24. Michael Burnham and Intersectionality in Star Trek: Discovery

Listen to Janine Engelbrecht’s session at the 2021 IDIC Podcast festival, hosted by Women at Warp, 17th-18th July 2021. Janine discusses Michael Burnham, from Star Trek: Discovery, and carries out an intersectional analysis of her.

The Sci-Fi Feminist - A Feminism and Pop Culture Podcast
The Sci-Fi Feminist - A Feminism and Pop Culture Podcast
24. Michael Burnham and Intersectionality in Star Trek: Discovery

Welcome and introduction

Janine welcomes everyone and thanks Women at Warp for hosting her show at the IDIC festival. She also gives some background on herself and her research.

Janine’s first contact

Before starting, Janine explains how she was initially introduced to Star Trek. She also elaborates on how she came across Discovery and Michael Burnham. Janine then explains how Michael Burnham and Discovery made it into her research.

Intersectional theory

Janine first gives some history and key definitions of intersectionality. She especially mentions Kiberle Crenshaw’s theories of intersectionality. Janine then links these theories with the diverse crew of the USS Discovery.

Background on Discovery

Janine starts off by giving some background on Star Trek: Discovery. She touches on Burnham’s backstory that gives her a complex identity. Janine also recommends a book – Fighting for the Future: Essays on Star Trek: Discovery.

Burnham’s complexity

The first part of Burnham’s intersectionality Janine discusses is her embodiment of Vulcan rationality and human emotion. Janine explains how this fosters her intersectionality.

Burnham’s flashbacks

Janine explores some of Burnham’s flashbacks in season 2 of Discovery. She explains further how these flashbacks help to show that Burnham is a complex and intersectional character.

She also touches on the fact that Burnham brings Emperor Georgiou back to the Prime Universe. Janine mentions the significance of the 930 years jump into the future on Burnham’s character.

Discovery’s seriality

The next topic Janine discusses is the post-network serial structure of Discovery. She then traces the ways in which this contributes to Burnham’s intersectionality.

Burnham’s mothers

Janine then goes on to a discussion of Burnham’s three mother figures. As Janine explains, they are Gabriel Burnham, Amanda Greyson and Phillipa Georgiou. She goes on to explain how they contribute to Burnham’s intersectional status.

Three mothers’ intersectional identities

Janine recaps the ways in which each of these three mothers have intersectional identities. Janine recaps some of Gabrielle Burnham’s appearances first. She then explains the impact Amanda Greyson had on Burnham’s humanity.

Emperor Georgiou and Michael Burnham

Janine finally explores the complex relationship between Burnham and Emperor Georgiou. She first mentions the significance of the Mirror Universe in Discovery. Janine then goes on to explain how Emperor Georgiou, in her capacity as a mother, contributes to Burnham’s intersectionality.

More on Burnham

Janine goes into Michael Burnham as a fourth wave feminist sci-fi heroism. She comments on the fact that Burnham is desexualized and has a unisex name.

She links this to second wave feminism too and lists other sci-fi heroines like Burnham. Janine then goes into a few other aspects of Burnham too, like her emotionalism and rise to captaincy.


Janine spends the rest of the session answering questions from viewers.

Wrap up

Janine thanks Women at Warp and wraps up with the Vulcan greeting.

Episode Credits


  • Janine Engelbrecht


  • Janine Engelbrecht

Small Print

The theme music is "Dashboard Light" by One Two Feet, and is licenced by Holosuite Media through Epidemic Sound.

This podcast is a fan production. All views made are that of the individual(s), and may not represent that of the podcast, or the Holosuite Media network.

The Sci-Fi Feminist - A Feminism and Pop Culture Podcast
The Sci-Fi Feminist - A Feminism and Pop Culture Podcast
24. Michael Burnham and Intersectionality in Star Trek: Discovery