by Abigail Gelopulos, Ball State University
Realistic, strong, female characters that still maintain their femininity have been rare gems in almost every medium, but they are now slowly becoming more prevalent. This type of female character is generally hard to find, especially in the post-apocalypse genre because, unfortunately, creators in this genre often revert to patriarchy in their stories. This is an idea that James Berger discussed in After the End regarding the novel Lucifer’s Hammer and the tendency in apocalyptic literature for the post-apocalyptic era to portray “what the writer considers to be truly of value” (Berger 8). The TV show Revolution makes an effort to reject this inclination towards patriarchy in its use of both male and female characters, who are placed in leadership roles based on their adequacy for the role rather than their gender.
On September 17th, 2012 Eric Kripke’s post-apocalyptic, sci-fi drama Revolution premiered on NBC. Revolution depicts a society that suffered an apocalypse that eradicated all possibility of humans harnessing electricity on the planet through a malfunction of nanites, tiny robots meant to absorb electricity that were meant to be a new form of warfare. The show focuses on Charlie Matheson and her family’s experience in post-apocalyptic America. The first of the two seasons features Charlie’s journey to save her brother, Danny, who has been kidnapped by Sebastian Monroe, the militia general controlling the northeast quarter of the United States. The show then becomes a race between Monroe and Charlie’s family to get to “The Tower,” which is where the apocalypse was created. Charlie’s group soon discovers that Rachel, her mother, was the head of the team that created the nanites. Rachel ends up being part of the cause of another apocalyptic event by trying to fix the first. She inadvertently leads Randall, the real antagonist of the season, to a control room that he then uses to launch nuclear missiles at Philadelphia (Monroe’s capital) and Atlanta (the capital of the Georgia territory). The second season consists of the main cast trying to fight against the Patriots, the corrupt remnants of the US government that have been taking refuge in Guantanamo Bay since the blackout. They find out that Randall was just an operator in the villainous government’s plan to overthrow the new territories and regain control of the United States by killing millions of innocent US citizens.
The show’s attitude towards gender roles is refreshingly equal for the most part. Charlie, the main character, is a female who is strong without becoming a masculine personality in a female body. She evolves from a naïve, small-town girl into a capable warrior as she learns that she has to fight for the difference she wants to make in what remains of the United States. She is also portrayed as a human being rather than a flawless hero, which makes her a more multi-dimensional and relatable character. One of the main catalysts for the two apocalypses is a female character, Charlie’s mom Rachel, who was the head of the team that created the nanites. The men and women trade-off and, in some cases, share leadership roles. Charlie’s uncle Miles is arguably the main leader, but Charlie ends up becoming a leader of a group of mercenaries that are willing to help in their rebellion. The president of the Georgia territory is a woman, and she holds just as much authority and respect as her male counterparts. Overall, the main and supporting cast has a healthy number of women in leadership roles that they have earned through their abilities rather than through inherent social gender roles.
In the description of Lucifer’s Hammer, James Berger explains that writers of post-apocalyptic fiction often imagine “a reversion to a kind of natural aristocracy,” (Berger 8) in which men dominate and feminism is a “luxury” (Berger 8). While patriarchal post-apocalyptic societies are common, the dominant voices in Revolution are those of experience rather than gender. Miles is the leader of the main cast because he was Monroe’s partner in the military and government; therefore, he is the most capable person to lead the rebellion against Monroe. Charlie becomes a dominant voice as she grows and improves as a soldier. It’s not until she saves the life of a warlord in Las Vegas (a female one, mind you) that she has the opportunity to be the leader of a group of mercenaries.
As previously mentioned, this show does a wonderful job of maintaining gender equality, but only to a point. There are still some shortcomings, including the show’s depiction of sexual violence. All of the main characters of the show are threatened with violence or actually assaulted at some point. However, very rarely are the male characters threatened sexually, and yet both of the main female characters are. Charlie is drugged and almost sexually assaulted in a bar, and it is implied that Monroe condoned the use of sexual violence against Rachel to get her to build an amplifier that would enable him to harness electricity again.
Overall, Revolution is a show that makes a compelling commentary on the faults and secrecy of the United States government through a post-apocalyptic story with a female protagonist. It has a few inadequacies that prevent me from comfortably calling it a feminist storyline, but it is definitely a storyline that makes an effort to portray gender-equality in a realistic manner. This TV show proves that gender equality doesn’t always have to be a “luxury” (Berger 8) in post-apocalyptic stories.
Berger, James. After the End: Representations of Post-Apocalypse. University of Minnesota
Kripke, Eric, creator. Revolution, NBC, 17 Sept. 2012.