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Who Was the First Character That You Looked up To?

Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway

In the realms of fiction, there are all kinds of characters that appeal to us for different reasons: we might like their ethos, or be attracted to them, or desire their powers, or wish they could be our best friends. But do you remember the first character that really earned your respect?

I was already in love with Star Trek thanks to Deep Space Nine and marathons of The Original Series, but I’ll never forget my excitement when Voyager appeared on the horizon in 1995. Not only was there going to be a brand-new Star Trek full of new worlds and new characters that I could watch from the beginning, but the Captain was a woman. And she brokered no nonsense.

When Voyager came around, I had not yet been exposed to many issues of gender and sexism, but I knew that it was something special that Voyager‘s Captain was played by Kate Mulgrew. All the articles I read couldn’t stop trumpeting that fact. A lady Captain! This was huge. This had never been done before.

While I was young, I was also well enough aware that there were few TV series where women got to be in charge in the workplace, even on future-set shows like Star Trek. On DS9, Kira and Dax and Keiko were bold and uncompromising, the equal of any of the men, but they weren’t sitting in that all-important Captain’s chair. And whenever I watched TOS, the active roles for women were even more limited. Xena was another of my role models, but she was more of a freelancer. Agent Dana Scully was Goals, but she wasn’t Mulder’s boss (at least not officially).

Captain Kathryn Janeway

Enter Kathryn Janeway. She was smart, serious, and no-nonsense, but she was also capable of caring deeply, especially about her crew and her ship. She was empathetic without needing to be soft. I thought her powerful and beautiful. Her hair defied gravity. Janeway commanded the respect of everyone on Voyager, and she showed me what a strong female character could achieve. The Captain’s chair was hers; the sky was now the limit.

I just polled a couple of friends on this question and received two stellar answers: Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, “because he’s a mensch,” and Westley from The Princess Bride, “because no one’s ever worked harder for what he wants.”

These are venerable choices, but who was your first fictional role model?

(images: TV Guide, Paramount)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.