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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Steven Moffat Hates Women, Part 2: Women As Performances.

Steven Moffat Hates Women
Part 2: Women As Performances.

Oft talked about is how the women Moffat writes lack any kind of agency, with their motivations and eventual fate always revolving around the main male protagonist of the shows he writes. 

It's a fair criticism, too: Doctor Who has River Song, whose motivation early in her life is to kill the Doctor, and who then switches to becoming an archaeologist in order to find the Doctor, with no intervening period where she actually does anything for her own benefit, before eventually being trapped in a computer to live a 'perfect' life, on the whim of the Doctor. Sherlock has Irene Adler, whose actions are reduced to being a game between Sherlock and Moriarty, before Sherlock eventually outwits her (despite never doing so in the novels -- you have to get up pretty early in the morning to be less progressive than Arthur Conan Doyle) and eventually saves her life. Coupling, meanwhile, has no less than two female characters working towards the affection and devotion of the male lead, while the third is preoccupied with finding a man and settling down.

The basic rule of Moffatian writing is thus: If you're a woman, your motivation has to revolve around a man (almost always the male lead, but sometimes a male deuteragonist), and for preference, your storyline has to culminate in that man saving you and deciding your future for you. It's easy to see why, too: As we covered in the last part, Moffat's tendencies when it comes to writing women are often governed more by his sexual fantasies than by anything else, and it's no secret that 'a woman who is completely and utterly devoted to a man' is a staple of straight male sexual fantasies, and the fiction that arises out of them.

In fact, whenever faced with the prospect of writing a woman who's doing anything that isn't for the benefit of a man, Moffat seems to become confused, losing the train of his plot developments quickly, which is how Amy ends up transitioning from kissogram to model to writer with no word on how she breaks into either of the latter two industries, and no indication she was even interested in doing so.)

Particular to Moffat is the recurring idea that women should become intrinsically linked to their male hero from childhood (preferably when the male hero is an adult -- time travel is a godsend for this man's plots, it would seem), with both Amy, Clara, Ashildr, and River beginning their fascination with the Doctor from a young age and continuing it through their entire lives. 

Slightly less talked about, meanwhile, is how this tendency leads to the idea of women as performances. Since women in Moffat's shows have no motivations, agendas, or goals that don't revolve around a man, it quickly ends up the case that everything his female characters do is meant as a performance for a man.

Take Jane from Coupling. A major facet of her character is that she's bisexual -- except, as we learn later, she's not. She's never slept with a woman and, much more importantly, she says outright that she has zero interest in doing so, with at least one character implying that Jane's 'bisexuality' is actually just for the benefit of men, to make her seem exotic and sexy. This could be waved away with a platitude about how it's just that kind of story, but the idea that bisexuality is a performance for men appears again and again in Moffat's work.

So, indeed, does the idea that lesbianism is a performance for men, as Sherlock introduces Irene Adler, a character who openly identifies as gay and who then totally and completely falls in romantic and sexual love with Sherlock, with the snide implication bubbling under the surface that she was only a lesbian until the right man came along. 

But this extends even outside of Moffat's bisexual and lesbian characters, and can be applied to nearly any female Moffat character you can think of. Euros, recently introduced in Sherlock, is a villain solely for the benefit of her brothers, creating elaborate death games entirely as a form of performance for them. While male villains like Moriarty are allowed to have plans that either don't involve the heroes -- like Moriarty's vast criminal empire -- or involve them as victims rather than people to perform for the approval of, Moffat's female villains (because this is also true of Missy) only ever act to provide a performance of evil for the male heroes.

The rule for Moffat's female characters boils down to a simple one: Rather than being fully fledged people with their own lives, their own needs, and their own desires, they must exist purely to elevate the male lead (or sometimes male deuteragonist, yes, I see you there John and Rory) -- and moreover, they cannot exist outside of men's perception of them. 

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