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Saturday, 21 January 2017

Steven Moffat Hates Women, Part 1: Moffat's Five Archetypes.


Steven Moffat Hates Women
Part 1: Moffat's Five Archetypes.


It's really no secret at this point that Steven Moffat, favourite showrunner of the BBC and head writer for both Doctor Who and Sherlock, has some women problems. A lot of women problems. Too many women problems, and nobody has been more committed to the task of documenting those problems than Moffat himself, who has gone on record to say that female fans of Sherlock all just want to be the one to melt that glacier  and that women are needy and out there hunting for husbands.

By now it's been the subject of a lot of discussion, especially in how it's presented in Sherlock and Doctor Who, but it's worth really trying to get at the nitty gritty of Moffat's issues, and also look at Chalk, and arguably his first major success, Coupling.

For those not familiar with these three shows: Chalk was a semi-autobiographical (and the words 'semi-autobiographical' in connection to Moffat should fill anyone with fear) sitcom set at the school, like a cut-price Teachers (which was never exactly brilliant), while Coupling was basically just friends as interpreted through Moffatian film-making, being a sitcom about three men and three women living a city life. It even basically has the same characters.

We'll get into some more detailed stuff in later parts, but for this first part, let's break down the five archetypes that all women in Moffat's works fit into. If you've seen that 'mother, virgin, slut, bitch' gifset floating around the internet, it's a lot like that, except all of them are the latter two.


The Susan.

So named for Susan in Coupling, the Susan is Moffat's baseline idea of what women are like -- or what they should be like, at least. The Susan is every beleaguered sitcom wife rolled into one: Neat, organised, sensible, and also deeply passive-aggressive and a nag.

This last is key, because it's often the only trace of personality this archetype has: They nag, and they're needy, and they turn men into "politically correct weasels," (Moffat's words, not mine) through a combination of fear and rewards.

Bear in mind, this archetype falls somewhere in between what Moffat thinks is standard and what he thinks is ideal. In the worlds that Moffat creates, it is a horrifying inevitability that all men will become trapped in relationships with passive-aggressive, angry women who destroy the core of their characters.

Now remember that Moffat based Susan on his girlfriend at the time. They're not together anymore. Who can say why.


The Irene.

So named for Irene Adler in Sherlock, the Irene is the opposite of the Susan, but arguably even worse as a character archetype.

Where the Susan is grounded, the Irene is adventurous, daring, maybe even a little bit crazy, and deeply sexual (and always interested in the protagonist). There is an inhuman quality to the Irenes, as they don't really have lives or stakes in the narrative or anything to them beyond being beautiful and deadly, with perfect make-up and a sexy one-liner available to hand.

The femme fatale that the Irene is modeled on is an archetype with a long and storied history in fiction, for better or worse, but the Irene takes a slightly different approach to the archetype: Irenes are motivated by love of a man, usually the main character -- quite often, they'll be motivated by that since before they appear in the story, but if they aren't, it'll be their primary motivation by the end.

Moreover, Irenes possess the seeming of agency without actually having any true agency. When the chips are down, they'll always need the male protagonist to save them, and whatever skills they have will always be second to the male protagonist's.

Irenes will often end up in relationships with the male protagonist, but they are never the same kind of relationships as Susans: Instead, each relationship will be a series of strung together rendezvous, thrilling in their senses of danger and with no strings attached, and while the Irene will always be monogamous to the male protagonist, there is the expectation that it need not work the other way around.

Irene Adler from Sherlock is obviously an example of this, but so is River Song, whose life explicitly revolves entirely around the Doctor.


The Missy.

Named after Missy from Doctor Who, although Missy is arguably not as bad an example as others in this category, if only because a lot of her character traits were also ones shared by the John Simm Master.

The Missy is the standard issue Moffat female villain. He has only one type of female villain, you see: They are always visibly unhinged, prone to jumping from one topic to another, and their motivations always boil down to 'wanting the hero to love them.' Sometimes, this love is romantic, sometimes it's familial, but it's always the same basic motivation nevertheless.

(A theme is beginning to appear.)

The Missy shares some traits with the Irene, in that they have a pronounced inhuman quality to them, but while the Irene represents something Moffat sees as fundamentally good -- a woman who exists only to provide excitement, adventure, and sexual satisfaction to the heroes with no expectations on him, who can never be his equal and doesn't want to be -- the Missy represents something Moffat sees as fundamentally evil -- a woman who presents the risk of being better than the hero at his chosen field, and who needs to be neutralised by the reveal that she only wants the hero's love.

Missy, obviously, is an example of this, as is Euros from Sherlock.


The Amanda.

Named after Amanda from Chalk, the Amanda is flighty and free-spirited, but always to the point of being completely unable to function in normal society. In Chalk, this character was a milder example -- a much more unpleasant and overwrought example is Jane, from Coupling.

Jane does things like put a sock puppet on her hand and scream at people. Jane dances between being obsessed with her ex-boyfriend (Steve, who is, you guessed it, Steven Moffat) and not caring about him at all. Jane says she's bisexual, but the show makes it clear that this is a performance for men, which is a preoccupation in Moffat's work that appears again and again.

Just like the Irene is the dangerous, no-strings-attached-but-still-devoted perfect woman, and the Susan is the standard woman who will eventually trap men within the confines of a relationship, the Amanda is 'any woman who has rejected Steven Moffat,' and also 'any woman rejected by Steven Moffat,' torn between ardent desire and cold disinterest for him, barely able to function, histrionic, manipulative, and flighty. The Amanda is a cartoon of so-called jilted ex-girlfriends, a kind of writ-large version of the 'all my ex-girlfriends were crazy' idea.

While Amanda and Jane are obviously prime examples of this, Coupling does also have Sally, who sits on the border between the Amanda and the Susan, combining the settling-down preoccupation and the histrionic and overwrought nature of the Amanda. 


The Clara.

The Clara represents Moffat's stumbling attempts to sort of do better. Maybe. A little. Honestly, that's up for debate, I'm not confident enough in that assertion to really stand by it, so do say in the comments if you disagree.

In many ways, Clara Oswald and her fellow Claras are a step forward for Moffat: She is introduced as at least having a nominal life outside of the Doctor, and she has her own agendas that sometimes clash with the Doctor's. She's intelligent but not dangerous like the Irene is, grounded in the real world but not a passive-aggressive ball-and-chain stereotype like the Susan, free-spirited but not unhinged like the Amanda.

Or she's meant to be, at least. How much Moffat succeeds is a matter of some argument.

A fun game to play when talking about Clara is to look at an episode from each chunk of four episodes or so that she's in and ask 'What is this character's motivation, and what is their role in the narrative.' In Clara's earliest episodes, her motivation is kind of a vague thing about wanting excitement -- a pretty standard issue companion motivation. 

Cut forward to the 2013 Specials, and her motivation entirely revolves around the Doctor. Cut forward to the next series, and her entire character arc is about her choosing between two men: The exciting, daredevil Doctor, and the down-to-earth but more boring Danny Pink. Jump forward yet again, and Clara now has no character except 'loves the Doctor.'

Even when Moffat is trying to write a strong female character, he always circles back to the same preoccupation: That women are satellites orbiting men.

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