Taking Charge: What Star Trek Taught Me About Intelligence

Sometime during my high school years, I learned that some people don’t think that it’s alright for women to be intelligent. They think that the females of the species should naturally be less intelligent than the males and that, if one happens not to be, she is some sort of anomaly worthy of marvel or resentment. In order to be “attractive,” a woman shouldn’t be more intelligent than her partner—or any man, for that sake. Women should not speak in ways that show off intelligence. If, in fact, a woman’s cranium contained serious power, she should do her best to hide this from the people around her. This was necessary, lest she accidentally offend someone by showing them the size of her upper lobes.

I’m being somewhat facetious here, mostly because I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where the intelligence of women was celebrated. My own mother is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met, but there was another significant influence on why I never had the misfortune of believing that “Girls shouldn’t be smart” while I was growing up—Star Trek: Voyager.

I suppose that I was also lucky in this case, because Voyager aired during an important time during my youth. The show premiered when I was six years old, and ended when I was fourteen (there’s some weird things with premiere and finale dates and birthdays here). And every week of these seven seasons, this show played in my living room.

I was fascinated by Voyager—even though it is one of the series that earns the most disdain from fanboys. The captain of the ship was a woman. The chief engineer was also a woman. If you ignore the Vulcan (because really, that’s unfair), I would say that without a doubt the three most intelligent individuals on that ship were Captain Janeway, B’Elanna Torres, and Seven of Nine. They were certainly the most intelligent of the primary characters. Janeway was a science officer before she was—in my opinion—an excellent captain. Torres is shown to be an engineering genius. We’re told that she was one of the brightest engineering students in Star Fleet history, and there’s an episode where machines almost worship her mechanical prowess. Finally, Seven of Nine came from a family where her mother was her father’s intellectual equal—and intelligence is obviously hereditary in this family. Seven frequently shows a technological prowess that isn’t only due to her Borg past. Whenever a conflict in the series required a solution that requires brains over brawn, the answer was usually provided by one of these women. But Janeway, Torres and Seven didn’t just show me that women can be intelligent: they showed a little girl that women can be just as intelligent as men, and that it was natural for men to look to women for answers. That sort of dynamic is rare in the media—one of the few examples we all should be familiar with is that between Hermione, Harry, and Ron—but it is an invaluable type of interaction for a young girl to be exposed to.

 

The women of Star Trek: Voyager showed me that women were just as strong as men— and they can be just as, if not more, intelligent than their male counterparts. Women could be the ones making scientific breakthroughs, the ones to solve the puzzles and save the day, instead of the ones tasked with standing off to the side and looking impressed. I personally think that every young girl should watch and learn from Captain Janeway, Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, and Seven of Nine.

About Amanda

Amanda
As a card-carrying member of the Justice League, honorary Star Fleet ensign, and a Ph.D student in political science, Amanda doesn’t have much spare time on her hands. But when she does, she spends it gaming, nerdcrafting, marathoning shows on Netflix, debating Tolkien online, sewing costumes for cosplay, and writing on Geekphoria.net.

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  • 48GOAT

    Having been raised in a home with very intelligent sisters and mother, I learned to admire women who are smart enough to use intellect to their advantage. :^)

    I was fortunate to have caught Voyager episodes from the premier episode and immediately took to its tendency to lean towards the issue you speak of. Janeway is of course the most brilliant captain, hands down. She knew her way around engineering, quantum mechanics, biology, temporal mechanics, and sharp enough to defeat Seven in Velocity. B'Elanna was indeed the best engineer, with an almost god-like grasp of technology. The one person who also deserves credit for her mental ability is Kes. She was running through all the studies in physiology at a pace that even surprised the doctor! And we can't forget Naomi Wildman… I adored how she craved learning! If you remember, Seven had to slow her down with suggesting, "Three books and ten reports is impressive, but quantity is less relevant than quality."

  • Heather Sander

    I seriously love this article! Great job. I grew up on Star Trek and still watch it on almost a daily basis. The show really has shed light on so many important social issues.

    <3 Heather
    The Nerdy Fox