In her funniest, brashest, and most charming moments—when she's dialing room service with her toes, beating up would-be attackers, and belting out her Handel lady-jams in the shower—Janet is the cool older sister that Joanna and Jeannine never had. Maybe if they'd known someone like her when they were younger, they wouldn't be so down on themselves today.
In her childish and embarrassing moments—when she's painting the walls with lipstick rather than putting it on her face, or wandering around the hotel suite in the nude while Joanna begs her to put something on—Janet is like a cheesy mother whom Joanna loves to hate. Somehow, their friendship has "Judd Apatow movie" written all over it, but only if Kristen Wiig and Amy Poehler could star.
Tall, blonde, and endearingly strange, Janet is feminism's golden goddess, a woman "whom we don't believe in and whom we deride but who is in secret our savior from utter despair, who appears Heaven-high in our dreams with a mountain under each arm and the ocean in her pocket" (9.7.28). Superhero, Amazon, imaginary friend—Janet is all and none of them.
As Janet tells us herself:
I was born on a farm in Whileaway. When I was five I was sent to a school on South Continent (like everybody else) and when I turned twelve I rejoined my family. My mother's name was Eva, my other mother's name Alicia; I am Janet Evason. When I was thirteen I stalked and killed a wolf, alone, on North Continent above the forty-eight parallel, using only a rifle. I made a travois for the head and paws, then abandoned the head, and finally got home with one paw, proof enough (I thought). (1.1.1)
Raised in a feminist utopia, Janet had an upbringing that would've turned Ernest Hemingway green with envy. From the age of five until puberty, she lived at a regional school and learned "how to run machines, how to get along without machines, law, transportation, physical theory," "gymnastics and mechanics," "practical medicine," and "how to swim and shoot" (3.4.1-2). From puberty until the age of seventeen, she roamed the world as she pleased.
In our world, we'd call Janet a Renaissance woman (because it'd be missing the point to call her a Renaissance man). She has "worked in the mines, on the radio network, on a milk farm, a vegetable farm, and for six weeks as a librarian" (1.1.1). She learned English as a hobby, even though the language has been obsolete for centuries on Whileaway, and her knowledge of basic Whileawayan math makes her look like a regular Maryam Mirzakhani when she's in Joanna's world.
By the time we meet Janet, she is forty-one years old, married with two children, and employed as the Safety and Peace Officer of her county. She's won three duels on Whileaway, which means she's killed three women. She has killed another in the line of duty, and, in the right light, you can see the thin scars of knife wounds on her face. As some of the men in Joanna's world learn too late, Janet's not the sort of woman with whom one ought to mess around.
To folks on Joanna's Earth, Janet seems exceptional. She's brainy, brawny, openly lesbian (not that Whileawayans use that term), and a beautiful blonde to boot. It's no wonder that young Laura Rose Wilding falls in love with her the first chance she gets. For women like Laura, Jeannine, and Joanna, being around Janet is like getting a look at freedom after a lifetime of confinement.
During her first few months in Joanna's world, Janet abides by the Prime Directive with a resolution that would make any Starfleet officer proud. She's not there to interfere, but to observe and learn about a culture very different from her own. She rarely makes value judgments that compare Joanna's world favorably or unfavorably to hers, and it's not until the party on Riverside Drive that Janet's patience for Manhattanites starts to slip. When she eventually yells out that all of the partygoers are savages, we know the men of Joanna's Earth have officially ruined their chances of getting an invite to Whileaway.