Q is known for interfering with various Starfleet captains, but interpretations of how Q interacts with Captains Picard and Janeway shows a double standard at play. His treatment of Picard is sometimes treated as more playful and humorous while his treatment of Janeway is usually treated as stalking and creepy. Yet he employes nearly the same techniques with both of them: manipulation, smugness, and more.
The weird powerplay between Picard and Q is seen as less sexual than with Janeway and Q. Q himself seems to view both of them differently—Picard is a rival he wants to defeat and Janeway is a romantic interest—and thus shows he has pre-Starfleet sexism even as a being who is supposed to be superior. For all his power and superiority complex, is Q more himan than he cares to admit since he clearly treats Picard and Janeway differently based on their gender and sexuality?
Q immediately treats Picard as a lesser being in “Encounter at Farpoint.” He begins harassing Picard, holding Picard accountable for humanities’ failings. In later encounters, Q seems to take fiendish glee in provoking the usually unflappable Picard by doing things to unnerve him, such as giving Riker the powers of the Q and setting him at odds with his captain. There is no equivalent plot with Janeway. Does that have to do more with the differences between Chakotay and Riker or between Janeway and Picard?
It would have been very interesting to see Q give powers to Paris, who had quite a bit in common with Riker, but less power in the crew hierarchy. When interacting with Janeway, Q focuses on her, only referring to Chakotay once by referring to the odd “Will they or won’t they?” energy between him and Janeway then mocking Chakotay’s tattoo. We can infer that Q might be something Picard’s entire crew might know about, but members of Janeway’s crew may have no idea he’s ever been on the ship.
Another example comes when Q drags most of the bridge crew into an adventure in Sherwood Forest with Picard as Robin Hood and Q as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Q may be playing with the relationship between Picard and Vash, but he has also given the others the chance to interact with the “story” to some extent.
When Q takes Janeway into the “Gone with the Wind”-esque American Civil War setting to explain the war he has helped instigate in the Continuum, he does not bring any of Janeway’s crew with him. He may be trying to convince Janeway to bear a Q/Human child to “heal the continuum” but if he had brought the crew with him, would some have discussed this option with Janeway, would a member of the crew willingly have borne Q’s child instead of Janeway or would they have called out Q for basically making their return to the Alpha Quadrant hinge on loss of bodily autonomy?
Q also displays a very narrow focus towards Janeway that he does not with Picard. With Picard he has an overarching goal of examining Picard, almost like Q is defending a thesis on Picard to the Q Continuum. Q reappears regularly to interact with Picard, pulling Picard into an alternate timeline, asking for Picard to help him regain his Q Continuum citizenship, having adventures with Picard like they are on the Holodeck, and more. Even decades later, Q shows up on Picard’s life to interfere with him. Q tries to delve further into Picard’s past, making Picard confront his childhood trauma and how that has shaped his relationships.
With Janeway there are only two objectives that almost become one: a rogue Q pleads to have the right to become human to commit suicide and Janeway becomes unwilling judge,Then, after assisting the rogue Q to die, Q returns to press Janeway to help him reestablish balance by bearing a Q/Human hybrid. When a female Q has a child with Q, Q then treats Janeway as a babysitter for his child, Q2. He seems to no longer view her as a romantic partner, referring to her as “Aunt Kathy” for Q2. If Janeway had decided differently, Q may have never returned to her ship. It would be very out of character for Q to show up in Janeway’s life later to explore arts of her psyche like he does with Picard since he views them differently. Q views Picard as someone he should study and interact with in terms of how Q can “help” Picard versus Q views Janeway as someone he can exploit for his own gains and interact with in terms of how Q can exploit her.
It could almost be considered a joke, but nudity does reveal a lot about how Q treats Picard versus Janeway. He often appears naked around Picard, once naked parallel to the floor on the bridge and more infamously in “Tapestry,” where he appears in Picard’s bed. Q is in his ‘adopted’ Starfleet uniform while Picard is naked and immediately conveys how uncomfortable he is by holding the blanket to his chest and barely moving. Q never moves or tries to make Picard less uncomfortable by moving.
Yet Janeway, whom Q asks to bear his child, never encounters this type of behavior. Q tries to bribe her with an Irish Setter puppy like her beloved Molly, back in the Alpha Quadrant, but never removes his own clothes. Q does turn her bedroom into a romantic room complete with rose petals and champagne and red sheets on her bed as he propositions her while wearing a smoking jacket to try to convey a seductive air.
Does this reveal more about Picard, who could be argued displays hints of demisexuality, versus Janeway, who is romantically frustrated due to her own morals, making it impossible for her to date her crewmembers—or Q’s views on them? After all, the scene where Q appears in Picard’s bed is played comedically, Picard is emasculated because he is so unsettled, yet doesn’t move or demand that Q leave. Q offering Janeway a puppy is treated more seriously, the bedroom seduction is rebuffed, and later scenes with a female Q also have an edge to them. Picard is clearly being harassed yet he does not get the consideration Janeway gets. Does this come from a double standard—the idea that men always want sex or that men who turn down sexual offers are somehow odd, or because Star Trek does not take seriously the idea that two men could want to sleep together?
Q shows very different behavior towards Picard and Janeway yet he still looks down on both captains. Q often manipulates Picard and tries to unnerve him by playing on Picard’s emotions. Q drags Picard’s crew into situations with him and embarrasses Picard. Janeway by contrast is often treated on an almost less personal level, as he treats the possible parenthood more like a business deal and never tries to unnerve her with nudity like he does with Picard. Q really does treat most humans terribly, but is there an underexplored gendered double standard not only in how he treats them, but how writers treat these interactions in creating plotlines? It really makes Q getting punched by Sisko feel like the only proper reaction to a Q sighting.