Why Women Will Save the Planet

I was recently told I was fear-mongering and missing the facts by a person on Facebook when I revealed the environmental dangers of using (and abusing) single-use plastics (specifically Styrofoam); earlier that day a gentleman called me an anarchist after I promoted individual responsibility over government and corporate responsibility on the issue of bottled water in Canada.

At the time, these accusations upset me—I’m a scientist, after all, and truth is #1. Then I realised that they were part of my journey toward activism to save this planet and humanity along with it. It was, in fact, a good day for me. I did have the facts; and they were scary. And, in revealing them and expressing my opinions, I had succeeded in breaking people’s inertia and had challenged them to think outside their comfort zone.  I had created fear in them and I had created anarchy in their ordered world. This promted a strong defensive response. The more intense their defence, the more I’d upset their comfortable inertia. That is what happens when you break through a hegemony or dogma and challenge people to re-evaluate and change their actions or habits—essentially forcing them out of their complacency and bringing it back to personal responsibility.

In both cases, I’d brought it back to personal responsibility and personal action. Too many of us settle for a narrative in which others—often not clearly identified—are responsible–not us.

So, perhaps I am inciting fear. Fear in those who have become or choose to remain too complacent. Good; we are in a planetary and existential crisis. And perhaps I am rather an anarchist; disrupting a system and self-belief that is entrenched and not sustainable.

But that comes at a price.

Greta Thunberg raincoat

Greta Thunberg begins a wave of climate activism

I’m thinking of young climate activist Greta Thunberg, who recently captured the attention of the world in her brave sail across the Atlantic to attend the UN’s Climate Summit and other meetings in the US in addition to her climate strike and rally march in Montreal, Canada, which drew close to half a million people (old and young).

Greta Thunberg Sails Carbon-neutral  Yacht To New York

Greta Thunberg

Earlier, at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Greta delivered her now iconic speech:

“Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope,” Thunberg said, “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”

In a recent poll, one out of three Germans said that Thunberg has changed their views on climate change. But that, too, has come at a price.

A tsunami of rage and shameless vitriol was unleashed by conservative men (many with close ties to the fossil fuel profit machine) at this young and brave girl during her 15-day trip across the Atlantic. Their attacks have grown increasingly more personal and vulgar as she has gained world attention. For example, political scientist, economist and climate “skeptic” Bjorn Lomborg (associated with the Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute) repeatedly mocked and criticized the 16-year old activist. Using highly inappropriate and unprofessional language (the worst I won’t repeat here), he and others have accused her of being a “puppet”, “naïve”, “unrealistic”, and a “fanatic.” Others like Australian columnist Andrew Bolt have personally attacked Thunberg with reprehensible and boorish remarks about her age and mental health.

Lobbyists Against Greta

oil-profit lobbyists behind shameless vitriol against Greta Thunberg (from Desmog UK)

Andrew Mitrovica’s Opinion piece entitled “Who Is Afraid of Greta Thunberg?” provides eloquent summary: “Of course, the marauding swarm of vitriolic right-wing climate-change deniers see Thunberg—not how the prophetic Zinn envisioned her—but as a tiny, pretentious zealot who threatens the existing order. Their order. Their comforts. Their traditional ‘way of life’.”

Greta—who wears a windbreaker that reads “Unite Behind the Science”— responded in a brave and wonderful tweet:

GretaThunberg-Tweet

Her tweet was followed immediately by one by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

 

AlexandriaOcasio-Cortez Tweet

This follows a recent finding by researchers that 99% of Republicans are science illiterate and 44% believe that the scientific method can be used to produce any conclusion the researcher wants. Of course the whole point of the scientific method is to prevent this.

Soon after, Martin Gelin wrote an article entitled, “The Misogyny of Climate Deniers” in the August 2019 issue of The New Republic. The subtitle reads: “Why do right-wing men hate Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so much? Researchers have some troubling answers to that question.”

Greta on boat2

Greta Thunberg sailing to New York

Gelin writes, “On [Thunberg’s] first day of sailing, a multi-millionaire Brexit activist (Arron Banks) tweeted that he wished a freak accident would destroy her boat. A conservative Australian columnist (Andrew Bolt) called her a ‘deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement,’ while the British far-right activist David Vance attacked the ‘sheer petulance of this arrogant child.’ … Former Trump staffer Steve Milloy recently called Thunberg a ‘teenage puppet,’ and claimed that ‘the world laughs at this Greta charade,’ while a widely shared far-right meme showed Trump tipping The Statue of Liberty to crush her boat.”

Fierce and undeterred by cohorts of grown human males unable to deal with her, Greta Thunberg gave a scorching speech at the United Nations during her visit to America: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she admonished a crowd of world leaders. “How dare you.” Her equally scorching look of Donald Trump who rudely ignored her to mumble some nonsense to the press, has become a popular meme. The mashup by Fatboy Slim of Greta Thunberg’s UN speech “Right here, right now” went viral on YouTube.

Greta-trump 2

Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump at the UN climate summit

Of course, this was followed by utterly shameless and cruel vulgarisms by adult bullies that included suggestions to punish her and give her a spanking.

Disinterested in whether she’s liked and undeterred by childish name calling, the activist teenager remained resolute with her weapon: shame.  At every opportunity, Greta Thunberg steadfastly called out adults over twenty years her senior on what they have failed to do; she did it in words that are simple, precise and direct.

After Senator Tom Carper tried to placate her by telling her that young people would soon have the chance to run for office themselves, she returned: “We don’t want to become politicians; we don’t want to run for office. We want you to unite behind the science.”

Carrying herself with admirable focus and buoyed by her dedication to her cause, Greta Thunberg delivered a scintillating speech to close to half a million climate marchers in Montreal:

“Some would say we are wasting lesson time; we say we are changing the world… The people have spoken. And we will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act. We are the change and change is coming.”

greta thunberg speech in montreal

Greta Thunberg speaking in Montreal

In a recent article in the Washington Post, entitled “Greta Thunberg Weaponized Shame in an Era of Shamelessness”, Monica Hesse writes: “We live in an era that has become impervious to shame. An era defined by a president who views it as a weakness. Shame has become an antiquated emotion and a useless one. It’s advantageous, we’ve learned, to respond to charges of indecency with more indecency: attacks, misdirection, faux-victimhood.”

But real shaming—the kind that mothers do with their errant boy-bullies—is precisely what Greta is doing. This kind of shaming cuts deep, because it is the deep and recognizable truth. And it is done through the “mother archetype”—the most powerful energy on this planet.

Gelin tells us that the prominently older white men who are leading these attacks on Greta Thunberg (and by association, other prominent female climate activists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) “is consistent with a growing body of research linking gender reactionaries to climate-denialism.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Scientists Jonas Anshelm and Martin Hultman in the journal NORMA  analyzed the language of a focus group of climate skeptics, to discover a major theme:

“for climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity.”

On the heels of the #MeToo movement, climate activism—largely led by strong females—appears to threaten gender identity of conservative males. Right-wing nationalism, anti-feminism, and climate denialism appear inextricably linked. I would add that their lack of respect for and acknowledgement of indigenous peoples is by default part of the package, given that indigenous peoples are so tied to the land and the ecosystem (being destroyed). One need only look to what is currently happening in Brazil for an atrocious example of this kind of male-bully behaviour.

Climate science for skeptics becomes feminized and viewed as “oppositional to assumed entitlements of masculine primacy,” write Hultman and Paul Pule in the 2019 book “Climate Hazards, Disasters, and Gender Ramifications.” Hultman identifies a set of values and behaviours connected to a form of masculinity identified with industrial patriarchy. These males “see the world as separated between humans and nature. They believe humans are obliged to use nature and its resources to make products out of them. And they have a risk perception that nature will tolerate all types of waste. It’s a risk perception that doesn’t think of nature as vulnerable and as something that is possible to be destroyed. For them, economic growth is more important than the environment,” which they choose not to understand—just like women.

The gender gap in the United States is characterized by men who perceive climate activism as inherently feminine. This was demonstrated in a 2017 article in Scientific American entitled, “Men Resist Green Behavior as Unmanly.”  Researchers Aaron R. Brough and James E.B. Wilkie argue that “women have long surpassed men in the arena of environmental action; across age groups and countries, females tend to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Compared to men, women litter less, recycle more, and leave a smaller carbon footprint.” While some researchers have demonstrated that women’s prioritization of altruism may help explain this gender gap in green behaviour, the research done by Brough and Wilkie’s—involving more than 2,000 American and Chinese participants— showed that men linked eco-friendliness with femininity and a risk to their masculinity. These findings, coupled with a natural inclination for anti-feminism by older white conservative males, places them at the centre of a major reactionary backlash against climate action.

Gelin ends on a sober note: “As conservative parties become increasingly tied to nationalism, and misogynist rhetoric dominates the far-right, Hultman and his fellow researchers at Chalmers University worry that the ties between climate skeptics and misogyny will strengthen. What was once a practical problem, with general agreement on the facts, has become a matter of identity. And fear of change is powerful motivation.”

Nina-Kevin playing

Nina Munteanu hiking with her son

When fear powers motivation, we must counter with something stronger: hope through action, compassion, and community. And, again, women are in great abundance of these.

“Keep inspiring and organizing,” says Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to young Greta. “We’re going to save the planet. All of us, together.”

We are all, after all, “the mother.” So, while the old guard of conservative immature men obsess in saving their egos and identities in this crisis, and put up walls of vitriol, name-calling, “flaming”, and “trolling,” it’s up to us, mature women, to really save the planet, the mother of us all.

So, why will women save the planet? Because “Mother Knows Best,” after all…

Time for a paradigm shift. We’re not in the fifties anymore…

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

Can Dystopian Eco-Fiction Save the Planet?

NewYork 2140By failing to engage with climate change, artists and writers are contributing to an impoverished sense of the world, right at the moment when art and literature are most needed to galvanize a grassroots movement in favor of climate justice and carbon mitigation.”—Amitav Ghosh, 2017

…Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl or The Water Knife. Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140. Nina Munteanu’s A Diary in the Age of Water. Richard Power’s Overstory. Annie Proulx’s Barkskins. Emmi Itäranta’s The Memory of Water

Diary Water cover finalWhat these novels have in common is that they are all Dystopian Eco-Fiction. Humanity’s key role in environmental destruction serves a strong thematic element. In eco-fiction dystopias (as opposed to political or socio-cultural dystopias such as Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale) the environment—whether forest, ocean, water generally, or the animal world—plays a key character.

Our Literature in the Anthropocene

In 2017, Amitav Ghosh observed that the literary world has responded to climate change with almost complete silence (The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable). “How can we explain the fact that writers of fiction have overwhelmingly failed to grapple with the ongoing planetary crisis in their works?” writes Fredrick Albritton Jonsson of The Guardian, who observes that, “for Ghosh, this silence is part of a broader pattern of indifference and misrepresentation. Contemporary arts and literature are characterized by ‘modes of concealment that [prevent] people from recognizing the realities of their plight.’”

Windup GirlAccording to Ghosh, plots and characters of contemporary literature tend to reflect the regularity of middle-class life and the worldview of the Victorian natural sciences, one that depends on a principle of uniformity. Change in Nature has been perceived as gradual (or static by some) and never catastrophic. Extraordinary or bizarre happenings were left to marginal genres like the Gothic tale and—of course—science fiction. The strange and unlikely have been externalized: hence the failure of modern novels and art to recognize anthropogenic climate change.

From Adam Smith’s 18th Century economic vision to the conceit of bankers who drove the 2008 American housing bubble, humanity’s men have consistently espoused the myth of a constant natural world capable of absorbing infinite abuse without oscillation. When James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis proposed the Gaia Hypothesis in the 1970s, many saw its basis in a homeostatic balance of the natural order as confirmation of Nature’s infinite resilience to abuse. They failed to recognize that we are Nature and abuse of Nature is really self-abuse.

Jonsson suggests that these Enlightenment ideas are essentially ideological manifestations of Holocene stability, remnants from 11,000 years of small variability in temperature and carbon dioxide levels, giving rise to deep-seated habits and ideas about the resilience of the natural world. “The commitment to indefinite economic growth espoused by the economics profession in the postwar era is perhaps its most triumphant [and dangerous] expression.”

barkskins

Louise Fabiani of Pacific Standard suggests that novels are still the best way for us to clarify planetary issues and prepare for change—even play a meaningful part in that change. In her article “The Literature of Climate Change” she points to science fiction as helping “us prepare for radical change, just when things may be getting too comfortable.”

Referring to our overwhelming reliance on technology and outsourced knowledge, Fabiani suggests that “our privileged lives (particularly in consumer-based North America) are built on unconscious trust in the mostly invisible others who make this illusion of domestic independence possible—the faith that they will never stop being there for us. And we have no back-ups in place should they let us down.” Which they certainly will—given their short-term thinking.

TheOverstory“To counteract this epidemic of short-term thinking,” says Fabiani, “it might be a good idea for more of us to read science fiction, specifically the post-apocalyptic sub-genre: that is, fiction dealing with the aftermath of major societal collapse, whether due to a pandemic, nuclear fallout, or climate change.”

I suggest widening the genre to include good dystopian eco-fiction, which includes not just post-apocalyptic tales but also cautionary tales, worlds in upheaval, and satires. Dystopian literature is ultimately an exploration of hope through personal experience. The eco-fiction protagonist navigates their dystopia by learning meaningful lessons—lessons that pertain directly to our reader in their current world. This is because the premise of a dystopia lies squarely in the present world. Good dystopias can enlighten and suggest possibilities; they can warn and herald. At the very least, they incite the necessary conversation.

On the Role of Dystopian Eco-Fiction

NaturalSelection-front-webI recently shared a panel discussion with writer Kristen Kiomall-Evans at the 2019 Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston entitled: “On the Role of (Dystopian) Literature and Environmental Issues: Can Books Save the Planet.” The audience of mostly women shared enlightened input in an open discussion, which spanned a range of topics and directions from what dystopian literature actually is to whether we are turned off by its negativity—that it may be too close to reality and makes us cringe and want to hide. One person even brought up Game of Thrones as an example; which I then bluntly suggested was not real “story”—it is a stream of episodic sensationalism and horror—aimed at thrilling shock value, not fulfilling meaning.

The group explored what Eco-Fiction is and the possibility of how eco-fiction writers can influence their audience to engage in helping the planet and humanity, in turn.

 “Science doesn’t tell us what we should do,” Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Flight Behavior “It only tells us what is.” Stories can never be a solution in themselves, but they have the capacity to inspire action. Margaret Atwood wrote in MaddAddam, “People need such stories, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void.”

We explored several areas in which writers could elucidate ways to engage readers for edification, connection and participation. We discussed optimism, new perspectives, envisioning our future, and imaginative use of “product placement” to gain reader engagement and galvanize a movement of action.

Optimism in Story

I pointed out that good dystopias—like all good fiction—follow a character and story arc that must ultimately resolve (which Game of Thrones may never do, certainly not well—J.R.R. Martin’s books series upon which it is based are not even finished yet!). Eco-Fiction Dystopias often conclude with a strong element of hope, based on some positive aspect of humanity and the human spirit—which may include our own evolution. Think Day After Tomorrow, Year of the Flood, Windup Girl, The Postman, Darwin’s Paradox.

WaterAnthology-RealitySkimmingPress copyIn 2015, I joined Lynda Williams of Reality Skimming Press in creating an optimistic science fiction anthology with the theme of water. My foreword to Water addressed this point:

As we drank Schofferhoffers over salmon burgers, Lynda lamented that while the speculative / science fiction genre has gained a literary presence, this has been at some expense. Much of the current zeitgeist of this genre in Canada tends toward depressing, “self-interested cynicism and extended analogies to drug addiction as a means of coping with reality,” Lynda remarked. Where was the optimism and associated hope for a future? I brought up the “hero’s journey” and its role in meaningful story. One of the reasons this ancient plot approach, based on the hero journey myth, is so popular is that its proper use ensures meaning in story. This is not to say that tragedy is not a powerful and useful story trope; so long as hope for someone—even if just the reader—is generated. Lynda and I concluded that the science fiction genre could use more optimism. [As a result,] these stories explore individual choices and the triumph of human imagination in the presence of adversity. [Each story explores] the surging spirit of humanity toward hopeful shores.

New Perspectives in Story

Evans spoke of the emergence of and need for a strong voice by marginalized groups who would be most affected by things like habitat destruction and climate change. The poor and marginalized will most certainly make up the majority of climate change refugees, starved out and water shorted, and suffering malnutrition, violence and disease.

FifthSeason-JemisinEvans pointed out that afro-American writers (e.g., Octavia Butler, Walter Mosley, Nalo Hopkinson and N.K. Jemisin) and indigenous writers (Cherie Dimaline, Daniel Wilson, Drew Hayden Taylor) are an exciting voice, providing a new and compelling perspective on ongoing global issues.

I would add that the “feminine” voice—the voice of women and the voice of ecology and those who embrace the gylanic voice—are needed. This was strangely not mentioned in the group—perhaps because we were all women—but one. Such a voice can help personalize the experience to readers, by creating discovery, connection and understanding—and ultimately serving a key force in engaging readers to act.

Envisioning Our Future Through Story

One audience member shared a yearning for an optimistic focus through an envisioned world where solutions have successfully created that world. She wasn’t so much suggesting writing a utopia, but including elements of future wishes as an integral part of the world, following Ghandi’s wise advice: be the change you seek. In a recent interview in which I also participated in The Globe and Mail on women science fiction writers, Ottawa writer Marie Bilodeau addressed this concept:

“the best part about writing science fiction is showing different ways of being without having your characters struggle to gain rights. Invented worlds can host a social landscape where debated rights in this world – such as gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia – are just a fact of life.”

People are looking for hopeful fiction that addresses the issues but explores a successful paradigm shift. One that accurately addresses our current issues with intelligence and hope. The power of envisioning a certain future is that the vision enables one to see it as possible.

Product Placement in Story

Editor and naturalist Merridy Cox suggested that writers could make motivating connections through altruistic (not market-driven) “product placement.” She gave the example of an Ash tree. The Ash (Fraxinus species) could subtly make its name, its character and ecology known in the story, along with its plight—its destruction by the non-native invasive emerald ash borer. The use of metaphor and personification would easily link the Ash to a character and at the same time illuminate the reader on a real aspect of the environment to consider. Another example she gave was of the threatened bobolink bird, now all but gone. The bobolink originally made its home in the tallgrass prairie and other open meadows. As native prairies were cleared for farming, the bobolink was displaced and moved to living in hayfields and fallow fields—building their nests on the ground in dense grasses. Changing farm practices (shorter crop rotation and earlier maturing seed mixtures) are now destroying the bobolink’s last refuge.

bobolink-chicks-mom

Bobolink mother and her chicks

 

Such “product placement” essentially gives Nature and the environmental a personalized face that can easily interact with the story’s theme and its characters. “Product placement”—like symbol—lies embedded in its own story. In the case of the bobolink, it is a story of colonialism, exploitation, and single-minded pursuit at the expense of others not considered, known or understood. These examples have anthropogenic connections to human behaviour, action and knowledge—all related to story and theme.

MockUpEcology copyIn my new writing guidebook The Ecology of Story: World as Character I discuss and explore how some authors do this impeccably. Authors such as Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers, Frank Herbert, Ray Bradbury, Thomas Hardy, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Janet Fitch, John Steinbeck, David Mitchell, Joanne Harris and many others.

Writing for the Anthropocene

Learn how to write for the Anthropocene: from Habitats and Trophic Levels to Metaphor and Archetype…

Learn the fundamentals of ecology, insights of world-building, and how to master layering-in of metaphoric connections and symbols between setting and character. “Ecology of Story: World as Character” is the 3rd guidebook in Nina Munteanu’s acclaimed “how to write” series for novice to professional writers.

The Ecology of Story will be released by Pixl Press in July 2019.

 

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

 

How the Women of The Expanse Are Expanding Our Worldview

Expanse-5 Badass women

Something is changing for women—and for men too. I’m talking about storytelling, both in literature and in film. Only a few years ago, no one would have predicted the success of Wonder Woman, which portrays a well-rounded (gylanic) female hero as both “badass” warrior (strong, determined and violent) and kind (compassionate, nurturing, empathetic and inclusive). Sadly, its release in 2017 stirred a backlash of mysogynist censure from some males who support—like strident insecure Trump-ets—a male-dominated androcratic world where a submissive demure woman is admired as “feminine” and a determined mindful woman considered as betraying her gender. The film was a box office hit. Wonder Woman grossed $822 million (highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time). And a significant number of viewers were women.

The Androcratic Hero

The male hero stereotype in literature and films of western neoliberal-corporate culture—and science fiction particularly—has often been characterized by strength, courage, integrity & honor, intelligence, assertiveness, single-mindedness, faith in his quest, and boundless determination: he is the altruist warrior, often acting alone against an unfair society through his conscience: all traits honored, respected and esteemed in men. In a woman, these Boadicean qualities often taint her as “bitch” “bossy” or “cold”. She may be considered unwomanly, unlady-like, intimidating, and untouchable (as in lesbian).

MATRIXIn the androcratic model, a woman “hero” often presupposes she shed her feminine nurturing qualities of compassion, kindness, tenderness, and inclusion, to express those hero-defining qualities that are typically considered “male”. I have seen too many 2-dimensional female characters limited by their own stereotype in the science fiction genre—particularly in the adventure/thriller sub-genre. If they aren’t untouchable goddesses or “witches” in a gynocratic paradigm, they are often delegated to the role of enabling the “real hero” on his journey through their belief in him: as Trinity enables Neo; Hermione enables Harry; Mary Jane enables Spiderman; Lois enables Superman; etc. etc. etc.

In so many androcratic storylines, the female—no matter how complex, interesting and tough she starts out being—demures to the male lead. This returns us to the clichéd role of the woman supporting the leading man to complete his hero’s journey—without considering her own. And this often means serving as the prize for his chivalry. We see this in so many action thrillers and action adventures today that promote the “hero’s journey” story trope. There’s even a name for it: the Trinity Syndrome.

Just four years ago, in a post on women heroes in literature, movies and pop culture, I quoted Gitesh Pandya, editor of a box office analyst site, who argued that this is because female-driven action movies have a hard time selling. “Most of the action films that have become huge hits are either male-driven or ensemble.” According to Pandy, “The (SF action) film industry has been male-dominated for so long, the people who are creating and financing these films typically put men in there as heroes.”

The Expanse Challenges the Androcratic Trope

miller-expanse

Miller and Octavia Muss

In 2015, Syfy released Season 1 of The Expanse, a stylish and intelligent science fiction (SF) TV series set 200 years in the future when humanity has colonized the moon, Mars and the Asteroid Belt to mine minerals and water. The series is based on the novel series by James S.A. Corey with first novel in 2011 being “Leviathan Wakes”. Humanity has split three ways culturally, ethnically and even biologically: Earth is currently run by the United Nations; Mars is an independent state, devoted to terraforming with high technology; and the Belt contains a diverse mix of mining colonies, settlers, workers and entrepreneurs. Belters’ physiology differ from their Earth or Mars cousins, given their existence in low gravity.

The Expanse is a sophisticated SF film noir thriller that elevates the space opera sub-genre with a meaningful metaphoric exploration of issues relevant in today’s world—issues of resource allocation, domination & power struggle, values, prejudice, and racism. Critic Maureen Ryan of Variety says, “It’s to the show’s credit that it is openly political, and takes on issues of class, representation and exploitation.”

Women of “The Expanse” as Heroic Agents of Change

These issues are explored well through its female protagonists with subtle nuances of multi-layered social commentary sewn into virtually every interaction.

Julie Mao the expanse

Julie Mao (Florence Faivre)

Julie Mao (Florence Faivre) is an Earther and “the richest bachelorette in the system” according to Detective Miller, who is contracted by his boss to “kidnap” the “spoiled” wayward daughter of corporate magnate Jules Pierre Mao and return her home before she embarrasses him further. Julie joined the hard core faction of the OPA (Outer Planet Association, led by Anderson Dawes as an activist organization that sells itself as a Julie in vacuum the expanseliberator for Belters but is really a terrorist revolutionary group, looking to shift the balance of power); she naively joined to help the lowly belters achieve justice and a voice in the oppressive squeeze by Martian and Earth corporate interests. In “Back to the Butcher”, a colleague of Julie’s relates how she selflessly helped injured minors on Calisto in a tunnel collapse with cadmium poisoning: “I never saw her shed a tear over the fact that she’d have to take anti-cancer meds for the rest of her life.” The only time she cried, he shares, was when she was acknowledged as being a true “beltalowda.”

 

ChrisjenAvasarala-TheExpanse

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo)

Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo) is the U.N. Deputy Undersecretary on Earth and a brilliant 23rd-century Machiavelli. She will stop at nothing in her search for the truth, including gravity torturing a Belter or playing her friends and contacts like chess pieces to find answers. What makes Chrisjen far more interesting than, say a Circe or Claire Underwood, is that her scheming—as reprehensible as it may be at times—comes expanse-chrisjen3from a higher calling, not from lust for power or self-serving greed. She’s seeks the truth. And, like Miller, she struggles with a conscience. Chrisjen is a complex and paradoxical character. Her passionate and unrelenting search for the truth together with unscrupulous methods, make her one of the most interesting characters in the growing intrigue of The Expanse. Avasarala is a powerful character on many levels—none the least in her potent presence (thanks to Shohreh Aghdashloo’s powerful performance); when Avasarala walks into a scene, all eyes turn to her.

 

Naomi Nagata

Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper)

Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper) is a Belter who grew up on prospecting ships in the Belt and Outer Planets. An extremely talented engineer with a mysterious past of regret and secret pain, Naomi uses arcane abilities to save the ship and her crew. “I have no resentments,” she tells her Martian interrogator. “I don’t believe in causes.” While she makes a point of expressing no allegiances, the Martians accuse her of being an OPA Naomi the expanseoperative and she finds herself ironically defending the Belt and Belters in the struggle between Earth and Mars. “We need to stick together,” she tells fellow Belter Miller and helps Fred Johnson’s team. Driven to help those in need, Naomi selflessly puts herself in harm’s way to save Belters used as lab rats on Eros or those left to die on Ganymede after a Mars and Earth skirmish. In an intimate moment with Holden after the atrocity on Eros with the proto-molecule experiment, Naomi reminds him: “We did not choose this but this is our fight now. We’re the only ones who know what’s going on down there; we’re the only ones with a chance to stop it.”

 

Drummer

Camina Drummer (Cara Gee)

Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) is a hard-calculating Belter who used to work for Anderson Dawes and is currently second in command for Fred Johnson (a previous U.N. officer and ‘the butcher of Anderson Station’ currently helping the OPA) on Tycho drummer-with-gunStation. A complex character with mysterious connections and intuitive skills for people, Drummer gives one the impression that she can nimbly navigate between hard-line OPA and Fred’s Earther-version of OPA justice for Belters. In “Pyre”, she shows her mettle when—after being shot and held hostage by a militant faction on Tycho—she finds the strength to summarily execute them.

 

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Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams)

Bobbie-DraperBobbie Draper (Frankie Adams) is a staunch hard-fighting Martian marine who dreams of a terraformed Mars with lakes and vegetation and breathable atmosphere. Because of Earth’s Vesta blockade, Draper realizes that she will not realize her childhood dream of seeing Mars “turned from a lifeless rock into a garden.” The blockade forced Mars to ramp up its military at the expense of terraforming. Draper laments that, “with all those resources moved to the military, none of us will live to see an atmosphere over Mars” and bears a strong resentment against Earth. However, when Bobbie discovers her own government’s culpability with an Earth weapons manufacturer that used her own marines as guinea pigs, she chooses honour over loyalty and defects to seek justice.

 

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Anna Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell)

Reverend Doctor Annushka (Anna) Volovodov (Elizabeth Mitchell) is a gay Methodist doctor (married to a woman and with a daughter) who is introduced in Season 3 as she struggles through a mob of anti-war protestors to enter the United Nations building on Earth. When a young man collapses through the barricade and breaks his wrist, Anna asks him, “Is this your first protest?” then calmly and firmly directs a surly guard to help him, handling the situation with firm grace–even after being injured in the confrontation.

The Expanse - Season 3The Secretary General (who she had a previous friendship that soured over some dubious event) has called Anna in to write a stirring speech to unite Earth behind the war erupting between Earth and Mars. Anna enters the political intrigue with naive hope and is badly used; but her inner strength, keen intelligence and courage propels her on an amazing trajectory of influence to the outer reaches of the solar system where first contact is imminent. Like a quiet summer rainstorm, Anna brings a fresh perspective on heroism through faith, hope and inclusion.

Women as Gylanic Heroes

The gylanic hero is gaining momentum in science fiction and action-thrillers; the gylanic hero—embraced mostly by women—teaches us what humanity needs now more than ever: the heroic gifts of altruism, compassion, faith, courage, passion, and endurance. She is already there, in movies and TV shows like Lucy, Edge of Tomorrow, Hunger Games, Divergence, Orphan Black, FarscapeBattlestar Galactica and The Expanse: fighting the dragons of prejudice, ignorance, cruelty, greed and intolerance–in partnership with her male counterpart.

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When we dispense with gender-bias in defining heroism in story, we display maturity as a species. I think of my favorite stories in literature, peopled by men and women; all heroes: Tess of the d’UrbervillesFahrenheit 451King LearSolarisThe Grapes of Wrath1984Doctor ZhivagoBrave New WorldMartian Chronicles, and To Kill a Mockingbird — miller shows octavia mussto name just a few. The gender of the hero I empathized with was irrelevant. What remained important was their sensibilities and their actions of respect and integrity on behalf of humanity, all life and the planet.

Gylany: a social system based on equality of men and women
Androcracy: a form of governing system in which rulers are male (patriarchal rule)
Gynocracy: as with androcracy, an authoritarian rule by women over men (matriarchal rule)

A list of SF books and films with whole and relevant female heroes–gylanic heroes– follows below. There are many more. I’ve listed these because they are ones I enjoyed and know, several being my own. Please add yours:

GYLANIC HEROES (portraying women as agents of change equal with men)

  • Contact by Carl Sagan (Simon and Schuster) 1985. A woman’s quest into the unknown for benevolent intelligence in the universe.
  • Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (Harper Collins). 1993. A story that examines social consequences to transhumanist generic engineering.
  • A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Anchor). 1998. A chilling fable of the near future, about a monotheocratic government where women are strictly controlled and assigned roles.
  • Cordelia’s Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen). 1999. A woman’s journey through deception and betrayal to find honour.
  • His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (Laurel Leaf). 2003. A fantasy alternate world adventure about a young girl who discovers that the fate of the universe lies in her hands.
  • Battlestar Galactica TV series by Ronald D. Moore. 2004. This second iteration of space “noah’s arc” is largely steered by key female agents of change in a gender-blind universe from complex pugilistic fighter jock and sly but intuitive politician, to love-seeking humanistic robot—all on a significant hero’s journey.
  • Darwin’s Paradox by Nina Munteanu (Dragon Moon Press). 2007. An eco-thriller about a woman unjustly exiled for murder and her quest for justice in a world ruled by technology and scientists.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press). 2008. A series of books about teens forced to fight to the death on television.
  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (McClelland and Stewart). 2009. Toby and Ren must survive the apocalypse described in the previous novel, each reminiscing about their time in the God’s Gardeners religious movement and the events that led to their current situations.
  • The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, Louise Carey and Nimit Malavia (Chizine Publications). 2012. A novel about the women of a harem in an ancient Middle Eastern kingdom, who forge themselves into an army after they’re exiled from the city of their birth — and then return to claim the city for themselves.
  • The Splintered Universe Trilogy by Nina Munteanu (Starfire). 2011-2014. This trilogy, starting with Outer Diverse, follows the quest of Galactic Guardian Rhea Hawke, who must solve the massacre of a spiritual sect that takes her on her own metaphoric journey of self-discovery to realize power in compassion and forgiveness.
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth (Katherine Tegen Books). 2012. a young girl overcomes her assigned caste in a dystopian Chicago to realize her true self-identity, revealed to be dangerous to the very existence of her ordered society
  • The Last Summoner by Nina Munteanu (Starfire). 2012. A young baroness discovers that her strange powers enable her to change history—but at a cost. Vivianne begins her journey in the year 1410, on the eve of a great battle. She dreams of her Ritter (knight), who will save her from her ill-fated marriage and the strange events that follow. But early on, she realizes that she is the Ritter she dreams about.
  • Leviathan Wakes & series by James S.A. Corey (Orbit Books). 2011. A high-stakes near-future space-colonizing conflict that brings strong female protagonists of varying cultural, ethnic and political influence into key roles as agents of change.
  • The 100 TV series by Jason Tothenberg. 2014. In this post-apocalyptic Earth adventure, several women protagonists share key roles in determining the fate of humanity in violent change.
  • The Expanse TV series by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, Syfy. 2015. The exemplary TV series based on the James S.A. Corey 7-book series.
  • Missions TV series by Julien Lacombe, Ami Cohen, and Henri Debeurme. 2017. The protagonist of this space race to Mars is a psychologist, who discovers her bizarre and personal connection to Mars, which promises to affect humanity’s destiny.
  • The Beyond film by Hasraf Dulull. 2018. This near-future thriller about first contact, features several women in key positions as scientists and mission administrators who must solve a key mystery that explores the consequences of humanity’s fearful tendencies.

Other Relevant Articles of Interest from The Alien Next Door:

 

Riane Eisler (in The Chalice and the Blade) provides examples of sociobiologists who draw on nineteenth-century Darwinism by citing insect societies to support their androcratic (social and political rule by men) theories. If humanity is to truly rise victorious over the scourge of climate change—a function of our current lifestyle and paradigms—we will need to adopt a cultural evolution that embraces a partnership society heralded by new and renewed symbology, language and “myth”: It starts with embracing gylanic heroes in literature and movies. Watching them, reading about them, writing and sharing these stories for the future they speak to.

 

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nina-2014aaaNina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s recent book is the bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” (Mincione Edizioni, Rome). Her latest “Water Is…” is currently an Amazon Bestseller and NY Times ‘year in reading’ choice of Margaret Atwood.