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Women, Sex, and Power - A Rant

More Sherlock reaction...well, basically, this is my Reaction to Sherlock Reactions.

As I talked about a little bit previously, there are people who took issue with the way Irene Adler was handled in Sherlock. And SOME of the issues are valid - like for instance "How and why is she involved with Moriarty?" Yes, it ties the plot together nicely - but what does it mean about her motivations? Or, for instance, the debate about whether the very end of the episode made her a the victor or the loser in her game with Sherlock....(personally, I see her as being the victor, but again, I just like liking things.)

We get people who miss the point entirely and are mad that she seemed to have feelings for Sherlock even though she was a Lesbian...which I just roll my eyes at, because obviously they miss the entire point of her conversation with John.

And then we get people who are mad that she was a professional dominatrix. Ryan North of dinosaur comics, thinks it's an overused trope - uh okay, he's obviously watching different programs than me. Though, honestly, what would you have her be? An opera singer like she was in the ACD book who just HAPPENED to have a past affair with a member of a royal house? That plot wouldn't go very far - she wouldn't have the information needed to involve the Americans, or terrorists, or Moriarty. She wouldn't have enough clout to garner the interest of anyone, let alone Sherlock Holmes. There would be absolutely no intrigue - I mean honestly...go back and read the original story, it's fun, but there is NO INTRIGUE. "I have this photo, but I'm not going to give it to you and I'm never going to show it to anyone anyway, and you can't fool me with your disguises! Now I'm off to live happily ever after with my beloved husband and I'll never cause trouble again! Bye!" Oh, thrilling television, that.

And we get people who say stuff like this:

 I did side-eye the idea that a woman can only be powerful by being sexual

First off, she is not ONLY powerful by being sexual. She is powerful by being SMART and she just so happens to be sexual. Sexual arousal is her PROFESSION, it is not the source of her power. Her BRAIN is the source of her power, the sex is just a visual sign post - and I'll tell you why...

Completely ignoring Irene for a second... It pisses me off that when powerful women are overtly sexual, they are anti-feminist. That, for instance, Irene showing up naked to battle Sherlock is somehow a BLOW to womankind. Horseshit.

You know what women are supposed to be? Do you know what Victorian women are supposed to be? Do you know why so many of the worlds misogynist religions ask women to cover up? (My apologies to any of you who believe in misogynist religions and take offense that I just called them misogynistic twice). Do you know what the 19th and 20th century women were believed to be? Here's the answer: Women don't want sex. Men are the horndogs who defile them. You have to coerce your pretty girlfriend into letting you fuck her...pry those legs apart. Mini-skirts are scandalous. Bikini's even more so. My goodness, check out that whore in the low-cut top! God, did you see Stephanie the other day - she was dressed like a total slut. If a man has a one night stand, he gets high-fives - if a woman does, she's a slut. More than two boyfriends in your life? - whore. Enjoy threesomes? - whore. And let's not forget what it said in the sex book I found from the 1950s "Women on top is perverse and unnatural" so there you go girls - lie back and think of England. Sex is something done to you, not by you.

So, what is a sign of a woman in a position of power? What's a sign of a woman who is not only in control of herself, but also DOES NOT GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK? Maybe it's that she's HONEST. Maybe it's that if she wants to have you right here, on this desk, until you beg for mercy twice, she is going to fucking do JUST THAT. Maybe she is going to walk into a room completely naked just to freak you out - because she knows how you work already, Sherlock Holmes, and she knows a thing or two about disguises.

Have you ever walked into a room completely naked in a society that is constantly judging how you look when completely naked? If you can pull it off - climb up into a strangers lap - and not bat an eyelash, then you are a pretty goddamn confident girl, I'll tell you that much...but your ability to strut around naked does not make you confident and powerful. It doesn't work like that. Just because A causes B, doesn't mean B causes A.

So fuck anyone who complains about sexually confident women being a DETRIMENT to feminism. If I want to be sexy, I'm going to. If I want to whip people until they orgasm, I'm going to. If I want to sleep with someone, I'm going to. If I want to pick a fight with someone and then battle them with every single tool at my disposal, including my naked body and the fact that sex might alarm them, then I'm going to - because I can, because I'm confident and powerful and I can do whatever the fuck I want and be whoever the fuck I want.

It's one of those Madonna/Whore things...damned if you do, damned if you don't. You're either anti-feminist for being too demure, or your anti-feminist for being too sexual. Why don't we just let people be themselves? How about we stop making every single female on television the representative for all women? Is Sherlock the representative for all men? No? Why not? Oh, because he's a possible asexual sociopath and most men aren't. Well, most women aren't dominatrixes that want to blackmail the British government, so how about we stop forcing Irene to represent our ideal of the perfect woman. Why aren't we talking the same way about Mrs. Hudson? She's pretty badass - I mean, she was attacked by Americans and still managed to stuff that phone into her bra...she once got Sherlock to ensure that her husband was executed for murder... she's a woman who has managed to garner Sherlock's affections without being sexual at all. Maybe SHE can be your ideal of the perfect woman - or is she too old? Not intriguing enough? It's because she hasn't nicknamed herself "The Woman" right? You understand that that title was just a nod to ACD canon, which, quite frankly was WAY more misogynistic than what you just saw, right? Sherlock is not the perfect representation of all men, and Irene is not the perfect representation of all women...there, they really are perfect for each other - if only Irene weren't gay and Sherlock weren't Sherlock. Hamish is a very fine baby name. It's what I picture whenever I say "Jesus H. Christ!"...which is something I say, for some reason.

Anyway, now I'm just rambling. I'm just sick of it. You know what the day will look like when we're finally equal? No one will give a shit about crap like this - a character will just be a character, and not be an ambassador for every single person with the same genitalia, skin-colour, sexual-orientation, or pocket watch.


Jan. 5th, 2012 12:04 pm (UTC)
I wonder if you watch Doctor Who at all?

I haven't yet started to watch Sherlock....

I have a lot to say about Moffat and women characters, but my experience with Amy and River is coloring my reaction to your post!
I wonder if women viewers who are frustrated with the role Moffat gave to Irene, might be having some of the same frustrations with Moffat's work in general that I have?

Misogyny is so pervasive, and such a nasty, jagged implement that cuts everyone around it. You know? Here is Moffat holding up this interesting character as a dominatrix, very smart, full of power, and not being led around by her ovaries.... and over at the most recent Who story, there is this wonderful celebration of Motherhood.... so why is it that these "celebrations of womanly power" remind me uncomfortably of the whole virgin/mother/whore thing you've already mentioned instead of making me cheer?

If you are familiar with River Song's devolution from smart, sexy anthropologist to morally compromised, love-addled teenager.... you might see the place of Moffat skepticism that I'm starting from. and I don't even want to start on Amy, cause that's a 20 page article in the making. :P

I just have one more question, that not having seen it, I'm not in a position to answer.... Do you feel that Irene is presented as a pornographic object for the male gaze, an inspirational role model for empowered women, or some combination? I'm guessing some combination... but if that element of pornographic spectacle is significant, it would complicate my reception of Irene as a character.

It shouldn't be a revolutionary claim that smart is sexy. Too bad is smart also needs to be naked so you can tell how sexy it is!!

I'm glad the Irene portrayal worked for you, and I'll be keeping your thoughts in mind when I get around to Sherlock. Cheers!
Jan. 5th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
I DO watch Doctor Who - however, I don't read discussions about Doctor Who, or think about it very critically. It's my "fun" show (along with Merlin). It's true, I didn't much like how they handled River...but I actually haven't thought much about Amy's character or story-arc, and I'm probably not likely too. I sort of just turn off that bit of my brain when I watch Doctor Who (along with the bit of my brain that cares how good special affects are, or gets annoyed by an excessive use of deus ex machina).

But yeah, I have noticed that even before Sherlock aired, people were saying stuff like "I hope Moffat doesn't mess up Irene like he's messed up the Amy/River/Whoever" - which, is why I said that it seemed that some people who were already pissed off at Moffat for other reasons were determined to hate whatever he did on Sherlock as well.

It all leads back to my opinion that we should stop making female characters the spokesmen for the entire gender. Yes, we can get mad at Moffat for ruining River Song, but I think we should get mad at him for not being able to write a CHARACTER effectively, not get mad at him for being sexist. But, you know, that's my dream world.

To answer your question about Irene and the male gaze... I'd say No to both. It's true, the first time we see her, we get a lovely shot of her ass as she wakes away (and it is GLORIOUS) - so, that's the "male" gaze, I suppose...though, as she was in charge in that moment, I'm not sure it quiet qualifies. When she appears naked, well, she's naked - I'm sure many people would accuse it as being an object for the male gaze, but I did not see it that way AT ALL. She just happens to be naked - it's a tool to throw Sherlock off his game, and it works well. Sherlock is thrown. John is uncomfortable. Irene is reveling in her very early win in the battle.

Furthermore, in terms of just being filmed as "sexy" (object of male gaze or no), I think the director and cinematographer actually treated Sherlock and Irene the exact same. Sherlock actually appears naked BEFORE Irene in a similar bid for dominance. The difference, of course, is that Sherlock doesn't sit in someone's lap, nor is he overtly sexual in his nakedness...but that's because he's Sherlock and it's a scene with his brother...sexuality is not a tool that he can use at that moment, even if he possessed it. Irene, however, can - because she knows/believes that sexuality makes Sherlock uncomfortable.

Irene is, actually, from beginning to end, portrayed as a female!Sherlock. We see her first with the riding crop - just as we first saw Sherlock in ASiP with the riding crop... yes, people lust after her, but in our first scene with Sherlock back in ASiP, we also had Molly lusting after Sherlock.

So, the short answer is: No, I don't think Irene was an object for the male gaze.

I also don't think she was an inspirational role model for empowered women. She was smart, yes, and she was confident, yes...but she was also blackmailing the British government and in league with a terrorist. I certainly HOPE she wasn't meant as a role model.

I think, she was just Irene...and I think we were supposed to perceive her as Sherlock perceived her: a cunning opponent in a game of intelligence and dominance.
Jan. 5th, 2012 10:28 pm (UTC)
It sounds really intriguing. I haven't watched Sherlock yet at all (one more show for me to wiggle into!) but I'll be looking forward to this.

Moffat is a really great writer from time to time, so if he does a good job with Irene in this I'll take your word for it. :D

"we should stop making female characters the spokesmen for the entire gender. " AND we should never stop holding writers accountable for how they generate their characters. If I see simplistic and/or sexist patterns in a writer, I'll be holding his or her feet to the fire!
Jan. 5th, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
It sounds really intriguing. I haven't watched Sherlock yet at all (one more show for me to wiggle into!) but I'll be looking forward to this.

As I mentioned to someone else: When you do watch it, please keep in mind that the second episode 1x02 is not very good (in my opinion, of course). You need to push through it to get to the awesome that is 1x03, though. I feel it's important to lower people's expectations on 1x02 before they watch it. :P

And yes, we should always hold writers accountable for how they generate their characters - but we should also be careful not to put their feet in the fire before we even see what they've done. I feel that for a lot of people, Moffat was deemed guilty before the trial began, and the "evidence" was interpreted to suit that preemptive judgement.