Bitches Get Shit Done: Captain Katherine Janeway
Welcome to a new feature at Here For the Girls: Bitches Get Shit Done! Or, as it will hereafter be shortened: BGSD. As it's a brand new year, I feel showcasing women who do what they must, want, or enjoy without any regrets or apologies is important. All too often, women defer. We bend. We hide our true selves away to make others comfortable or make things convenient. Sometimes, this attitude is necessary. At others, it's self-defeating.
If we want to get things done in life, we need to own our decisions from start to finish.
There's a great expression out there: do no harm, but take no shit. Well, this series may not talk about women who avoid the former, but it will definitely be about those who do the latter.
So today I'll be talking about my first 'bitch', Katherine Janeway.
Captain Janeway is the fourth Star Trek captain, and the first woman to head up a Star Trek TV show. On Star Trek: Voyager, she leads a crew of Federation officers flung tens of thousands of light years away from home. Their voyage back to Earth will take them an estimated 75 years; being that far from Federation space means that they have no allies, no knowledge, no chance of aid if something happens to them.
What had been a routine mission now turns to a likely death sentence.
And it's Janeway's responsibility to guide the crew through this new quadrant of the galaxy. To get them home, if she can.
From the start, Katherine Janeway is different from the other Star Trek captains we've known. Her circumstances force her to be different. She has to demand the best from each member of the crew in a situation where anarchy is a real threat. She can never show weakness, never complain, never allow her standards to drop.
But discipline can't be her only quality. She must also be inspirational, inventive; finding ways to cut down their voyage of 70,000 light years via new technologies and alliances with alien races. She has to make her crew believe, in their hearts, that they can make the journey back home alive and in one piece.
Such a balancing act would be difficult for anyone. Such a balancing act can never satisfy everyone. Captain Janeway has her share of detractors, even among the crew. Yet she also succeeds where it matters; people believe in her, and people follow her.
The toll this struggle takes is painful to watch. Janeway separates herself from the crew, forcing herself to keep from becoming too close. Doing so would undermine her authority. But over the course of the show, we see Janeway suffering because of this choice. As members of the crew pair off in friendships and romantic couples, Janeway must let such opportunities pass her by. She hardens herself to friendship, to love. Eventually, the crew respects her boundaries to the point that they assume she doesn't need the friendliness the rest of them rely on to make it through. Janeway gets a reputation as an stereotypical ice queen, and must satisfy her need for emotional connection with holograms.
The only confidante she has is her second-in-command, Chakotay. He is the only one she can open up to about her struggles in maintaining authority, her loneliness, and her craving for family. Chakotay has clear romantic feelings for the Captain (which she reciprocates though never articulates) but he respects her too much to complicate the fine line she needs to walk.
This would be hard enough without all the difficulties of their unique situation. Time and again, Voyager (their ship) is threatened by interstellar phenomenon, aliens, and their own attempts to improve its technology. Several times the ship becomes practically uninhabitable, and it's only Janeway's incredible determination that salvages it.
One of the worst examples of this is the Year From Hell arc, episodes 8 and 9 of season 4. During these episodes, Voyager is threatened by a ship that can alter the timeline, which pursues them in order to eliminate them from time itself. Attacked again and again, Voyager's power reserves drain, their spare parts run out, and their crew slowly dwindles as each attack claims life after life.
Eventually, Janeway declares the ship lost and sends the majority of the crew away in escape pods, staying behind to run the ship with a skeleton crew. While absorbed in a repair operation, Chakotay presents her with an antique pocket watch...a present for the birthday she'd forgotten it even was.
After admiring the gift and thanking him, Janeway orders him to recycle the watch into the replicator, using its energy to produce something necessary instead. Chakotay can't understand her rejection of the gift he'd planned before all their trouble began; he wants her to have it, to bring her some joy.
Janeway answers that to keep the watch would be selfish. That to someone it could mean a life-giving dose of medication, a blanket, or a pair of boots.
She pushes away the watch and doesn't look back. While eventually Chakotay understands, Janeway's ruthlessness clearly breaks something between them. By the end of the show, their relationship, while still close, never develops into anything more.
More spoilers follow.
The end of Voyager is always hard for me to see. Janeway gets the crew home; in the process, she even manages to destroy one of the Federation's most dangerous enemies. Yet though she brings everyone else home, she wins nothing in the process.
The fiance she'd left on Earth has moved on. The crew she'd shepherded to safety respects her, but they have been pushed away too often by her to welcome her in friendship now. During the course of their journey, Janeway has earned Voyager the reputation of a 'ship of death', by eliminating possible threats before they could prove fatal.
She even loses the love she had with Chakotay to another woman; a woman she helped rescue from a life of brainwashed enslavement to another species.
But despite it all, she's satisfied. Because she did what she set out to do.
Katherine Janeway didn't doubt herself, didn't apologize, didn't compromise. To do that would have been fatal. If that made her a bitch, she not only accepted it but embraced it.
And she got shit done.