I watch lots of Dr Who. I completely understand if you don’t. But that’s what I’m writing about today. Please note, if you are a fan, that I wrote this off the top of my head so it’s entirely possible that I’ve smudged some details, and this is really focused on just one little thread in a very general sort of way because I’m a big picture person. Feel free to argue with me in the comments because there is lots and lots that could be discussed that I’m not really touching on here. Hopefully at some point I’ll have the time and motivation to add in links to some of the critiques I’m referencing. I highly doubt it.
Moffat gets a lot of flack on the internet from feminist Dr Who fans. I can see why, but I don’t agree with a lot of it for the same reason I disagree with a lot of the feminist critiques of Mulan: they are too surface level, and they seem to be made from the position that these creations should be showing us the ideal. Ideals are important and we should sure have more examples and models in the media of what they might look like in practice. However. Most of the time the value of really good pop culture writing is that it gives us a reflection of current struggles and contexts.
A lot of the criticisms seem to be centered around the characters of the Ponds, and particularly the treatment Amy’s character gets. There’s lots of ranting about how she is sexualized and thereby reduced to a trope. That’s not how I see the character at all. I see in her so many of the women I know: women who are highly sexual, adventurous, and in so many ways unconventional and inconvenient and haunted by a sense of inadequacy because whenever they try to fit those more conventional and convenient molds they die a little, or a lot, on the inside.
Like Amy, they’ve been told their whole lives they’re broken because they won’t compromise their inner truths (“Twelve years and four psychiatrists…I kept fighting them [because] they said you weren’t real” and in that statement I think the Doctor can be seen as a stand in for Amy’s desires and needs). Like Amy, many of them are in marriages or relationships with men who are more conventional in terms of what they want from their lives: a job that carries some respect with it, kids, a house, quiet and simple life styles. Like Rory’s character, these guys do actually have an adventurous side, that’s how they got into these relationships in the first place. And Amy and the women like her wish desperately they could want these things because then maybe they wouldn’t be seen as broken by themselves and others (ie all the seasons dealing with Amy’s ambiguity toward marriage, which was also an ambiguity toward social scripts and institutions).
But Rory doesn’t really fit traditional conceptions of masculinity well, either: he soft hearted, nurturing, more open about his vulnerabilities and he doesn’t present with a lot of swagger and confidence. He knows it, and he’s constantly insecure about Amy’s attachment to him because of it. They both have a sense inadequacy because neither of them really fit the mold.
Just like in these real life couples, Rory’s compromises are easier to see than Amy’s, because what he gives up better fits the social script of what’s desirable. Even in the relationship neither of them can see Amy’s compromises as easily as Rory’s, leading Rory to believe she loves him less than he loves her, and Amy to have immense guilt that she can’t be what it seems like he wants. That’s what that whole thing with not being able to have kids was about in Asylum of The Daleks. There were so many complaints about that, but to me it seemed very real. Amy wasn’t really just talking about a physical inability to have children, she was talking about an inability to give Rory the sort of life he seems to want. To participate in a quiet and conventional life with the same satisfaction he would. I thought wrapping those feelings around one concrete thing (no babies) was very true to life. People do that: when we have big, complex, abstract feelings we center them around a tangible anchor and it often looks a little bit crazy and, well, out of character. But it’s not, it’s taking very abstract feelings and putting them into concrete metaphors that are easier to wrap words around. Once she was able to do that, wrap words around it, both of them could recognize her struggles, both of them could see her compromises more clearly (like getting married, for example, see above), and Rory could voice to both of them that she is worthy of love and acceptance as she is and valuable in her own right. They became able to maneuver through and heal the misunderstandings between them.
So, I think what I’m saying here is that if you read these interactions and these characters as a reflection of what is rather than a vision of what should be everything becomes a little deeper and a lot less sexist. I really sort of see a lot of compassion in the writing for Amy’s struggles and for the struggles of Amy and Rory as a couple who are attempting to create a loving and functional relationship in relatively uncharted territory. I see in it a reflection of the struggles a lot of my friends have gone through, or are going through currently.