I consider myself a first-generation working mom – my mom stayed home with my five siblings and I – and I often look to the women on Star Trek for guidance when it comes to balancing career and family. I am grateful that I have so many examples of women who look like me!
If the curiosity of one of my kids wreaks havoc on our environment, Dr. Crusher gives me a sense of how to handle it without emotionally scarring anyone. Beverly’s experiences with Wesley throughout The Next Generation also show me that it’s reasonable to expect that nobody will question my professionalism even though they’re giving my kid side-eye for artfully spreading their underpants across the back yard (yes, that really did happen to me).
While it’s not shown to the audience, from Deanna Troi I have a model for how to say, “I’m stepping down because what my kids need is more important that my career.” Nobody questions her commitment to her profession or her ability to connect authentically with her clients. The time we see her and Soji together in Star Trek: Picard, Deanna successfully reminds us that she is still the best counselor in Starfleet.
Even Samantha Wildman, who many of us probably think of as Naomi’s mom, was supported as a valuable member of the crew. The writers of Star Trek: Voyager knew that she didn’t completely lose her competencies just because she was pregnant.
We see each of these women asking for, and getting, the support they need as parents and as professionals. But what about the BIPOC women who live within the Star Trek Universe?
The O’Briens are one of the few nuclear family units in the series. Given they live in the Federation, you might assume an egalitarian setup where both adults have fulfilling professions and share child-rearing duties. Instead, you see Miles saving Deep Space Nine regularly, triaging engineering disasters while Keiko gives up her career as a botanist. Are there no plants on DS9? On the “other side” of the parenting spectrum we have Father of the Year, Captain Benjamin Sisko continuing, admittedly grudgingly at first, in his chosen profession without anyone questioning his ability to effectively parent Jake. His relationship with Jake continues to show us that it’s possible to have a loving relationship despite some serious challenges, a representation of Black fatherhood which has meant a great deal to many audience members.
Where we see, either blatantly or assumed, Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi getting the support they need it seems clear through the writing that not all women get that support in the Federation. Carol Freeman feels the need to hide her parental status and clearly doesn’t have a supportive relationship with her spouse. Indeed, in many ways, Captain Freeman’s relationship with Beckett Mariner couldn’t be further from what we see between Jake and Benjamin Sisko. Captain Freeman’s parental status shows us that our struggle to respect and love Black motherhood persists to the 24th century. Another Black mama we see getting punished is Rafaella Musiker. Raffi completely loses her family because she is denied the support she needed to be the professional and mother that she wants to be. What if, like Elisabeth Sherman says, Raffi was worthy of redemption for her maternal failures?
Finally, at its worst we see women of color who are completely denied their parental rights. I am talking, of course, about Guinan. We know that Guinan has basically done it all over her long lifespan before deciding to take a civilian post on Enterprise. She has shared with us that she is a mother. We also know that many of her people were assimilated by the Borg. It’s not a far leap to assume that Guinan’s children were assimilated by the Borg. In a country where black and brown children have been removed from their cultures to assimilate to Euro-centric culture, I can’t think of a more accurate or depressing analogy for Black motherhood.
There is a lot that Star Trek is really excellent at. If you ask me, Star Trek is science fiction at its best because it goes further than a lot of other science fiction in showing us at our best. It helps us understand how much better everything will be when there is “no hunger, no greed, and all the children know how to read.” But until we get a more diverse writers’ room, characters that are fully fleshed out in their lives inside and outside of Starfleet, we’re going to keep getting characters that fall short of showing us all our full potential.