I’ve already dealt with leadership in The 100, which I think clearly shows the show’s feminist credentials, but there’s plenty more going on, and we’ll start with something that often defines women in television…
The most obvious mother on the show is Abby, who uses her power as a mother (and respected doctor) first to get Clarke on the ship to earth, knowing that her daughter has a better chance of surviving there than on the Ark, and whose connection to her daughter then means she never gives up. While Abby may be emotional over Clarke’s fate, it propels her to do everything she can to make sure her daughter survives, and she is the one who gets Raven down to earth, something the men on the Ark never thought to do. Their fatherhood, in Jaha’s case, and lack thereof, in Kane’s case, makes them both weaker and more uncertain than Abby, whose motherhood powers her.
I’ve already addressed Kane and his mother, whose relationship is fractious, as least from Kane’s side. But again, Vera’s motherhood helps her sustain her faith that the human race will survive. In a way, Vera takes on the role of mother to the whole Ark, and perhaps even to the whole of the human race – remember that it’s Vera who looks after the small tree that the people of the Ark hope to one day take back to earth.
On the ground, there are motherly figures too, and fatherly ones, but they’re a lot less successful than the ones on the Ark, showing the complexities of motherhood. First off, Clarke acts as a mother towards Charlotte, while Bellamy and Finn both in turn act as a father towards Charlotte. All three try to protect Charlotte, but all three ultimately fail, with Charlotte choosing to sacrifice herself. It’s a flip of the usual trope of the mother/father sacrificing themselves for the child, and it’s one we see again with Anya.
Anya’s motherhood is, like that of Clarke, more metaphorical. Firstly, she is the leader/mother of her band of Grounders, who mostly consist of massive men who could easily physically overpower her. But the Grounders seem to live in a society where gender is ignored, and all of Anya’s people follow her without question (although there are male leaders within wider Grounder society who rank higher than Anya, but it’s because it’s a military system, not a gender-based one). That’s to the detriment of Tris, a girl that Anya is clearly a mother figure for. Again, it is the Anya, the mother, who ends up surviving.
Sexuality and the female gaze
We get one gratuitous scene in the first episode where Octavia strips to her skivvies and jumps into a pool of water, and from then on all the women keep their clothes on unless they’re having sex. This is a stark contrast to something like Lost, say, where the majority of women spent the majority of their time in clingy, skimpy clothing (even though there were suitcases of clothes lying around and the weather wasn’t always great).
Granted, all the women in The 100 are gorgeous (normal is one step too far for any television show focussed on teenagers, we’ll get there one day), but their bodies are rarely treated to the male gaze in the way they might be in any other television show – the lingering shots of calve muscles and backsides are missing, as are the shots of cleavage or neck. I’ve recently been watcing Arrow, and it seems like every other scene Laurel is in starts with a sweeping shot from her heels up her legs to her face, undermining the fact that she’s supposed to be a powerful woman.
In fact, since I’ve mentioned the male gaze, let’s talk about that. Or let’s not, because The 100 is more about the female gaze than it is the male gaze. There are as many occasions in The 100 where the male body is treated as an object to be stared as there are female moments. In fact, there are probably more. Remember how we had almost a whole episode of Lincoln tied up and topless? Granted, it was for brutal reasons, but it was also to show us, and The 100, that Lincoln is a powerful specimen of man, to put it mildly. We also see Bellamy topless a number of times, and in the scene where he and Raven sleep together it is Bellamy who the camera’s gaze lingers on, while Raven’s stripping down is functional.
The 100 has plenty of romance, and a fair amount of sex. But again, the way it treats its women it comes to sex and relationships is refreshing. All three of our main females on the ground – Clarke, Raven and Octavia – all have sexual encounters at some point, but none of them are ever made to feel ashamed about the act itself – Clarke’s shame comes from the fact that Finn cheated with her, while Octavia is goaded by jealous men about who she’s sleeping with, not that she’s sleeping with them. There’s no morning after embarrassment in any case, no slut-shaming, and, thankfully, no pregnancy story lines – the fallback for teen programmes when females have sex with someone they aren’t in a relationship with/shouldn’t have for whatever reason, like pregnancy is a punishment.
Here’s the thing about The 100, it places its women front and centre, right next to its men and occasionally one step ahead of them, even when it comes to violence. That’s not to say that we should be applauding The 100‘s women for their violent sides, but we should be applauding The 100‘s creators for treating their women the same as they treat their men, even when it comes to the less savoury things, such as physical fighting, and killing.
The first proper kill we see in The 100 is Clarke killing Adam/Atom. It’s notable here that it is Clarke, not Bellamy, who carries out the mercy killing. It’s gender relevant for two reasons – firstly, we see that Clarke, in this instance, has a stronger stomach for violence and death than Bellamy despite his posturing, and secondly, we can also see it as Clarke being the stronger leader out of her and Bellamy, since she’s willing to do what needs to be done, however hard it may be. (And remember, Clarke commits cold-blooded murder towards the end of season one, when she kills a Grounder in a one-on-one situation.)
The second proper kill – and by this I mean murder – we see is also committed by a female. More than that, it’s committed by a child. Charlotte, not Murphy or Bellamy or even a Grounder, is the first person to deliberately take a life for nefarious reasons. Again, while the men have been busy hitting and taunting, it’s actually a woman that commits the first murder. It’s not pretty, but it does show The 100 hitting its equality marks again.
And it’s not just one-on-one where The 100‘s women step up to the plate. While Finn is the one who comes up with the idea of blowing up the bridge to stop the Grounders attacking, it is Raven who firstly builds the bomb, and then takes it to the right location before trying to blow it. It’s finally blown up by Jasper, after numerous tries, but Raven only fails because she is physically incapable of detonating the bomb, not because she is mentally too scared.
Octavia, like Raven, also throws herself into the middle of numerous fights, big and small. She constantly stands up to Bellamy and the other men in the The 100, who think her gender and her size make her weak, and she’s among the first to rush out to try and fight the Grounders in the final episodes.
And let’s not forget that the final major piece of violence in the first season of The 100 – the use of the drop ship as a gigantic firebomb to kill the Grounders – is dreamt up by women (both Clarke and Raven) and also largely made doable by a woman (Raven’s instructions, with help from Clarke, Finn and Jasper – note how Jasper constantly helps the women, although is never quite in charge). It’s also Clarke who gives the final order for the doors to the drop ship to be shut, paving the way for the plan to be executed, and leaving Finn and Bellamy to possibly die.
The 100 is a show about survival, and violence goes hand in hand with that. While no one wants to see death and destruction, it is good to see the women of The 100 taking a pivotal role in that violence, because it means they’re taking a pivotal role in the survival of The 100.
I could probably go on for days about this (I’ve barely spoken about Anya!), but suffice to say, there’s plenty that makes The 100 a programme that respects its female characters, and never hides them away, even if that means it has to show them negatively or have them doing bad things.
As I said right at the beginning, the best thing about The 100 is that it’s not about female power being superior to male power, it’s about female power being equal to male power. There are moments when there are men in control, and moments when women are in control – it’s just the moments with the women seem so much more significant, since we see that kind of thing so rarely in television. The 100 elevates its women without necessarily demeaning its men, and that, not the drama and the romance and the pretty cast, make it essential viewing for me.