"There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. ... Well, the world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male."
--Steven Moffat, in The Scotsman, 2004.
Oh Steven Moffat, let me serenade you in the words of Alicia Keys. I keep fallin’ in and out of love with you. Sometimes I love ya. Sometimes you make me blue.
Because you said... that. And not just that, but in interview after interview you go off on weird tangents about women crushing the proud male spirit under an avalanche of Freudian sofa cushions. But you’ve redeemed my Doctor from the ranting bloated cartoon Tinkerbell Jesus he had become, turning him into a subtle, dangerous, funny, vulnerable alien trickster he should have been all along. And yet, you’ve turned my beloved Sherlock Holmes into a sneering bully of women, more aggressively sexist than he was in the 1890s. And then you of all people are the one to give me a female, gay, alien Sherlock Holmes and dear Christ I love her please keep going. In Silence in the Library You presented me with River Song – a smarming, cardboard cut-out Mary Sue whom even you seemed to kind of hate – after all, you punished her for her pretensions to awesomeness by trapping her forever in an ersatz domesticity completely divorced from anything the character had ever seemed to want. And yet, then, later (and I really don’t know how you did this) you gave me River Song -- a complex, heroic, brilliant, unstoppable, spacefaring adventurer who is not one whit less feared, admired or wanted for being well into her forties.
You seem to be open to the idea of a female Doctor, but you’ve defined Amy Pond by her marriage, her uterus, and all too often her helplessness. You’ve given me the amazing sight of a little girl regenerating, yet every time you write a female character you seem to start by asking yourself, ‘what are her marriage plans?’
Sometimes I feel good. At times I feel used. Lovin' you, Steven, makes me so confused.
That Scotsman quote is just awful, of course. The world is run in men’s favour, except for Western, middle-class, educated, probably white men, who are of course the most abused and underprivileged on the planet. Will we ever see a middle-class, educated man as Prime Minister? One can only dream. If only middle class men could overwhelmingly dominate business, media and the House of Commons. There might then at last be some justice, some respect.
On the other hand, it was seven years ago and I’d like to hope Mr Moffat has moved on, at least a bit. At any rate, there are a lot of things in that quote I don’t want to talk about – because it’s been years, because it’s all been said, because it makes me tired and sad. But there’s something I do want to talk about that I don’t think has been addressed. It’s been brewing in the back of my mind for all these years and it came to the fore during that post last week about the lack of female heroes and the promise and disappointment of Lisbeth Salander.
We don’t, as little boys, play at being married.
I’d remembered that quote slightly wrong. I thought you’d said, getting married. And I still think that might be what you’re actually talking about because really – playing at being married? Playing at being a mother, well, some girls do that, and yes, there’s the fantasy of being grown-up and in charge...
We’ll get to that later. Let’s stick to the weddings for now.
First, it needs to be said, of course, that not all women played at weddings when they were little. I know plenty who didn’t. But I want to talk about the ones that did. Let’s assume I was one of them – I can’t completely remember whether I ever went as far as acting out a wedding, but I know I thought and talked to my friends about how I wanted my wedding dress to be. Long, swishy and dramatic, of course, but not white, because that’s boring! Why wouldn’t I want to wear my favourite colour? My wedding dress, I promised myself, would be blue – a deep, rich, bright blue.
But you know what I didn’t daydream about? You know what never entered my mind?
Never, when I thought about My Wedding, did I promise myself that on this day of days, at last my innate female loneliness would be over. I never even imagined how handsome he’d be or how much he’d love me. Not even “He’ll be a kind, nice man.” The poor fellow never got a look-in. I knew he’d have to be there, vaguely, but that was a detail as negligible as the seating arrangements, and frankly, if I could have had the wedding without the husband that would have been just fine by me.
Yes, I am afraid, Steven, little girls’ wedding fantasies are not about you. You can relax; packs of little girls are not being reared from infancy to hunt you. It’s just the dress. That’s the fantasy. It’s about wearing an awesome outfit and getting to be the centre of attention.
Boys and men, of course, never daydream about wearing an awesome outfit and being the centre of attention...
Nice coats, there. Long. Swishy. Dramatic.
Of course you never fantasised about Your Wedding when you were little! 1) The groom’s outfit is boring and he doesn’t get to be the centre of attention! And 2) You had Batman and the Doctor and James Bond and Indiana Jones! That’s also why you didn’t bother playing at being a husband or father. Why would you, when the power over a household and a child pales into inignificance next to power over a crime-ridden city, an ancient underground tomb or the whole fucking universe?
(I hope no one will argue that the fact the bride is typically the centre of attention at a wedding supports the idea of an “unfortunate lack of respect for anything male.” It’s one day. And it’s not our fault your wedding outfits are boring. If you don’t like it, don a cape.)
Now, find me six equivalent Awesome Female Outfits, readily available and visible in pop culture, which a little girl need merely sit down in front of the TV to see. And remember, the woman wearing the outfit has to be the centre of attention. Not part of a team, unless she’s the undisputed leader; not a sidekick, not a love interest, not an antagonist and not a feminised version of a male original. So no Batgirl or Supergirl, don’t come to me with any X-Ma... well, you see the problem there already. She has to be the lead. And really I’d prefer it if the said awesome outfit was a bit more substantial than underwear anyway. Something long, swishy and dramatic would be nice – I get the feeling we might share a taste for that.
Well, I can think of Wonder Woman, though she clearly fails on the last count. I wasn’t particularly conscious of her, growing up, and the lurid stars and stripes and the underwear would have made me feel that she was really aimed at somone else. Besides, she wasn’t on television much when I was a kid anyway.
I’m sure there were heroes you weren’t interested in either. Maybe you didn’t want to be Captain America, maybe he was a bit garish and goody-two-shoes and American for you, or maybe you weren’t exposed to him much, but that was okay because you could be the Doctor.
But if I wasn’t going to be Wonder Woman, what alternatives were left? Well, not nothing. There was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast and Snow White – both the fairytales my parents read me and the Disney versions I saw -- and all those girls’ eventual triumph and vindication and happy ending involves getting married.
Now do you see why, for a little girl with that human desire to fantasise about being visibly, recognisably awesome, while clad in something long, swishy and dramatic, the wedding dress might be the most readily available option? Do you get why it’s something she might play games about, at least once or twice? Maybe when she’s older she’ll ask why marriage has always been presented to her in this way, one day she might want to know why she’s been shown so little else to aspire to, but it’s a bit much to expect her to do that when she’s six.
Of course, we weren’t wholly limited to what we’re shown on television. There was also what we could make up ourselves.
And there’s a point. Perhaps at this point you’re getting a bit fed up. “Why come whining to me”, you may be thinking “A nice man like Steig Larsson tries to give you what you want and you still complain. You want women having adventures, whether in awesome outfits or not, then write them yourself.”
Well, I’m trying, and I’ll keep trying as long as I’ve got a keyboard in front of me. And of course I want to write fascinating male characters too! But I do have all these things to worry about that you don’t -- being warned not to mention so many authors of my gender as influences, being told that if there’s someone of my gender on the cover of my book, I can kiss the male market goodbye, Warner Bros openly deciding they’re not going to do films with characters of my gender in the lead. It makes me worry about what I can write, and still sell. I’ll keep trying anyway, though.
Never mind about that. For now, as you’re writing for little girls as well as little boys, and as I believe you don’t have little girls yourself, (though I must say I think you write them well) I would just like you to know what else they play at.
I liked swords and bows and arrows and treehouses as much as pink ribbons and unicorns (and oh yes, I liked those a lot).
I pretended to be a Knight of the Round Table (the first female one!)
I liked fishing for sticklebacks in the river.
My best friend and I told and acted out stories of slaves on the run *cough*, encountering flying boats and wizard cities.
We also told the tale of Ben the Boring Boy who somehow entered a magical world where he had to stop being boring or he would die.
I wrote for said best friend the adventures of the very decisive Princess Dilemma and her quest to rescue her sisters, Rubella and Amnesia.
When I was about 11, I had this shawl-wrap-cape thing– when I wore it, I pretended I could fly.
It was deep blue. I still love that colour. If I ever do get married, I might wear it. Rich, bright blue...