Friday, May 31, 2013

The equality to be a stupid Watson.

Don't knee-jerk on me with this one, folks. It may require a little "outside the box."

In our most recent confrontation of Sherlock-person versus Moriarty-person, we saw something highly unusual: it was actually Watson who defeated greatest of all criminal masterminds. In considering this turn of events, I think it behooves us to look at an overall pattern in Watsons that goes back for decades.

Female Watsons are smarter Watsons.

Joanne Woodward as Dr. Mildred Watson.

Margaret Colin as Jane Watson.

Debrah Farentino as Amy Winslow.

Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson.

Not all geniuses, yes, but not a dummy in the bunch. And since everything is relative, factor in this: Male Sherlocks paired with these female Watsons also seem to be somewhat impaired: delusional, time-challenged, or with serious addiction issues going by the list above. In each case, we are deprived of a Sherlock Holmes who is fully at the top of his game, thus making Watson all the brighter by comparison.

While it has been suggested that the most recent pairing comes closest to an "equitable" Holmes/Watson partnership, male/female detective duos of equal brainpower have been around a long time. Nick and Nora Charles hold a special place in the firmament of detection, just as surely as Miss Marple, Sam Spade, and a handful of other non-Sherlock detectives do. Do we really need to balance the brainpower in the Holmes/Watson team?

And yet when Sherlock is male and Watson is female, writers seem almost driven to even things up, just to be courteous to the ladies. Having Sherlock Holmes be the true peak of detection that he is has to make someone look a little foolish, to look up to him a little bit in admiration, and as Watson is standing closest to ground zero, it inevitably has to be him (but never her) now and then. That's just the way the game is played. If we want the Nick and Nora game, well, there's Nick and Nora. Or Jonathan and Jennifer, if you're a TV lover.

There is a very sneaky sexism at work in the male-Holmes, female-Watson duo. Why not completely female-female? Or even more workable, female Holmes and a male Watson? Hell, Watson could be Nigel Bruce goofy again, and as a man partnered with a smarter woman, I think we'd totally let him get away with it. (But really, make Watson smart. Make Holmes just that much smarter. Of course, that takes a really smart writer.)

And while a true, genius of a female Sherlock Holmes would be ground-breaking and totally suited to our modern state, as opposed to Holmes's Victorian origin-point, let me take my suggestion on step further. I think we'll truly know we've succeeded in gender equality when Sherlock Holmes can be a brilliant man, Watson can be a slightly foolish woman, and we don't see anything wrong with that.

Male or female, bright or stupid, the key to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson will always be the differences between them and the friendship that ties those two unique beings together.

And that should be a lesson for us all, really. Accepting a partner without demanding they be at all like us? That's not stupid at all.

1 comment:

  1. Most women have keener intuition than men. Even Sherlock Holmes acknowledged this when he said, "I have seen too much not to know that the impression of a woman may be more valuable than the conclusion of an analytical reasoner" (TWIS).

    When that feminine intuition is combined with intelligence, it confuses the male brain in such a way that he must either admit the superiority of the woman who possesses such a combination or ignore her altogether as he keeps looking for "the smartest GUY in the room" (your post of May 27).

    Notwithstanding the Nigel Bruce-like incarnations of Watson, no true Sherlock Holmes would abide such a partner for long. Reasonable intelligence MUST be a prerequisite for any partner of the Great Detective. Combine reasonable intelligence with natural feminine intuition, and you just can't create a foolish female Watson. It has nothing to do with the state of gender equality.