Friday, December 5, 2014

Strong Female Character Friday: Raven Reyes (The 100)

In my recent breeze-through of The 100, I was happy to find that the majority of the main cast on the show is pretty diverse. There are only a few main characters who are unambiguously white, and even fewer of those are dudes. There are a ton of women in leadership positions, and some of them are good at their jobs, while others are bad. Even the background characters present a pleasing level of gender and racial diversity, and as those characters become more developed in the coming episodes, it makes me happy to think that we are continually getting to see a decently representative slice of the human race. It's not perfect, but it's better than usual.

But of all of these characters, the one I love most, for reasons both clinical and sheerly emotional, is Raven Reyes (Lindsey Morgan). Not introduced until a couple episodes into the first season, Raven has quickly become not just an important figure in the story, but probably one of the most beloved characters overall. And there's a good reason for that. She's freaking awesome. (Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for The 100 so far.)

The first thing we ever learn about Raven is that she's a gifted mechanic - literally the best mechanic. The youngest zero-g mechanic in fifty years. And what's even better, she knows she's that good. She gets the sort of intro that Tom Cruise would beg for in an action movie, skipping out of zero-g in a full space suit and sassing at the engineer she's working with. But Raven isn't just incredibly daring and athletic, she's also brilliant. And, notably, really willing to question authority.

But seriously, let's not skate right past the brilliant thing. Because it's a pretty rare thing to have a woman of color, especially a Latina, presented as the best most smartest at anything, but especially not at a STEM field. She's not some greasy mechanic either. Raven is a fully qualified mechanic and could probably be an engineer if she didn't think engineers were useless eggheads. For crying out loud, Raven rebuilds a hundred year old escape pod and uses it to launch herself from orbit because she is fearless and perfect and the best. And it works.

Those are just the things she does while she's up in space, with relatively solid access to tools and time and parts. Once on the Ground, Raven has to make radios out of toy cars and spare parts, then manages to make contact with a freaking space station. She sets up a video relay to talk to the Ark. She does all of this using stuff that's just lying around, a hundred years old, and with only one other person in the camp who can even splice wires.

Let's not forget either that she later makes bombs. Like really efficient scary good bombs, and she can even make them when she's been poisoned or shot or is dying of hemorrhagic fever. Raven's not just "good with machines" or "pretty smart, for a girl", she is hands down the most useful member of the hundred, and they recognize that. When Raven gets hurt the entire camp screeches to a halt to help her get better, because if Raven doesn't survive, then none of them will. How awesome is that?

But I don't just love her for her brain. I also love how Raven loves herself. 

Like I said above, Raven comes down to the Ground, risking death in a firey explosion, because her boyfriend was one of the hundred and is down here too. Said boyfriend, Finn (Thomas McDonell) thought he'd never see her again and moved on, falling in love with Clarke (Eliza Taylor). When Raven shows up on the Ground it's an awkward situation for everyone. Without even knowing it she puts the kybosh on Finn and Clarke's relationship, but she also knows something isn't right with her own.

And here's the thing: she handles it like a champ. Seriously. It's a horrible situation where really no one is to blame but no one is happy, and Raven recognizes that. She doesn't drag Finn or Clarke over the coals. She gets upset, but she doesn't freak out. After taking some time to process, she decides that she'd rather Finn be with someone he really loves than be with her out of obligation. She refuses to settle for a love that's anything less than perfect. She doesn't let him stay with her out of guilt, she tells him to leave, because "You don't love me the way I want to be loved." Take a second and think about how much you want to love yourself like Raven Reyes loves herself.

Which is not to say that nothing is ever messed up in her head again, because later that episode she tries to have revenge sex with Bellamy (Bob Morley) to make herself feel better, but she acknowledges that's what she's doing. She admits that it's unhealthy, and what's more amazing (to me, at least), she totally admits that it did not in fact make her feel better. Instead of fixating, from that point she just moves on.

Heck, Raven refuses to let anything slow her down, not even when she's been shot and the bullet is pressing on her spine. She pulls herself out from under the engine of the rocketship (after having continued to do the very important thing she was trying to do), and actually pulls herself to walk over to Clarke and get help. Because Raven Reyes is terrifying and amazing. The only reason she ends up allowing herself to be kept on a stretcher is because the bullet might move around if she walks.

And then, while bleeding out, she proceeds to talk someone with no technical experience through literal rocket science. Successfully. And she survives multiple continued aggravations of her wound, and being left on her own to die for two days.

After it's all over and she can assess the damage, Raven is upset to find out she's has substantial nerve loss in her legs, but she spends maybe an episode upset about it before strapping on a brace and going. And how can you not love that? How can you not love a character whose reaction to being crippled (as she puts it) is to mourn the loss, then move the hell on. How can you not love a woman who has no time for anything getting in her way, not even the loss of one of her limbs.

Also, she did undergo spinal surgery while awake and under no anesthesia. She's so wonderful.

But this is the frosting on the cake for me: Raven is defined by her relationships with women far more than by her relationships with men. Yes, she's the most special awesome wonderful person on the show, a veritable Mary Sue (which I am using as a compliment and synonym for female power fantasy), but she doesn't get to that point by ignoring or tearing down other women. Far to the contrary. Raven is surrounded by powerful, cool women and she loves that.

Here's a rundown of Raven's relationships with men: she dated Finn and then dumped him when she realized he didn't love her how she wanted to be loved. She slept with Bellamy to make herself feel better, but when it didn't make her feel better, she let it go and now they're friends. Other than that? She talks to Jasper sometimes, and she gets on pretty well with Wick...

But the defining relationships she has are with women. Clarke. Abby. Even Octavia. The women in her life matter so much more than the men, and those are the relationships we care about. With Clarke, they both got past being two spokes in a love triangle, and ended up becoming best friends long after the triangle was dead and buried. They respect the hell out of each other, and give us a vision of what real friendship between awesome ladies can be.

Abby (Paige Turco), on the other hand, is the mother figure Raven never really had. An older woman who believes in her whole heartedly, who will support and love her, and who encourages her to follow her passions. Abby is the one who realizes that Raven is a genius and gives her the tools to get down to the Ground. More than that, Abby is so sure that Raven can do it, that Raven will do it, that she lets herself get arrested and possibly be executed so that Raven can go.

Once on the Ground, it's interesting to watch Raven have to play go-between for two women she loves and respects. She's caught in the frustrating middle ground of Clarke and Abby's contentious relationship, but she doesn't let it eat her up. She just says exactly what she means to both of them, and tries to force them to work it out. It doesn't always work, but she tries.

And let's not forget that this character who is the biggest badass, the best mechanic in the history of ever, and sexy as hell, is a woman of color. She's not white. She's young. And she's completely unapologetic. When I talk about good representation, this is what I mean. I mean this. I just want to build a giant arrow sign so that next time someone asks me how to write a female character or a character of color I can point to Raven Reyes. 

She's not perfect. She's better than that. Raven is a fully realized, well written, brilliant character. She feels like the kind of person you could meet out in the world, but more than that she feels like the kind of person you want to meet out in the world. The kind of woman I would love to have as a friend. She's aspirational, without being anything less or more than human. She's exactly the kind of woman I want my future daughters to look up to.

Hell freaking yes I love her. And you should too.

Never leave me.


  1. Yes, she's the most special awesome wonderful person on the show, a veritable Mary Sue (which I am using as a compliment and synonym for female power fantasy)

    I believe this is the first time I've ever seen that phrase used as a compliment. I suspect I'll never get the chance to see this, though.

    1. I have to admit I can't take credit for that. There was on awesome panel on the rise of the Mary Sue last year at Geek Girl Con.

      Why will you never get a chance to see this?

    2. Logistics. I'd have to buy it - no access to another way of watching it - and I'm not confident enough about liking enough of it to do that on spec.

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