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July 19 2024


An archive of Star Trek News

My Tribute to the Women of Star Trek: Voyager

By C. K. Asselin
Posted at February 22, 2001 - 11:34 PM GMT

One night last December, for want of something better to watch, I tuned into "Scorpion". Ever since then, I have asked myself ‘what is it that draws me to the show regularly?’ Why does Voyager appeal to me aside from the cool special effects? Three reasons: Kathryn Janeway, B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine. (I apologize to all Kes fans for not including her here because Season 4 was my introduction to the series.)

Before Voyager, I considered Star Trek to be a male-oriented TV show. I watched TNG and DS9 sporadically, never paying much attention to them. However, the Voyager women have certainly changed my opinion about Star Trek. It is refreshing to see women portrayed as capable, intelligent and strong individuals who hold their own without looking like male wanna-bes or relegated to playing second fiddle to their male counterparts. I suppose that's why shows like The X-Files, The Practice and ER appeal to me too.

I cannot help but compare them with the women in Sex & the City, Friends and Ally McBeal. Although the women in Sex & the City and company are supposed to be liberated and have successful careers, they remain stereotypically women who dream and scheme to get a man, love to gossip and obsess about "the perfect pair of shoes". One may argue that these are comedy series hence the emphasis on banality, but do they have to be so shallow? And if so, does this mean that women, no matter how smart they are, should not be taken seriously? Then there are Xena, Chyna and Buffy who seem to suggest that to be strong and brave, women either need a body built like Mr. Universe or possess mystical powers.

In a Newsweek article, Susan Faludi called Sex & the City a commercialized version of feminism and femininity. She noted that, in reality, "the women's movement of the last two centuries sought women's equality and independence not so women could be happy shoppers but so they could be responsible public citizens, so that they could remake social forces instead of surrendering to commercial siren calls." The current parade of bimbos on "reality" shows, Britney Spears and aspiring Britneys further make me wonder if these beneficiaries of the women's movement really understand what emancipation means.

Fortunately, the women of Voyager remind us what socially responsible women are capable of. Janeway, Torres and Seven of Nine are intelligent individuals who wrestle with complex morality issues. They debate each other's actions without resorting to name-calling, catfights and hysteria. They are just as capable of coming to the rescue as to be rescued. We are not subjected to watching them gossip, whine about their sex lives or compare fashion notes to remind us that they are women. They have sex appeal but are not sex objects. In short, they display intelligence, strength and femininity.

There is a tendency for some Trek fans to compare Janeway with Kirk, Picard and Sisko. I think it's unfair and irrelevant. Kathryn Janeway is a woman in command, NOT a woman trying to do a man's job. She is the first female captain in Star Trek's history. I would rather consider Captain Janeway as a work in progress, a rough cut, an exploration. She is taking me on a journey of discovery on what it means to be a woman in authority without being expected to think or behave like a man. Before Janeway, women in authority were too often shown as cold and ruthless, or as someone who suppresses her femininity and joins the "boys' club", or has a personality that is controlled by her raging hormones and is incapable of making major decisions. In Janeway, Kate Mulgrew has given us a wonderfully complex female captain. She leads with confidence but she is not a flawless leader. She is as comfortable with technobabble as she is with her femininity. She is not afraid to show her emotions but also knows when to rein them in. She does not have to be built like an Amazon woman to look good holding "Betsy" in her arms. I see Janeway as someone who makes me think about leadership from a woman's perspective. Sure, she makes mistakes and controversial decisions, but it just goes to show that she is human. I do wish, however, that the writers could have tried harder to maintain a little more consistency in her character, lest she falls prey to the stereotype of women as fickle individuals.

In B'Elanna Torres, we are presented with a chief engineer who is also a woman, a wife and a soon-to-be mother. Kudos to Roxann Dawson for giving her such wonderful depth. As a chief engineer, Torres displays full confidence in her abilities. She is resourceful, analytical, matter-of-fact. She is able to set aside her differences with Seven of Nine when it comes to getting the work done. It would have been interesting, however, to see how these two women deal with their feelings toward each other and gain something out of that eventually. As a woman, wife and soon-to-be mother, Torres allows herself to be in touch with her emotions. She confronts her deep personal insecurities on her own terms and achieves personal growth in the process. In her relationship with Tom Paris, she's mellow and supportive.

When Seven of Nine was first introduced, I was fortunate to have missed out on the publicity and commotion, so I didn't have any preconceived ideas. The first time I saw the character was during my pre-Voyager days last Fall. At that time, "Star Trek, a sci-fi show with aliens of all sorts" was my frame of reference. And so I thought Seven was an alien crewmember because of her eyepiece. Her form-fitting outfit did not catch my attention at all. I even thought that Chakotay was an alien too because of his tattoo and wondered if they were female and male versions of the same alien race!

Interestingly enough, for someone who deplores women being portrayed as sex objects, I have no misgivings about Seven's outfit, which obviously does not leave much to the imagination. I think it's because, despite the outfit, the emphasis on Seven's character has always been about an intelligent and brave woman learning about individuality and humanity. She has never been portrayed as someone who relies on her sexuality to get her way. True, Seven of Nine was originally created to pander to a certain male demographic. But fortunately, to Jeri Ryan's credit, the character did not degenerate into a bimbo. Instead, Jeri's captivating performance of an intriguing character proves that physical attributes are secondary and do not distract from the character. Besides, there is no reason for an intelligent woman to be ashamed of her femininity and hide behind frumpy clothes. The people who spend more time focusing on her physique than on the character are sadly missing out on important lessons that Seven of Nine has to offer.

My only gripe is that Seven is learning social graces from the Doctor instead of a woman. As the series progresses, it seems as if the wonderful Janeway/Seven interactions have been set aside in favor of the Doctor/Seven relationship. A mentor-student relationship between two women would have shown that when women get together, they do not always gossip, complain about men and discuss fashion but that they are capable of having mature, intelligent conversations and helping each other achieve their goals.

I do not deny the fact that Star Trek is an ensemble cast show and it is most unfortunate that some characters are getting more screen time than others. And I concede that the scripts and plot-lines oftentimes leave much to be desired. But, perhaps for a brief moment, if fans were to refrain from glossing over these issues, look beyond physical attributes, and stop comparing Janeway to the male captains of Star Trek, they just might be able to notice something else that is more important. And that is, Voyager has one of the best ensemble of female characters. They have strength and femininity. They are intelligent but they are also human, capable of making mistakes. It is also worth noting that a woman, Janeway, is in command without having a male support cast as the boss. It is nothing personal against the male cast of Voyager, and I am certainly not advocating that women should be superior to men, but, the fact remains that there are very few shows on TV that actually have such positive role models for women. Granted Star Trek is a male-oriented series, or so I thought. But, I am pleasantly surprised to find that it has accomplished more for women than what most female-oriented series have been able to do.

What's more, the series has a refreshing and appropriate message. It is showing me that women can be more than caregivers and counselors. In TNG, counselor Deanna Troi and Dr. Beverly Crusher were essentially taking on traditional roles. In DS9, Kira was a first officer; a subordinate to a male captain. Only in Voyager do we finally get to see a female captain, a female chief engineer and a unique female who prefers to play by her own rules.

I am delighted that, finally, there is a TV series acknowledging what women in the real world are truly capable of. It's ironic that we have three 24th century women reminding us what history has been telling us all along. They are a tribute to an incredible range of intelligent and brave women such as Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Sacajawea and many more. Now that we've arrived in the 21st century, it is time for the entertainment media, especially those catering to the youth market, to focus on what most women in the real world are doing and stop catering to archaic fantasies. On May 23rd, I'll bid adieu to Voyager with a tinge of regret but with optimism. I fervently hope that a groundbreaking show like Voyager will help to usher in a new and permanent era of female characters on TV and in the movies who will continue to inspire me as much as Captain Kathryn Janeway, Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine.

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C. K. Asselin is a web designer and researcher in a cross-cultural training and consulting company. She has had her fair share of making bad management decisions and managing personality conflicts. During her spare time, she prefers to stow away her people skills and concentrate instead on pursuing her latest passion which is learning to design computer games. A movie buff, she loves to watch shows that challenge her imagination and provoke her to launch into social commentaries. C.K. and her husband reside in New Jersey, USA. They travel to Europe and Asia quite often to savor the rich cultural diversity of these two continents.

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