Essay – Gender Roles in Television

The 100 is a science fiction television series that first aired in 2014 and is now filming the fifth season. The show is set ninety-seven years after a nuclear war has destroyed civilization, when a spaceship housing humanity’s survivors sends one hundred juvenile delinquents back to Earth, in hopes of possibly re-populating the planet. However, once landed they find that they are not alone and must fight to survive on Earth. The show follows a young woman named Clarke who is one of the one hundred sent to the ground. She is a smart and strong woman who takes on a leadership role when those on the ground must fight for their survival. In addition to Clarke, many other female characters in the series are strong and powerful women. This portrayal of women calls into question traditional gender roles in sci-fi or post-apocalyptic films and television. Traditionally the women are cast as supporting characters or love interests who are unable to defend themselves and are overly sexualized. However, the women in this series defy feminine stereotypes and perform in a ‘masculine’ way. Through the roles they play, the costumes they wear and the relationships they have, the women are put in a place of power.  This overarching narrative defies the traditional gender roles in post-apocalyptic films and supports modern feminist ideologies.

The women in this show are all cast as strong, smart, and powerful characters. The main female characters are Clarke, a strong leader, Lexa, a powerful commander, Octavia, a warrior, and Raven, a genius mechanic. In addition, there are smaller female characters like Indra, the war chief, Abby, the head doctor and Anya, the commanders second hand. All these characters are in a position of authority and are roles that are traditionally portrayed by men. The female characters that are a part of the ‘Grounders’ clan, along with the men, were raised to be strong and tough. In today’s society this is something seen as ‘manhood’ an idea commonly projected to young boys influencing them to behave a certain way. However, this show does not gender stereotype. Every grounder is taught to fight, and every grounder is raised as an equal. These women are not fragile or dainty, they are strong and sometimes even dangerous. Every single female character in this show performs as more ‘masculine’ than ‘feminine’. Meaning, that the traits and qualities that these characters possess, are more traditionally known to be masculine. For example, Lexa is the Commander, she rules over the ‘Grounders’ (the clan of people who were already on the ground). She is tough, strong, an excellent warrior and vicious. She is not weakened by emotions and puts her people before herself. While Lexa is just one example, there are many other women in the show that possess similar qualities. In this series there are no female characters who are there for the sole purpose to be someone’s love interest or to be a sexual object. The women are not weak and do not need saving. While of course in a show about war and survival, occasionally there is a female character in need of help. However, it is never because of her gender that she is weakened.

In addition to the roles the women play, the relationships they have with the other characters also put them in a position of power and strength. For example, the main character Clarke, falls in love with Finn, a fellow member of the one hundred, in the first season.  She gets caught up in a love triangle with him and another girl Raven, but the two women do not get catty or filled with jealousy like most do in other films. However, later in the season, Finn is killed and after Clarke is done mourning she pursues a relationship with Lexa, the other clan’s commander. It is very rare to have a main female character be revealed as bi-sexual. In addition, to that, the fact that she is bi-sexual is not even talked about or considered to be shocking. The way the show handles it is extremely progressive and represents no sense of ‘heteronormativity’. Heteronormativity “refer[s] to the often-unnoticed system of rights and privileges that accompany many normative sexual choices and family formation.” (Mukhopadhyay, 33). Considering that this show is set nearly one hundred years into the future, it appears the show is commenting on the current fight for equality and how it will eventually resolve. Creating a romantic relationship between the two female leads is a powerful statement and supports feminist ideologies. Once together, the two women become unstoppable and are a true force to be reckoned with. Another relationship situation that defies stereotypes is the comparison of when Clarke lost Finn and when the supporting character Jasper, lost his girlfriend. Clarke’s loss merely made her stronger whereas Japer’s made him weak and nearly suicidal. This behavior is usually represented in films and television in the opposite way. The women are weakened and controlled by love, but the men show no such emotions. Lastly, a female character in a position of authority is never questioned because of her gender, she may be questioned because of her actions, but the men in the show face the same accusations. The idea of a female being someone else’s superior is well recognized and supported within the entirety of the series.

The 100

This sense of power and strength or this performance of ‘masculinity’ is also portrayed through costuming. The characters from the Sky bear a more similar resemblance to the clothing style today whereas the characters on the ground have a more post-apocalyptic, futuristic style. However, in both cases, the women’s clothing does not show them as ‘feminine’ and it does not sexualize them. For example, Clarke traditionally wears black pants, boots, a plain shirt and a black jacket. Her clothing gives her mobility and resembles an outfit a boy would wear today. She does not wear bright colors and does not wear anything tight or revealing (See figure 1.0). On the other hand, Lexa, wears mainly black clothing. Her outfits are a mixture of armour and draping robes that allow her to be ready for a fight at any time. In addition, she has heavy black makeup that creates a sort of mask around her eyes, giving her a dangerous appearance and removing her ‘feminine’ beauty (See figure 1.0). Both wardrobes present a more ‘masculine’ appearance. The outfits have straighter lines, that remove female curves and the makeup and hair is styled to show strength, not beauty. One important factor is that it is very rare to see the women in dresses or skirts on the show. They are generally always wearing pants unless they are peasants or there is a formal event. The main purpose the clothing in this show serves, is to allow movement and to be prepared for any situation, something that most sci-fi female wardrobes do not allow. The clothing is very gender fluid and it is hard to differentiate the female clothing from the males. This sense of gender fluidity allows for equality among all characters throughout the show.

Together, these three qualities bring to life the sense of feminist power on the show. There is no gender power struggle, and no one is judged or discriminated against based on their gender. While the show is in fact primarily about a power struggle, it is not between genders, only between clans. The one on the ground has always been commanded by a female and the one in the sky was commanded by a male. However, once they came to the ground they began to rely more heavily on their female members for leadership. This change in leadership may comment on the fact that those in the sky had been secluded for one hundred years and were ‘out of touch’ with modern ways, when they came to the ground, the women proved to be better leaders in this new world. It is extremely rare to find a television show that has so many female characters put in places of authority and strength. This shows progressiveness allows for these ideologies to be conveyed to millions of viewers. While the show is very entertaining and popular, people are also receiving these feminist messages without even knowing. It is important for young women to watch television shows that give them a sense of confidence and allow them to relate to such strong female characters. Through this, The 100 defies traditional gender roles and helps further todays feminist movements.

Works Cited

Mukhopadhyay, Carol C. Perspectives: An open invitation to cultural anthropology. American Anthropological Association, 2017.

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