Even in 2019, it's hard to find depictions of positive camaraderie between female characters on screen. Too often, even casts of many have only a single female character who’s considered “one of the guys” and rejects traditional womanhood. While this may seem empowering because it allows the character to break free of traditional gender roles, it can become problematic when it quietly, perhaps subconsciously, pits women against other women. Indeed, even when there is another female character present, she is too often a rival or nemesis.
But this post isn’t about calling out the shows that got it wrong. It’s about celebrating how Star Trek has been doing it right since Star Trek: The Next Generation. Female friendships are incredibly important, providing women and girls with solidarity, comfort, confidence, joy, and candor in a world that, in many cases, still treats them as second-class citizens, and certainly places more pressures on them. And much of what we see depicted in popular culture trickles into our real-world attitudes.
When the women of Star Trek bond, help each other, and experience joy in each other’s company, they’re providing a positive example to those at home watching. Here are a few highlights.
Crusher and Troi (Star Trek: The Next Generation)
Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi may be senior officers on the Federation’s flagship, but they still make time to work out together. It doesn’t matter that they face unknown wonders and dangers every single day. They’re still people first and foremost, and they never forget it, attending to each other’s emotional needs, leaning on each other, and confiding in one another. In fact, it’s refreshing how generally positive and drama-free their relationship is, showing that sometimes, women can simply be friends, and it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Kira and Dax (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)
The friendship between Kira Nerys and Jadzia Dax was a bit of a slow burn at the beginning — understandable given Kira’s general attitude toward the Federation — but eventually grew into a healthy camaraderie. This seemed especially significant for Kira who, because of her traumatic past and tumultuous background, had trouble trusting anyone. The two eventually become confidantes, seeking each other’s advice, teasing and discussing romances. These are the kinds of “girly” things that are often portrayed as frivolous nonsense, yet Deep Space Nine depicted them as important character moments between two respected members of the crew. Rather than shying away from the “girliness” of women gossiping and talking about dating, the show embraced it, and in the end, it helped humanize and deepen both characters.
Janeway and Seven (Star Trek: Voyager)
On the flip side, the relationship between Captain Kathryn Janeway and ex-Borg Seven of Nine is extremely complex. Janeway takes Seven in with the best of intentions, and Seven initially antagonizes her. Even after they’ve struck a truce of sorts, Seven frequently challenges Janeway publicly and is often a frustrating presence. And yet through it all, there’s an unspoken thread of mutual respect, with neither woman thinking the other a fool even in their moments of deep disagreement. While their friendship is often complicated, it’s never depicted as outright adversarial. And there are plenty of happy moments too — consider both Janeway helping Seven cultivate her humanity, and Seven looking up to Janeway as a role model. While they sometimes struggle to understand each other, they never stop trying, and that’s what ultimately makes their friendship great.
Burnham and Tilly (Star Trek: Discovery)
Michael Burnham and Silvia Tilly are unlikely friends if there ever were any. Burnham, frosty and not easily impressed, initially finds the enthusiastic and awkward Tilly to be a nuisance, while Tilly is intimidated by Burnham’s reputation and tries to avoid her. But they eventually warm up to each other and become trusted companions. Tilly is there for Burnham during some of the latter’s most emotionally fraught moments — made even more complicated by Burnham’s Vulcan upbringing chafing against her humanity. Theirs is the kind of relationship that grows with the show, and it will be interesting to see where Discovery advances it, too.
Of course, these are only a handful of the fabulous female friendships of Star Trek. Examples abound: Georgiou and Burnham, Kira and Ziyal, Janeway and Kes…, often peppered into plots about interstellar intrigue and newfound worlds. In the real world, female friendships matter because they provide women and girls with joy and emotional support in a culture that is often still hostile toward them. Onscreen examples normalize and validate these relationships, and on Star Trek, you can both run a space station and gossip about your latest crush to your best gal — no judgments passed.
Mary Fan is a sci-fi/fantasy writer hailing from Jersey City, NJ. She is the author of the Jane Colt sci-fi series, which comprises Artificial Absolutes (2013), Synthetic Illusions (2014), and Virtual Shadows (2015). She authored Starswept (2017), and Flynn Nightsider and the Edge of Evil (2018), a YA dark fantasy and the first novel of the Flynn Nightsider series. Her newest book, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon, a YA steampunk fantasy, is available now. Check out her official page at www.maryfan.com/.