I’ve been watching the 1970s version of Survivors, a British TV show about the tiny percentage of humans who have survived an apocalyptic plague. There is some awesomeness about this show: the two lead characters in the first season are women, and one of them is leadership material (she’s from the upper class, which gives her privilege to cancel out her lack of gender privilege, but we still see a woman handling things as well as a man). Unfortunately, after the actress playing the main lead chooses to leave the show, things go a bit downhill as two annoying and stupid men start vying for leadership.
And yet, the scripts seem to remember the men are annoying and stupid as often as they forget. It’s weird, but worth discussing.
In the second season, it looks like basic survival has been addressed. The survivors are growing their own food, forming little communities and even starting to barter with other communities. So the men start worrying about the survival of the species, i.e., women having babies. This leads to an interesting episode in which one man, Charles, is haranguing young women who are deliberately avoiding pregnancy by timing their sexual encounters carefully. In a terrific exchange between Charles and the most influential of the young women, Melanie, Charles tells Melanie she’s being selfish by encouraging the “other girls” to avoid pregnancy. Melanie starts flirting with Charles, who’s a married man, deliberately making him uncomfortable, and says if the women must have babies in order to keep humanity going, then shouldn’t they at least get to choose whatever male partner they want?
Melanie’s beautiful, and Charles has definitely noticed it, so you might think he’d like that solution. But in real life, people don’t like having their choices taken away. Charles reacts like a real person, not a TV character safely caught up in a writer’s “circumstances forced them to do it” scenario. He gets uncomfortable and avoids Melanie until she leaves their community.
But over time, as relationships form, a few women do become pregnant. So how do Charles and the other men respond? They abandon the women with the kids, and go off trekking all over the country to find other men. Oh, my, they’ve heard there’s an engineer of this type in some place! It’s only two days by horse! They must go find him before he moves on! Oh, my, there’s a guy who knows about livestock someplace else! Off they go!
The implication is clear: men are defined by their various roles, which vary greatly. And to be fair, one woman who was nearly done with her studies to become a doctor when the plague hit is much sought after and fought over by various communities. But all the other women are simply wombs waiting to be filled. And once they’re filled, this parenthood thing has what to do with men, again? Men have places to go! People to see! Surely a bunch of undefended pregnant women, some with small children to tend, can take care of a small farm while defending themselves against any marauding lowlifes who come around to loot the place or worse. Men are busy with important stuff! Stop nagging them!
In the end, I suppose we’re supposed to think there’s been some kind of triumph, as they re-establish currency. To me, it just looks like men are well on their way to fucking the world up again, just like they did before. Only this time, the consequences would be more obvious and less debatable: this time, when they fail to support women, there will be dead babies and dead would-be mothers because of it. When they fail to respect women’s abilities unless they’re stamped with degrees, there will be less food on the table.
Survivors comes so close to – yet falls so short of – demonstrating how simply impractical it is to just consign half your species to one role only, then not even properly support them in that role.