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although there's a lot about yesterday's episode of Torchwood to like, one particular aspect amplifies an annoying-bordering-on-offensive trend in how Russell T Davies develops his female roles.

Toshiko's role in Torchwood is the 'female geek'. The person in charge of all of the computer systems maintenance and ops. She can handle herself okay in the field, but usually she's at the Hub while the others are out in the field, helping the team keep track of what's going on remotely.

The two episodes that have focused on Toshiko's "character development" focus on the same idea - the 'lonely geek', the character with all of the book smarts and -some- degree of street smarts, but with that one fatal vulnerability - the desire for love, and typically in a very naive sense. Toshiko's relations with Mary and with Tommy are glorified in the episodes as being these meaningful trusting... "things", but analyzed on an even basic level they amount to nothing more than a high school crush.

Shrug these as one-offs and it's not necessarily a huge problem (for reasons that are tangental and would take too long to dive into), but in yesterday's episode Meat, that lonely geek aspect was given a more insinuating twist. Throughout the episode, Toshiko's interactions with Owen are taken right out of the high school crush cliche book - indirect passive attempts to ask him out on a date and a generally submissive attitude that might as well be a bright neon sign flashing over her head that says, "i'll do anything for you!" In the meantime, Owen is seemingly completely oblivious to all of this, seeing her merely as a coworker and maybe friend.

Hmmm... highly educated female crushing on male, male completely oblivous. Sounds kind of like... *dramatic pause* anyone? anyone?

Now let's contrast this with Gwen's character. Although we don't know the background of Gwen's "book intelligence" as it were, we know that she's a strong woman who is about as street smart as they come and adapts quickly to whatever situation comes around. She can hold her own and stand up for herself even against others on her team, and particularly Jack. She's in a stable relationship in which she has a fierce loyalty to (if we ignore the brief affair she had with Owen in series one - again, tangental). And while this may not be as *completely* analagous as the Toshiko-Owen/Martha-Doctor parallel, it still feels rather similar to the Rose-Doctor relationship - a strong and stable bond built out of strength of character and growth.

Of course there's nothing wrong with relationships that are forged in that way. The point is more that it strikes me how both series seems to treat these character traits (strong emotional fortitude and maturity) as mutually exclusive from the Martha/Toshiko character traits (higher than average intelligence). It particularly doesn't make any sense with Martha. Her character is written with this emotional immaturity regarding her crushing on the Doctor, but that's contradictary to the implied emotional strength she *should* have as a peacemaker with her dysfunctional family. It also doesn't make any sense that the Doctor would be so oblivious to it or at least not be open to it, particularly since he doesn't seem to be grieving too hard over Rose when saying 'yes' to Astrid becoming his travelling companion.

The subtle bottom line message i think Russell is thus delivering is "If you're a female with above average academic intelligence, you must not have any social skills", or, more insinuating, "If you're a female with above average academic intelligence, that's not an asset to attracting men." So either don't have it, or don't show it.

Or something like that maybe. That's the initial reaction response i have about the whole thing after watching Meat and putting it in the bigger context. I *think* i'm offended by it all, but i need to let it sit more and get more information before it settles into an actual position.

Unfortunately what this also brings to light is how much RTD productions create character depth from a very situational standpoint only and how that depth stops just below the surface and doesn't carry realistic weight from episode to episode or year to year. This wouldn't be a big deal (movies pull this off all the time and can sometimes even be successful at it) except that the creators of the show constantly give themselves pats on the back for their great character and relationship development plot arcs. Sorry guys. All you've created is something only vaguely more effective than the relationship between James T. Kirk and all of the female aliens he kissed. Which is fine, i still think the shows are good and sometimes the episodes are absolutely brilliant (Moffat for the win). I just wish they'd stop deluding themselves into thinking that it's anything more than that.

Comments

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scorpionturtle
Feb. 7th, 2008 07:58 pm (UTC)
RTD has consistenly written female characters that are one dimensional even the female characters that he writes as heroic are usually put on a pedestal by the male characters(superrose, saver of the universe), Gwen (representation of ALL humanity). It seems impossible to for him to write female characters that aren't appendages of guys or who don't want to be in a relationship. The concept of a female character acting like Owen or Jack and not dieing is impossible.
persiflage_1
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:09 pm (UTC)
Here via who_daily

What's even MORE annoying in the case of both Martha and Tosh is that they're both non-whites: RTD & Co have a history of treating non-white characters (but especially women) badly - and why are they always paired up with white guys? (Even Beth in "Sleeper"). Not that I'm against mixed race relationships - far from it - but it's a bit repetitive and one-dimensional (oh hang on, we're talking RTD who seems to have a 1D view of women anyway!)
silverrose
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:31 pm (UTC)
Just to play devil's advocate a bit, and I haven't thought this through very far so cut me some slack, but... if there was a brainy female character who wasn't interested in relationships but just in work and intellectual pursuits, I think we'd peg that as being an unfair stereotype as well. Also? Stereotypes get that way for a reason. There really are brilliant, driven women out there totally focused on their work, who turn around one day and say hell, there's got to be more than that... but are so far out of step with "normal" socializing that they haven't a clue how to go about it- so they go back to work. The less experience you have in dating and relationships, the more young and naive you'll appear when you do get out there. Add to that the idea that you work for a super-sekrit organization you can't talk about? I see problems! Ok, I'll stop now before I totally hijack your thread ;) (This is not to say I didn't find Tosh's attempts to ask Owen on a date to be completely embarrassing and awkward, or that I think RTD has any great insight into women, but just as I said, devil's advocate and all that.)
lifeofmendel
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
my objection isn't so much that the brainy female characters shouldn't have an interest in relationships but rather the idea that by default they should all be bad at it - or maybe the manner in which they are bad at it. It just didn't feel very... adult? regardless of the fact that social awkwardness at that age could be normal, it feels that the general approach to that social awkwardness in the show doesn't take the character's actual age or back experiences into account, exactly.

but i'm still fuzzy on my thinking about it. again, initial reaction (like your devil's advocate. ;) )
kateorman
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:34 pm (UTC)
If the message is "men don't like smart girls", why is Tommy attracted to Tosh? With only four Torchwood episodes out of thirteen broadcast, and Martha not even on our screens yet, it seems premature to call the entire season's portrayal of Tosh and Martha's love lives.

It's also worth remembering that Rose and Jack had no more romantic success with the Doctor than Martha. The man's a walking vortex of unrequited love. Mind you, the highly educated, socially skilled (and how!) Madame du Pompadour certainly got his attention.

(How does RTD's portrayal of educated women older than Rose, Gwen, and Tosh factor into all this? We don't learn about the love lives of Yvonne Hartmann or Harriet Jones, but I think it'd be hard to say they lack social skills, given their standing and success.)
lifeofmendel
Feb. 7th, 2008 08:44 pm (UTC)
i don't agree with you about Rose's lack of romantic success with the Doctor. although it ended, it ended outside of their desire or control, but the Doctor opened his heart to her. That's very different than him treating Martha as invisible.

Your other points are well taken, though. i'll try to reconcile that stuff as i think about it more.
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lefaym
Feb. 7th, 2008 09:09 pm (UTC)
I think you're pretty right. A lot of the time, writers (not just RTD) think it's enough to just make a woman smart or capable, but the role she plays is still ancillary, and when you have that, you have limited character roles, no matter gutsy or brainy a female character is. In DW or TW, there's no question that the shows centre around the Doctor and Jack-- characters like Rose, Martha and Gwen may well help the shows really work, but utlimately you can take them away and replace them, which you couldn't do with the Doctor or Jack.

This is a pattern that extends far beyond RTD; if a woman plays a central role, it's usually because the show is a romantic comdey. Shows like Buffy and Alias are not the norm, and even shows that do have awesomely strong female characters, like Battlestar Galactica, tend to have them outnumbered by the awesomely strong male characters. If we want change on this front, we really need to have more central female characters who are not defined by their relationships with men, and not just a few exceptions. Until that happens, shows with central male characters will always marginalise female characters, no matter how smart, funny and brave they are.
lifeofmendel
Feb. 7th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
this reminds me of the whole runaround that happened with the Wonder Woman movie that's been rolling around for the past six or so years. quote from wiki:

On 05 October 2007, Nikki Finke wrote in her column that three producers had told her that Warner Bros. president of production Jeff Robinov had stated that, "we are no longer doing movies with women in the lead."[49] Anne Thompson responded in a 09 October 2007 Variety article which stated that, "despite the failure of three femme-centered actioners produced by Joel Silver [...] Jeff Robinov insists he is moving forward with several movies with women in the lead." Thompson further noted that Wonder Woman will be appearing in the upcoming Justice League film and that,

Robinov is still seeking the right script and star for a "Wonder Woman" feature, which has been in development for a decade [...] action features starring women remain a hard sell for many moviegoers. But Robinov said he is still willing to put a femme star into an action role. 'But, like any other movie, it has to be the right movie with the right actor and the right filmmaker at the right time,' he said.
cryforthemoon
Feb. 7th, 2008 10:10 pm (UTC)
*applauds*
nina_ds
Feb. 7th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
I think that you are definitely seeing patterns that are there. As others have pointed out, there's some nuance in all the relationships, but in broad strokes, you're right. And this is exactly the point that I think needs emphasizing: I just wish they'd stop deluding themselves into thinking that it's anything more than that.

it still feels rather similar to the Rose-Doctor relationship - a strong and stable bond built out of strength of character and growth.

Then again, I know I'm not alone in thinking that while the relationship grew and strengthened in S1, it seemed to pull Rose backward in character development in S2. She was still able to be proactive on her own, but she had to be out of the Doctor's immediate orbit to do so, and she stopped challenging him. Her overall arc went from fairly independent, strong young woman who was clearly the "adult" in her little family of Jackie and Mickey, to a heartbroken teenager crying on a beach who was back in the role of daughter in her nuclear family. I'm exaggerating to some extent to make a point, but it's rather like The Wizard of Oz - on one level, everyone discovered that what they most desired was already there within them; but then, the Scarecrow got brains, the Tin Man got a heart, the Lion got courage, and the girl learned she shouldn't leave her own backyard.
lifeofmendel
Feb. 8th, 2008 01:16 am (UTC)
yeah, i've skimmed over the S2 rose versus S1 rose sort of debates and i tend to be on the same page that S2 Rose was a backwards step, and i blame that on how they decided to play her role out knowing that she was going to leave because they wanted to make their parting as maximum a tragedy as possible.
therru
Feb. 7th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
You have some really good points, but I don't agree with you that Gwen's and Rhys's relationship is particularly similar to that of Rose and the Doctor. The first is a strong, stable, settled-into-everyday relationship, a "marriage" in actual practice, whereas the second was pretty juvenile. It was puppy love, a teenage crush. I don't know whether RTD *intended* it to come across that way, but it did.
lifeofmendel
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
yeah, the analogy between gwen/rhys and doctor/rose definitely has a lot of... well... nothing. either there's something there that links them in my head beneath the surface, or else i'm just trying to create a relationship that doesn't really exist just to prove my point like the stubborn fool i am. :)
prettyarbitrary
Feb. 7th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
Wandered over from the doctorwho comm. I hope you'll forgive my adding a few cents.

I haven't seen enough of Torchwood to comment on Gwen and Tosh, but I think I have to disagree with you regarding Rose and Martha. If all you're going on is how Davies handles characters and love, then I aggree it starts looking stereotypical, yes, because there are only so many ways you can deal with it, and at this point in the evolution of popular media, they've almost all been done to death. But for women just as much as men, some people handle love better than others.

Martha is in almost every way an independent, competent woman. She is able to function without the Doctor, despite her feelings about him, and she has the unusual maturity of being able to function with him despite it. Frankly, that's a level of emotional competence I don't see out of that many people in real life, let alone tv shows. She's street-smart as well as book-smart, intelligently questions the situations she finds herself in and operates effectively on her own for extended periods in more than one episode. I don't find anything stereotypical about her, except for the increasing tendency for everyone who meets him to fall in love with the Doctor.

As for Rose...well, she seems to become increasingly emotionally dependent on the Doctor, especially through the second series. She's never one of his really smart, highly-educated companions. She's got some cleverness in her; I'm not saying she's useless. But I detect a fundamental immaturity to her throughout her time in the series, a belief in fairy tale endings where love will always triumph. And in the end, she's proved wrong. "Forever," she tells the Doctor more than once, and while he never corrects her on it, while he seems to be dependent on her too, in his way, on the other hand by the end of "School Reunion" I have to say I got the feeling he had reached a point where he was lying to her about it, protecting her innocence or childishness or maybe just desperately needing her to continue believing in him so strongly--but whatever it was, I can't say that I think their relationship was entirely healthy after that point. And her increasingly tendency to panic whenever the Doctor gets temporarily put out of commission is a symptom of that, I think.

But for all that, I regard Rose as a well-developed individual rather than a stereotype. Not every woman has healthy or mature ideas of what love and romance are. Rose has more than a touch of the fairytale princess thing going on, but considering her background, how her mother describes her as having a dreamer's attitude, always wanting more out of life than she has, that makes sense. More importantly to me, she is not helpless, she's not an idiot, and she remains a strongly moral person who's determined to do what's right in the face of adversity. So I don't find her stereotypical either, although to my eyes, she leans more than Martha toward the unhealthy "Women can be fine until they meet a man, and then they become useless damsels in distress" trope that has plagued tv and movies for so long.
lifeofmendel
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
I don't find anything stereotypical about her, except for the increasing tendency for everyone who meets him to fall in love with the Doctor.

yeah, i wrestled with this somewhat when i was writing the entry. I think the point is more that... *ponders*... her pining over the Doctor is emphasized so much that it detracts from her other character traits by a lot. i like martha quite a lot, and i felt it was an injustice to her character that much of her strengths as an independent character was used to basically do stuff for the Doctor out of her love for the Doctor. Does that make sense? I wished that more of her character was fleshed out in its own right and for its own purpose.

It bothered me even more with this episode and Tosh because Owen is *not* the Doctor. the Doctor is someone that anyone would want to fall in love with, but Owen isn't - yet the stories treat them in almost exactly the same way.
(no subject) - prettyarbitrary - Feb. 8th, 2008 03:52 am (UTC) - Expand
cjtremlett
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
Oh, yeah. Despite the general sexism of old Doctor Who (it being a product of its eras), there still used to be three dimensional female characters. And a good writer can override RTD's sexism. Look at the female characters in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. Rose gets quite a few good moments and Nancy is both strong and vulnerable in the right ways. And the Rose/Nancy scene is a good one as well.

RTD doesn't deal in female friendships. He does lots of female/male relationships, mostly badly. He does interesting things with male/male relationships. But the only female/female relationships he seems to be willing to touch are mother/daughter relationships. Have we -ever- seen Tosh and Gwen laughing at the men of Torchwood? Or sharing a connection of any sort? The upcoming season of Doctor Who should be very interesting for that, because we'll have both Martha and Donna on the TARDIS team. I really can't see RTD handling that well, either.

Moffat, though, could. Look at Kathy and Sally in Blink. Now that was a natural female friendship.
lifeofmendel
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:13 am (UTC)
bravo points.
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box_in_the_box
Feb. 8th, 2008 12:49 am (UTC)
Linked on my own LJ.
luxurias_slave
Feb. 8th, 2008 09:08 am (UTC)
totally agree, and being around alot of people that are considered "female geek" toshiko seems to be written very cliche for the idea. there are lots of people who are book smart and lacking in street smart or people smart, but tosh seems pretty highschoolish on that range and stereotypical
doop
Feb. 8th, 2008 10:18 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, while I like Gwen, IMO Tosh is a more interesting/sympathetic/relatable character.
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