i love how much the b99 fandom loves the women on the show. in every other fandom i’ve been a part of there has always been a lot of criticism of the female characters and far too often the actresses who played them as well. i used to frequently hear my favourite fictional women described as “annoying” when i knew that if male characters had the same personality traits the fandom would love them. and it was hard for me to hear my role models described as that because that meant that “annoying” was what i wanted to be. i love women, not just in a gay way, but in the way that i’m rooting for other women to succeed and be happy constantly and i feel like the entirety of this fandom feels that too. we love amy, gina and rosa for all of their character traits and supposedly “annoying” qualities and we love melissa, chelsea and steph too.
I’m doing a post about this because it bugs me more than it probably should. Partly because this is one of my favourite women in fiction and partly because it shows up some rather uncomfortable things about the way women (and relationships between the sexes) are portrayed in popular media.
Because when your representation of women has gone backwards from 1891, something, somewhere, has clearly gone wrong.
This is Irene Adler. She appears in A Study in Scarlet, the first of many short stories to feature Sherlock Holmes. Her biggest claim to fame is that, in the series, she is one of the few people ever to defeat Holmes (“he was bested only five times in his career, and only once by a woman”). It was not only her intelligence, but also her graciousness in victory, only wishing to secure her safety and her marriage to her beloved husband, that earned her Holmes’s undying respect.
This is Irene Adler. She appears in the films Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, directed by Guy Ritchie. She is a criminal who has bested Holmes, and, having casually divorced her husband, was his on-and-off lover. While ostensibly competent and formidable, she repeatedly has to be rescued by Holmes (though it would be remiss not to mention that she comes to his aid in turn) and is killed off early in the second film. Her relationship with Holmes is characterised by sexual attraction rather than intellectual respect.
Are we seeing a problem here?
This is Irene Adler. She appears in the second season of the BBC series Sherlock. She is a dominatrix with whom Holmes develops a complicated relationship as she gradually secures his aid against the people hunting her, only to reveal that she has manipulated his feelings for her in an attempt to obtain state secrets. In the end, Holmes defeats her with clues based on her own affection for him, and later rescues her from her former employers. Their relationship is one of intellectual sparring partners with a great deal of sexual chemistry.
Hmm. Not as bad as the movies, but are we spotting a pattern?
This is Irene Adler. She appears in the first season of the ABC television series Elementary. She is depicted as Holmes’s former romantic partner who was murdered by the criminal mastermind Moriarty. It later transpires that Adler is not only still alive, but that she and Moriarty are one and the same. Adler/Moriarty’s plans are eventually undone by Holmes’s partner Joan Watson. Their relationship consists largely of Adler/Moriarty using sexuality to manipulate Holmes (though it should be pointed out that she remains a highly intelligent and dangerous adversary without this element).
See, this is the thing.
The last three out of these four women are pretty cool, and quite strong characters in themselves (I’m not hating on either of these. Sherlock in particular is a damn fine show and A Scandal in Belgravia was a great story), but none are Irene Adler. Indeed, the film and ABC versions have absolutely nothing in common with the original character aside from the name. Not a single character trait. But it’s okay, because if there’s a woman in a Sherlock Holmes story, and obviously that means she’s Irene Adler. It’s not like Holmes ever met any other women in those fifty-six short stories and four novels. Certainly not any that he had much more chemistry with (cough the copper beeches cough). And, of course, if she’s a woman, she’s obviously a love interest. Not like a woman can be anything else in a story, right?
The other reason this annoys me is because I love how their relationship works in the original story. Holmes isn’t attracted to her (“it was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler”), but he respects her. He admires her, and she, in one fell swoop, earns that admiration and undercuts his sexist assumptions (“He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late”). It is arguable that Holmes puts her on on a pedestal (“in his eyes, she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex”), and indeed that sexist attitude is not entirely gone, but for Adler to have proven herself, in Holmes’ scrutinizing gaze, as exceptional is no small feat. But no, apparently that kind of female character just wouldn’t fly nowadays.
Let me pause and make it clear that I’m not saying having a romantic interest means a efmale character lacks strength. But when a strong character has been changed so that she is now defined by romance and sexuality more than her intelligence, we have a problem.
The only faithful adaptation of Irene Adler I’ve ever seen was in the ITV version of Sherlock Holmes, which was basically a word-for-word adaptation of the original story.
What? A woman not being in love with the protagonist? One who is simply an intelligent, worthy opponent by her own merits and requires neither rescue nor defrosting? What kind of backwards Victorian notion is that?
TL;DR: Irene Adler was not a love interest. She was so much more awesome than that.
Some of my favourite books:
• The Women Who Flew For Hitler - Claire Mulley
• everything by Brené Brown
• The Book of Joy - Archbishop Desmond Tutu + the Dalai Lama
• Wild - Cheryl Strayed
• Find Your Brave - Holly Wagner
• Unapologetic - Francis Spufford
• Into the Wild - Jack Krakauer
• Tiny Beautiful Things - Cheryl Strayed
• To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
• The Secret History - Donna Tartt
• Into Cold Blood - Truman Capote
• Never Let Me Go - Kazou Ishiguro
• A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James
• All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
• anything by Daphne Du Maurier
• The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
• American Gods - Neil Gaiman
Some of my favourite tv shows:
(I don’t get to watch tv shows very often but here are some I love)
• Game of Thrones
• How I Met Your Mother
• The Office (UK and also US version)
• Stranger Things
• Parks & Rec
• American Horror Story
• Brooklyn Nine-Nine
• Gilmore Girls
• Modern Family
Do you Know any books with strong Female characters that are not tomboys or something like that. I cant find books with girly, kind and feminine characters that are Also strong. The Only one i Know is GoT sansa stark. I'm kinda tired that Every Female character has to be a tomboy( that cant stand other Girls which is the reason she Hangs out with boys ), i cant relate at all.
ahhhh I feel you!!! I hate it when female protagonists have the personality of a ‘tomboy’ because apparently women can’t be strong unless they show the typical characteristics of strong men (or that a strong woman has to hate other women to be respected)…
some book to check out with feminine strong women (who get along with other women!):
throne of glass by sarah j maas. features protagonist celaena sardothien, one of my all time favourite fictional women. she’s a trained assassin who can seriously rock a ball gown.
vampire academy series by richelle mead. protagonist rose hathaway is an amazing woman who is the full time protector of her female best friend (this series also has awesome friendships between women!) and totally owns her sexuality and femininity.
code name verity by elizabeth wein. two female protagonists that stand out the most, showing unbelievable courage and strength when faced by horror and death.
the unbecoming of mara dyer by michelle hodkin. poc protagonist mara dyer slays, murders, and struggles with insanity and her moral compass & also wears dresses.
the handmaid’s tale by margaret atwood. much darker than the books above, it’s protagonist offred is a woman living in a dystopian nightmare, but she faces it, and she lives it. and this book is a work of art. read it.
shatter me by tahereh mafi. just like the book above, this novel features a woman, juliette, forced into a situation where one would break, and she has the strength (psychically and emotionally) to pull through.
the grisha trilogy by leigh bardugo. though i myself am yet to read this, it’s been recommended to me time and time again for it’s amazing female protagonist.
daughter of smoke and bone by laini taylor. wonderful protagonist karou is an art student in prague who travels the world collecting teeth for her adoptive monstrous parents. she has a mysterious backstory and a spine of steel.
mistress of rome by kate quinn. features two amazingly powerful and influential women of ancient rome who fucking slay.
i’m sure there’s more, but those are the ones that immediately leap to mind!!
“I don’t think there’s anything foolish or mistaken about trying to protect the people who are important to you. We can’t be sure about what’s best for the entire world, but I believe we love this world as much as we do because of the people we love, who are in it.”
“Anyone who thinks less of you because of how you came to be, well… I guess I have to kill them… You’re my champion, but if you need me to fight for you, I will. I am the Dread Queen, after all. You say kill, I kill.”