Tuesday, April 3, 2018

John Watson, male author, on the ladies

Of late, I've been seeing a Twitter challenge being bandied about by the female side of the gender spectrum, and it goes like this: "Describe yourself like a male author would."

What follows in each answer to that challenge is a bit of straw man authorship that brings out the worst of what each writer sees in a man's view of a woman. And, sometimes, some self-inflicted insults that are not at all well deserved. Our culture works hard to make women think they are less admirable than they actually are.

But where this gets off-track to me most is when it's coming from a Sherlockian who seems to have momentarily forgotten a particular male author: John H. Watson.

Describe yourself as John H. Watson would.

What words come to mind?

Well, I can think of a few that won't. Watson never really came across as a "certain body part" man. And he did have that "quick eye for colour" that Holmes remarked on in "A Case of Identity."

Miss Mary Sutherland is an interesting case, as Watson spends a lot of time on her. He compares her to a "full-sailed merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat" as she comes in behind the boy in buttons. He writes of her "broad, good-humoured face," a face he later calls "somewhat vacuous." Watson gets into the details of her hat, her jacket, her gloves, her earrings, but not her boots . . . interestingly, Watson keeps all him comments above the waistline.

Take another lady, one we know Watson was completely attracted to, and look at what he writes about her. Composure is his first comment. Blonde comes next, young after that. Small and dainty next. Kind of typical male stuff in that series, true. (She just had to be blonde, didn't she? Urg.) But then Watson rolls into fashion judgements for a bit before getting to her face, "sweet and amiable," and her big blue eyes. At which point Watson's words start showing us he's sweet on her.

Somewhere in between Mary Sutherland and Mary Morstan is how Watson described most of the women he encountered. Was his writing tempered by the fact that he knew most of the ladies would one day read his words, and he wasn't making up fictional characters? Well, there is the little matter of Watson's agent, who had no such compunctions.

There are definitely some pretty shabby male writers out there. Some shabby female ones, too. And they need to be called out when they cross the lines. But before we go lumping everyone into the same pile of trash, sometimes we also need to step back and remember the good ones.

And maybe ponder how John H. Watson would describe us, walking into 221B, no matter what our gender situation.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who writes regularly as Dr. John Watson, and who believes that a good writer can write in any point of view, I challenged one thread of this subject as the women were universally choosing to make their fictional male "writers" both venal and idiotic, while simultandously dissing both themselves and the male writers. Charity and charm feature in Watson's style, he's just not a mean person. Observant, yes, and sometimes sharply so. But restrained and generally sees the good in people. We could use a bit more charity these days...