I saw Kate at a Star Trek convention and she was onstage speaking about her book and her life and what she’s been up to and all of that, and for those of you who haven’t been to conventions, they usually have the actors or whoever take questions. I got in line to ask my question and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I was the first person to get to ask a question, and it was, “As the first female captain with your own Star Trek series, did you experience any sexism, and if so, how did you deal with it?” I know a lot of public figures are unwilling to speak out about issues like sexism and I didn’t want to force an experience on her that she didn’t have, so I phrased it to leave it open-ended. I have talked to a couple of the women that I love on Star Trek about feminism, and they and some of the other female actors been very vocal about their problems with the way their characters were/are represented. I talked with Denise Crosby about how she dealt with it, and kind of vented with Marina Sirtis about it, and I knew that Kate Mulgrew must have a lot of feelings because she was in a truly unique position in Star Trek and I was so curious about the way someone I so deeply admire would deal with things I experience. The first thing she said to me was, “Did I experience any sexism as the first female Star Trek captain?” Then she looked to the crowd and asked, “Is she joking?”
When the laughter died down, she started to tell me about how we live in a man’s world, and how women have to work so hard to just live in it. She said that it took her about two seasons to win over a lot of the male fan base because they were unwilling to accept this woman on the bridge, and that it was really hard. It’s no secret that Janeway was the only captain who wasn’t super sexualized, and she said that it was on purpose, that she refused to have any of the relationships that Kirk or Picard would have had because that wasn’t the way she wanted her character to be. She knew that there were certain things that she had to be careful about if she wanted Janeway to be taken seriously. Then she started to tell me about how one day she was sitting there, and she pulled on her boots and thought to herself that she needed to get over all of her doubts about herself and stop letting things get to her. She said that she walked right up to the writers and told them to lay it on her, to really start to challenge her and to treat her the way they would any other Starfleet captain, and that was how she dealt with it. She talked for a little while longer, and then she looked at me and said, “Now go, be your own starship captain."
I was standing there clutching my Ferengi head lunchbox (Dr. Reyga) in my Starfleet uniform and crying out of complete joy and admiration and she held eye contact with me and said, "That is really the most important question. Thank you.”
I never expected her to be so willing to talk about any of this, because while I’ve read things that the women on The Next Generation have said about their experiences as women in Star Trek, I’d never seen anything from Kate and I sort of figured that maybe she didn’t really care to talk about it. I was stunned.
And let me tell you, having Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager look you in the eyes and tell you to be your own captain…. it just doesn’t get any better than that.