The Expanse is top-tier in science fiction for several reasons, and its female leads are at the top of the list. Over the trajectory of six seasons, writers have mastered writing layered, deeply relatable women who’ve acted as multifaceted examples without ever trying to. And perhaps that’s the most admirable part of the series. On The Expanse, nothing is overt or in your face; instead, the writing carefully curates representing a world that looks different than ours, but it still matches the raw edges of our reality. And that’s especially the case with representation through the female leads.
Naomi Nagata (Dominique Tipper), Chrisjen Avasarala (Shohreh Aghdashloo), Camina Drummer (Cara Gee), Bobbie Draper (Frankie Adams), and Clarissa Mao (Nadine Nicole) all represent women who are innately realistic, badass by society’s definition of the term, and multifaceted to showcase true female strength. Real women are flawed no matter how put-together or what their careers entail. They have moments of tremendous strength and crippling vulnerability. No woman, no matter how strong she appears on the outside, is ever wholly okay on the inside, and The Expanse shows us how brilliantly true that is by giving each of the women complexities that match our own.
In the words of Little Women’s Jo March—women! The women on this series should stand as examples for representing all facets of strength, especially when it involves honoring a woman’s agency because that’s precisely what the series always did.
When we first meet Naomi Nagata, she’s a bit stoic and understandably irked by the laziness in the Canturbury’s team. Still, right from the start, we’re introduced to a woman who’s an engineer and a woman who isn’t afraid of speaking her mind. When the explosion leads to a smaller crew, and the remaining members are forced to become an actual team, we see more of Naomi’s softness come to light as she keeps her commanding demeanor intact while exhibiting an admirable kind of warmth. We later learn that Naomi is also a mother, and though she had to leave her son behind because of her partner’s doings, she never gave up hoping for a reunion.
We later see a reunion in The Expanse Season 5 and the impact of Naomi’s unyielding love that only the audience knows about in the Season 6 finale, “Babylon’s Ashes.” Naomi is often vigorous, but as we watch her open her heart more, we see that she isn’t afraid of crying and asking for help. She’s capable of warmth, but she doesn’t stand aside if anyone (herself included) is insulted. Naomi forgives, and she hopes, but she’s a human being no less, and sometimes, human beings fall, which we see throughout Season 6 as more of her trauma is explored from her near-death experience in “Nemesis Game.” She is a loving partner, a devoted friend, a fighter, an engineer, and a woman with plenty of layers to take inspiration from.
How female politicians are written on television, vary from almost perfect to understandably corrupt, and we don’t often get too many glimpses of all their layers. But with The Expanse’s Chrisjen Avasarala and all the little details Shohreh Aghdashloo has consistently shown us, Avasarala is a woman who’s holding on for dear life with so much vigor it’s almost exhausting watching her at times. There’s an especially memorable scene in “Tribes” where you could see just how hard she’s trying to keep it together, and it’s an absolute marvel to behold.
The fascinating thing about Avasarala has always been her imperfections—you never knew if you could trust her fully, and yet somehow, you’d place hope in her because you could tell that despite her beliefs, she was often trying. She listened to people before making judgments, and often, even if her opinion changed or if she was around someone she disagreed with, her stamina never faltered. And again, there’s realism in that regard because there are plenty of people who’ll never let another person see their more vulnerable edges until they’re alone, which Avasarala was a pristine example of. As the audience, we always knew more than those around her did. Plus, let’s be frank here, how many women are more likely to curse the way Avasarala does? Likely more than those who don’t.
Camina Drummer is one of the most riveting characters in television history because she’s so deeply loving, and yet, only a select few see this because the circumstances of her life don’t always grant her the luxury to live. Drummer’s heart is the very reason why Holden chooses her to be the President of the Transport Union because no one cares about the Belt more while simultaneously caring about the state of the world and honor.
Drummer believes in honor more than she believes in anything else because she doesn’t give her trust freely—it’s earned, and when it is, it’s permanent. Unless someone terribly wrongs her, Drummer shows up for people. She forgives, she holds on, and she wonders. It’s why she’s able to forgive Naomi despite the pain she caused in leaving. It’s also rather fascinating that she’s able to give her love to more people because there’s much of it to go around. Drummer cares, but Drummer holds off because that’s what she’s needed to do to survive. She always stands up to bullies like Marco Inaros because she didn’t go through her darkness to watch others suffer in the face of traitorous men with dictatorship as their primary agenda.
On any other show, Bobbie Draper could’ve been a stereotypical soldier, but The Expanse writers (and Frankie Adams) not only gave her multiple layers, but they gave her the kind of free spirit that’s almost breathtaking. Bobbie could physically crush nearly all of us, but at the same time, turn around, and she’s singing country tunes while working. She is steadfast in her beliefs, but much like Avasarala, she’s capable of listening and exploring possibilities that could lead to better outcomes.
She gives people the benefit of the doubt even if they don’t deserve it, and she understands, more than anything, that heart matters in this world. It’s not something we overtly see in her, but Frankie Adams shows the audience Bobbie’s heart as frequently as she can, especially during conversations with the Roci crew or Avasarala. From demotions to promotions, Bobbie’s journey throughout The Expanse is a lengthy, glorious one to discuss. She’s fiercely independent, yet, her adoration for people is boundless, often leading her to jump headfirst if anyone needs saving. Bobbie represents the women who are sometimes floating, the women looking for places to belong and people to belong with; she finally finds it in the final season, revealing to us the strength in numbers.
The Expanse gives Clarissa Mao one of the best redemption arcs by reinforcing that the audience sees her crimes aren’t pushed aside or forgotten. Clarissa grew up believing one thing, chose another, and when none of that worked, she then chose to atone. And the series never once lets the audience forget that Clarissa’s choices were always hers, both the terrible thoughts and the honorable intentions. Nadine Nicole took her from a ruthless woman with fire in her eyes to a broken woman with genuine compassion written all over her every move.
Clarissa’s illness and the damages from her mods made it harder for her to feel 100% most of the time, but audiences likely got to see versions of themselves through her suffering and perseverance. Sometimes, strong women aren’t entirely doing well, but rather, they’re the women who are trying despite all the complications life throws in their path. They are the women who are voicing their frustrations aloud and clarifying that they’re in pain because that’s a part of this world, too, even more than complete control. She earns her redemption, she earns the trust of those around her, and through every decision she makes, she shows how much women are capable of when given a chance to be themselves.
The women on The Expanse cared about the world’s greater good, but they also showcased deep apprehension towards certain situations. They fought hard, horrific battles, and then they gave in to the pain that followed. They loved, and they lost. They fought, won, and through all that, they chose for themselves. They chose to be whoever they wanted, their good, bad, and ugly, weaving together in an asteroid of complexities that outlined how strength is a universal term for all kinds of women—the ones who endure and the ones who lose battles too, like Julie Mao. Writing strong women should always be about writing real women, and real women don’t always look or act the same, but their strength comes from what they do, how they do it, and the kind of person they choose to be when it matters most.