Friday 17 January 2014

Sherlock's Veiled Victorianism

This is what a feminist looks like.

I watched an episode of Sherlock the other night - not a crusty old version, but the BBC's new souped up version, complete with drug dens, media barons (boo, hiss), parliamentary inquiries (Leveson, anyone?) and Watson suffering from PTSD from his time as a medic in Afghanistan.

And, of course, strong, modern women. Because these aren't the dark ages you know, with women stuck in the kitchen or fanning themselves in the drawing room as they recount their story to Mr Holmes. These are women who assert themselves, who take control of their lives and who consider themselves the equal of men. It's the 21st Century, you see, and the writers are keen to let us know it.

But let us deduce a few facts from the evidence, for all is not as it seems.

Sherlock is slapped repeatedly by a female doctor in full view of everyone at a hospital because he was supposed to be in a relationship with her and he lied to her about... something. What a cad.

Sherlock has his name smeared in the tabloids by a media secretary whom he was having a relationship with. Because he lied. And she turned down the morphine by his hospital bed while he lay recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound, so that he could feel more pain. Because he lied. What a cad.

Watson's wife turns out to be a secret assassin, rather than the person Watson thought she was. She lied to him. And she shot his best friend and hospitalised him.

Does Watson slap her repeatedly for the pain he feels? No. Does he get revenge on her by smearing her name all over the papers or otherwise making a profit out of her? No.

In fact, we're encouraged to feel sorry for Watson's wife - she is not to be seen as a cad. And Watson is essentially told to forget about his own discomfort and concentrate instead on hers. Because otherwise he would be a cad. And she is a woman who, while apparently a cold blooded assassin, cries and looks soft and caring. And vulnerable. She needs help. And sympathy. Whereas Sherlock and Watson just need to accept whatever happens to them, and take it. Like men.

The three women are, in fact, portrayed as victims, because that's what's currently fashionable. The trouble is, it's always been fashionable.

The BBC prides itself on its progressive egalitarianism, on its support for women's rights (it seldom uses the word Feminism) and on its genteel liberalism. So the victimhood of the female characters here is masked. They are portrayed as strong, confident females - the doctor stands firm and erect as she assaults Sherlock in public, the secretary smirks as she reveals how she got the last laugh in the end by profiting from her betrayal, and Watson's wife is given a scene dressed as a ninja and described as a very dangerous woman. Which, of course, is designed to go down well with female viewers. It's called pitching to a target audience.

But it's a thin mask that barely hides the victim status of the characters concerned - women scorned, women wronged, women unfairly judged just because they lied and killed a few people (I mean, who hasn't?). So rather than being a modern, egalitarian rendition of a classic story, it's actually just a throwback to Victorian values, where women aren't perceived as strong enough to take what a man can. They need a break. If a woman is wronged by a man, she deserves redress, for he did not act like a gentleman. If a man is wronged by a woman, well then, hard cheese old chap. Pip pip, stiff upper lip and all that. Just take it. Because women are fragile and emotional, so can't be expected to be judged the same as men or treated the same as men.

This new series of Sherlock is not, in fact, modern at all. It's a period piece. And for all its supposed egalitarianism, so is the BBC, with its studied paternalism and its tender pandering to women as it 'respects' them, while holding a door open for them and putting them on a pedastal.

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