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As a woman, I want to explain why I do not think BBC Sherlock is “sexist” and why the writers are not “woman hating misogynists”.

This re-evaluation is a more logical, comprehensive and coherent analysis of the reasons why BBC Sherlock is not sexist. I investigate the claims that:

  • There is a lack of female characters
  • Female characters are defined by their relationships with men
  • The portrayal of women in the show is sexist

On the way I also delve into feminist movements, the strange myth of the “feminist ideal” and why we should be happy to see women like Mrs Hudson and Molly portrayed on screen. 

 


Reblog if you like it!

Comments Welcome. Dedicated to p0rcupinegirl who pointed out the holes in my previous analysis.

Several comments to this meta have been completely unacceptable! It has resulted in one person having to delete their journal in response. This is my LJ, you are free to have your opinions but I ask you to post them in a way that is not offensive, aggressive or personally insulting to over commenters. 

If I continue to find people using aggression and intimidation I will ban you from commenting. This is my opinion, I may not be an expert on feminism or sexism but this does not invalidate my opinion. If you choose to get angry do not vent your spleen on my LJ. Do not intimidate other commenters, it debases this topic, my journal and most of all you. 

There are some very good reasons and links provided by various commenters below that discuss the opposite point of view to me .I encourage you to read all the comments after this meta and reach your own conclusions about whether BBC Sherlock is sexist. 

A Definition and a Disclaimer

The crux to a good essay is to actually define the topic you are you talking about. I didn’t exactly make it clear in the last post which yard stick I’m going to measure with.

Sexism is defined as “discrimination based on gender or sex” and/or “propagating attitudes that foster traditional stereotyped social roles based on sex.”

I fully accept that there are other definitions of sexism For example sociologist define sexism as privilege and discrimination base on sex. Therefore women cannot be sexist to men because men have the privilege in society. I don't personally agree but if you want to learn more about this please read the discussions of this article at the bottom. There are some very good links provided by various commenters, particularly this article.

I encourage you to read all the comments after this meta and reach your own conclusions about whether BBC Sherlock is sexist. 

In this meta I am going to use the legally/linguistically recognised definition. I am using it because it is the "official" definition for this term. It is widely accepted by lay people and institutions such as the BBC, it is the current dictionary definition whether one agrees with it or not. Sexism has many different definitions and these vary according to culture and individuals. What one group may deem to be sexists does not correspond to another group. Therefore the most widely accepted definition is used in this meta.

 If you do not agree this is valid then feel free to completely ignore my conclusion. 

I am by no means an expert on feminism, sexism, discrimination or sociology. If you're reading this meta and thinking:

I completely understand, but this essay is about why I don't think BBC Sherlock is measures up to the legal definition of sexism. Perhaps you'd like to hear me out and discuss with me (like many people on LJ have done - my loves to them by the way), if not you can just stop reading. 

I ask that you do not send hate mail or flame me because of my views. We are all entitled to hold our own opinions. This is my blog and I have the right to state my views without being subject to abuse. 

This discussion is relevant to my blog - because it is my blog. If I choose to write a long discourse on the various causes of deep vein thrombosis in the geriatric population, that too is relevant to my blog. 

This isn't an academic paper nor a formal dissertation -  (anyone who thinks that it should be needs to understand I spend my life writing these and I need to have fun at some point). This is written for fun and light reading. I do not ask you to take my conclusions too seriously or to change your own opinions. 

Taking Sherlock to the Employment Tribunal 

(Sherlock: Sexism? - Not your best line of inquiry)

BBC Sherlock has been accused of being “sexist” and “anti-feminist” by many fans. I think it deserves a fair hearing at least, so bear with me. Many of the ideas I challenge in this article are direct responses I have had from other fans and common perceptions I have gleaned from reading other blogs. This is not a comprehensive list of all the reasons why Sherlock might be sexist. If you have other issues not mentioned, that you would like to raise please message me.

Discrimination based on gender or sex

Charge 1 – Lack of Female Representation

 

We must remember the central characters are two men. BBC Sherlock decided not to change the gender of Holmes/Watson because it wanted to remain at least partially true to ACD canon, not because they dislike women. The fact is when you have two protagonists, the vast majority of the screen time has to be devoted to these characters regardless of their gender. Holmes/Watson must be deep, developed characters and this requires a lot of screen time.

If they had made the heroes into heroines, I highly doubt anyone would be calling the show “sexist”, despite the fact that the screen time is now dominated by women.

BBC Sherlock does have more male characters than female characters. This is not an intentional/conscious decision on the part of the writers. This is a by-product left over from ACD’s original works. ACD was writing about two male bachelors in London at the height of the Victorian era. Holmes/Watson had very few opportunities to meet members of the opposite sex, particularly when they were running around solving crimes. The Met Police force was entirely male, so was the medical profession and like today, most criminal were also male. Social clubs were strictly segregated along gender lines. Ladies and gentlemen tended not to socialise in public unless they already have a strong relationship with each other e.g. official courtship, family ties etc.

The original Sherlock Holmes stories had very few female characters. The only recurring female character is Mrs Hudson who, most fans tend to forget, is the landlady. This is her primary function as a character and ACD never found it necessary to develop her character; she is merely a convenient plot device. I think the writers of modern Sherlock deserve some credit in actually giving Mrs Hudson a distinct personality and a personal life outside of catering to Sherlock and John.

The writers of BBC Sherlockhave tried to rectify the gender imbalance in the original stories by introducing reoccurring female characters where none existed before e.g. Molly, Sally and Sarah. I personally don’t think the writers did this to mitigate accusations of sexism. They introduced more female characters to reflect our modern society, which has legitimately moved on from the Victorian Era. Women now occupy roles which were strictly reserved for men during the Victorian era. For example Sally is a police officer, Molly is a pathologist and Sarah is a GP.

In conclusion – although male characters dominate screen time, there does not appear to be an intentional lack of female representation in this TV show.

Charge 2 – Female Characters are only defined by their relationships with men

All the minor characters (regardless of gender) are defined by their relationship with Sherlock/John who happen to be men.

Recurring minor characters can only be introduced if they have an important connection with Sherlock or John. It would be highly illogical to include a character that has no relationship with the main protagonists. 

BBC Sherlock is only about Sherlock and John’s adventures. Therefore they will only encounter characters that aid the plot because superfluous characters are not even useful as expensive set dressing. However we should give the writers some credit at least for attempting to flesh out their minor female characters a bit more than ACD ever bothered to do with Mrs Hudson.

For example: Sarah is defined as John’s girlfriend but she is also defined as John’s superior at the GP surgery. Both these things revolve around her relationship with John but it is only through her relationship with John that she can logically appear on screen. If she was not John’s girlfriend how does she end up at the circus with Sherlock in order to save his life? Would the audience prefer if they were just having a night out as friends? Would that not still be defining Sarah as John’s something?

Does being a girlfriend somehow devalue Sarah as a character? No it does not, but it adds an extra dimension to John’s character that contrasts with Sherlock.

Male minor characters are also defined by their relationships to Sherlock/John. Lestrade and Mycroft’s characters only appear because of their relationship to Sherlock.

Lestrade is more of a plot device than Sally, Molly and Sarah combined. His sole function is to give Sherlock access to interesting cases and aid his crime solving. When the interesting crime Sherlock stumbles upon is under the jurisdiction of DI Dimmock, Lestrade does not even feature in the episode.  It is very nice that the writers have hinted at his personal life, it provides a less two dimensional view. However this does not change the fact that Lestrade’s existence depends upon his relationship with Sherlock’s crime scenes.

Mycroft only turns up because he is Sherlock’s creepily protective older brother. Like Molly, his actual job is never made clear but we actually know more about Molly than we do about Mycroft. However he provides a lovely atmosphere of sinister mystery and serves as a convenient plot device to get Sherlock into and out of sticky situations.

It has been pointed out that we constantly see Lestrade at work, demonstrating that he is a professional man with status in society. However we do not see Molly or Sarah who are both professional women at work. This is because Lestrade needs to be working in order to allow Sherlock access to the crime scene. Showing clips of Molly dissecting a corpse is firstly, going to raise complaints against the BBC, secondly, going to distract attention from Sherlock.

Side Note: However as earlgreytea68 has pointed out we do see Sally doing her job, and doing it very well. Sarah Sawyer, the GP is also shown interviewing John and making sure her surgery ran well. 

Molly is shown presiding over the morgue and unveiling dead bodies. I would like to point out that this is not actually her job. Molly is a pathologist and she would have spent most of her time either doing post-mortems or looking at slides under the microscrope. 

For more on Molly's job - read Meet Miss Molly Hooper

BBC Sherlock is all about Sherlock – all the other characters, including John, exist to give the viewer a window onto Sherlock’s magnificence.

Propagating attitudes that foster traditional stereotyped social roles based on sex

A Messy Introduction to Feminist Movements

 

The feminist movements which officially started in the 19th century have contributed a great deal to our modern society’s attitudes towards on sexism, gender roles and discrimination. These movements often differed from each other in turns of philosophies but they all held a central ideology that women were at the bottom of an “involuntary hierarchy” and must “assert” their equality.

For the Socialist Movement, they “asserted” women’s equality by focusing on improving education and career prospects for women. At a time when most professions were closed to women, the Socialist Movement campaigned for equality of opportunities.

The Radical Movement considered 20th century style capitalism as the reason for gender inequality. Capitalism rewards aggression, competitiveness and risk-taking. They “asserted” equality by working to change the values and regulation of the capitalist system to reverse male-domination and control.

The Liberal movement is perhaps the one that people are most familiar with. According to liberal feminists, all women are capable of asserting their ability to achieve equality. They assist this individual assertion by campaigning for legislation the guarantees women equality at home and in the workplace, e.g “equal pay for equal work”, criminalisation of sexual harassment, affordable childcare, affordable health care, voting rights etc.

The “Feminist Ideal”

 

One view which the feminist movements never subscribed to or advocated is the “feminist ideal” which exists in the popular imagination.

The myth of the “feminist ideal” has developed due to a misunderstanding of the work and aims of the original feminist movements. The idea of “assertion” has been taken completely out of context.  

 The features of this “feminist ideal” are difficult to accurately put into words but I am sure you can all recognise it when it appears in the media. Some buzz words we can use to describe this idea include: “strong”, “assertive”, “professional”, “ambitious”, “successful”, “emotionally controlled”, “tough”.

Sadly, if we look at these words, they appear to correlate very well with the traditional “masculine attributes” or the “male stereotype”. The “feminist ideal” in the popular imagination has taken traditional “masculine attributes” and tried to apply them to women.

This is not what feminism is about! Feminism is about bringing gender equality not making women behave more like men. To force women into the “feminist ideal” is to suggest that traditional “female attributes” are inferior to their male counterparts.

The Cultural feminist movement advocates recognition of undervalued “female attributes”. The words I would use to describe this include: “emotional”, “caring”, “soft”.

 These are things that our modern society labels “stereotypically female” in a tone that suggests they are bad.

“Female attributes” are not inherently bad, sexist or derogatory; they are just inherently different from “stereotypically male” qualities. It is society that has decided these attributes are somehow inferior and thus equality for women can only be achieved if these attributes disappear.

I ask you, where is the equality in this line of thought?

Society needs to understand that men and women are different and fundamentally equal.

Charge 1 – The Women in Sherlock propagate stereotyped gender roles.  


Have we actually seen any women who fulfil the traditional stereotypical social roles based on sex?

Molly, Sally and Sarah are single, professional women with high status jobs who are thoroughly independent, both financially and in their choices of relationships with men. They do not fit the traditional female social roles including: wife, mother, housewife, carer etc.

Mrs Hudson is a different case – she is not an invention by BBC Sherlock.

Her character is already constrained by the parameters laid out in the ACD stories. She has to be married/widowed because she is Mrs Hudson. She also has to be their caring, somewhat fussy landlady because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said so! If BBC Sherlock were to change Mrs Hudson then she would not be recognisably Mrs Hudson.  

Does Mrs Hudson’s portrayal propagate sexist attitudes? No, she does not. Mrs Hudson may not fit the “feminist ideal” but she does not actively encourage women to perform stereotyped gender roles. She is never heard saying how wonderful being married/a mother/a housewife is. The show does not exhibit her as the “model female” that everyone should aspire to be.

On a personal note she is personality wise, the spitting image of my lovely next door neighbour. There are hundreds if not thousands of people up and down Britain who have the joy of knowing someone like Mrs Hudson who goes above and beyond what she is required to do in order to care for people. She is an accurate reflection of many real women in Britain. To say that they are inherently propagating sexist attitudes towards women is doing them a great disservice.

Her care and support for John and Sherlock are not negative qualities – they are things we should all admire. If women in the media who are portrayed as caring, supportive and emotionally attached are deemed to be sexist then our society has more problems than we think.

From my comments many people have stated that Molly is constantly portrayed as a silly girl with a crush and Sally is remembered only for Sherlock's offensive comments about her knees

Molly Hooper

Molly’s crush on Sherlock is not a sexist portrayal of women. Why? Because it is fundamentally a portrayal of passionate unrequited love.We see another equally valid example in TBB where Soo Lin’s co-worker at the museum makes a right idiot out of himself trying to get her to notice him. It is interesting to see that no one has highlighted this as a sexist portrayal of men.

Molly does sometimes allow Sherlock to boss her around – but then so does everyone else in the show especially John who is really put upon sometimes. Lestrade and Mycroft have both developed ways to force Sherlock into behaving but then they have known him for a long time.

Just because Molly does not consistently display the qualities of the “feminist ideal” does not mean her portrayal is sexist.  Just because we do not see her standing up to Sherlock does not mean she is incapable of making tough decisions, dealing with stress etc. I know how hard it is to be a doctor (Molly is a doctor). 

Her occupation as pathologist is not a traditional stereotypical gender role; she is certainly not propagating attitudes that foster stereotypical gender roles. Molly is a clever, independent woman who chooses to engage with Sherlock. She is a woman who knows what she wants but sadly life has conspired to make sure she doesn’t get it.

Sherlock is not a colleague or a patient. He is her love interest and entirely outside the realm of her professional life. 

Just because I act incredibly "girly" outside of my professional life does not mean I am propagating sexist attitudes. 

Gender equality is not conditional on how women behave publicly, privately or professionally! Women are fundamentally equal because we are people. 

Sally Donovan.

Just  because Sally doesn't like Sherlock does not make her portrayal sexist. On the one hand fans complain that Molly likes Sherlock too much and on the other they complain that Sally doesn't like Sherlock enough. 

Sally is a balanced to Molly, she is represented as a woman who can't stand Sherlock. This is to show that he's not irresistible, his personality is abrasive, he is rude and has not respect for authority. 

.
Sally is shown being a very competent police officer who is not afraid to do what she believes is right.

She is understandably convinced that Sherlock might be involved in the crime and she has no qualms about confronting her superior about this. Yes, I think that her dislike for Sherlock will have played a role but she tolerated his presence for many years.

Lestrade bringing an untrained civilian onto crime scenes, giving him access to all manner of sensitive data and not informing his superior (Gregson was incredibly surprised to learn of Sherlock) is highly unorthodox and potentially criminalPolice are there to catch criminals but they are also there to ensure that the evidence gathered can stand up in court and gain a conviction. This means following protocol. Sherlock does not follow protocol, Lestrade is taking a big risk letting him onto crime scenes. 


If we assume Sherlock-verse works like real life, Sally can make complaints to any of the regulatory bodies in the police force and legitimately get Sherlock banned from the crime scenes. She hasn't because he's still there. I assume that Sally does respect Lestrade's decisions and understands that catching the criminal is sometimes more important than protocol. 

However as soon as she sees evidence that Sherlock could actually be the criminal responsible for the child abduction, she understandably wants him to be fully investigated as any good police officer should. 

When Lestrade doesn't response she goes over his head to report to the Chief Inspector. This contravenes all the establish rules of the police hierarchy. People who circumvent their superiors to report their mistakes are actively persecuted in the police force. Once word gets out she wouldn't be wanted in any CID division. 

For more in depth discussion read this meta. 

However she is willing to sacrifice her career for the public interest, she is willing to sacrifice perhaps her most important achievement in order to bring justice. 

Yes, she's an assertive woman who doesn't let Sherlock push her around! She definitely fits the "feminist ideal". Isn't that want people wanted? Isn't this what most people think a non-sexist portrayal should look like? 

Minor Characters

Yes, I would like to see Molly being a professional woman, but I would also like to see Anderson portrayed as more than a one dimensional bitter lemon, Lestrade to be less of a convenient plot device for Sherlock and Chief Inspector Gregson to be shown as more than just a homophobic bigot in an ill fitting suit. There are so much more to the minor male characters as well which haven't been explored.

The point is BBC Sherlock doesn't do the minor characters justice regardless of gender, the show doesn't have the capacity. Therefore it is not intentionally discrimination based on sex/gender, it is discriminating against any character that isn't central to the plot. 


Charge 2 – Everything about Irene Adler


 

I have actually spent five hours and 5000 words analysing why Irene Adler is not a loser. The article is still not finished! If you want to read it please follow me and keep an eye out.

I think Irene's adaptation could have been done better but I don't think that because she doesn't get away with what she wants - the entire show is sexist.

The original triumphant ending to Scandal in Bohemia is Irene marrying a man of her own choosing. In the Victorian Era, Irene Adler was seen as a morally ambiguous character, an actress who was having an extramarital affair with a monarch. Being an actress was likened to being a prostitute except the latter was illegal. Having extra-martial sex was also against the law, although seldom prosecuted unless the woman was already married. Having information to threaten the repute of a monarch in the UK was considered High Treason for which the death penalty still applied until 1998. 

Irene would have been viewed by the righteous middle classes as a "bad woman". Thus for Irene to leave behind this life and her morally ambiguous status to become a "respectable" woman through marrying a man she wanted is a triumph for her

However in the 21st century, being an actress and sleeping with a monarch does not have the same scandalous connotations it used to, nor does leaving this life behind seem as triumphant it was meant to be portrayed in the original story. 

If the BBC actually portrayed Irene exactly as she was in the original books in the modern adaptation, then it would expect to be inundated with complaints that the corporation was still living in the 19th century.

Therefore the ending had to be different in BBC Sherlock. This does not mean the writers or the BBC want to belittle the improvements for the gender equality in the last century. They wanted to produce an ending that would awe the modern audience as much as the original stories awed the Victorian audience. 

I think the writers did not have Irene “winning” because of an entirely different moral issue: crime. What Irene has done is criminal. She is in effect blackmailing the British Government out of billions of pounds, and endangering national security.

The writers must have thought this was equivalent to high treason which Irene might have been charged with had she wanted to blackmail the King. I personally don't think so, Irene is after all consorting with terrorists, and I would have chosen a different way to write her as morally ambiguous.  

Had she been a real person, the people of Britain would legitimately despise her. The billions she would get away could have been used to fund the NHS and save the lives of thousands of people. The terrorists she indirectly informed are now plotting new attacks with a vengeance. Not to mention the amount of manpower and money wasted on the Bond Air scheme. To have Irene skip off into the sunset with the proceeds of her crimes is propagating the idea that crime pays and is glamorous, the idea that justice will not be served for people who betray and exploit their own country.

Irene’s defeat and rescue is part of Sherlock’s emotional development cycle as the moral protagonist

The rescue of Irene Adler (the criminal) is important in showing the attributes of forgiveness and self-sacrifice in Sherlock, at least in my view. Irene has wronged Sherlock, she used him as a pawn to blackmail his brother. However he has made the decision that he does not want to be responsible no matter how indirectly for someone’s death. He risks his life to save a person who is a criminal and has personally wronged him. 

One can argue that leaving Irene to face the consequences of her actions is just. However Sherlock decided it was morally wrong to sit aside and idly allow terrorists to murder someone even if the person might deserve it. 

I believe that gender is given too much weight in the ending where Sherlock “defeats” Irene. It is more accurate to say one person has consistently manipulated the other throughout the show and the victim only manages to turn the tables at the last moment. The situation is not of a man outsmarting a woman; it is of Sherlock outsmarting his opponent. Sherlock is the genius of the show, he constantly outsmarts everyone (including Moriarty at the end) regardless of gender. John, the everyman, has no idea how to deal with Irene. Mycroft, the British Government was almost going to hand over a queen’s random to Irene.

Irene wasn’t trying to outsmart Sherlock, he was just the pawn in her game against the British Government. At the end of ASiB she had Mycroft in Checkmate –  Irene outplayed the British Government.

For a more in depth discussion on Mycroft and Irene's hidden elaborate game of intrigue in ASiB read the Enigma series. 

Irene does fit some aspects of the “feminist ideal” and thus people have labelled her a “strong” female character because she had the intellect to cross swords with Sherlock and Mycroft. Having her “losing” to Sherlock is therefore deemed sexist.

Sexism isn’t one women losing to one man, it is a pervasive discrimination against the whole gender. I don't think BBC Sherlock does consistently discriminate against all female characters, nor does it use Sherlock’s triumph as a metaphor for defeating feminism.

I strongly feel that all the female characters need developing more but so do:

  • Anderson, because he is so much more than just a "Sherlock-hater"
  • Greg Lestrade, because he has so much more screen time than Molly or Sally and yet we know very little about his life outside work besides his cheating wife who took up all of 5 seconds.
  • Mycroft, he's Sherlock's brother and closer to him than any other minor character. We still don't know exactly what his job description is, whether he has any other family, his childhood etc. 
  • Gregson, because there is more to him than a homophobic obese man in an ill-fitting suit. 

If Irene is the only female character who is discriminated against-discrimination against just Irene is Irene-ism. Is Moffat Irene-ist? Probably, he certainly doesn't like her original character when he was reading the books as a child. 

I like Irene's character very much and I don't like the fact that writers had her consorting with Moriarty and indirectly assisting terrorists. I think she could have been re-adapted better but I don't think that because she doesn't get what she wants - the entire show is sexist. 

The “feminist ideal” that Irene fits is not actually feminism; it is a construction of the popular imagination that does nothing for the advancement of gender equality. Just because she is clever and independent does make her “defeat” sexist.

If you want to attach a moral principle to Irene’s “defeat” by Sherlock, see it as a detective bringing justice to a criminal who nearly destroyed an entire country.  

Conclusion

I have laid out my reasons why the portrayal of women BBC Sherlock does not fit the definition of sexism. It does every much to remind us all that “the feminist ideal” of the popular imagination is not what feminism is really about. Equality for women does not depend on our behaviour, IQ, occupation or education. All women regardless of their attributes should be accorded the same respect as men.

When the media portrays women who do not fit the “feminist ideal”, I applaud them for it. It reminds us that real women are on a spectrum, we are individuals who cannot be squashed into different boxes. It also provides feminist with the opportunity to point out that the “stereotypical female attributes” are not wrong, inferior, degrading or sexist. They are qualities that should be admired and celebrated as much as “stereotypical male attributes” are. 

I personally felt much happier with myself after learning about what the actual feminist movements stood for. I do not have to be take on masculine attributes in order to be deemed a feminist. I believe in equality for women and that makes me a feminist regardless of my job, education or behaviour. 




Other Metas in the Series


1. The Hidden Heroines of Sherlock - Molly and Sally

2. The Mistress of Intrigue - Irene is not a Loser!

Comments

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eglantine_br
Oct. 7th, 2012 01:39 pm (UTC)
Well put and thorough as usual. I am having a good time reading these. And I agree with you.
fanbot
Oct. 7th, 2012 02:14 pm (UTC)
Well done. I think some of the perceived aspects of Sherlock himself being sexist is because he is, basically, sexless. His head is not turned by a beautiful woman, even if one sits naked in his lap. :)
random_hato
Oct. 7th, 2012 02:33 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this :) I've read some of the meta alleging the sexism, and while it is certainly an interesting interpretation, I could never really see it myself. For the very reasons you've cleverly stated above, lol. Thank you so much for this!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 7th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
Bravo. Thank you. I'd gladly choose you to represent my views about Sherlock and human equality.
lamardeuse
Oct. 7th, 2012 03:46 pm (UTC)
If they had made the heroes into heroines, I highly doubt anyone would be calling the show “sexist”, despite the fact that the screen time is now dominated by women.

We see another equally valid example in TBB where Soo Lin’s co-worker at the museum makes a right idiot out of himself trying to get her to notice him. It is interesting to see that no one has highlighted this as a sexist portrayal of men.

Uh. No. There's actually no such thing as "reverse sexism". Or reverse racism, or prejudice against straight people or name whatever group you want to name. Sexism, like other forms of discrimination, are based in privilege, and the privilege in this society favours men.

If you're interested in reading a bit more about privilege and sexism, a site like feministing is a good place to start; reading this article about male privilege is another.
musamihi
Oct. 7th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
I was about to make something like this same point. I also think this post is an excellent discussion of male privilege (and a few other kinds) that speaks to some of the defensive attitudes that tend to crop up in discussions of sexism. *adds two cents*
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faradheia
Oct. 7th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
Very well done as usual!!! Always enjoy reading these - Thank you!
piplover
Oct. 7th, 2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
Amen, and thank you! You said everything I've thought when reading complaints about sexism in the show. Very well thought and presented.
frodosweetstuff
Oct. 7th, 2012 04:48 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, somehow you're not addressing the problems that I have with Scandal and the character of Irene. The sexism that I see in that episode lies in the fact that they took a female character who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes and whose photograph he asked to keep as a reminder of being outsmarted by a woman - and turned her into a character who has to use sex to be powerful and influential and who starts to lose against Sherlock as soon as she becomes infatuated with him (even if it's platonic) and the whole thing ends not with her sailing off into her happy end but with Sherlock saving her life.

Edit: Should probably add that I don't think that the whole of the series is sexist or misogynist, but I do have my problems with Scandal. I am quite upset that for once we have a clever female opponent but in the series she's reduced to sex and intrigues. :(

LOL and another edit (I really should think my comments through a bit better before I hit the Comment button): Part of why it upsets me is that I wonder why they made these changes. Of course we can only guess, but something that seems plausible to me is that up until Ep 1 of Season 2 we never had any "conventional" sexiness - ie no nudity. And the series was flirting very much with the homoerotic undertones. I simply can't help but think that to counterbalance all that they brought in naked Irene, with Sherlock somehow being interested and intrigued and a woman getting in the way of the Odd Couple vibes of the show.

(I really hope I don't need to edit again... *facepalm*)

Edited at 2012-10-07 05:00 pm (UTC)
sherlockholmes
Oct. 7th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
I really, really agree with you. I recently had to give a toast at the Sherlock Holmes society about Irene Adler and I specifically addressed some of the problems that you outlined here -- and the horrible comment Moffat made about why he'd changed her at all. I posted it Here if you'd like to read it.
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kizzia
Oct. 7th, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. You have, again, elegantly and articulately described exactly how I see the accusations of sexism against the show. I must admit that I think some of the cries of sexism and misogyny in relation to Sherlock do the cause of feminism more harm than good. This is well-balanced and thoughtful and pulls out some extremely good points.

Edited on 13/10 to say:

While I still find your writing elegant, having read the links that sherlockholmes has provided and followed all the commentary I have changed my opinion on sexism in the show. It's actually changed my opinion on sexism as a whole.
I don't think that you can construct a reasoned argument against the show being sexist by discussing the characters as if they are people, as you are doing here. They are not autonomous humans so judging them as such is building your argument on quicksand, They are all artificial constructs, written by men, and thus have to viewed in that way if you are going to analyse them. We can all put our own spin on how we'd like to think the characters would act off screen but that can have no bearing on how you judge whether or not what we are actually presented with in the show is sexist or not.

I would also like to say that I am sorry you received abuse on Tumblr and on here in regards to your post. Bullying and abuse is never acceptable, no matter how contentious the issue you are discussing.

However, I also need to point out that some of the accusations levelled against sherlockholmes on this and another comment thread on your journal have been unacceptable yet you don't seem to have said anything to the people generating those comments. sherlockholmes my have different views to you but that is no reason to turn a blind eye to people accusing her of extremism and racism. I realise that you are a very busy person but if you are going to invite debate on temper raising subjects like this you have to be prepared to police them properly, not just sit on the fence and tell both sides to calm down.

Edited at 2012-10-13 08:15 am (UTC)
wellingtongoose
Oct. 13th, 2012 09:45 am (UTC)
Yes, I agree that the characters are artificial constructs but I have pointed out in my writing how the female characters are developed as much as the male characters. The writers are not intentionally under developing only the female characters because they are female and nor are they using them to propagate gender stereotyped roles.

As to the comments against sherlockholmes, I have read them and I feel that they are criticism of her views rather than personal attacks. The language and tone used is strong but then I feel sherlockholmes also uses quite fierce language at times towards other commenters and about my own views as well. I have allowed this because I feel she is entitled to voice her opinions as long as they do not morph into personal attacks. It takes two people to have a debate, I don't think either of them is solely at fault, although one of the commenters worded comments more strongly than the other. Therefore I asked both of them to calm down.

To say that I am allowing abuse of commenters because they do not agree with my views is unjust. I have taken all of sherlockholmes comments on board and even added the links she gave into my meta to present a more balance view. I have been attempting to moderate this discussion to the best of my ability. I decided it would be better to have a discussion rather than simply ban all comments which would definitely have made my life easier. This is my LJ and my judgement, I can understand if you feel that it could be moderated better but to accuse me of deliberately allowing abuse of people who do not share my views is insulting.
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dioscureantwins
Oct. 7th, 2012 05:14 pm (UTC)
Very good essay! I don't know whether Sherlock despises Irene though. Even though she attacked his country, I think he admires her for the fact she dared to attempt it. Just as in some ways he admires Jim. The fact that her feelings got into the way and let to her ruin only confirms him in his belief he's right in his dismissal of feelings and emotions.

Thank you and goodbye!
light_frost
Oct. 7th, 2012 06:30 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THIS.
mizuki1988
Oct. 7th, 2012 06:45 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic! What you wrote about Irene is exactly, point by point, what I've been thinking all along. I'm of the conviction that you should treat fictional characters as fictional characters first, instead of grouping them into fictional characters and female fictional characters. (Incidentally, you should do the same with people, as in, treat everyone as fundamentally people instead of people and women.)

Irene is, at the very bottom, a villain. At the beginning she is a villain with a very minor level of "badness" - the consequences of her having the photographs are practically nil, she's not using them for blackmail, but for protection, so it can actually be argued that she's not a villainous villain at all. At this point in the story there's nothing in the way of her outsmarting Sherlock. Nothing really, truly bad will happen if she is the winner, and Sherlock is taken down a peg, which is all very nice for his - the protagonist's - character development.

But then the story raises the stakes. Irene teams up with Moriarty, she goes over to the dark side, so to speak, and dabbles in things with far more sinister consequences. As you said, she is blackmailing the British government. If she were to win, Mycroft would lose his job, Sherlock would be damned as a traitor, and Britain would be in some serious financial trouble. This is huge. The fact that she managed to get to this point is supremely impressive. But, if you look at this logically, from a storytelling point of view, she just can't be allowed to be victorious in this. She needs to be defeated, because if she weren't, the storyline would suffer a tremendous disruption. In any other show this could be a very interesting plot development, but not in Sherlock, which is fundamentally a show that focuses on single-episode plotlines, which only work if the general aspects of the world remain unchanged. (The Reichenbach Fall is an exception, but a canon one... the writers couldn't have written a jobless Mycroft, a traitorous Sherlock and a Britain in recession if they wanted to stay true to ACD...)

However, it's the nature of the defeat itself that's problematic. Because she is defeated because of sentiment. There's nothing wrong with sentiment itself, but in the episode it is shown in juxtaposition with logic and reason, and is seen as inferior. Irene's plan was flawless, she would have gotten her way were it not for the fact that she was a sentimental woman with a crush and a penchant for bad, schoolgirl puns. "I am Sherlocked" is an equivalent of scribbling your name with the surname of your crush in your diary. This, and not the fact that she is defeated at all, or that she is saved by Sherlock later on, is the real problem of the episode to me.
fenm
Oct. 7th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC)
Sherlock utterly destroyed Irene and then gloated about it. If the writers left things there, viewers are left with an image of Sherlock that is cold-hearted, ruthless and cruel.

I'm gonna be blunt: Irene spent most of the episode treating Sherlock like shit. She DRUGGED and ASSAULTED HIM, for God's sake. She jerked him around, she disrespected his personal space; and finally, she completely betrayed him and tried to blackmail his brother. And God knows what would have happened if Jim had had any demands... But Sherlock gloating about beating her makes HIM look cruel? I LOVED that scene, and I hated that it was "undone". And Sherlock rescuing Irene really feels like Moffat telling us we're supposed to like her. And worse, that SHERLOCK likes her.
wellingtongoose
Oct. 7th, 2012 07:50 pm (UTC)
I actually agree with you - Irene is a criminal and has treated Sherlock badly, but it makes it all the more poignant that he then decides to risk his life to rescue her.

He has consciously made a decision that he doesn't want to be responsible however indirectly for this person's death, despite what she has done.
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wellingtongoose
Oct. 7th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you for your comment. I never intended to open this pandora's box! I'm sorry if the comments here have made you feel disheartened. I can only spare the time to block and delete the really abusive stuff - I have damage control on tumblr to content with as well :(

I supposed I didn't think it was such an extreme topic. It's nice to see that most people can discuss this rationally. I'm so glad for comments like your's because the hate mail has actually made me tremble so badly I can barely type.

I had some really thought provoking comments, including yours :), and then not so thought-provoking hate mail which I am deleting as they appear and ignoring.

I'm basically not going to add any more fuel to this fire. I'm not going to post my Irene meta because I'm drained, it hurts and I have a day "occupation" as a medical student that does give me the luxury of being in pieces, but thank you.


Edited at 2012-10-07 10:56 pm (UTC)
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exbex
Oct. 8th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
I'm just throwing in my two cents to say that while I don't agree with 100% of what you wrote here, I really enjoyed this provocative meta and I'm glad you took the time to write and post it. I think your meta here also highlights the problems of throwing around the words misogynist and sexist, and for that I'd like to commend you. I say that because, IMHO, I feel that the words are being tossed around with too little thought regarding this fandom and Moffat, and when I read a well-thought essay such as this one, I'm encouraged, regardless of the fact that I don't agree 100% (It wouldn't be as interesting if I did). I won't get into what exactly I agree and disagree with as far as this meta because it's already been said by others. I really hope that you post your Adler meta after all, because I would hate to see your provocative thoughts silenced by people who can't control their emotions and choose to flame. These metas discussions are both necessary and what makes this fandom worth participating in.
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