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