Everyone was telling me I would love it. It seemed to come up in conversation, and people couldn’t believe that I hadn’t added it to my science fiction binge list already.
So finally I caved, like the weak-willed TV addict I am, and decided to give ‘The Expanse’ a go.
On paper it looked like the perfect show for me: intellectually stimulating sci-fi, heavy on the politics and less concerned with prosthetics-based aliens. IMDB describes it as sci-fi meets detective novel meets conspiracy drama.
I managed two episodes.
Surprised? So was I. But while intellectually and visually stimulating, this futuristic show was incredibly backward in one very important way: women.
In the very first episode it becomes clear both the main characters are male, which I have no issue with. Some main characters are men, some are women, that isn’t the issue. My problem is not with the gender of the protagonists, but with the scarcity of women in the show, and how the few that are present are depicted.
Of the two (yes count them, TWO) female characters we meet , one is merely a sexual partner for our wayward hero (and is unlikely to be making further appearances in the series based on the narrative) and one is the tough-cookie chief engineer (so far, so Voyager) who wastes little time before criticising her sole fellow female crew-mate. Pretty sure this soundly fails the Bechdel test.
Now things might improve in the following episodes – maybe the female villain we glimpse on occasion will become of greater importance, and maybe the beautiful errant daughter we have not met yet will be more than just arm candy for the heroes of the tale, but the point is by the end of episode 2 I didn’t care. I was already alienated (pardon the pun).
I had thought we were past this – with shows like Buffy, Firefly, Dollhouse (anything by Joss Whedon) evening the gender divide in science fiction, and fantasy shows expanding the female reach in lands unknown. But maybe we haven’t come as far as I had thought.
When I was a mini geek girl glued to every Star Trek franchise going I had very few heroines to choose from, and allied myself with every Deanna Troi or Jadzia Dax going, eager to follow the narratives of people like me, to see my own gender included, even if only in a small way. The Expanse gave me that same desperate feeling.
Now there is no problem in having all-male shows, don’t get me wrong. But science fiction has been male-centric since its inception, and I don’t think it is asking too much to include women in the vastness of the space they inhabit. Think of the stories that could be told if women were more than pawns, sex toys or 2D villains.
But for now at least, it seems for every Buffy the Vampire Slayer, their is still a girl getting bitten. For every Cersei Lannister, there is still a Deanna Troi, sipping hot chocolate and begging to be called upon.
Maybe, next time the apocalypse comes, take a leaf out of Whedon’s book, and beep HER instead of HIM.