HAVING IT ALL IN THE 24th CENTURY
by Michelle Erica Green
I had fun in Denver with many of the Janeway/Chakotay fans in Now Voyager. We'd put an official panel together so we'd look respectable, but we also brought our "Janeway/Chakotay '96" posters and our action figures and our fan fiction. So imagine my surprise sitting in a room with these people who'd been campaigning for J/C all along--on the net, on our electronic list, on these pages--and listening to them remain utterly silent when Kate Mulgrew asked whether we really wanted to see Janeway and Chakotay together on the show. Here I'd been running everyone's editorials, jokes, stories, and reviews, thinking this was an issue people really cared about...and nobody wanted to admit it. To be fair, even I was afraid of sounding like a slushbrained romantic, and I suspect no one wanted to speak up against Kate's stated wishes; in her actual presence, it was very easy to think no man alive was good enough for Janeway. But I was still unsettled.
And I had to ask myself: when did this become my cause?
I suspect the real genesis of this question was a discussion I had with a member of ACAFEN-L--an internet group of scholars who study fans and media trends--made famous in Harper's magazine recently by Henry Jenkins of M.I.T. via his analysis of the Whitewater juror in Trek uniform. My academic friend was complaining about how disappointed she was with Voyager. "They do too much domestic stuff on that show just because they have a woman captain! I don't want to see a woman captain have to deal with who's running the kitchen and who's having babies. I want her to fight battles and do all the flying around Captain Kirk got to do!"
I found myself disagreeing. Not with everything--of course Janeway should get to do everything Kirk got to do--but I really don't want Janeway to be like Kirk, especially not when it comes to attitudes about relationships and domestic life. Not because I'm conservative about such things--it would be really interesting if Janeway practiced polygamy, or fell in love with a woman. We get plenty of sex on Trek. It's the desire for hearth, home, and affection that there's been noplace for, just like in today's corporate workplace.
In other words, why can't Janeway fight space battles and fly through nebulas, and grow vegetables and play with kids and find lasting love? Why are wonderful careers and domestic happiness always presented to women as an either-or, even in the 24th century? Someone asked Kate in Denver if she would want to trade places with Janeway, and Kate immediately said, "No, because then I wouldn't have my family." She said she'd only think it was worth it if she could take her kids with her to the Delta Quadrant. I wonder just how good a role model Janeway makes for women when even the woman who plays her--and says she adores her--wouldn't want to be her?
Different people have different needs for independence and intimacy, and if we'd gotten a Janeway shown to be happiest when working alone, like Picard always seemed, I'd appreciate her self-reliance even though I'm not sure we need another Elizabeth I or Mother Seton to serve as a model for chaste female power. What we really need is proof that by the 24th century, there won't be such a chasm between being a leader and being a sexual, social, family-oriented woman. I don't mean to imply that women need romance or domesticity to be happy...but a lot of people want these things in addition to fulfilling careers, men as well as women.
From the way Kathryn Janeway has been characterized, she's someone who much prefers closeness to command distance. I recognize that we were given this Janeway--the one with the domestic holonovel and the dogsitter, whom she misses so much that in "Persistence of Vision" she nearly wrecked the ship just to prove her fidelity--to make sure we understand that Janeway is a Real Woman outside her job. I resented that watching the early episodes, but at this point it's part of who she is. Over the course of two seasons of Voyager, her relationships have become part of who she is as well.
And if her friendship with Chakotay has been constructed as evolving, if it's mutual and passionate, that is not a problem for this character. Trying to avoid such a development would be much more damaging; the feeble attempts to do so which have been made on the show, having Janeway behave priggishly while Torres swoons over Chakotay, have made the women look hormonal and Chakotay look like an inconstant jerk. "Resolutions" was so satisfying not because it gave us a J/C love scene, but because it demonstrated that these characters work well together even apart from the roles they play on the ship. We've already seen that Janeway can let down her hair, literally and figuratively, and remain a very strong individual--and that Chakotay's feelings for her go well beyond command loyalty. Trying to put a stop to that connection would harm both characters.
I would not have chosen to have the writers develop a romantic relationship between the central officers before the show premiered, but it's there. The only people I know who feel strongly that Janeway and Chakotay should not be together are young girls who identify with B'Elanna and think she should get Chakotay, men who think Janeway's too old and stodgy for Chakotay (this really comes up often on the net), women who think Chakotay's too much of a follower--read: wimp--for Janeway, and women who want Janeway to be independent of the need for any man. The latter might be interesting if it were possible, but Janeway would be a different leader if she were that self-contained--if she didn't touch people, cry, need friends. In the episodes where she tries to play Solo Moral Ruler of the Universe, like "Tuvix" and "Alliances," she comes off as rigid and cold, a worse stereotype than a maternal or romantic characterization of a woman in charge. The mythical male demographic audience will never accept Princess Kathryn, but they'd learn to be comfortable with a sexy, earthy Janeway who's unthreatened by her own gender.
The fact is that even a lot of women don't identify with Janeway--because she's too self-reliant and sure of herself, because she doesn't "give in easily to fear." I've heard it said that she's perfect, but that's meant as a compliment when said with resentment and disbelief. Some of the people in this very fan club have written stories which seem to have the express goal of taking Janeway down a notch, even getting her raped or forced to prostitute herself for the sake of the crew. If women fans are willing to employ historic forms of female degradation to prove Janeway's femininity, they will not shirk from her doing something as human as falling in love.
I've asked various people to write me a good anti-J/C column for Now Voyager, because there are excellent reasons--dramatic, social, feminist--why it shouldn't be done on the show. But the ones I've seen have left me steaming mad--one turned into an attack on working mothers, one got so involved in criticizing the lack of character arcs that the topic was forgotten, one got so obsessed with what a great pair Chakotay and Torres make that you'd have thought Voyager was Macho Maquis Warrior and His Klingon Sex Machine. And let's get real on the romance issue: Trek is mainly action-oriented science fiction, and not even the most rabid J/Cers want Janeway and Chakotay in one another's arms at the end of every episode.
But I hear "Melrose Space" concerns, the creators' worry that dealing with domestic issues would automatically turn the show into a soap opera. They seem unaware that the very act of evasion makes relationships on Trek look more like soaps than real life. Real people do not get possessed, catch diseases which make them horny, or get stranded in places where they can read one another's minds. Real people do fall in love--even in inappropriate situations, on the job, with subordinates--and it generally lasts more than 52 minutes. And real people usually find that the rewards of being with someone outweigh the price. The dramatic tension on Voyager would be a lot stronger if Janeway and Chakotay were together. Right now they can never really have arguments, because it would weaken their images as captain and first officer--he's not supposed to question her orders, she's supposed to keep him in line--but if they were lovers, they could have private disputes as equals, they'd learn better from one another, and the level of emotional involvement would be a lot higher.
On Trek, love is never realistic, yet gender stereotypes almost always are. I lost my sense of humor during "Death Wish" when Q commented upon how wonderful it was that Janeway could be a captain and still retain her femininity. If that's remarkable to a 24th century alien, then Janeway's gotten us nowhere; it means that the women of her century are still aware that they can't have the boudoir and the bridge, they can't raise kids and raise shields, they can't have love and leadership at the same time. My fantasy for the 24th century is not that all women who want to command starships will get one of their very own--that's not realistic in any sort of meritocracy--but that people of either gender who are qualified to command starships will not be asked to give up family, intimacy, and all sense of home. Sisko took longer to make captain than Kirk because he had Jennifer and Jake; he seems to think it was worth the delay, not to turn into a lonely geezer like Kirk did. I'm less afraid of Janeway's gender compromising her leadership than I am of Trek's aversion to domesticity compromising its depiction of women as leaders.
Of course there are risks. There will be people who see Janeway as weak and diminished every time she expresses feelings, and there will be viewers who want Janeway and Chakotay together for reactionary reasons, because they see her as a romantic heroine or they think her sexuality is safer tied down to one man. Nonetheless, I think it would be more of a compromise to conservative standards to refuse to let her have an ongoing relationship than it would be to depict her in one--even a traditional monogamous heterosexual pairing.
Trek's producers are surely aware that Janeway's character is a paradigm for women in positions of power everywhere. Many such women want partners and families. and are disgusted with the media messages that women can never have both, at least not at the same time. If I have to settle for a Janeway who's compromised to the lowest common denominator in the viewing audience, would I still want her on TV? Well, sure. I think Janeway is a great a role model for girls who want to be leaders and scientists, and for older women who get endless warnings about females only being valuable while they're young, nubile, and unthreatening.
But would I want to watch Voyager every week? Would I want to be running a fan club for Janeway? Would I want to be Kathryn Janeway? If she can't do what most of our male politicians and astronauts and generals take for granted--hold the lives of people in her hands, yet have a life of her own--then, like Kate, I wouldn't want to trade places. When Janeway makes me feel despair rather than hope about the future for women, I'll know it's time to change channels.