Janeway, Captain Kathryn

Captain Kathryn Janeway From Star Trek Voyager
Image by headexplodie via Flickr

Captain Kathryn Janeway is the first woman starship Captain to regularly appear in a Star Trek TV series.

Kate Mulgrew plays the role in Star Trek: Voyager, which ran for seven seasons from 1995 to 2001. Interestingly, her faithful male sidekick, Commander Chakotay, plays a traditionally ‘feminine’ role by providing emotional support for Janeway’s traditionally ‘male’ command decisions.

The creator of the Star Trek series, Gene Roddenberry, attempted three decades earlier to counteract traditional sexism by casting a woman first officer (“No. 1”, played by Majel Barret) in the original pilot episode. Network brass demanded big changes, however, and William Shatner, Deforest Kelley and James Doughan were respectively brought in as ship’s captain, doctor and engineer. Leonard Nimoy (Spock) replaced Barret as “No. 1.” Barret was recast less prominently as Nurse Chapel, a female role deemed more socially acceptable for mid-1960’s America.

Something of a compromise was reached, however, when a female voice (Barret’s) was used for the ship’s talking computer. Barret, who was to become creator Gene Roddenberry’s real life wife, played in two Star Trek feature films. She also returned in the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation as ship counselor Deanna Troy’s flamboyant mother. Also, her voice is heard again in later series’ as a female sounding computer.

The success of Katherine Janeway 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 around the world.

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