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Moffat Revisted (or Still Not Sexist)

June 4, 2013

Okay, so it’s been a year and a half since I wrote THIS; Sadly, the debate rages on, with turgid little sites like STFU Moffat (on Tumblr) and the occasional high profile mainstream journo piece on the subject. The conclusion always seems to be that Moffat is overrated, and his attitude toward women deplorable because they all seem to be subservient to either their hormones or their male lead or both.

Of course, there had to be someone with something intelligent to say on the subject, and today I stumbled across an article I wish I were smart enough to have written myself. So meet my new favourite person: Rebecca Kulik, and read her brilliant article.

See? I’m not the only one who thinks there is a lot of fuss and bother about nothing (or very little, at any rate). I don’t presume to speak with authority on feminist issues, but I do know a strong, passionate, independent woman when I see one. I just don’t hold with the argument that every true feminist would basically tell the Doctor to leave and let her ride off with his TARDIS. That’s the catch, folks. The show is called Doctor Who, and it’s about this alien who is almost invariably a male, and a sexually stunted, romantically bewildered one at that, and he has a lot of friends, male and female, and the females have a history of being relatively attractive and occasionally very afraid. While the women of the TARDIS have not always been portrayed as feminist paragons, they have all been adventurous and brave and occasionally overwhelmed, much like the Doctor himself.

As Rebecca points out, the Doctor’s female companions pass the Bechdel Test (Google it) a great deal of the time, especially in the revamped series, and though it’s splitting hairs, I argue that most if not all of them have been models of feminist thinking in their time, even if they were clumsily written by a largely male writing staff in the pre-PC/Feminist Studies days, and even if a number of them did appear in clothing designed to titillate the male viewers (i.e. ‘Something For The Dads’). Television viewing audiences have come a long way since the days of Susan and Barbara screaming as the Daleks turn their cannons and various plunging devised on them.

I can’t write credibly from the Feminist point of view, as I am poorly educated in that field, and I am, after all, a (predominately) white North American male. But I am fairly sensitive to these issues, and find a lot of television misses the mark on this subject.

However, I AM a fiction writer, and though not an established one, I know a few things about what makes fiction work, and one of them is, the writer can’t be out of step with the times, or the story fails in its most important mission: to reach an audience. I could write nothing but gay panther anthropomorphic suspense/romance (well, no, not really), and it would be a hit with the Furry crowd, but the wider world would ignore it, or worse, would vilify it for its sexual content or its over/misrepresentation of gay felines. These are strange times, but there is still a lot of ground to cover before audiences will be fully integrated into the mindset that Feminist scholars would have them be.

But I will maintain to my grave that this either/or argument (either Feminist or Sexist) is a stalking horse debate. I was raised up to believe in a concept that doesn’t get much mention these days, in large part because it still hasn’t been implemented fairly across the board: Equality. The Sexist argument is that it doesn’t work because men and women aren’t built to do the same work, and on the Feminist argument is that Equality has never been implemented properly, because men still control the pay rates and promotional prospects of most companies, favouring men over women, regardless of qualifications and proven track record. Both are valid seen from a certain position, but can easily be disproved with exceptions.

And I don’t want to hear about ‘the exception that proves the rule’; that’s such a bullshit argument. An exception is an exception–no more, no less–which means things are improving, or at very least, that they aren’t immutable. Stop discounting progress. Not every exception is merely an outlier, and outliers are usually only noticed because the concept was interesting but still too unproven to gain traction; thirty to fifty years later, things have changed significantly for most of the recognized minorities of the 50s-to-80s, even if the ideal has not been reached yet. Much to the chagrin of marriage purists, Gays and lesbians are marrying and receiving full benefit for their partners. That such a reality has to be legislated into place is a sadness, and the fact that it’s being resisted in several places is not really surprising. What world did you wake up in, anyway?

But back to the original topic: Does Moffat deserve to be vilified for his unbalanced portrayal (some would say betrayal) of his female characters? Obviously I don’t think so, but I think the really important question is, why do you insist on discrediting all of the fine work and some of the strongest, smartest, sassiest females in modern television? About the only other show on television that portrays women with as much agency within the framework of the series is Criminal Minds, and I’ve been having trouble enjoying that series of late (but I think Elizabeth Bear has that subject covered better than I can).

I figure the subject won’t die until Moffat casts a female Doctor, and of course, there will be a geeksplosion when it happens, as ardent fanboys who have been dreaming of being the Doctor themselves have a complete meltdown when the Doctor shows up with boobs, thus denying them even that last bastion of Geektopian Masculinity (and yes, I’m resorting to making up words here, because I don’t think the argument against a female Doctor has a leg to stand on, so why dignify it with precise terminology when a made up word says it more succinctly?).

And this, I hope, will be the last time I write on this subject, because I’m sincerely hoping that Rebecca’s arguments will somehow put an end tot he misguided rancour. It’s too much to hope for, I know, but still, a boy has to dream.

Thanks for reading.

Lee.

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