Friday, 3 February 2012

Virulent Misogynism Where You Would Least Expect It

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a mild interest in the Sherlock Holmes stories both the original ones and those written by authors other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Consequently it will be of no surprise that I have followed the second series of 'Sherlock' which ran last month.  It is written by Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat who have both been involved with 'Doctor Who' after the past few years; Gatiss also has quite an interest in steampunk as seen in his version of 'The First Men in the Moon' (2010) for which he wrote the screenplay and starred in.  'Sherlock' loosely bases its episodes on the renowned stories from the Doyle canon but brings them into the 21st century.

The first episode of this second series was 'A Scandal in Belgravia' modelled in part on 'A Scandal in Bohemia' (1891) the third Sherlock Holmes story published and the first in short story form.  The antagonist of both versions is Irene Adler in the original an American opera singer and in the recent version a high-class dominatrix prostitute.  In both, Adler has compromising photographs of royalty, in the original of the fictional King of Bohemia and in Moffat's version of an unnamed female member of the British royal family.  In the original story Adler is heterosexual and uses a photograph to leverage non-interference for herself and her new husband, a solicitor; in the modern version she is a lesbian, though she has male customers including a leading member of the Ministry of Defence and uses the photographs (held on a mobile phone) as leverage for non-interference by the UK government.  In both stories Holmes manages to locate the photographs by simulating a fire but is outwitted by Adler who escapes to safety (or not quite and this is where the important differences creep in).  Holmes in both stories has an ambivalent attitude to Adler in turns charmed, excited, challenged and angered by her, ending with begrudging admiration for 'The Woman', the title she earns in the 1891 story but starts with in the 2012 one.

I found the episode of 'Sherlock' engaging and there were new sub-plots such as the British government faking aircraft explosions to mislead terrorists.  However, the part of Adler deteriorated as the story went on.  Despite being a lesbian she falls for Sherlock Holmes (in a way which reminded me of Pussy Galore in 'Goldfinger' (1964)) and steadily comes to depend on Holmes for her safety.  The ultimate degredation comes at the end where she is seen dressed in a hijab about to beheaded by a gang in Pakistan only to be saved by Holmes masquerading as the executioner.  With that scene I half expected the next Gatiss/Moffat collaboration to be a producing of 'Kim' or some other tale of the Great Game set in Afghanistan just as if this was 1901 again and we were watching something penned by Rudyard Kipling.

The fact that 'Sherlock' saw the most renowned and strongest female character from the Holmes stories turned into a vulnerable female falling in love with the sexless Holmes, against her own sexual orientation and then rather than escaping from him and gently ridiculing him as she did in 1891, being a victim who can only be saved by him, not only irritated me but other commentators, well at least one.  On 3rd January, in 'The Guardian' newspaper, Jane Claire Jones wrote an interesting analysis of the gender politics of the episode and how Moffat's seemed to be a retrograde step from Doyle's version despite female equality having (supposedly) advanced in the last 121 years.  The article is here:

Now, I am not going to write a critique of the article, which I had no issues with, what I am going to focus on is much of the content of the fifteen pages of online comments that followed in the three days after the article was published.  Now, 'The Guardian' is a liberal newspaper and you might expect many of its readers are as well.  I accept that the online version may attract a different audience to the paper version, but you might think that people with more conservative views would access one of the more numerous right-wing newspapers available online for their articles and to comment on.  What is alarming about the comments is how so many of them are misogynistic both against the article's writer and to the female character she is discussing.  The fact that 'The Guardian' had to remove so many of the comments and replace them with:   'This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn't abide by our community standards.' indicates some of the problem.  Not all of the comments were offensive.  Some just wondered why there was such fuss about a television programme, though you could argue that about any television review included in a newspaper.  However, television programmes, especially popular ones as 'Sherlock' clearly is (riding near the top of the I-Player list throughout January, so clearly being viewed by people in addition to the millions who saw it on television), do inform how we see society and I guess some of us were depressed at Gatiss and Moffat while being modern and usually supporting of gay characters turned to a Post-Feminist approach.

Beyond the comments about the unimportance of the programme you get on to a spiral of insulting comments generally directed at Jones or expressing views about Adler's character.  They range from the patronising suggesting that Jones give up writing articles and return to study and that she is probably ignorant of the ways of dominatrix prostitutes to utterly vile comments which have now been removed, but the phrase on one: 'death by rape' has lodged in my mind even weeks later.  What we see paraded is a series of comments which treat a woman writer and character at best as if they are juvenile and at worst as if they are some appalling creature who is there only to be abused for the pleasure of males.  Of course, they can hide behind pseudonyms as so many of us do online, but what alarms me is that these men are walking around with such hatred for women, probably mixing with women at work or even in their homes.  People hold vile views, but what shocked me is that in three days so many of them flocked to the website of a liberal newspaper to repeat such attitudes again and again without shame.

I have commented before about the decline of Feminism in the UK, something that has been noted by columnists writing for 'The Guardian' itself like Suzanne Moore.  They argue that Feminism has to be fought for all over again.  I have already agreed with that, but now feel that an active response needs to start immediately.  The internet is rife with vile attitudes in its dark corners, but the women-haters seem confident enough to step up to a widely read website and make such comments, presumably assuming they are 'common sense' and could not be taken as offensive because they are 'right'.  Hatred against someone for simply what they are whether female, gay or of a particular race is never acceptable and the commentators who post such things in places where they can be seen by children ('The Guardian' is freely accessible to anyone on the internet) need to realise they will be stopped because what they say is evil.  They are as bad as those sick criminals they no doubt would like to see executed and should be treated with such disdain themselves.

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