I don’t normally post this sort of piece on my public blog or weigh in on fandom issues here – not because I don’t care about said issues – but because often my livejournal is a better home for such posts. However, Doctor Who fits squarely into the speculative fiction genre and what’s more, now maybe more than ever, it is a globally popular phenomenon. Besides, I am tired of justifying why I like the show. I am really, really tired of it. What’s more I don’t believe I should have to keep justifying. The internet has reached the point of generating more heat than light on the ‘Moffat is/isn’t sexist’ topic. I will give my reasons for what I believe and then never discuss this again. Please respect my opinions and decisions on this, just as I will respect your opinions and decisions. If you disagree with me violently, go write about it on a blog. Philip Pullman made a great speech on freedom of speech once. I am exercising my right to use it. I’m not stopping you from using yours. And if I really annoy you, tune in to Neil Gaiman and make good art.
First of all I don’t think I’m going to get anywhere without some basic frameworks to go off. Some quick QandA to get started;
Is InkAshlings feminist?
Yes, I identify strongly with being feminist; I believe in equality between all genders and I believe in smashing the patriarchy. Take a look at this blog and it should become apparent pretty fast. Maybe I don’t need to say this but you never know who will come calling.
What is feminism?
Leaving aside the issue of faux feminists, I do know that the definition itself is contested. To save on confusion I’m going with the most broadly known and popular via wikipedia.
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
What is sexism?
Let’s have a basic sexism definition from dictionary.com (slightly more nuanced than wikipedia’s).
attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.
What experience do you have in fandom and have you actually read feminist criticisms of Moffat within fandom?
I have been ‘active’ online since 2007. I’ve been involved in forums, on twitter and tumblr, obviously wordpress, dreamwidth and livejournal. I have read STFU Moffat and other tumblr users comments on Moffat Who. I have read blog posts. I have listened to my friends. I have engaged with the debate on livejournal comms. I hear your points of view. I really do. Some of them I don’t take seriously because they are arguments that start from a warped understanding of feminism. Some are arguments that I can understand but still don’t agree with because of a wider show context which I either believe you have missed or I interpret differently to you. Some I do agree with. Sometimes my faves write problematic things. Sometimes Doctor Who is problematic. It doesn’t change the fact that Moffat Who remains imaginative and humanist and boundary pushing for me.
So, how are Amy, Rory and River feminist characters?
You will notice I have deliberately left Clara out. Clara is problematic. I will discuss her last. You will also notice that I counted Rory as a feminist. That’s because I believe that the way the show has written Rory is as a male feminist. For the sake of ease of analysis, I will take each Pond in turn.
“There is such a place as fairyland – but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.” The Story Girl, Lucy M Montgomery
A quick digression: I have never disliked a companion on New Who. Rose had a rubbish story line that revolved around her needing the doctor (more on this later) but Billie Piper is pretty great (if you say otherwise so help you…) and Donna as played by Catherine Tate could come across as annoyingly shrill but she also called Ten out on his silliness and was a marvelous friend to him. But my favourite New Who companions are ones who show agency, who make real and meaningful choices separate from The Doctor. Martha might have spent her time mired in scripts that left her endlessly pining for Ten, but I can’t have been the only one cheering her choice to leave the TARDIS in s3. I found it to be empowering and believable.
Enter Amy Pond. Feisty and sexy TM, yes, but also flawed and hurting and terrified of commitments. Amy cannot be boiled down to a sexist stereotype. Amy, the girl who waited for a raggedy man and then… grew up. This post does not seek to deal with every criticism of Amy Pond. I want to hit publish before midnight, but I will try and cover the main ones. First off, to those who cry sexist at Amy wearing short skirts and colourful, bright attire, I am sorry but go away. Equality between genders encompasses the right to wear clothing of choice in safety without being called names. Amy wearing a particular outfit in and of itself is not sexist. Amy wearing short clothes to be a subject of the male gaze is. Some believe Amy was only ever eye candy. I find this to be reductionism of the most blatant kind and I will not engage on this.
Second criticism, Amy only existed for The Doctor; in series 5 she grew up expecting him to turn up again after he appeared to her as a kid and she role played stories based off that experience. She is only freed of The Doctor when she marries Rory and fulfills hetero-normative expectations. This is true but only to a point because Moffat is doing two things; first he is operating within a mythos of Peter Pan fairy story that isn’t about gender at all. It’s actually about childhood and adulthood and growing up. The Amy Pond ‘girl who waited’ story could have worked in the same way if Rory and her role had been reversed. This is an incredibly common fantasy trope and is much more about believing in fairies than it is about gender roles. Or to quote Dumbledore, we’re in the territory of, ‘of course it’s in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that make it any less real?’ This theme is obvious and it permeates Moffat’s run in RTD era Who and throughout Eleven’s run because Eleven is the alien who can’t interfere in people or planet’s unless he hears a child crying.
Secondly, Moffat subverts the traditional secondary female character falling for main male hero narrative (used by RTD with Rose/Ten) by having Amy make a choice. Amy chooses Rory because Amy discovers she loves Rory and not The Doctor. The (problematic) kissing at the end of Flesh and Stone and the (also problematic) way that Amy attempts to kiss The Doctor at the end of The Big Bang are not about male gaze. It is character development. Any child offered at a young, impressionable and imaginative age the chance to travel the stars with a mad man with a box would have difficulties adjusting to ordinary life (it’s one of the reasons why novelist Amy in The Bells of St John makes so much sense) and any child who grows up without stable authority figures would be afraid of commitment. Amy is strong willed and adventurous and flirtatious but she is also flawed and mean and petty and scared. That makes her well rounded in my eyes. A quick note on the wedding; a woman choosing to get married to someone she loves it not sexist. In the case of The Pond’s it is also an extension of the fairy story subversion. Fairy stories end when the princess gets the rich prince at her wedding. Moffat shows what happens after the wedding when messy human emotions kick in.
Then we hit Series 6 and the criticism became that Amy was Moffat’s River incubator. What’s more Amy can’t have children ever again because of The Doctor. I agree that Series 6 was problematic. It didn’t feel believable that Amy and Rory bounced back so fast after A Good Man Goes to War. I don’t think Amy is only an incubator. It baffles me that again people try to reduce a nuanced character to this. Yes, she spends half of s6 being pregnant, but she also spends her time (as she did in s5 much to many peoples discomfort, which says more about them than Moffat) pointing out The Doctor’s flaws and foibles, putting his feet back to earth and solving problems he can’t solve. In Series 7, the Amy/Rory divorce is shoe horned in but again I don’t think it’s sexist. It makes sense within the fairy story growing up framework that Moffat has going. Amy can’t settle to ordinary life and she fails to communicate with Rory and he with her. This isn’t sexist. This is an honest look at human relationships. When both are helped by The Doctor to communicate, they repair the relationship and become closer than ever. They also make the sensible, if unpopular decision to stop being full time TARDIS occupants. Why? Because Amy has finally grown up. She doesn’t need The Doctor’s mythos any more because real life has supplied its own mythos; that of love. Her life no longer revolves around The Doctor. It revolves around living with Rory whom she loves as well as having a range of creative jobs covering a kissogram, perfume creator, model and then writer.
Amy starts off as a character with little or no agency because she is a child who sees things upside down. Her adventures with The Doctor help her see her path more clearly and she chooses that path. She is written in a way that gives her equal standing with the two important men in her life (The Doctor and Rory) and she makes independent decisions about where she has headed and is heading. She moves from a character with no agency to a character with agency. Ten’s companions tell themselves (and The Lonely God allows them to believe it) that they aren’t anything without The Doctor (Rose needs a human Doctor to feel fulfilled and Donna has her memory erased, her character development set back to zero and is granted her own empty white wedding complete with a Doctor gifted lottery ticket) – the exception to this being Martha who refuses to be defined by The Doctor as a secondary Rose and therefore chooses to walk out – but Amy is allowed a level of growing self worth and agency that is unusual on a show that for so long has been about the male hero. As, Moffat reminded us at the end of Angels Take Manhatten, ironically, s5-7.5 was always ‘the story of Amy Pond.’
A brief section on Rory. I love Rory. I love him fierce. Here is a man who waited 2000 years for the woman he loved. Here is a man who is comfortable in his traditionally feminine role as nurse. Here is a man who is comfortable being known as Rory Pond even if the patriarchal institution of marriage dictates otherwise on paper. Here is a man who recognizes that his wife needs more than the ordinary to be fulfilled so he keeps travelling through time and space even though the adventures really, really scare him. Here is the man who helps to defend those he loves but is still nurturing and caring and is OK with that.
Married to Amy Pond, how could Rory be anything but a male feminist?
I don’t find the Pond’s sexist. The Pond’s are my favorite story on New Who. Heck, they are one of my favorite love stories ever. I say that as an identifying feminist. And I’m done repeating it.
Post 2 will discuss River and Clara. This post turned mammoth. I have had four years to think this out. Comments are screened same as usual