- Below is my reponse to the running controversy on whether or not Steven Moffat, head writer and producer of Doctor Who and Sherlock, is in fact a sexist. For those keeping count, I am in the ‘No he’s not’ category. Read on.
- Lee Edward McIlmoyle
10 January 2012 at 17:25
First, I loved Moffat’s Adler episode. Best episode of televison I’ve seen in years. She was certainly more proactive, pro-feminist and faster-thinking than what became of Irene in the most recent Hollywood Sherlock Holmes movie (how did she NOT see the poisoning coming?).Second, and I say this hoping folks will go do a little bit of research, but you ARE aware that, in Victorian England, ‘Opera Singers’ often had nothing at all to do with singing at the opera. It was often used as a euphemism to disguise the fact that they were in fact courtesans, or in modern parlance, escorts. I’m sure that might get up the noses of more than a few people who have been reading that story straight, but I assure you, the subtext was understood in Doyle’s time. Adler was highly independent in her thinking and her activities, but she was, for all that, a kept woman, as ALL women in Victorian society were. So let’s dispense with the notion that Doyle’s Adler has been somehow besmirched by being cast as the modern equivalent of a highly well-paid call-girl. By the conventions of the time, it was the same thing. With Doyle, you have to read between the lines a bit there, that’s all.
Third, and meaning no insult to the well-thought out messages of the article posters in this dialogue, but I think you’re trying too hard to make a judgement call about role portrayals that aren’t spot-on politically correct feminist protrayals, and that’s largely down to the fact that most folks aren’t. It’s not easy to write an adventure story about men and women interacting when the woman continually stops to call the man on his sexist crap. It can be done, and maybe it should, and in the context of Doctor Who it HAS been done since almost the beginning, despite the screaming and the occasional show of prominent feminine assets. Zoe was at least as mathematically intelligent as the Doctor, Liz Shaw was as fine a scientist, Sarah Jane at least as brave, Leela certainly more dangerous, Romana (1) his equal in every way, Teegan and Nyssa just about as politically correct as the series could muster, and Ace the most independent and resourceful companion up until River Song and Amy Pond. You can qualify and debate these characters as paragons of feminist portrayal, but they stood toe to toe with the Doctor, and that’s a significant factor, given the times they were shown in.
Fourth, Russell Davies made more than a few female stereotypes of significant proportions, and by the same token redeemed them in other ways. Rose Tyler was altogether too hung up on the Doctor, as was Martha Jones afterwards, yet both demonstrated admirable skills and emotional strength as the series wore on. Only Donna Noble demonstrated no sexual interest in the Doctor, and even she defined her relationship to the Doctor in terms of it being strictly platonic, which in my books might make her a fair feminist heroine, but doesn’t make her any more independent because she still sought him out in order to have adventures. Her tragedy, by feminist standards, isn’t that she lost all memory of having had such wild adventures, but that she needed a ‘man’ to facilitate those adventures to begin with. How is that better?
And yet, how else does one get to travel on a TARDIS? As near as I can tell, Romana and the Rani are both dead, and female Time Lords were always a little thin on the ground, sadly. Until River Song or Jenny (The Doctor’s Daughter) shows up in her own show, the balance is always going to skew to the masculine side.
Fifth, Steven Moffat has given us several complex, intelligent, resourceful women, who all could decide for themselves whether or not to deal with their sexuality in their own way, without allowing the politics of the day to dictate to them what is and is not appropriate. This to my mind puts those characters on at least an equal footing with the men, who for the most part seem to evaluate themselves on the same basis as the women do, i.e. in relation to one another.
The whole series is about relationships, though only very occasionally on a romantic level. It’s been an exploration of diverse characters and archetypes from the beginning; discussing and reasoning through situations and coming together to solve the problems that arise between them.
As far as Sherlock is concerned, I find the series to be an interestingly extremely accurate update of the original stories, politics and all, and while I may be suffering from the same culturally- and priviledge-blinded sexual bias as every other man and any deluded woman who doesn’t agree, but frankly, if anything is ever going to change for the better, there has to be a consensus, and not this strident insistence that everything is wrong if women are not portrayed as asexual Amazons. Where is the reality in that?
In this life, we are all, male, female and everything inbetween or to one side, dependent on each other to get by. We learn nothing from trying to redress the balance of centuries of female repression by arguing that every supposed slight against female superiority is somehow yet another attempt to subjugate women’s rights.
Just my two pence. Take it for what it’s worth.