness, her ability to survive dark times, her courage in standing up for what is right.

As Sally Ride said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Janeway was a huge step forward for women in the Star Trek franchise.

However, being the first woman captain/protagonist in a Trek series also constrained the character. According to Executive Producer Jeri Taylor:

We acknowledge that we are walking a very dangerous sort of tightrope with a female captain. She is judged by different standards. If she shows any weakness, if she shows too much emotion in a situation of stress, it damages her in the eyes of the audience. So we have to be careful that in professional situations, in leadership situations on the bridge, at all times she is completely in control. 

Even so, Janeway as a character continues to be subjected to gendered double-standards in terms of fan criticism.

Janeway had to contend with an audience who saw leadership as masculine and the possibility that anything she did could be seen as characteristic of her gender. But she paved the way for women characters who were allowed to be more complicated and flawed – just take a look at the women of Star Trek: Discovery!

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Interesting… I went through a similar trajectory. I started watching TNG when I was about 11 perhaps? At that age, I was smitten with Deanna. I had an elaborate fantasy world in which I was adopted by her (lol). TNG helped me survive a lot of difficult moments in childhood. When I grew older, I moved away from idealizing the more saccharine characters, and started to relate to edgier characters. Ro Laren remains a favourite of mine. And B’Elanna Torres. I find their pain relatable, their prickliness endearing, and their stories of personal growth inspiring.

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