Steven Moffat’s Female Characters: Response Rant

Original post here

So this started as a reply to the above but got pretty…side-tracked since I was only going to reply about the women and then drop it but whoops. So I guess it’s getting its own post? I dunno sorry everyone.

Ah, oh boy. I really do apologise so much to my followers because Moffat’s sexism is one of my buttons and after last episode? I give up. Apathy makes this easier to tear down. We’ll start with the list and go down it and just wander through the fields of sexism from there.

And read more apparently hates me. Sigh. Hopefully it works.

Please, please note. I actually like some of these characters. And hell, I like some of the stories. But if we’re talking about what Moffat writes and what he does with the characters, the stories he writes for women and how he handles them, then just focusing on the positives is going to look, well, overwhelmingly positive.

So I’ll do a counter list of these characters and some points - rather crucial points for understanding Moffat’s bullshit - that emphasis the problematic.

Nancy - Is defined by her role as a mother and her rejection of it. Is punished for rejecting it and only redeemed once she accepts this role. Her very character definition is a mothering role to the children and in the end her most important role is motherhood. The world would have ended if she hadn’t accepted her position as a mother, in fact. What’s really eyebrow raising here is that she was even still taking care of him, just as his sister. Yet that is unacceptable, even though it’s her nightmare to be a mother. And so it’s what she becomes. Wanting to be a mother isn’t an issue - though neither should not wanting to be one and considering her reactions, well - but Moffat’s writing is a whole and this is a piece that shows a good glimpse of his thoughts on women and their roles in stories.

Reinette - Ends up defined by the Doctor. We see this one repeated a few times. Knowing his name and believing he is worth the monsters, something River herself asked before giving her lives to the Doctor. Is he worth it? Women are often put in roles of sacrifice for men. Anyway, the sexual element is another big one here, adoring the Doctor and looking only towards him.

Historically, Reinette was a pretty amazing woman. But in Doctor Who, the end has her role as waiting for him, growing older and sicker and still waiting until the last. So, so much could have been done with her character and her story while still involving the Doctor, still allowing her to want him and care for him, while acknowledging the amazing life she led and the accomplishments she made.

We also mark her as the first of Moffat’s favourite thing at the moment, writing women whose lives revolve around the Doctor from childhood and who grow up to want him and seek him.

Kathy - I want to touch first on Sally’s friend. Tossed back in time, to a time very, very different for women, torn away from her friends and life she had, she marries the first man she runs into, a man who followed her despite her telling him repeatedly to back off, but makes sure to tell us she’s never been happier in this time, with this man and her role as a mother. Oh, okay. Again, the bigger picture here.

Sally - Sally’s ending is my real issue here. She settles down with a man who matches up with Moffat’s favourite type: the harmless, nice guy, like the one that followed Kathy. Rory is a fleshed out version of this who, prior to his very questionable character development, nice and harmless. Considering Moffat feels like one of these himself and a lot of his anger at his first wife and general feelings on women were rooted in the Nice Guy ideals that he pushed on Press Gang and Coupling, this is an important note. Sally ends up settling down with this guy to run a video store with him, when before she seemed freer and happy, now she obsesses over the Doctor and creates a folder of things on him.

Yes, the Doctor needs that folder for Moffat’s favourite time paradoxes but that itself is another trope he abuses. Once she’s finished her task of giving the Doctor the folder, she fully embraces her new life.

River and Amy could have entire essays devoted to them - like the others, I feel the need to note - but especially these two I feel are impossible to discuss without a lot of words. So I’m going to try to make this short and touch on a few points.

River Song - Raised to kill the Doctor, gives her life for him, seeks him, chooses her career path based on that, what about her isn’t defined by him? No, really. What is? In this new timeline, the rebooted universe, she ensures her own birth by encouraging Amy and Rory to hook up. She worries about her weight right after regenerating, she uses lipstick as a weapon, she’s an attempt at a femme fatale with her sexual innuendos and deadly talents. She has a change of heart, though, not because of her parents or her life that she lived with them on Earth but because of the Doctor. Then she sacrifices herself for him, something she also truly dies doing yet again later. She waits in prison for him and discusses how she spends all her time waiting for him.

When it’s all taken together, every choice she’s made is for him. About him. Even if she chooses it, it was because of him. She is defined by her relationship with the Doctor and everything we see about her is about him, not her. It’s never really about River. Her mystery isn’t who she is: it’s who she is to the Doctor. She is Amy and Rory’s child who is destined to kill him and love him. Growing up with Amy, she obsesses over him more than even Amy does. In fact, she rather steals Amy’s childhood of obsessing over him. Military brainwashing factors in here but why is she brainwashed? Because of the Doctor. His existence.

And speaking of all that, if she already killed him in an earlier regeneration, why was she still on a mission to kill him, anyway? Either way, her only relationship is to the Doctor. Even what we see of her and Amy is all about the Doctor, finding out about him. Her relationship to her parents is, pretty much, nothing. And what River gets for this life of devotion is downloaded into a computer where the last we see of her is in a motherhood role, raising three children, two of whom aren’t even real. Yet she smiles and is content. Whatever River is, I can say she’s not an “oh I am in a computer for all eternity now, I guess I’ll raised some kids.”

Maybe, if the diary hadn’t been left to her, she could have made a few choices that weren’t so heavily burdened by the Doctor. But the diary is the TARDIS and River was told by the Doctor that she is the child of the TARDIS and thus special to it and him. How much ‘choice’ does River really have, ever, in her entire life? From the moment she’s born until the moment she dies, with everything we’ve seen? I’d say zero.

Amy Pond - I’m going to mostly focus on Amy’s development in S6 because I feel it’s the most damning evidence there is for Moffat’s sexism. Amy’s pregnancy, let me start off to say, was handled and continues to be handled in a frankly disgusting and squicky way. She didn’t know she was pregnant but the Doctor knew about the gangers and the whole idea of it and he would watch her strange condition and she was never told. Never. And did the Doctor jump on this and go search for the answer? No. They had a few adventures in between. Then, without explaining a damn thing to her, he wakes her up in the middle of giving birth to a child she didn’t know about. Has Amy reacted to this? No, not really. She’s become passive and quiet, not allowed to express her feelings on this and it’s not explored at all just how horrifying and terrible this is. What was done to her had some shock value and that’s it. Where is the exploration of what the shit was done to her and where is the Amy who screamed she would kick their backsides?

But this is the rebooted universe, the healthy one, where she has parents and had a childhood friend named Mels who pretty much had all the say in everything. Amy’s obsession - which was treated as unhealthy, fancy that, finally obsession with the Doctor treated as unhealthy! - is Mels’ and Amy apparently only had her but it doesn’t matter, it was River and Amy still doesn’t get to react. It still isn’t explored. Amy is just there, a device now.

And let’s look at more. Let’s look at Rory, who has to give permission when Amy gets a hug for Christ’s sake. It isn’t fucking funny. The Doctor is her friend and he has to ask Rory if he can hug her. It’s not the first time, either. Rory, who mocked her accent in this episode out of nowhere. Rory who she is pretty much punished about all season, for not being in her place as a good girlfriend, so she’s haunted by his death and cries a lot. When she doesn’t know what to do, she cries in Rory’s arms, and Rory is the action hero on the bike, again mocking her accent when she questions him. (The mocking thing really, really pissed me off, you can probably tell.)

Amy was a girl who bit her therapists, who kicked and screamed and wouldn’t back down no matter how afraid she was. There’s nothing wrong with a character giving up and crying but that wasn’t who Amy was. But in this ‘right’ universe, everything is fixed and Amy is better now, because she’s learning to defer to the men. In that episode, Let’s Kill Hitler, her golden moment was because she is River’s mother and can access her data. Her role as a mother is what matters now. Her role as a wife. But not her. We don’t get to see Amy’s feelings on this trainwreck that is her life now and how little choice she was given in any of it, how it was hidden from her and she was lied to by people she loves. It isn’t about her.

But you know what, I don’t have to talk about Amy. Moffat did for me.

Some people have gone so far as to say that Amy is a plot device more than a character.

I never heard it said, so I don’t know how to respond to it…But she isn’t. She actually gets in the way of the plot sometimes. Amy’s tricky—she doesn’t always do what she’s told, she’s not quite as adoring of the Doctor as she ought to be, she’s naughty.

Part of the criticism comes from the fact that Amy is purely defined by her relationships with the men in her life—the Doctor, Rory—as opposed to her predecessors, for whom we saw vibrant, active home lives, aside from any romantic attachments they might have.

We see an active home life for Amy. Her boyfriend and her…I don’t see what’s different there.

Well, any family life for a start. Or life outside of Rory.

We don’t see her mum and dad much…[But] I can’t think of anyone who isn’t defined by their relationships…I think she’s sometimes defined perhaps by her problematic relationships with those people, her slight indecision about who she’s in love with, her willful selfishness at times, and her badness, which I quite like. As I say, “bad girl in the TARDIS.”

- Steven Moffat

I put my favourite part in italics and bold there but let me restate it: she’s not quite as adoring of the Doctor as she ought to be. Let’s not forget she gets in the way of the plot. So her treatment, getting thrown in the back of her own life and the things happening to and around her, is on purpose, because she “gets in the way.” And from the same interview, this part is another fun bit.

Should we find that relationship strange, that the Doctor is dating their daughter?

If he is indeed dating their daughter. He seems to have, at least if nothing else, a woman who flirts with him with a wifely confidence. How will that work? I think Rory will probably punch him twice a day: “Hands off both of them!” I don’t think it will bother Amy for a heartbeat because actually she has made a choice. She doesn’t want the Doctor. Or rather, she’s got the Doctor in that way and she would think, “You go, girl. Go get him!”

Again we see the emphasis on the places of men and women. River has ‘wifely’ confidence. Amy is encouraging because she no longer wants the Doctor. No threat! So River is allowed. Though Rory’s say is still the man’s position of decision on the actions of both River and Amy.

And this is all without going into the way in the comedy skit, Amy’s ‘bad girl’ nature is the subject of humour. She wears short skirts! She gets her way with them! God, put on some trousers, Pond! But like he said on his twitter, two Amys? What ‘hot-blooded male’ wouldn’t be all over that? And his idea of humour is rather important.

"When writing comedy, you have to have the confidence to believe that there is only one type of relationship in the world, and we are all having it; that all men behave in the same way and so do all women; I fill the script with universals, and people seem to watch!"

- Steven Moffat

Of course, we’ve all seen a specific quote about women and husbands but I want to give the full part of it and the interview, as I think it’s especially interesting then.
"I don’t know how well women come out of Coupling," says Moffat, the son of a headmaster, who taught English in Greenock before following his original writerly instincts and scoring his first success with Press Gang. "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."
Not that I study such things, but this seems to contradict the findings of at least one recent survey, suggesting it is women who cope better on their own. We’re all weekend relationship-psychologists now, of course, but since Moffat - now a dad of two - has subjected his own entanglements to special scrutiny for the benefit of the sitcom, maybe his opinions on the sex wars rate better than most.

“I used to have Patrick’s life, minus the large accoutrement,” he says of his days impersonating a road construction vehicle. “I had a fantastic penthouse flat in Glasgow and put it to the best possible use. It was tremendous fun.” But it was his first meaningful relationship in ages that inspired Coupling. When he and Susan started living together, he says he was confronted with a “completely different set of life priorities”: suddenly there were cushions everywhere. Or, as his alter ego in the show puts it: “Tiny picture frames, toilet-roll holders, toilet-roll … ”

So, post-New Man, post-Lad, where does the male of the species stand now? “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

So here’s the thing: He’s serious. He isn’t joking. He isn’t terrible at interviews. He isn’t failing to express his sense of humour. This stuff, all these things? Moffat believes them and writes them. Moffat is sexist. Period.
And yet you might accuse me of a number of things at this point because I watch the show, because I like or dislike the women he writes despite or because of how he writes them. Look, if I stopped watching problematic shows, I’m not going to have anything to watch anymore. And sometimes, it’s really, really damn hard to separate a character from how they’re written. I can do it with Amy. I can’t do it with River, though damn if I don’t feel horrible for her. I can watch episodes that Moffat writes and enjoy them and hell I can love ones with really questionable parts (see: me loving the Christmas special.)
But what I’m tired of is this automatic defense of him, this ‘haters gonna hate’ that comes up, the way it turns into a ‘SHE’S BADASS HOW CAN YOU NOT LOVE HER.’ Can we stop that? And can we stop saying he has no issues?
Your favourite show has problems. Your favourite writer is not perfect. Someday, I really hope to be a writer. And I won’t be perfect. I’ll screw up, I’ll probably get sensitive issues wrong and rightly have people call it out, I might rush a character or make them OOC for the sake of plot - because yes writers can do that too! But I will try my best and I hope there are people who read it and go post, “Uhm wow this part? You didn’t see it as problematic?” and I hope people don’t march around defending me like that.
Someone needs to sit Moffat down and explain to him what he’s doing wrong. One of the interviewers above did try and I love them for their efforts at saying that it isn’t that we aren’t all defined by our relationships but look! Really, really look, at how you’re showing those relationships and the message you’re sending with it.
Is there anything wrong with writing a character that only wants to be a mother? Fuck no. I think everyone’s had enough of faux feminism shaming things like that. But there is something with writing it as a woman’s place, making your characters revolve around men and motherhood and doing it in these specific ways that only enforce what he says in his interviews.
I know this is all harsh-sounding and ‘hater’ but please, do think about it before picking up your gifs. Someone accusing your favourite writer of sexism isn’t the end of the world or unspeakable. It says a lot that people act like it is, though.

Me personally? I just want two things: to watch my shows again without getting pissed off and to be able to say when I’m pissed off and why and not get the ‘you’re just a hater’ response.
  1. lol-macro reblogged this from folklores
  2. spanthedistance reblogged this from folklores
  3. sentientcitizen reblogged this from lucyzephyr and added:
    I don’t agree with everything in all...the character critiques, but the quotes from Moffat...
  4. mercythompsons reblogged this from folklores
  5. thebestofallpossible reblogged this from folklores
  6. lucyzephyr reblogged this from cardiganism and added:
    Much appreciated, Sara.
  7. cardiganism reblogged this from folklores and added:
    Just reblogging this for Lucy. Also, his pigeonholing of women characters is not a new thing.
  8. shattercity reblogged this from folklores and added:
    Just the beginning of this icky feeling I’ve gotten from season 5 and 6. I hope we get a new writer soon. I think there...
  9. hippopotamuses reblogged this from folklores and added:
    reblogging again b/c there is moffat appreciation on my dashboard
  10. chickwithmonkey reblogged this from mymissus and added:
  11. folklores reblogged this from mymissus and added:
    Actually they do. If you look at the reblogs, I have a lovely “shut up” one with a gif flipping me off. That said, it’s...
  12. mymissus reblogged this from folklores and added:
    Nope, not walking away yet. This first - NO ONE thinks you’re the bad guy. I just wanted to point that out. I guarantee...
  13. thelouringlady reblogged this from folklores
  14. babemagi reblogged this from folklores
  15. miscella reblogged this from time-traveling-waitress
  16. sociolinguist reblogged this from folklores and added:
    this is worded so eloquently oh god it highlights so many problematic things in moffat’s doctor who - the sexism, man,...
  17. boldly-going-to-my-bunk reblogged this from folklores and added:
    I’m reblogging this for posterity because it puts into words a lot of what had been bothering me about this Season but...
  18. tarepandas reblogged this from lizzyalex and added:
    Shut. Up. If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Don’t reblog it. Seriously. If you want to disagree and add something to...
  19. toulouselastartrek reblogged this from gqgqqt and added:
    Only tagging Rachelle because she was talking about this last night. I thought you might be interested!
  20. magenmagenmagen reblogged this from folklores and added:
    A well thought-out and assembled list of problematic things in Doctor Who, and probably the most level-headed assessment...
  21. kenning reblogged this from shirozora-lives