Monday, January 26, 2015

Strong Women Series #5: The Women of 'The 100'

STRONG WOMEN SERIES #5: The Women of The 100

When people on my timeline began watching The 100, a show on The CW about a bunch of teenage delinquents sent to the earth in order to determine whether or not it in inhabitable after an apocalypse wiped out civilization, I thought: "Well, this sounds like it'll get cancelled quickly." A show about teenagers seems fitting to find a home on The CW, a network that once housed Gossip Girl and 90210 and The Carrie Diaries. But as I said in my post about how the network is becoming the home of some of the best and most well-rounded female characters on television, I decided to put aside my prejudices of the network and actually sit down to see what this show was all about. As it turns out, I got sucked in pretty quickly to the action and the drama and the stories of these characters.

And, as you may gather by the title of this post, I was incredibly impressed with the portrayal of women in the series. I wrote my post about The CW when I had only watched the pilot episode of The 100. Now that I'm officially caught up on the show, I thought I would discuss the four leading ladies of the series and their incredible and wonderful nuances. At the moment, I don't think any other show on television has the bravery to tell stories of young, strong women like The 100 does. Whenever you see teenagers on television series, they're usually trying to figure out who they are -- they're always portrayed as having less and less valuable life experience than adults. And while there is one adult female I would like to discuss on this series, the rest of the women are young but already extremely grounded (pun not intended). They have beliefs and morals and values and incredibly tragic, beautiful stories that have shaped the way that they see the world, humanity, and themselves.

Just because a woman is young doesn't mean she isn't confident in who she is and what she wants out of life. Strong women aren't just those who are of a certain age or a certain class or have been through certain experiences. What defines a strong woman is her layers -- her ability to be compassionate or vulnerable or stubborn or loud or meek or manipulative. Strong women don't have to be likable. They don't have to be relatable. They just have to exist on television in such a way that surpasses a trope or a prop. They have to have agency and stories that reveal more about their character. They have to be real, in other words. All of the women on The 100 are real and quite frankly amazing. So let's discuss them, shall we?


"You're not gonna stop, are you?" "Not until my friends are safe."

Clarke Griffin is the protagonist and heroine of The 100. She's witty and she's compassionate and she's extremely intelligent. She believes in finding a solution to every problem before resorting to a last-ditch effort. She believes in order and plans and structure. Before she is sent to earth, her mother warns her about her personality saying that Clarke will want to help everyone -- it's in her nature, after all, to do so. But she will have to turn that part of her personality off if she wants to survive. She will have to be selfish. The thing is... Clarke isn't selfish. She's caring and kind. But she's also not stupid and she definitely isn't a sunshine-and-rainbows optimist, either. I think that for a lot of people in real life, Clarke is an easy person to dismiss because she's the nurturer. She's the one who cares for and about people. She's the one who wants to make sure that everyone worth saving and even everyone not worth saving has the opportunity to be saved. She believes in grace and justice, not vengeance. She believes in mercy, too, as evident in the way that she's had to operate since being on the ground. And while Clarke cannot stop people from making mistakes, she sure tries to ensure that they won't.

Because the fact of the matter is that Clarke is someone who is caring by nature but not trusting by nature. You don't have to earn her trust before you earn her ability to care about you (see: the fact that she cared about Bellamy and the others long before they proved to be trustworthy). Clarke is a bit closed-off emotionally because she's found life to be easier that way. She's not perfect -- she holds onto anger and bitterness that colors her personal relationships (see: her relationship with Wells) and, recently, she allowed herself to become hardened after the death of Finn. But that's also something that I need to talk about in regards to Clarke's character. You can tell that this is a young woman who has watched a lot of suffering in her short life. She's seen people die, brutally, and I'd imagine that seeing her mother try to save people on the ark was something that she carried with her as well. And so when Clarke reaches the ground, she's firm on her beliefs: she will not let the people she cares about suffer unnecessarily but she will not be ruthless in killing them. Clarke killed others in anger, yes. She's killed grounders as well. But Clarke has compassion, above all, for those who are suffering. That's what sets her apart as a leader -- she thinks not just of others, but of their pain and doesn't give weight to her own problems and her own suffering over the suffering of others. (That's why she kills Finn: she would rather see him die at the hand of someone he loves than watch him suffer at the hands of those who hate him and would torture him.)

That's what happens when you have a nature that is predisposed to care about others. Clarke will always put her own life on the line for the lives of her people. And it's funny, isn't it? They've become HER people and she's determined -- much like a shepherd -- to not leave anyone behind. Clarke Griffin is a strong character not because she's always right or noble. She makes mistakes. She doesn't always have the right answer. And she has to make difficult choices. But what I consistently admire about her as a young woman and as a heroine is the fact that she will always choose to place the burden on herself rather than place it on the people she cares about. SHE will sacrifice and SHE will make difficult decisions... but she will also always seek to find another way. She's a seeker of hope and of optimism. She doesn't trust easily but when she trusts you, she relies on you. She leans on you to be her support. (And that's what Bellamy really is to her -- her partner and her pillar of support.) I honestly just find Clarke to be so compelling. You wouldn't presume that someone who cares as deeply for others as she does would survive as long as she had, much less be the people that others look to for leadership and direction. But it's precisely BECAUSE of these attributes that she's respected. Bellamy and Raven and Octavia and Jasper and Monty and Finn all care about Clarke and believe in her because she's proven to them that she will never stop fighting to bring the people she loves home. And that inspires them, not because they always believe in her methods or her reasoning but because they believe in her.

And I do, too.


"I'm not keeping busy, Finn. I'm keeping us alive."

Okay, where do I even begin with Raven Reyes? This is a young woman whose cynicism and wit is insanely endearing. She's a bit prickly sometimes but only because she's learned that she has to be when it comes to others. Like Clarke, Raven doesn't easily trust people. She doesn't make friends quickly, either. But that doesn't mean she isn't caring or loving. She really and truly is. When we first meet her, she's sassy and extremely intelligent. But what's extremely interesting and compelling to me about Raven as a character is that most characters in television shows either have "street smarts" or "book smarts." Raven has BOTH. She's been on her own for so long that she's learned how to survive through creating alliances and making deals, but she's also extremely intelligent. She's a mechanic, after all, and knows machines and parts so intricately. She is the first person to have a perfect score on her exam on the ark. Raven is a gifted and passionate young woman. She's also stubborn and resilient and that's what makes her so endearing. She repairs a ship and manages to make it to the ground because Abby could not. And when Raven makes it to the ground, she becomes an integral part of the team. She's analytical and an asset to the 100. I think my favorite thing about Raven was how seamlessly she transitioned from living in the ark to surviving on the ground. She builds bombs and weapons and radios and is the one to find the way to communicate with the ark. She's important because her contributions keep the people on the ground alive.

I think though what I love most about Raven is the fact that she's not a traditional stock heroine. As I've already noted, she possesses both street smarts and book smarts. But The 100 doesn't just restrain Raven in a box of preconceived female tropes. They allow her to be the one to break up with Finn, rather than get her heart broken by him. That moment -- the moment she tells him that it's over -- is so utterly beautiful and heartbreaking because it subverts the idea that the WOMAN is the one to wait and pine for the lover who's moved on and fallen in love with someone else. I thought that to be a moment of incredible emotional strength for Raven. The other moment that stood out to be is when Raven permitted Abby and her team to operate on her without any anesthetic in order to remove a bullet from her hip. As Raven grits her teeth and prepares to do so in order to have a chance at not being paralyzed, I held my breath because THIS was a powerful moment for her character. She was about to endure hours of pain without having the luxury of being numbed or asleep. But then, just as the scapel is about to piece Raven's skin, she admits to something to Finn -- she admits to being afraid.

Too often, we perceive fear as weakness and in The 100, I love that the opposite is true: fear is okay and it is natural and it can propel you to do amazing things in spite of yourself and your own limitations. This was the moment Raven was at her most human and most strong -- she was vulnerable and yet still brave; she was willing to sacrifice. That's been such a defining trait of Raven's really: this idea of heroism being both bravery and vulnerability. We never see her as a victim, even when she is one. Even when she's shot and even when she gets her heart broken, she manages to take those moments and use them to become stronger, not weaker. Raven isn't without mistakes, though: she has a lot of anger that bubbles beneath her surface and now even more so since Finn is dead. Raven still makes wrong choices and harbors bitterness in her heart because that's how she's learned to protect herself over the years -- not letting people get too close, not letting other people see how hurt she really is.

But what consistently impresses me in regards to Raven is that she's a fighter, a survivor, and an adapter. She will never let her limitations become the things that define her (even now with her brace). As she tells Finn: "We all have battle scars. Suck it up and build a brace for yours."


"Ai laik Okteivia kom Skai Kru, and you have something I want!"

Admittedly, when we were first introduced to Octavia Blake, I thought: "Well there's an endearing pretty young woman. She probably won't last long." I think the best part about Octavia is that her story is so dark and yet she is so unsuspecting in how much of a light she is -- hopeful and loving and extremely optimistic, but also a fighter. And then I watched "His Sister's Keeper" and realized what an exceptional pillar of strength Octavia was. I mean, this is a young woman who was hidden away from the entire world for years -- a woman who had to crawl into a hole beneath the floor of her living quarters so she would not be seen whenever guards or those of importance came around. All Octavia has ever wanted is the chance to be seen by others -- really seen -- and accepted for who she is. And all Bellamy has ever wanted is for her to be hidden and protected so that she's safe. I think it so interesting that a young woman who hasn't seen any of the world is allowed to be the first of their people to step foot onto the ground (thanks to Bellamy). Octavia is so lively and fun and energetic. She's flirtatious and adventurous because to her, there are no consequences at the beginning. All that matters is that she is now FREE. It could be argued, but I think Octavia is the most loving out of our main heroines. That is, she is the person who is convinced that love and patience is something of value and virtue in life. And I think that the truth is that Octavia hasn't spent her life jaded by human contact so she does believe in the power of love and of hope more than some of the others do. And yet, this doesn't make Octavia Blake a weak character. It is her love and her optimism, in fact, that makes her so strong.

Because you would expect the woman who's been shunned by the world to be bitter and angry and cruel to those she meets. Octavia isn't. She spends a majority of the series tending to the wounds of others and caring deeply for them. She loves Lincoln and fights for him. (There's a moment where she learns the native language of the grounders and stands up to them, insisting that they give her Lincoln or she will kill their tribe's healer. It was in that moment that I was utterly blown away by Marie Avergeropoulos's acting and also Octavia as a character -- whoever said love made a person weak has clearly never met this young woman. Love makes Octavia a warrior.) Octavia's defining trait is that she always fights for hope even when hopelessness appears evident. I think that's because of her background, don't you? I think that Bellamy taught her to always keep hoping and believing in a better world for herself. He's the one who taught her how to be brave and when he tries to protect her, it's understandable since he's been doing it his whole life, but also a tad misguided: she's able to protect herself BECAUSE of his influence.

The beauty of Octavia is that she's defiant and staunchly loyal. And she's respected because of it. The grounders respected Octavia's bravery and her willingness to become bait for them in order to rescue Lincoln. She's not a shallow character, by any means: she is one who has seen the depravity of humanity and also its gentleness and chooses to believe in the latter and fight for it rather than allow herself to become overpowered by darkness and despair. That doesn't mean Octavia cannot mourn or cannot make mistakes or cannot come undone by what unfolds around her. It means that she looks inward and believes that if she can overcome what was done to her, then surely anything is possible. Hope is possible. LOVE is possible. And that is what she fights for.


"I broke the rules and I accept the consequences. But you can lash me a hundred times and I am still going to do whatever it takes to find these kids. My kid."

In the beginning of the series, we see Abby Griffin as this really outspoken chief medical officer aboard the ark. She's unafraid to stand up even when others won't. She believes in saving lives and risking her own for causes that she believes in. What consistently impresses me about Abby is that she has no regrets for her actions when she believes in them. She may know that what she does is wrong by the ark standards or society's standards but she holds fast, always, to her moral compass. And she continues to fight for the things she knows to be true. We learn pretty early on in the series that Abby is the one who inevitably sent her husband to his death, not Clarke's friend Wells. And we get to watch Clarke's anger spiral on the ground while her mother tries to locate her daughter from above. Their relationship is so deeply complex and it's one of the reasons I really like Abby -- she's not a soldier and she's not always considered to be a leader; she's a mother. She is a fighter and a warrior and a woman full of compassion and grace because she has a child who is on the ground. You can tell where Clarke gets her strength from, really.

I think that television occasionally relegates women to boxes like "wife" and "mother" and only allow those female characters to be defined by those labels. What's so refreshing about The 100 is that everything Abby does is for her daughter and yet... that's not weakness. Love is not weakness. Belief in Clarke is not weakness. Yes, other people see her as delusional. Other people misunderstand her intentions. But everything that Abby does stems from a place so genuine and yet so fierce that it's entirely impossible to dismiss her as unimportant. She bends and breaks rules willingly not because she's reckless but because she's calculated -- she truly believes in all that she does and accepts the consequences. That's what I admire about Abby and why I consider her to be such a strong woman: she doesn't dismiss the consequences for her actions. In the scene above, Abby accepts lashes because she let Bellamy and Finn escape in order to try and locate Clarke and the others. Abby is a woman who has a conscience and who makes difficult calls for the greater good.

One of her most admirable traits is the one that she shares in common with Clarke: her unwavering desire to do whatever she can to save someone and find alternative options if that is impossible. Abby's quick-thinking saves Lincoln's life (and the lives of everyone aboard the drop ship). She's the one who tries to find another way to save Finn. Abby gets blamed for a lot and she certainly isn't innocent, but she possesses enough inner-strength to stick to her convictions. She imprisons friends and does a pretty good job at being the chancellor. She places all of her faith in her daughter and it's with merit: Clarke is extremely strong and trustworthy, just like Abby. Though the two women clash, it's often because of their similarities, not their differences. It's because they're both stubborn and because -- much like Bellamy does with Octavia -- Abby has an intense desire to protect Clarke because she sees her for what she is: a daughter. Abby is flawed, of course, and she trusts others which is what inevitably caused her husband's death. And I have no doubt that she lives with guilt, too, for the wrongs she has done in her life.

But what I truly admire about Abby is that she NEVER apologizes for who she is. Isn't that amazing? She accepts the consequences for her actions and she makes difficult decisions but she will not back down and she will do whatever it takes to save the people she loves without apology or explanation.

So there you have it, folks. I'm extremely engrossed in The 100 now and am so impressed by its portrayal of women as nuanced, varied, and strong. Each woman here -- Clarke, Raven, Octavia, and Abby -- is such a huge part of the series and why it's so successful and so engaging. Be sure to hit up the comments below and continue the conversation! Until then. :)


  1. Great post. Totally agree with everything.

  2. I love what you wrote about Abby. I think she's a very underrated character and is very unfairly criticized in The 100 fandom.