In this podcast, Dr Jodi McAlister and I discuss teen television series The 100. Some of the topics we discuss include: Lexa’s death and queer erasure; fandom protests; the show’s diverse and refreshing representations of girlhood, as well as representations that may undermine or complicate a reading of the text as ‘progressive’; representations of girls in positions of power; and the decentralisation of romance narratives.
Dominant cultural constructions of girlhood require girls to fall into line with adult regulations and authority, and closely monitor girls for any deviations from this conformity. Therefore, narratives like The 100 that provide a counter discourse to this are important for a feminist reading of the teen screen, and its potential to articulate an oppositional politics of girlhood. Representations of violent, brutal girls often pathologise the adolescent as a dangerous deviant who has strayed too far from the path of her ‘proper’ place. If we examine adult, patriarchal discourses of girlhood, we find that girls are constructed as ideal objects, passive, non-confrontational, agreeable, gentle, and kind. So it makes sense that representations that deviate from this stiflingly sexist norm often pathologise this deviation as an abnormality, a failure of the girl to fulfil her role within the carefully demarcated boundaries of feminine acculturation. This character is often either a) destroyed at the conclusion of the narrative to restore ‘proper’ order or b) restored to her original position within the patriarchal order.
The 100 provides an exciting alternative to this narrative. Heroines Clarke and Lexa are represented as strong and fearless leaders, and their authority is never truly questioned or undermined by adult male characters. When they give orders, they are simply followed. When they are violent, or brutal, or make decisions that are unemotional and strategic, it is a given that they will continue to be respected. Other heroines of The100, particularly Octavia and Raven, are also figures of non-compliance, extraordinary power, intelligence, and bravery. The fact that these violent, fierce, defiant girls are not condemned or shamed but celebrated as worthy heroines is truly incredible to me. Their decisions are complicated, and they don’t make excuses for the often-brutal effects of their actions. Non-apologetic girls, girls who do not repent for their lack of conformity to adult male rule, dominate this teen show. This is key to the show’s feminist politics, because it ruptures the dominant discourse of girlhood outlined above. Within this space of rupture, the field of girlhood and what it is able to represent expands. This is central to a feminist reading of the teen screen because, for me, our role as feminist critics and theorists is to locate points within culture where girlhood can be thought about, experienced, and done in new and potentially empowering ways. Instead of following the rules of feminine adolescence enforced by adult, patriarchal governance, the imaginative space of The 100 represents girls leading the way into new territories of girlhood, carving out a space for potential alternatives to the dominant system.