My dismembered girlfriend?! That’s an awful surprise!
Several years ago, comics writer Gail Simone introduced the term “women in refrigerators” as a way to describe women in comics who have been hurt or killed as a way to further a man’s pain. Since then, it’s entered the general geek vernacular as a way to describe any woman who ends up dead for manpain’s sake, and while more and more people are likely to call out The Powers That Be for writing women this way, it does remain an often-used trope. The whole premise of Supernatural revolves around two fridged women, Mary Winchester and Sam’s girlfriend Jess, and women regularly are hurt or die to make its leading men sad. (A short list: Anna, Sarah Blake, Pamela, Meg, Amy Pond, Jo, and Ellen, just to start us off.) Barry Allen’s origin story in the upcoming Flash series centers around his mother’s death. Rachel’s death in The Dark Knight was purest fridging, and so were Allison’s death in Teen Wolf, Frigga’s death in Thor: The Dark World, and Spock’s mom Amanda’s death in Star Trek XI.
The problem with this trope is that it reduces women from people with agency into objects that are acted upon; they go from characters who make choices to tools whose purpose is to make someone else sad or angry or motivated, and that propagates the idea that objectifying women is a legitimate storytelling technique. One interesting thing about this trope, though, is that it’s become so expected that writers have started to use it in a subversive and surprising way.
Spoilers for Arrow Season 2, Elementary Season 1, and How To Train Your Dragon 2 below the jump.
Few people inspire more division and frustration in the geek world than Steven Moffat. Showrunner of Doctor Who and co-creator of BBC’s Sherlock, Moffat’s storylines and female characters have attracted plenty of accusations of misogyny. But Moffat refuses to acknowledge any problems with the way he handles his shows. It’s abundantly clear that he believes he’s a feminist… and I think he might be right. Although he probably doesn’t know it, I believe Moffat is a New Feminist. New Feminism is a flavor of feminism popular among many religious conservatives, arising from a supposedly “biblical” view of the sexes. Continue reading →
Saika and I have been watching our way through Orphan Black after Stinekey’s excellent recommendation of it (we aren’t finished yet! no spoilers, please!) and we both love Felix, Sarah’s gay foster brother. Felix is… well, it’s not technically incorrect to say he’s a gay stereotype. He’s an artist, he’s ~fabulous~, and when he ends up roped into babysitting duty, he asks the kids he’s looking after if they want to be crossdressers for an evening. He gets all the snark, all the sass, and all the cool clothes. He is actually gayer than a daffodil.
However, being a stereotype doesn’t necessarily mean that Felix is a poor representation of the queer community.
Oh, Steven Moffat, why do you so often introduce ladies that you claim are bisexual only to never give any hint or evidence in the actual show that they are? River Song is not the first character to be outed outside of her TV show, but is there any evidence in the actual show that River Song is bisexual? And does it matter if there isn’t?
River Song is one of those characters that I find extremely confusing. Don’t get me wrong, she’s extremely interesting, but she’s a time traveler, we meet her out of order, she ends up being Rory and Amy’s daughter, as well as the Doctor’s wife and murderer. Everything with River was very confusing. Add to that a confusing representation of River’s sexuality and suddenly you need some damn strong headache medicine.
We do a lot of complaining about the way women’s roles in action movies are typically that of the romantic interest. And hell, it’s justified. There are far too many films where the lady, however interesting she is, is nothing less than window dressing or the arm candy.
However, on the other side of this coin, it’s important to remember that having a romantic interest does not inherently lessen the worth of a female character. It’s only when her role boils down to ‘my only motivation is my love for my amazing prince charming dudebro’ that it becomes a problem.
Consider The Avengers. Does it matter if Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff have a thing? I’m not necessarily arguing that they do, but if they did, would it make Nat any less kickass? No. In this case, the Black Widow is a well-rounded, complex character with various motivations, and romantic feelings are just one part of those motivations.
On the other hand, let’s look at Sherlock. Irene Adler is also an arguably badass lady. But over the course of her part in “A Scandal in Belgravia”, all of her actions are motivated by her romantic attachment to Sherlock, and it makes her character unpleasantly two-dimensional.
The problem with boiling women down to just their romantic motivations is that it essentially removes their agency, and forces us to define their characters in relation to their romantic partner. But at the same time it’s important to remember that the basic fact of having a male romantic partner does not immediately make a lady less kickass.
I don’t usually read fanfic on tumblr. I don’t usually stick with fanfic that have a lot of spelling and grammar whoopses. And I am so happy I got over these two peeves and finished ‘No Kidding’, a BBC Sherlock fic about Sergeant Donovan.
The summary, well, sums it up way better than I could:
“Sergeant Sally Donovan will: defend her bisexuality, become a cop, punch people, move house, get a promotion, save Sherlock Holmes, throw a party, buy a cat, play the harmonica, go on bad dates, attend a wedding, attend a funeral, meet Irene Adler, get laid, and get shit done. Like a boss.“
Second of all, the fic deals well with Sally both discovering and refusing to let people erase or fetishize her bisexuality, which is awesome.
Third of all, it’s nice to have a look into the background of Donovan’s character, since in the show she’s portrayed as someone for the audience to hate blindly because she hates Sherlock. Getting into Sally’s head, we see both that yes, if you knew Sherlock in the real world you’d probably hate him too, and that actually, Donovan has her own reasons for disliking him.
Fourthly, this fic is rife with original characters, but they’re interesting and well fleshed out, and thanks to them the fic passes The Bechdel Test!
Finally, hooray for a fic where the main character is a queer woman of color instead of a white dude!
The BBC’s Sherlock series is different on a number of levels. For one thing, they’re the first really popular modern reboot of the concept of Sherlock Holmes that has stayed mostly true to Conan Doyle’s canon (as opposed to shows that draw on the stories’ ideas like House). Secondly, as the title of this clip points out, it is the first Holmes series to ever discuss sexuality within the canon of the show.
This clip is a large part of the evidence people use to argue that Sherlock (at least the BBC’s version) is asexual. (Now, many Doyle afficionados have speculated that Sherlock is asexual before based on the original source material. But this is the first time Sherlock’s sexuality has been an explicit part of the discussion.) Other evidence people point to is his complete obliviousness to come-ons from various people from Molly to Irene and his lack of interest in forming relationships with other people (besides John).
He can’t be called a straight-up ascetic, because he indulges in other sins of the flesh—most notably “recreational” substances. The most difficult part of trying to box up Sherlock’s sexuality is that he’s also often described (both within the show and by the writers in interviews) as being “Aspergerish”. I’m no expert on the autism spectrum, and a character can certainly be both Aspergers and asexual, but a lot of fans find it hard to judge whether Sherlock’s disinterest in sex is related to his asexuality, his mental state, or both.
It’s interesting to note that the biggest sexuality-related backlash I’ve seen to the “Sherlock is asexual” line of thought is “No, he’s gay with Watson, and you’re weird”. And that’s not just within Sherlock/John shipping communities. I have friends who have never actually heard the word “shipping” in their lives that point out the pair’s slashy, UST-filled moments every time we watch an episode together.
Here’s the thing, though: I wouldn’t argue that Sherlock is aromantic. Consider, if you will, this actual commercial edited together and aired by a Korean network that was broadcasting the show.
Sherlock has said numerous times that he cares for John in a way that he cares for no one else, and he goes to extreme efforts to help John in the same way that John does drastic, reckless, and sometimes illegal things to help Sherlock. (I do hold that John is in love with Sherlock and hasn’t come to terms with the fact that he’s bi yet, but that’s a story for another Saturday.)
And I’ve already expressed my opinions on how tired I am of the constant recycling of the Irene Adler character and subsequent romantic developments between her and Sherlock in my Game of Shadows review, but given the lengths to which Sherlock goes to help her in “A Scandal in Belgravia”, it’s hard to argue that he doesn’t care for her in some way.
So we arrive at a theory: that Sherlock is a biromantic asexual. But I think that needs one more tweak. Sherlock as I understand him doesn’t really see gender. I’d posit that he’s panromantic rather than biromantic. So there you go. Only Sherlock himself can give the definitive answer, and I’m not sure I trust showwriter Steven Moffat (with whom I have a very complicated relationship) to stay true to the character in the end. But you heard it here: Lady Saika thinks that, given the evidence and if you force her to label his sexuality, the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes is a panromantic asexual.