As a woman, I want to explain why BBC Sherlock is not sexist and why the writers are not "woman hating misogynists".
This is an introduction to the series: Heroines In Sherlock
2. The Mistress of Intrigue - Irene is not a Loser!
Front is for the Homies, you can sit in the trunk!
The protagonists of BBC Sherlock are both men. The show is all about Sherlock and John: their lives, their relationship, their adventures.
Honestly speaking, if everything was the same but the protagonists had been women, we would not be having this discussion right now. No-one would label the show “sexist”; instead Moffat and Gatiss would probably be lauded for the creation of strong female characters (even though they did nothing but change the gender). Just by the virtue of having women protagonists, BBC Sherlock would have “address gender equality issues”.
The situation is entirely unfair because Moffat and Gatiss did not invent Sherlock Holmes, they are readapting it. As the writers have clearly stated, they wanted to stay as true to the original as possible because updating Sherlock Holmes was already a high risk strategy and Moffat/Gatiss are devoted fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
If we actually look at the original Sherlock Holmes, Moffat and Gatiss did not have much to work with in terms of any female characters, let alone ones which would fit feminist ideals.
ACD’s work was primarily about adventure/escapism. It was not written to address social issues such as women’s rights and gender equality. ACD was writing at a time when “sexism” was not even a negative term and sexist attitudes were considered the norm. Men and women had well circumscribed gender roles and were treated differently. Female heroines in Victorian literature seem completely banal to reader today because even the progressive writers of the time could not imagine certain things that women today take for granted.
Take the original Irene Adler for example - her "ultimate triumph" was to marry the man of her own choosing for love. Can you imagine what a disappointing ending that would have been for the modern audience? Where is Irene's "triumph" in that situation?
Many fans have complained that the ending to ASiB is not as good as the original: Irene had to be rescued by a man. However she didn't get rescued by any man she got rescued by Sherlock, the hero and protagonist. I think many people have lost sight of the simple fact that this show is all about how awesome Sherlock is. The other characters are mirrors to reflect the glory of Sherlock.
Having Sherlock rescue the Woman, is one way of proving that he is a "hero" rather than a cold-blooded calculating machine. The protagonist may have many faults but writers have utterly failed if he does not hold a very special place in our heart, if we cannot feel empathy/sympathy for his plight, if we are not devastated by his absence.
Whether or not you agree that the final scene of ASiB was necessary for making Sherlock a "hero", this is what was motivating the writers.
If Moffat and Gatiss had stuck unimaginatively to original ending, where would be the drama in that? How could they show the "humanisation" of Sherlock Holmes if he leaves the Woman to die at the hands of terrorists?
When we look back to what Moffat and Gatiss actually had to work with in terms of ACD's writings, we can see that they are immediately faced with a dilemma.
ACD was writing about the adventures of two single men in Victorian London. The social attitudes at the time meant that Holmes and Watson did not have much scope to meet members of the opposite sex. The entire police force was male, nearly all professions bared women from entering (including medicine) and, like modern times, most criminals were men. Therefore it is hardly surprising that the only consistent female character is their landlady Mrs Hudson and she was never meant to be anything more than a convenient plot device.
If Moffat and Gatiss had faithfully and religiously stuck to the ACD canon, the entire returning cast would be comprised of men. No-one has a problem with ITV/Granada’s adaptation of Sherlock Holmes (starring Jeremy Brett) and that show was almost entirely dominated by men. However, because Moffat/Gatiss wanted to modernise their adaptation, many people have decided they have a duty to deal with “gender issues” even though the whole point of ACD’s Sherlock Holmes is two men solving crimes.
Comments welcome, I love discussions.