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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Mistress Fanservice

I spent last evening being variously angry and disappointed at the portrayal of Irene Adler in BBC's Sherlock. I don't usually use this space to comment on the happenings of fictional characters, but I was so taken aback at this portrayal of a dominatrix that I wanted to explore some of her "characterisation" and why it was wrong.

First, some preamble, just to stake my claim for why this is quite so important: this kind of bullshit in the media really fucks with how I am perceived. And how my friends are perceived. I'm a dominant woman. I know a lot of other dominant women, both professionals and non-professionals. I also know a few sex workers who are not dominant. I know kinky straight women, kinky bi women and kinky gay women. To the best of my knowledge, none of us has fucked Kate Middleton, and for the record, of all the royals, Harry would be my preference. With this experience, and with zero interest in relations between this product and the original story (there's a good article discussing those writing choices over here) I am going to simply outline why this character is a terrible depiction of a dominant woman.

Dominant women are not just uber femme seductresses. Now, I accept that the "femme type" is a standard tool in the arsenal of the female dominant. However, there are many, many others and many, many different types of desire and sexuality that a professional female dominant works with. Particularly true I would hazard, for one who has worked with the wide range of clients that this character appears to have. We don't see any of that, in fact, aside from the fact that we are constantly told she is a dominant, she appears as a seductive woman. This is not, I repeat, not the same thing as a dominant woman. This is the main problem with the entire portrayal of the character, she isn't a dominant. She's a seductress: she uses sex as a substitute for power. Dominants use power as a substitute for sex. Her clothing neatly illustrates this:
she sweeps us through row upon row of glamorous frocks when deciding what to wear to greet Sherlock. No militaria, no rubber, no leather. No fetish outfits of any kind. Not even a pair of jeans and a white vest top. Maybe there's another wardrobe somewhere. And speaking of things that should be there but aren't...

Where's the kit? Personal opinion here, kids, but I don't really believe in the whole "I can dominant you with only the power of my mind" theory of dominance. I know what I've enjoyed as a submissive, and I know what submissives I've played with have enjoyed.
And that's having a lot of horrible things done to them with a variety of objects as well as good D/s. Dominance is very strongly correlated with S&M and fetish. I honestly don't know a single kinky person who doesn't like some aspects of these things. I certainly know no professionals who don't, because doing those things and having access to that kit partly what you get paid for. The flat we are shown has none of this. Nothing. Oh no, wait. There's a riding crop. A slim, feminine riding crop. And a sliver of black rope around a present. This is all very soft stuff, and the continual portrayal of female dominants as soft, mysterious and delicate is deeply annoying. We like doing hard, heavy and nasty things.

Dominant women are not two dimensional sex obsessed freaks.
Irene appears unable to say any sentence that does not reference sexuality or the fact that she fucks for money. She does nothing else, there is nothing else to her. Every single bloody line. Now, even for us who live the lifestyle 24/7, we have other interests, interests not connected with world domination. Being dominant is something that is part of life, and for me it is a deep and meaningful element of my personality. But I don't talk about it all the time, far from it. There are many situations in which it is entirely inappropriate to do so. Dominant women are both women and people as well as dominants.

No dominant worth their salt, male or female, would ever upon seeing their submissive, unconscious on the floor step over them with an uncaring shrug and a quip. This was the moment in the show that I actually put a (submissive) blanket over my head and refused to come out until the scene had ended. Seriously. The CIA have broken into your house and your submissive is lying on the floor. Any dominant I know would immediately rush over, check them and then tell everyone else to fuck off until they had made sure their submissive was fully recovered. Sod the mysterious detective malarkey, real kinsters know their priorities.

Sex workers are not waiting for the right man to come and save them, to help them or to make everything magically better. This is doubly true if they are gay dominant women. The very worst stereotypes of sexualised women are presented in this character for the consumption of the male viewer: the tart with the heart, lipstick lesbianism, women as manipulated by men, feminine emotions as critical weakness, seductive women defeated by male intellectual superiority. It is high time we got past all of this.
Dominant women are actually dominant. Seriously. They are capable, self-aware and real people who can do things for themselves, by themselves because they want to.


Dijeratic said...

I do appreciate reading another woman's perspective on the characterization of women (or, in this case a particular woman) in the writing of Steven Moffat. He writes variations of this type of female in all of his programs - something I wish someone would notice and make a serious commentary on (hasn't happened yet).

He can be a talented writer, but I'm not a fan of his characterization(s) of women - still, he is so otherwise adored by the fan boys, it is difficult to find anyone willing to point out his unfortunate flaws.

Lizzie B said...

Hear hear. It was such a trite, light-hearted titillating 'Sex Lives of the Potato Men' British version of domination. If more people go to a dominatrix after this and think that is what they are getting, they are in for a huge, huge shock.

I disagree with one point, however - Irene uses sex as a means to get power, not as a substitute, I think. She's portrayed as someone who likes sex as part of her profession and I think that was very wrong of the writers. Professional dominatrixes dominate as a job and very rarely does their own sexual pleasure come into it. It was like they made her a cross-between a professional escort and a dominatrix and it's blurring the lines in an unhelpful way.

Fab post, hope it goes viral.