Most of us would likely agree that a vital part of what makes “Star Trek” such a powerful and enduring franchise is its many complex and compelling women characters. When we think of the women of Trek, many of us call to mind characters like Uhura, Janeway, Kira, and Burnham. Of course, those characters are amazing and their significance to the franchise would be difficult to overstate. But while those women receive plenty of love from fans, there are of course other female characters, largely in the supporting casts, who have also impacted their respective series in meaningful ways, but who don’t always get the recognition they deserve. I’ll take a look at a few of them here.
T’Pau, played by Celia Lovsky in TOS and Kara Zediker in Enterprise, is recognized as a highly influential figure in Vulcan society. What is perhaps most noteworthy about her is her seemingly unshakable confidence. She doesn’t suffer from imposter syndrome, and she doesn’t allow others to question her authority. From her first introduction in the TOS season two episode “Amok Time”, we can see that she’s someone others treat with respect, almost reverence. As she makes her entrance at Spock’s kun-ut kal-if-fee, Kirk says to McCoy,“Bones, you know who that is? T’Pau. The only person to ever turn down a seat at the Federation Council.” McCoy replies, “T’Pau, officiating at Spock’s wedding?” Kirk then says, “He never mentioned that his family was this important.”
But T’Pau doesn’t only seek status and power. She’s a natural leader who employs her leadership abilities in the pursuit of causes she genuinely believes in. In Enterprise’s season four three-parter that includes “The Forge”, “Awakening”, and “Kir’Shara”, we see T’Pau seamlessly taking leadership of the Syrrannites after the death of Syrran, standing up to the corrupt members of the Vulcan High Command, and fighting to reinstate what she believes to be the true teachings of Surak. And she does it all with a Vulcan’s dry wit. When preparing to meld with Archer in “Awakening”, for example, she comments, “Your unchecked emotions will no doubt prove distasteful, however, I ask your indulgence.”
Ishka (Andrea Martin, Cecily Adams) is one of my favorite recurring characters in all of Trek and, in my opinion, deserves far more appreciation than she’s often given. Being the mother of both Rom and Quark and managing to avoid murdering one or both of them should be reason enough to love her.
But Ishka’s influence, of course, doesn’t end with her role as a mother. She is an outspoken feminist on Ferenginar, undoubtedly the most misogynistic planet in Trek canon. What I personally love most about Ishka is that she’s far more intelligent than all the men around her who try to oppress her. They’re constantly working to keep her down, but all the while she’s laughing at their foolish chest thumping and they don’t even realize it. Ishka is also very skilled at finding ways to hold onto or increase her status and influence within a social system specifically designed to prevent women from doing so. For example, in the season three episode of Deep Space Nine, “Family Business,” Quark is notified that she has violated Ferengi law by earning profit. She is ordered to hand her money over to the Ferengi Commerce Authority, but only surrenders one-third of what she earned, cleverly managing to hide the rest. And while she seems to sincerely care about Grand Nagus Zek (Wallace Shawn), her relationship with him also serves as a vehicle for her to promote her agenda of equal rights for women. Ishka’s primary asset is her intelligence, and her ability to employ it pragmatically serves her well throughout the series.
Captain LaForge (Madge Sinclair), Geordi’s mother, is an intriguing character I wish we could see more of. In reference to her Discovery character, Michael Burnham, becoming the first Black woman to be a Starfleet captain and a main character on a series, Sonequa Martin-Green said, “My casting says that the sky is the limit for all of us. I think what we’re seeing now in our media is this push to diminish and to devalue and to make people feel that the sky is not the limit for them, that they are meant for the ground…So having me as the first black female lead of a Star Trek just blasts that into a million pieces.”
It would have been great to see similar representation with Captain La Forge, but alas, it was the 90s.
Nonetheless, Silva La Forge is quite a memorable supporting character, despite our brief introduction to her. In the season five episode of Next Generation, “Imaginary Friend,”we learn that she served near the Romulan Neutral Zone, which is not an easy posting and speaks to the confidence that Starfleet Command had in her abilities. And in the season seven episode, “Interface,” Geordi describes her to Data by saying, “She’s brilliant, funny. She’s incredibly perceptive, She knows people, knows what they’re all about even before they open their mouths. She’s always been that way, she’s a real good judge of character.”
In the TNG novel “Indistinguishable From Magic,” she survives the disappearance of her ship, the Hera, a phenomenon that’s explored but never fully explained in “Interface”. She then goes on to colonize another planet with her crew. Canon or not, that’s pretty impressive.
Erika Hernandez (Ada Maris) is the captain of Starfleet’s second warp five ship, the Columbia, which alone is quite an impressive credential. The way in which “Enterprise” portrays her should be complimented, as well. Her career is her first priority, and the show never shames her for it. In fact, we have the pleasure of watching Hernandez celebrate her own goals and ambitions repeatedly.
For example, in the season four episode “Home,” Archer and the Enterprise crew have returned to Earth after a grueling war against the Xindi. Upon reuniting with Hernandez, Archer, who used to date her, says, “I don’t see a ring,” and she replies, “I’m married to Starfleet, just like you.” Hernandez is an example of a powerful woman who is given the freedom to prioritize her professional goals without being criticized for choosing not to get married or have children.
And what’s more, her optimism and playful attitude make her fun to watch. Her work is very serious and she certainly views it that way. But she also understands the importance of being able to joke around and make others laugh, which bodes well for her capacity for boosting morale among her crew when necessary. Her constant banter with Archer is genuinely delightful.
As the partner of Ben Sisko, captain of Deep Space Nine and the Emissary to the Prophets, it would be easy for anyone to allow their own goals and priorities to be pushed to the back burner. But Kasidy doesn’t do that. As commander of the Xosha, a freighter ship, she has responsibilities of her own that she takes seriously.
In the season four episode “Indiscretion”, she’s offered a job on Bajor, which would mean she would be living on Deep Space Nine. Sisko stumbles over his words when she gives him the news and shows some hesitation about taking that kind of step forward in their relationship. But, unwilling to allow his indecisiveness get in her way, she takes the job without his input. When he finally comes around and tells her she should accept the position, she calls him out on his nonsense. She mentions that he must have been talking to Jake, who wants her to move to the station. She then says, “He’s a smart boy. Must take after his mother.”
Similarly, in the season four episode “For the Cause,” we learn that Kasidy has been smuggling supplies for the Maquis. She knows, of course, that her actions will put Sisko in a difficult situation when the truth comes to light, but she does it anyway because she believes it’s the right thing to do, and she accepts full responsibility for her actions.
At the same time, she is deeply committed to her relationship with Sisko. This is perhaps most evident in the season seven episode, “Til Death Do Us Part”. This is the episode immediately following Sisko’s proposal, and it’s the one where he reveals to her that the Prophets have told him they’ll experience “nothing but sorrow” if they get married. But not even this deters Kasidy who, unlike Sisko, could have walked away and gone on to live her life relatively free of the Prophets’ influence. Instead, she shows that she is willing to weather the difficult times with Sisko,and goes through with the wedding despite the ominous foreshadowing.