Sherlock Gets Its Feminism All Wrong In The New Episode, ‘Abominable Bride’. Why Oh Why!

If you have watched Sherlock, or any other show written or produced by Steven Moffat, you will notice that either the women are underrepresented, or they take on problematic overtones. In its second season of Sherlock, Moffat turned Irene Adler — who, in the original Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories was the only person to have bested Holmes, by the sheer virtue of her intelligence — into a sexually objectified ‘dominatrix’ (remember that unnecessary nude scene?), and a damsel-in-distress who, ultimately, needed saving from Sherlock. In the span of one 90-minute episode, Moffat had managed to turn one of Sherlock Holmes’ most formidable rivals into a walking mess of unsettling tropes. So, when I heard that the latest episode of the show was titled ‘The Abominable Bride’, doubtless, I had my reservations — and I was not wrong.

[Spoilers Ahead]

Sherlock returned for a 90-minute special episode which aired on New Year’s day, with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising the role of the titular detective, along with sidekick John Watson (Martin Freeman); with a murder mystery in Victorian London. Much to the confusion of viewers, Sherlock was shown both in the modern world, dreaming he was in the 19th century, and in the 19th century, believing he was in the modern world. While the shifting timelines and changing narratives made the plot unnecessarily convoluted, my biggest problem with it was it’s skewed take on feminism and the suffragette movement. The mystery that Holmes and Watson investigate is that of Emilia Ricoletti, the eponymous ‘Abominable Bride’, who goes on a murderous rampage on her wedding night and shoots a bunch of men, and ultimately, shoots herself. Later, her supposed ‘ghost’ haunts a number of unfaithful men — including her husband, and murders them too. When the core of the mystery finally unravels, Sherlock discovers that the ‘ghost’, the so-called Abominable Bride, is actually a cult-like group of suffragettes who have conspired together to carry out the serial murders. After revealing how Ricoletti committed the murders to a roomful of these very same women, wearing tall purple hoods eerily similar to that of the Klu Klux Klan, Sherlock was then shown speaking about women’s rights, referring to the suffragette movement as “one half of the human race at war with the other” — something that is not just historically inaccurate, but woefully against what feminism actually is about.

[caption id=”attachment_1278" align=”alignright” width=”388"]

The cult-like suffragettes, wearing KKK-style hoods

The cult-like suffragettes, wearing KKK-style hoods[/caption]

He continued by saying: “The invisible army hovering at our elbow, tending to our homes, raising our children, ignored, patronised, disregarded, not allowed so much as a vote. But an army nonetheless, ready to rise up in the best of causes, to put right an injustice as old as humanity itself. So you see, Watson, this is a war we must lose.”
This sentiment might have been well-intentioned, but in reality, falls flat in advocating feminism, and in accurately representing the suffragette movement. The agitation for the right to vote — which was perhaps the most important tenet of the suffrage movement — is mentioned only in passing, and instead, they are portrayed as a bunch of vengeful “brides” murdering the men who don’t treat them with respect. In doing so, [envoke_twitter_link]Moffat divorces the suffragette movement from its political and social motivations and impacts[/envoke_twitter_link], and turns it into a personal vendetta — essentially reducing one of the most defining moments in feminist history to petty revenge. The suffragettes agitated for equal rights and social benefits, threw themselves under horses and went on indefinite hunger strikes as a means of protest; and here, they are likened to the Klu-Klux-Klan and seen conducting Masonic rituals and killing men — almost an MRA nightmare, isn’t it? As Reddit user Dotle sarcastically wrote: “It’s like he was trying to prove a point that he loved women by making them the driving force behind this case. Next time I need to prove to someone I like them, I guess I need to liken them to the KKK. Thanks Moffat!”

[envoke_twitter_link]It’s ironic that an episode that claimed to be about feminism didn’t even pass the Bechdel Test[/envoke_twitter_link]. More than two women were hardly seen interacting with each other, and when they were, their discussions revolved around men. And on top of that, Sherlock explains feminism and women’s rights to a roomful of suffragettes — not letting them talk! I understand that it’s a part of his character’s personality, to want to be the smartest person in the room and not let other people talk, but that doesn’t stop me from being disturbed by it.

When the show first aired in 2010, I admit giving into the Cumberbatch craze and being fascinated by it, but now that I’ve learnt to be more critical about the pop culture I consume [envoke_twitter_link]I have realized how the show has always done a disservice to its women[/envoke_twitter_link]. Characters like Molly Hooper and Mary Watson have such great potential, but are always underused or not given enough respect. Molly is treated terribly by Sherlock — even after she slaps him in Season three! And while Mary, who started out as a snappy, intelligent character was made into an assassin — because a woman can’t be brilliant and empowered unless she knows how to handle a gun, right? So I guess, I shouldn’t have expected much in terms of feminism from this show. But even then, making light of such an important aspect of feminist history was absolutely not cool, Mr Moffat.