Star Trek Television

Maiden, Mother, Crone: Why Voyager Was Awesome

Note who's standing in front.
Note who’s standing at the front.

In honor of N.O.C.’s Star Trek Week, I’m reposting something I wrote about four years ago on my own blog. It’s about Star Trek: Voyager. Wanna hear it? Here it go:

Over at Tempest’s blog, she asks why people really disliked Captains Sisko and Janeway. (If you don’t know why this is a loaded question, don’t bother reading this post, because it means you don’t know jill about Star Trek.)

I started to respond in a comment, but then it got really long, so I thought I’d just take it over here.

Voyager was a groundbreaking show. The first half of the show’s run was shaky, but once Seven of Nine stepped in, the show truly became something great, and new. In the Seven of Nine era, the characters and roles were slightly reshuffled, until the ship was led by a triumvirate of strong women. In fact, the ship, and the show, were led by the three archetypes of Maiden, Mother, and Crone: that’s Seven, Torres, and Janeway to you. (According to First Wives Club, in Hollywood they’re “Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.”) It took a little while for these roles to shake out, but watching them develop was thrilling. And watching how Voyager took these three archetypes and thoroughly subverted them, was even more thrilling.

bun
I have to wear this bun to make me look older.

Janeway started out as a shaky and boring character for one simple reason: we have archetypes of male leaders of all ages, but we don’t have valid archetypes of early-middle-aged female good leaders. Think about it: there are the bad mommies (Medea) and evil witches galore (Circe, wic witch of west), there are the insane women-of-a-certain-age (neither good nor bad), and there are the various monsters (harpies, sirens, Medusa, oh my!), and there are the magical wimmins, like sphinxes and such, who help heroes to something, but exact a price. There are no heroines, no protagonist archetypes, who are early-middle-aged women.

And let’s face it: Star Trek‘s bread and butter has always been Western archetypes.

So Janeway got off to a shaky start, since she had no archetype to embody. After a great deal of silly romantic trouble, and a genuinely touching reckoning with her relationship with Chakotay, she finally settled into her role as, not the captain of the ship, but the mother of all mankind. Yes, it took them about three seasons to realize that, out in the Delta Quadrant, Voyager was a microcosm of all humankind and Janeway was the Crone queen. They picked up on this when they opposed her to the Borg queen and discovered that they were equals. The good mommy of diversity, and the bad mommy of assimilation.

Resistance is politically correct.
Resistance is politically correct.

What was brilliant about the way they wrote her character was that they then used her position of power to question the way leaders in hierarchies make decisions. She didn’t always make the right one, but, while always acknowledging that, the show didn’t look down on her for it. Her wisdom was always greater than everyone else’s, but her wisdom wasn’t always right. They used the Borg queen and Seven of Nine to underline this lesson, comparing the hierarchy that may be necessary among diverse individuals, with the consensus that is possible among the thoroughly assimilated. Hierarchy and diversity were not always shown to be the best choice. What made Janeway interesting was that she wasn’t a static crone, but was rather a Mother in the process of becoming a Crone (and in the series finale, we finally get to see her become a literal crone; this is very satisfying.) It’s all three characters growing into and out of the archetype that makes them fascinating and subversive.

Don't fuck with me, I'm wearing leather.
Don’t fuck with me, I’m wearing leather.

Torres started out as the fiery hottie, the amazon, the Woman Warrior, which is why her character didn’t work so well: it’s hard to have a fiery hottie who’s also a brilliant leader. Amazons are forces of nature, tamed by the love of a hero stronger than themselves. Also, every woman on the ship was almost by definition a warrior (except Kes, natch) so they detracted from the power of Torres’ archetype. By “taming” her fieriness a bit with marriage and a child, and giving her more responsibility they began transforming her into the archetype of Mother. However, the man she married wasn’t the hero stronger than herself, but the reformed weasel. So she got to remain the sole leader in their relationship. This ended up being the perfect platform to talk about a young woman growing into a position of leadership. It subverted, whether intentionally or un-, both the archetypes of Mother and of Woman Warrior.

Why do geek boys hate me? I was designated for them.
Why do geek boys hate me? I was designated for them.

And Seven subverted the Maiden archetype thoroughly. Raped, both in the sense of being abducted and of being thoroughly physically violated, at the age of 6, Seven as an adult retains a childlike innocence, coupled with some seriously dangerous hardware. And by hardware, I don’t mean the kind of ass-kicking karate-hardware that is the substance of millennial male fantasies from Buffy to whatever happened in the action film genre yesterday. By hardware I mean smarts: brain enhancements, databases, skills, abilities. She also has a fading sense of certainty about herself and her place in the universe that is the legacy of her Borg upbringing. This Borg confidence is depicted as one of the good leftovers of her background; the show doesn’t assume that everything she learned as a Borg is bad or wrong except her military capabilities, as a more salacious show would do. And there’s some very sophisticated discussion of her Borg spirituality (yes, they have some) and her Borg worldview.

This bumps into the fact that Voyager dealt with multiraciality and transnationality in a much more sophisticated way than all the previous (and subsequent) Treks. Although Torres is largely treated as a tragic mulatta, and her two species viewed reductively, note that her human half is Latina, itself a multiracial identity. Although the two episodes in the series that deal directly with her multiraciality are stupid (there’s an early episode where she splits into her Klingon and human halves, and her Klingon half can’t think, while her human half can’t fight — not offensive at all!; and a much later one in which she’s pregnant and goes crazy trying to make sure her daughter doesn’t end up with Klingon brow ridges), the rest of the show, when not focusing on what they think she should be doing with her multiraciality, deals with it rather delicately: showing how she extracts strength and trouble, questions and confirms herself, both, through her cultural uses and memories of her parents.

Fascinating.
Fascinating.

Seven, on the other hand, is a transracial adoptee, a third culture kid, and a multiracial (since she carries marks of both races on her face and body.) Like I said above, Voyager, unlike TNG, doesn’t assume that a Borg separated from the collective is better off. We see Seven having a lot of trouble adjusting, and learn slowly that part of her successful adjustment is owing to the confidence and centeredness she found as a Borg. In one episode, she says that her memories and experience as a child and as a Borg remain with the collective, and it comforts her to know that she will be immortal in that way. Nobody else on board has that kind of certainty of an afterlife. The show’s treatment of Seven is an example of true diversity: Janeway sometimes finds Seven’s ideas and decisions abhorrent, but she tolerates them and learns to live with them.

I find it strange that people are so hostile to Seven. She was brought in to replace the Maiden character of Kes, who was a mess, narratively speaking. Kes was both the virgin/ingenue, and the sexual/romantic partner of an old-looking and seeming character (Neelix.) That never worked out, for obvious reasons. And when they started giving her superpowers, it wasn’t believable — or desirable — because she’d spent the previous three years being annoyingly perky and powerless. Seven was very carefully thought out to replace her: Seven was the innocent Maiden, but with built-in strength and power. She was the opposite of perky, and was obviously on a coming-of-age trajectory. When Seven got with Chakotay, it was clearly the next phase in her evolution: she wasn’t going to be expected to get it on and remain virginal, like Kes was.

 I'll see your archetypes and raise you one collective unconscious.
Girls? We run the fucking ship, motherfucker!”

I truly think that people who think Voyager was a bad show either didn’t watch the second half of the run (most likely) or haven’t yet become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership positions. Even the somewhat groundbreaking Battlestar Galactica, which started out with women in leadership positions in civilian and spiritual life, couldn’t quite bring itself to depict a good woman military leader. That’s pretty radical.

Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women. Chakotay is a strong character in more than one sense: he takes his own path, he’s a military leader and also a leader in personality, and he straddles the military and rebel worlds without breaking apart or going crazy. Chakotay, halfway through the show, in the episode in which he and Janeway confront their romantic feelings for each other, lays it out: he’s accepted the role of helpmeet, of the man who enables the woman leader. It’s completely awesome. Later, he becomes Seven’s lover, and it’s clear that he’s an older teacher-type lover, a kind of Kris Kristofferson to Seven’s Barbara Streisand.

Tom Paris is an immature wild-boy, who’s the best pilot in the whatever, but is traumatized by the consequences of his own cowardice and immaturity. He eventually grows up enough to atone for his past wrongdoings and Become A Man, but he doesn’t have the personality of a leader. Instead he falls in love with Torres, who is a leader, and takes on the implicit role of a woman leader’s partner. And then there’s Tuvok, who has a wife and kid at home, and is smarter, older, more controlled, and better educated than everyone else on board. And he willingly serves Janeway’s captaincy because he recognizes the power of her leadership, and because he believes that it’s the right thing to do.

(And one more thing: the Doctor plays the vain, fussy, diva character. The male Doctor. Think people might have a problem with that?)

asdfasd
That’s right, stay in the kitchen where you belong!

The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it. In fact, no one ever mentions the male characters on the show at all, not to love or to vilify them (except poor Harry Kim, but that’s pretty much justified.) I think it’s the absence, the lack of male leadership that causes people to clock Voyager as “boring,” or “silly.” I used to watch queer films and think they were boring, until I read somewhere that this is a privileged response: most of the films I watch show heteronormative sexuality, which is more interesting to me in the titillating sense, so I don’t have to have any interest in other types of sexuality. But (cue violin music) once I got with the program and stopping making every narrative have to be about ME, I found a whole world of narratives out there about people nothing like me with concerns nothing like mine that were not just interesting, but amazing. Including queer narratives.

Which is all by way of saying that Voyager was definitely uneven. And I don’t hold it against people for misjudging the show based on the first few seasons. But ultimately, Voyager was one of the groundbreaking shows of the ages, and definitely the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series.

In my opinion.

Okay, I’ve said my very long piece. Now, what say you?

13 comments

  1. I find this archetype argument wanting. I don’t believe science fiction drama improves by rehashing tired gender stereotypes, and this “Maiden, Mother, Crone” theme does not, in my opinion, fit the characters you’ve cited. Katherine Janeway was no crone – if anything, she was the overbearing matriarch of the ship, who at different points annoyed almost everyone with misplaced and pushy advice. This happens most strongly with her conflicts with Seven and Torres, where Janeway attempts to control their development as people.

    Further, labeling Janeway a crone desexualizes her to a degree that’s not supported by the show. Janeway hooked up with an Irish hologram in a later season; she didn’t relinquish her sexuality, she simply lacked available partners given her role. B’Elanna as Mother makes no sense – she remained a combative Latina stereotype for seven seasons. If that archetype applied at all, other characters would have remarked upon or otherwise reacted to nurturing, maternal behavior from B’Elanna that she did not exhibit. No one free associates with the name B’Elanna Torres and shouts “Mom.”

    Voyager’s male characters did not choose supportive roles, their support of Starfleet’s military rank removes choice from the equation. Chakotay and Tuvok may respect Janeway’s leadership, but they have no choice given their submission to Starfleet regulations. This argument that objection to Voyager stemmed from male viewers who opposed what they envisioned as compromised masculinity from Voyager’s male crew is absurd – especially since DS9 actively expanded what televised sci-fi could accomplish when race and religion is taken seriously in space.

    Voyager was the regression show, Star Trek for people who want technical innovation, cosmos wandering, and minorities who know their place. You know, the Sixties. Voyager bores because much of it was done before – Picard wrote the PADD on interstellar diplomacy and the Borg; Data already walked us through impersonal cybernetic aloofness. The spiritual Chakotay, angry Torres and quietly overachieving Harry Kim offer no more than cheap racial stereotyping. Tom Paris’ cheap Kirk impersonation excites about as much as Tuvok’s Leonard Nimoy palette swap. What are we supposed to watch, a cooking show with Neelix?

    It doesn’t make me sexist to write this: Voyager sucked! It was only fun to watch when Janeway’s decisions got her crewmen killed.

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  2. I agree with a lot of what James has said here. Let me rephrase what I think your argument is: Voyager is awesome because it took the classic female archetypes of Mother, Maiden, and Crone, and depicted them in a way that was both evident but also subversive?

    I disagree with this line of reasoning for a couple of reasons. First of all, I find the evidence that each of the show’s three female characters fit conveniently into these three archetypes somewhat thin. consider your argument that B’Elanna serves as our subverted Mother archetype — except that I’m not sure what renders her a mother *archetype*. Sure, she is a *mother*, but this is written into the last few seasons. Even at the end of the show, she is a mother but not a Mother archetype; I think similarities between a character and an archetype do not render a character an embodiment of an archetype; at no point in the show does B’Elanna actually play a mother archetype, actual or subverted. Having successfully reproduced is not, in my opinion, sufficient evidence.

    I also have trouble with the notion that Janeway is, at any point, a Crone archetype. Crone archetypes typically play the role of the wise, older, asexual, and sometimes unemotional woman. This hardly describes Janeway. Throughout the series, Janeway fosters a nuturing, motherly relationship with each of her crew, to varying degrees of success. In particular, she mothers Harry Kim, Kes and Seven, but even Tom Paris is seen as a wayward son. Janeway is a calming influence to her crew, but we see frequent flashes of anger and rage particularly when it comes to protecting her crew from the hazards of the Delta Quadrant. As James noted, Janeway is also deeply sexual/sensual, being attracted to multiple men throughout her run as captain of Voyager. I see only two things that might make her a Crone — she is the oldest of the three women and she is smart — but again, characteristics reminscent of those shared by an archetypal figure do not an archetype make.

    (I also am confused by your argument — Janeway is the Crone at the end of the series, you say; but then you also argue that she is pitted against the Borg Queen as a mother archetype. If these characters are intended to be archetype subverting, how is it that you are having them slip in and out of archetypes so readily … at the same point in the series, even?)

    I buy the notion of Kes and Seven being subverted Ophelia characters (with Seven being a Kes mulligan), but the other two seem like shoe-horning archetypal theory where it doesn’t necessarily fit. And even here, I disagree with the idea that Kes’ serving as a Maiden is subverted by her relationship with Neelix: 1) Neelix was largely portrayed as asexual, and 2) the large age gap only emphasized her apparent youthfulness.

    Second, I disagree with the idea that this interpretation of Voyager renders it “the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series”. This implies that the show set out to challenge the dearth of female archetypes in SFF, whereas the Voyager bible (used by the writers to pen the characters, http://issuu.com/rgiskardreventlov/docs/st_voyager_bible) includes none of this information in it. Further, I would argue that if the writers intended to subvert an archetype, there must be clear evidence that these characters fit into the various archetypes in the first place; as described above, I think the evidence is thin. So, if they weren’t strongly archetypes in the first place, the impact of the “twisting” of these archetypes is also weakened.

    Finally, I take issue with the suggestion (intentional or unintentional) in your post that the only way a viewer might dislike Voyager is if they either are ignorant (having not watched the latter seasons) or a misogynist (being uncomfortable with women in leads). I watched the last seasons and I am not at all uncomfortable with female leads. I agree that the last seasons are strong, but think that overall the show was far weaker than most other contemporary Trek, precisely because of the weak and unbalanced energy between the characters in what is, at heart, a multi-character show. Again, if one peruses the Voyager bible, one sees that unlike with the DS9 bible, there is less foundation upon which characterization and exchange can be built. There’s a ton of backstory, but not a huge sense of movement (i.e. where will this show take the characters). In other show bibles, you get an early plan of the characters’ story arcs — not so with Voyager.

    Voyager was a decent and capable member of the Trek family, and its last seasons are great, but I just don’t think it’s more endearing than TNG or more ground-breaking than DS9. The former enchanted an entire generation of Trekkies back to the Trek franchise. The latter is the “Black sheep” (pun totally unintended) of the Trek family: unlike ALL other Treks, it featured a captain of colour, a single-parent captain, and was set on a NON-MOVING station which, by design, prevented the crew from being able to explore.

    This latter point cannot be under-emphasized. When it comes to Trek, there was nothing more ground-breaking and earth-shattering than a Trek series set on a space station instead of a starship.

    PS – I also agree with James’ argument regarding the male characters. They weren’t weak because they were intentionally playing second-fiddle to strong female characters. They were weak because they were ill-conceived.

    It’s telling to me that in the story of Voyager, the show was conceived around the character of Chakotay, literally the FIRST character that the show’s creators defined and described. Yet, he is the least developed, least interesting, and ultimately most cardboard of all the characters on the show. In a nutshell, that’s what’s wrong with Voyager. In direct contrast with the ship’s direct and linear mission, the writing of the show is largely aimless meandering.

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    1. Whew! A lot to talk about here.

      Firstly, I have to agree that I didn’t ground the argument about archetypes strongly enough. I actually rewrote this whole post, but it ended up too dry and I wanted to go back to the original post which had me geeking out more about a show I love. But either way, I would have had to double my word count to get in all my ideas. But I’ll do it here. 😉

      The archetypes of Maiden, Mother, and Crone exist individually throughout Western (and much of non-Western) myth and fiction. They’re brought together, however, in one configuration, to show the phases of a woman’s life. Maiden is girlhood, innocence, virginity; Mother is fertility and creation; and Crone is age, experience, and wisdom. Obvs, in this day and age, having this progression of roles for women is problematic. In each of these phases, the woman’s status is traditionally determined by her sexual status: Maiden is virgin, Mother is fertile, Crone is post-menopausal.

      While not denying the power and importance of a woman’s sexuality or reproductive capacity, our own pop culture has begun to alter how the status is determined. Maidens, in an age when girls frequently become sexually active at 15 or earlier, represent youth, innocence of mind, and a young woman in the process of coming-of-age — not a virgin. Mothers, in an age when women delay childbearing decades longer than our forebears and often reject childbearing entirely, represent women in the fulness of their adult creative power, both in their careers and in their relationships. Crones, in an age when women are considered beyond sexual desirability when they first start showing wrinkles, and in an age when women can and do rise to the top of their career track and mentor and raise others, represent women leaders whose wisdom and experience is offered to and sought out by others. This is why I mentioned the joke from First Wives Club, that the three ages of women in Hollywood are “Babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.”

      B’lanna is the mother of the physical ship. She’s the chief engineer, and she got her position in the beginning of the very first season by proving that she was creative and smart enough to bring the best out of the ship, and also able to (at least start to) put her own feelings aside so that she could lead others. Her role is only underlined in the final season by making her a literal mother. She represents fertility in the career sense. The Mother is the summer of life, where everything is blooming and everything is producing. B’lanna is the essence of innovation and productivity. Even her often-stereotypical “fieriness” feeds into this idea of a type of crucible productivity. When other members of the crew are being innovative and productive, you’ll almost always see them working together with B’lanna, and her encouraging them.

      Janeway is, I agree, more problematic. I don’t think the writers were aware that her role was fighting with Mother and Crone, or that this was their intention at all. The actress was 40 when the series started, and could have been styled and directed to play a Mother role. I think this is why her character was rocky at the beginning: because she had to be the wise woman of the ship, to mentor B’lanna and the others and bring her experience to bear, but she also had to be the creative Mother. But I do contend that she settled into the role of the crone later, although a subversive one.

      Let me back up for a second here. One of the issues is my confusing use of language (and this is my fault for not being more precise.) I was using “Mother” and “Matriarch” interchangeably, but they are not interchangeable. “Matriach” IS a crone. The traditional matriarch of a family or a community is always an elder, a wise woman, and a leader. The Mother role in the triumvirate is most definitely not the Matriarch role, the Crone is Matriarch. This seems confusing, because Crones of fairy tales are often — or usually — alone and not part of a community. And wise women are often set apart in story. But as a phase in the life of a woman, it’s also obvious that a Mother becomes a Crone.

      So I think that the Janeway character, as captain, was initially treated as something from a military hierarchy, where captains are often in the middle, creative, productive phase of life, and the wise heads are the admirals above them. I really don’t think that Janeway settled into becoming the matriarch of humanity until she was opposed to the Borg queen, and it was that opposition, and equality, that elevated her to the position of leader, wise woman, and by implication, crone.

      This is subversive, because none of these characters have their roles by virtue of their sexual or reproductive status, and because these three characters are the lead characters of the series and the leaders of the ship. Usually, these roles are played by characters who are adjunct to a male lead: his daughter or the damsel in distress, his girlfriend/wife/mother of his children, and his mother or grandmother or some other wise woman.

      Also, I never said that the male characters were weak (except Harry.) In fact, I specifically said that they were strong. “Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women.” and “The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it.”

      “Strength” in a fictional male character in our society is usually shown by his dominance, aggression, and ability to win. It is not shown by his ability to be happy, fulfilled, and effective in a supporting role to a woman. I still contend that those who think the male characters in Voyager are weak (weaker than male characters in other Trek series, that is, ’cause there are plenty of weak character depictions to go around) do so because they’re not used to seeing male fictional characters take strength from supporting roles to women, and therefore read that as weak. And I’ll continue to contend it until everyone has to admit that the judgment of “weak” or “strong” in a character-depiction is a matter of opinion, and goes off to get ice cream.

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      1. @Claire, two points:

        1) I am completely familiar with the Maiden, Mother, Crone archetypes, their history, and their use in narrative storytelling (I did, in fact, take a class on this subject). This history you provide here, while useful, is one that I am familiar and that I already brought to the table in my criticism. I do agree that your post would have benefitted from more exposition on where you were coming from (particularly the basic assumption you are coming from I discuss below) but I do not think this is the fundamental problem I have with your argument.

        Where I think we’re talking past each other is that I do not come from the fundamental assumption that,”the archetypes of Maiden, Mother, and Crone exist individually throughout Western (and much of non-Western) myth and fiction. ” — or to rephrase, that they are inherently part of most Western narratives, and so they are relevant to the writing of Voyager. I think they HAVE been used to reflect a women’s reproductive phases in much of Western story-telling, but not in all or even the majority of contemporary story-telling involving female characters. I do not think there is reason (or evidence) to apply these archetypes to Voyager to say that the three women in this show are, or were ever intended to be, representations of these three archetypes as a commentary on how women are depicted in story-telling. The circularity (in my opinion) of the argument you present is in my latter response, so I invite you to read that, but in short, I think the meagre evidence has been cherry-picked to shoe-horn the characters into the three archetypes where they do not fit, and then to take whatever is left that doesn’t fit as evidence of subversion, whereas I think the most parsimonious interpretation is that the theory never fit in the first place.

        2) It is true that you use the adjectives “strong” multiple times in your description of the male characters, but then commend these characters for taking a supportive, and subservient, role to the women, and that is the context within which I use the word “weak” (but mostly in the sense that I argue that they are weakly written). In the ST:NOC Day 5 post, you lamented that the one woman on the crew who — despite being a strong character — was short-changed because she plays a supportive or subservient role to the men in our dream crew. Why do you think this renders a female character weak, but in the case of Voyager, is a strong choice? Based solely on the history of traditional gender norms in SFF? Because that seems less subversive to me, and more like playing within an existing unfair power structure.

        Also, to be fair, you called the men strong, but then also quipped that they belong in the kitchen where they belong…

        Either way, the bone of contention is not whether or not they are “strong” characters in their own right (I would actually argue not really, but that’s besides the point), but whether or not they -chose- to be helpmeets, and whether or not this is a significant or commendable aspect of the show. For the reasons described in my previous comment above, I argue that this is not a meaningful choice given the artifices of Starfleet command structure.

        In summary, a lot of what you have written here I anticipated and largely responded to preemptively in my later comment to Jason. I don’t have an issue with (or a misunderstanding of) female archetypal theory or what the actual archetypes mean; I have, an issue with how it is applied (or in my opinion misapplied) to Voyager.

        ***

        That all being said, I don’t see any benefit in continuing this conversation. I do not think James said or did anything to warrant anger and dismissal expressed towards his earnest efforts to engage you and your post in conversation. I’m at a loss to identify the strawman argument you cite, particularly since I am saying the same thing he is saying with exactly the same tone, and you are happy to engage my points whereas you passively accuse James of deep-seated sexism. I’m frankly a little turned off and disappointed by the way this entire comments thread has turned out, since I think there was potential for real — and good-natured, and enlightening — discussion between differing viewpoints that I think is virtually impossible at this point.

        As I wrote in my comments thread above, there are at least two instances in your post which were guaranteed to raise hackles, the most critical being the assertion that a person who dislikes Voyager must either be ignorant of the latter seasons or a misogynist who is uncomfortable with female leadership; I hope you can see why two people who disliked Voyager (one of them being me) might find that generalization insulting and inflammatory. I would suggest that in the future, we might reconsider making such charged statements, particularly since this blog is positioning itself at the intersection of race and nerddom, two sub-cultures that in the blogging world individually have proven themselves to inspire very polarizing opinions, and interpersonal drama, even under the best of circumstances. We might want to write with the a priori assumption that there will be people who disagree with us, and to not preemptively invalidate those disagreements with blanket (and sort of ad hominem) assertions.

        Nonetheless, I consider “Trek Week” a largely positive and unifying experience on this blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed our contributors coming together to write about our shared love of Trek. I think it would be a tragedy to end “Trek Week” on a note of hard feelings and sniping. To that end, I think I’m going to stop reading and responding in this comment thread. I would rather that “Trek Week” end on a positive note, and not be marred by this experience.

        In other words, I think it best this discussion just stop in favour of a post-Trek Week NOC ice cream social.

        Thank you for writing this piece, and I understand that this piece was very emotionally close to you. I regret that you felt you were being attacked, which I assure you was not the case; in my case, I felt your post was worth additional criticism and discussion. I hope you understand that the points raised by both James and I were not a reflection of our opinion of you but a quest to use this post as a launching point for further academic conversation that we believed would be mutually beneficial. Since that doesn’t seem possible now, I hope that in the future we can engage in that kind of constructive critical discussion on some other subject.

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  3. I think that even Claire admits that the characters don’t fit perfectly into the tropes, and describes them as growing into and twisting the traditional tropes. And at the end of her piece, she says that “ultimately” Voyager was groundbreaking–that “ultimately” belies any belief in the creators’ intentions to be so.

    But the important thing that Claire hits on here is how Voyager, taken as a whole, portrays female protagonists, and numbers of them in an ensemble cast, in ways that previous incarnations of this universe and television shows outside it hadn’t before, also taking into account the male characters’ “helpmeet” or secondary status, regardless of whether that was intentional or not or merely the result of bad planning or writing. I think that is a fair point.

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  4. Jason, there’s nothing new about Voyager’s female characters, in Star Trek or in sci-fi generally. We saw the “female career military, tough-as-nails, no personal life” shtick from Capt. Rachael Garrett, U.S.S. Enterprise – C on TNG’s Yesterday’s Enterprise. It’s the same characterization, given seven seasons on Voyager. Nothing B’Elanna Torres says or does in Voyager strays too far from the combative personality of Major Kira Nerys on DS9 or Ensign Ro Laren of TNG.

    The point is that Star Trek returned to accepted tropes when producing Voyager, and the result is seven seasons of TNG with a female lead. Picard’s diplomatic skill and scientific curiosity are direct antecedents to Janeway’s drive to explore the Delta Quadrant; Voyager is such an obvious return to the TNG template that it’s comical at best to promote the series as groundbreaking, based solely on the use of a female captain and women in other senior staff positions. We’ve seen it all before.

    Further, characterizing the male senior staff as “helpmeet” is just weird. Claire’s implication is that straight, masculine men would not naturally follow female leadership, even if their training and respect for institutions demand it. That promotes a low opinion of men – the men of Voyager deserve no special accolades because they refrain over seven seasons from succumbing to some primal misogynistic male urge to mutiny. Her entire piece misreads Voyager.

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    1. “Further, characterizing the male senior staff as “helpmeet” is just weird. Claire’s implication is that straight, masculine men would not naturally follow female leadership, even if their training and respect for institutions demand it. That promotes a low opinion of men”

      No, that is not my implication AT ALL, and this is a classic straw man argument. I did not state or imply anywhere that straight masculine men in the REAL WORLD would not naturally follow female leadership. I pretty much SAID that fictional male characters who naturally follow female leadership seem to be unpopular and a turn off in pop culture.

      Please:

      1) do not put words into my mouth

      2) think about why my post made you so angry. My REAL implication?: I LOVED Voyager. I thought it was FANTASTIC. I drew a lot of power and strength from the show, which was the first tv show I ever saw that was about female leadership. And your two comments absolutely VILIFY the show that I obviously love and draw a sense of strength and power from. Why do you feel you need to do that? There’s a lot of disagreement — often passionate — on this site, but your response really seems to me to go beyond the usual passionate disagreement of people whose nerves haven’t been touched. The kind of language you’re using displays to me the anger of someone who’s been uncomfortably challenged.

      Everyone has the right to their opinion, and I will happily debate my post with anyone. But I’d really love for N.O.C. to be a safe space for reasoned discussion. Such contempt for something I love and for my expression of opinion about it makes that reasoned discussion difficult. It’s more than just a matter of tone.

      Thanks for listening.

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      1. Wow. Okay, so first of all, I would like to suggest that we take the tone down a notch here. Claire, James and I disagree with you, and have pointed out where in the post we are disagreeing with you. If NOC is to be a safe space, than you must be as tolerant of James’ (and my) disagreement) as we have been of yours. That includes not jumping down James’ throat when he disagrees with you.

        (It is worth noting that James did not, at any point, direct any comments against you. He directed his points at your argument. Disagreement with your written word is, and should be, fair game.)

        Regarding the “helpmeet” comment, your post above reads:

        “Also, Voyager depicts three strong male characters who choose to take supportive roles vis-a-vis women….The strong and satisfied male helpmeets are probably the bitterest pill for Voyager-haters to swallow, even though no one has mentioned it. In fact, no one ever mentions the male characters on the show at all, not to love or to vilify them (except poor Harry Kim, but that’s pretty much justified.) I think it’s the absence, the lack of male leadership that causes people to clock Voyager as “boring,” or “silly.”

        Both James and I read your post as drawing the same conclusions: 1) the male characters have voluntarily assumed the role of “helpmeets”, and 2) this is commendable and progressive for them as straight male characters and for the writers of Voyager in placing the male characters in that role.

        I disagree with both assertions. 1) The men have not voluntarily assumed a subordinate “helpmeet: role, because the show also doesn’t give them a meaningful alternative. Paris and Kim are both the lowest-ranking crew members of the senior staff; Chakotay is out-ranked by Janeway, and as a former Maquis member had the choice of submitting to Janeway’s authority or being marooned in the Delta Quadrant, since he had no means to stage a mutiny with any likelihood of success (not for lack of trying). Are they helpmeets? Only insofar as Riker is Picard’s helpmeet, and Picard is Admiral Kirk’s helpmeet in the Generations movie; in other words, the artifices of command structure undermines this characterization.

        2) The argument that a depiction of men satisfyingly assuming a subordinate role is commendable — whether from the perspective of the characters themselves or from the writers — DOES logically require that one comes from a starting place that this is unusual, whether in reality and/or fiction. In reality, the notion that men would/should find it discomfitting to be subordinate to women is (as James points out) such that a man who is satisfyingly subordinate is commendable is insulting to heterosexual men because it assumes a default of male sexism (one that, incidentally, you perhaps inadvertently also assumed given your knee-jerk insinuation in your immediate comment above that James’ comments come from deep-seated discomfort with being challenged by a woman). If we’re to note that it is commendable in a work of fiction, than don’t you think it’s worth noting that you have just characterized “Voyager-haters” as people uncomfortable with female leadership, as if this would be the only reason anyone (men or women) might dislike the show? That’s a pretty large assumption to make, and one that intentionally or unintentionally hits pretty close to home for me, since I find the show overall pretty weak, and this has nothing to do with me being uncomfortable with women in leadership positions.

        But the most important thing here is to address your comment above, wherein you write:

        “And your two comments absolutely VILIFY the show that I obviously love and draw a sense of strength and power from. Why do you feel you need to do that? There’s a lot of disagreement — often passionate — on this site, but your response really seems to me to go beyond the usual passionate disagreement of people whose nerves haven’t been touched. The kind of language you’re using displays to me the anger of someone who’s been uncomfortably challenged.”

        First of all, I don’t see where James has “absolutely VILIF[ied]” this show. He has criticized it, but he didn’t call it sexist, regressive, or downright offensive. He took exception to your words, and argued that the show isn’t earth-shattering or ground-breaking, and certainly not as much as you argue that it is. That is a fair alternative take on the show, and hardly the inflammatory vilification you are making it out to be. I’m pressed to find a single statement in his comments that attacks you as a person.

        You write that your major problem with James’ comment is: “Such contempt for something I love and for my expression of opinion about it makes that reasoned discussion difficult.” This suggests that you are intolerant of 1) someone who doesn’t like Voyager and 2) someone who doesn’t like your writing of Voyager.

        Well, here’s the problem. Claire: in this post, I also think you are wrong. If I can’t feel free to tell you that I didn’t like Voyager (at least not for the reasons you suggest) and that I didn’t like this post and that I think it’s wrong without the concern that you will become angry and defensive, than THAT will be the major obstacle to NOC being a safe space for discussion. The notion that I can’t criticize a thing you like — be it Voyager or this post — undermines any semblance of reasoned discussion because it censors my opinions.

        Finally, with all due respect, Claire, I think your original post is just as inflammatory as what you accuse James of. In your post, you make two extremely charged assertions that *I* found somewhat insulting:

        1) “I truly think that people who think Voyager was a bad show either didn’t watch the second half of the run (most likely) or haven’t yet become comfortable with the idea of women in leadership positions. ” To rephrase, if you don’t like Voyager, it is either because you are ignorant of the last seasons or you are a misogynist. Don’t you think there should be a third option there — either other ways you could either like or hate Voyager that doesn’t involve being either uninformed or a bigot?

        2) “But ultimately, Voyager was one of the groundbreaking shows of the ages, and definitely the most groundbreaking Trek since the original series.” Now, this isn’t personally insulting, but certainly highly likely to be nerd-rage inducing. Are you sure? “Definitely”? What about all the people who like DS9 or TNG more or who think that either of those shows are more ground-breaking? By point #1, if I don’t agree with you, I must either be ignorant or uncomfortable with women in leadership roles.

        Third, I totally caught your insinuation in your above comment that James has some deep-seated problem with women. You suggested above, ” think about why my post made you so angry….but your response really seems to me to go beyond the usual passionate disagreement of people whose nerves haven’t been touched. The kind of language you’re using displays to me the anger of someone who’s been uncomfortably challenged. ”

        That is totally uncalled for. Period.

        Too long; didn’t read? Debate points, not people.

        You say in your comment that you are willing to engage in debate. I invite you to respond to my earlier comments that actually address your points about female archetypes.

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  5. Claire, I like the arguments I read to make sense. Your post failed that standard.

    You misapply archetypes to Voyager’s female characters, forget the influence of rank on cooperation in military settings, and ignore Star Trek’s long history of strong women in leadership roles. Your writing here is completely unmoored from a basic knowledge of Trek history – no major crime, until your assertion that fan disdain for Voyager comes from either the uninitiated or the misogynistic.

    At that point, it may be helpful to do some research. NOC is a safe space for reasoned discussion, but your adoration for some pop culture artifact does not make that artifact, or your writing, immune from criticism.

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  6. @Jason: I get that Claire is arguing that the women of Voyager are imperfect fits into female archetypes. My argument is that this is not satisfying evidence that the show should be commended for -SUBVERTING- the classic female archetypes, as she argues.

    For me, the logic just doesn’t work. Further, Claire is unclear as to what exactly she thinks has been subverted. The female archetypes themselves? How women are depicted in SFF as being non-archetypal? Basic gender norms in twenty-fourth century space?

    If I understand her post, than I think she argues the first. But the writing is incredibly unclear on this point. But I’m going to go with the first.

    Subversion of an archetype REQUIRES that a character be recognizably — possibly indisputably — a representation of a particular archetype before it is twisted in a way that challenges and subverts the archetype. Some amount of recognizable starting point is required, to actually have the subversion be a commentary on the archetype. Yet, few of the female characters start recognizably as an embodiment of the archetype Claire argues that they eventually subvert, nor do most of them ever hit a point where they are recognizably the archetype. For example, Torres becomes a mother (aka she successfully reproduced) but she is AT NO POINT even superficially a Mother archetype. Neither is Janeway ever recognizably a Crone archetype.

    Since these characters NEVER -fit- the archetype, it’s hard to convincingly argue that deviations from the archetype are subversive. The more parsimonious argument is that the archetype theory applied by Claire just doesn’t really fit. This is consistent with Claire’s opening paragraph wherein she argues that there are few female archetypes in SFF — by that logic, in a show where there are 3 female leads, it’s reasonable that they may not ever have been intended to fit a narrative archetype, or certainly not those three.

    As an addendum to this argument, I would argue that in this post there is inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary cherry-picking of personality traits and story arcs to either support a character being an archetype or archetype-defying, based largely on the convenience of the argument. When Janeway is intelligent, that supports her role as the Crone; but when Seven is intelligent, that is evidence of her deviation from the Maiden archetype. Both traits are IDENTICAL, and also part of the character’s original concept, yet what makes Janeway’s intelligence part of her Crone embodiment whereas it is subversive for Seven? Their relative age to one another?

    I stand by my conclusion that, in this post, it seems like shoe-horning of archetypal theory of story-telling where it simply may not fit. Certainly, Star Trek has had a history of straying away from these three basic archetypes in their character concepts: neither Tasha Yar, nor Ensign Ro, nor Doctor Pulaski, nor Major Kira Nerys fit nicely into these three archetypes.

    I welcome more detail from Claire.

    ***

    Ironically — and again, this is where I take issue with the final conclusion statement that Voyager is the most ground-breaking series since TOS — *if* we are to commend a show for taking the three classic female archetypes and subverting them, than we actually should comment TNG. I’m not saying I buy it completely, but if I were, than Voyager would not be the show I would give the kudos to for this.

    As I write above, three female characters with significant screen-time start out identifiably as the three archetypes in question: Troi as the Maiden/Space Cheerleader; Bev Crusher as the Mother (literal nurturer of the Enterprise); Guinan as the Crone. Each of these characters are obvious allegories to the archetypes, if you want to use archetypal theory to interpret the show; moreover, these characteristics are evident in each characters’ original concepts. Over the course of the show, each character goes through story arcs and evolution that challenges their near-perfect fit into these archetypes while still keeping their identity as these archetypes recognizable enough to support the subversion: Guinan flirts shamelessly with male characters, proves herself athletic and capable, and develops/maintains a quasi-sexual tension with Picard. Bev Crusher loses contact with her son, maintains a largely platonic relationship with Picard, and ultimately chooses her career over nurturing her Enterprise crew. And Troi gives up her space pom-poms for a blue pantsuit, and earns the credentials to take the Con when necessary.

    In short, if any show took these three female archetypes and subverted them it was TNG.

    Voyager is note-worthy for several things. But I think in this instance, a post-hoc forcing of the female characters into imperfect fits of female archetypes, and then proclaiming how well they don’t fit, is a bit of a circular argument.

    ***
    @Jason: “”ultimately” Voyager was groundbreaking–that “ultimately” belies any belief in the creators’ intentions to be so.”

    I did not read that use of the word “ultimately” as an indication that we should only consider the latter seasons of Voyager. I read that use of the word “ultimately” — based on its placement as the penultimate sentence and its use as a dangling modifier — as a synonym for “In conclusion, blah blah blah” or “In summary, blah blah blah”.

    My argument vis-a-vis the original intentions of the writers is based on the idea that if a thing is to be commended for being progressive or subversive, that there be some evidence that the writers consciously set out to achieve that subversion, whether at the outset or partway through the show. Claire argues that at the outset, the show meanders, but also argues that she eventually embodies either the Mother or the Crone archetype (and here it’s unclear which Claire thinks she is); my argument is that there is little evidence that this specific act (to subvert female archetypes of Maiden, Mother and Crone) were ever intended by the writers. And if not intended, and given ALSO the imperfect fit of the characters into the archetypes throughout the show’s run, this leads one to conclude that there is almost no evidence to support this interpretation of the show.

    Finally, if I understand Claire’s thesis, she commends the show for accidentally or intentionally subverting female archetypes. If this wasn’t something the writers set out to do, than it is an accident of story-telling. I would argue that one cannot accidentally stumble into subversiveness, or at least if one does, that it detracts substantially from the significance of the act.

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    1. Jenn, sorry, I’m not going to read your responses yet, because they came before my latest response to your first comment. (I had to run errands and then was writing my response while you were posting yours.) This will get too confusing otherwise, with comments crossing each other. I’ll wait until you’ve read my response and let me know what I didn’t manage to address.

      James, you’ve missed my points repeatedly and continued to set up straw men.This is not acceptable, and until you amend your approach, I’m not going to feed your tactics with any responses.

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