Chakotay is my Co-Pilot

I haven’t finished watching Star Trek: Voyager yet, but there is one problem that’s bugged me from the start. Janeway was the first female captain to have her own show in the Trek franchise. So what do they do in the very first episode? Give her a male co-pilot in the form of Chakotay, a Starfleet trained renegade captain whose ship crew must be integrated into Voyager’s if both crews are to survive.

Technically he’s her first officer. But let’s examine some visual cues. Janeway doesn’t get a throne smack dab in the middle of the bridge like every other Starfleet captain: she and Chakotay both have chairs in the middle, side by side, positioned so the casual observer would have no clue who’s in charge. When dramatic events occur, Janeway frequently turns away from the camera – from us – to look at Chakotay, who continues to look at the action. Basic human body language: the person in charge does not look away from the action during a tense moment. If the chairs simply confused us about who was in charge, Janeway’s “Oh, my god, Chakotay!” glances confirm that he’s in charge, not her.

I mean, he’s not… according to the text. But he is, according to the visuals. Human brains rely more on visuals than on what they’re told. The network or producers know what they’re doing here. Jack O’Neill never turned to stare in shock at his second-in-command when an alien proposed to kill them all – it was always the reverse. Though Jack did sometimes look at Daniel… which prompted about five billion internet debates on chain of command, and whether a civilian adviser (Daniel) was technically in charge during non-combative moments on a mission. See the power of the visual?

And don’t get me started on the ‘ship. There’s some romantic something not going on between Janeway and Chakotay (at least not so far), but he calls her by her first name and she talks about not being able to imagine a day without him, and by season four, it kind of feels like they’re Ma and Pa, and the crew is their big family of kids and grandkids. I could puke – seriously.

So even though Janeway’s characterization avoids being gendered or poorly drawn (at least relative to everyone else – it’s not the best written show ever), the powers that be make it very clear that she needs a man to complete her command. Never fear, boys – she may appear to be controlling lots and lots of men, but she’s needed a man to help her do it every step of the way. Your natural superiority over women remains intact. /sarcasm


  1. SunlessNick says

    Janeway also has a habit (according to a guy who has seen more Voyager than I have) of running off to the holodeck during major crises.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Hmm. It hasn’t struck me that way. She’s been on holodecks WHEN crises happened, and there were one or two instances where I felt like she was on the holodeck more than made sense… but the whole show is full of stupidities like that. It was certainly nothing that struck me as a “habit”, though.

    At the risk of sounding unfair to your friend, I will say I’ve found male Trekkies judge Janeway differently from how they judge Kirk, Picard and Sisko. They swear they don’t, but they do: I’ve seen them make observations about her that are just as true of at least one of the male captains, but they don’t seem to mind it in the men. For example: Janeway’s inconsistent. Well, so is Sisko. Or people dislike Kate Mulgrew. Well, people hate Shatner and Brooks, and I even recall a few guys dissing Stewart until they learned he was a veteran respected British actor. They simply emphasize Janeway’s flaws while de-emphasizing the same flaws in the male captains.

  3. Ifritah says

    Chakotay later on in the series has a romantic relationship with another crew member, if that helps.

    As for Janeway, one of my biggest turn-offs of this show (and I’m a big Star Trek fan) was her as captain. She rubbed me the wrong way each episode I watched (which, admittedly, wasn’t very many).

    It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen an episode, so specifics are leaving me, but I recall wondering if it was intentional to have a female captain that was unliked by fans. I really wish I could recall details, but all I can come up with is that she had a very distracting (not in a good way) voice and she was cold in a non-flattering way. (Understand that I enjoy a good ‘cold’ character, so something definitely was off.)

  4. SunlessNick says

    There’s something in his recognising Janeway’s flaws while not recognising the male captains’ – though he also finds the males’ flaws more interesting than Janeway’s (which may be another version of your point of course).

    I haven’t seen that much Voyager, as I never liked its plots and scripts from an SF perspective; I can’t really comment on it from a gender one.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to assess your friend based on one comment. I was just using that as a jumping off point to explain something I’ve been seeing.

    I honestly am not clear on what Janeway’s flaws are, or if she has any, because the writing is just that weak. That’s what makes her uninteresting to me. The show is a lot closer to Stargate quality than to DS9 quality.

    But beyond the writing, I think there are still some deliberate slights to her character from the network or production team.

  6. SunlessNick says

    I think it’s doubtful that she was intended to be disliked; more that they didn’t see her command style as flawed. I think we were meant to see her as more fair, more willing to listen to others, more compassionate, etc. But Picard was all those things, without sacrificing the fact that he was clearly in charge – so should Janeway have been.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    And I actually could see her that way, if I compensated in my head for the bad writing which affected ALL the characters negatively. I think most viewers don’t separate the script from the direction from the acting when they look at a show. All they see is, “That woman is annoying me”.

    I tend to dissect. DS9 has astounding writing, year after year (I’m up to Season 6). The plot twists still manage to surprise me, and that’s a rare experience for me. The cast is quite adequate, though some actors are less gifted than others, but with writing that good and decent direction, they can’t miss.

    Voyager, OTOH, has very standardized writing because it was produced for a network (DS9 was made for syndication). Networks think most of their desired viewers are morons who are deeply unsettled if they see anything they haven’t seen 1,000 times before, so Voyager tends to be painfully predictable. Even the plot twists are predictable. While DS9 always keeps characters “in character”, Voyager actually has dialog in which they say, “Back when X happened, I was like this, but now I’ve changed” and I’m sitting there thinking, “You were never like that, WTF?” It’s painful.

    That said, it’s not really the writing that keeps Janeway from appearing to be in charge. It’s the visual cues I described in the article.

    Until last night, anyway. I just started Season 5, in which Janeway has holed up in her quarters in a fit of depression that’s gone on for weeks. I’m having a hard time NOT reading that as very gendered representation.

  8. Audra says

    I know this post is old, but I just discovered your site and have always wanted to talk about Janeway with some feminists…

    I am a huge fan of Voyager but have never watched any other Star Trek, so it’s always interesting to hear others’ takes on how Janeway compares to other starship captains. This analysis of the visual cues affirms my sense that the writers of Voyager did not know just what to do with a woman captain. The anxieties about Janeway’s sex are evident in so many ways, most obviously her hair. Also, almost any episode that deals with her romantic life—those are like nails on a chalkboard to my feminist sensibilities.

    I had no idea that Voyager is the only ST ship with spacial arrangements that place the captain and first officer as equals. I’m not surprised, though, since the setting dates back to the beginning, and the producers/writers were so clearly worried that a woman couldn’t carry the show.

    Despite a lot of problems with her character, though, my overall impression of Janeway is that she totally invalidates all those worries. She is so charismatic and so entirely dominant on her ship that I rarely get the sense I’m watching a “woman captain,” as opposed to a captain who happens to be a woman. (I love how in one episode some anthropologist aliens observing Voyager immediately conclude that it’s a matriarchal society.)

    I had noticed how Janeway and Chakotay often exchange glances on the bridge, but I always saw that as a sign of their camaraderie. Janeway is just so completely in charge that it never struck me as undermining her authority. But now that I know other ST captains don’t do that, it takes on a bit different signficance.

    Overall, though, I like Chakotay as first officer. Sure, I would have loved to see a woman in that role, but it’s also interesting to see a woman in charge of so many men, and Chakotay in particular seems to have no problems being second to a woman. And on the rare occasions when they do butt heads, it’s often on grounds that are reversed gender stereotypes (he wants to nest, she wants to explore; she is being aggressive and daring, and he wants to play it safe).

    I’ve noticed that most Trekkers hate Chakotay because he’s a “wimp” or has “no backbone.” I have always wondered if he’s truly weak compared to other ST first officers, or if he’s just perceived that way because he’s sidekick to a dominant woman.


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