the square inch

R.C. | 27 | Boston

writer // ice cream addict // super mario bros 3 master Registered & Protected

Female Reading of the Male Gaze, and Sherlock 




Why the dismissal of women’s readings of Sherlock bothers me so much

Male showrunners and actors: They’re just friends. Why are you reading sex into this?

Female fans: They obviously want each other.

Male showrunners and actors: No they don’t. You’re hysterical and oversexualized and deluded.

Female fans: No we’re not. It’s OBVIOUS they desire each other.

Male showrunners and actors: NO THEY—

Female fans: YES THEY—

[ad infinitum]

Film and television are visual mediums. The text comes from what we see, not just the script, and definitely not extra-text commentary. Sherlock especially is a strikingly visual story that is all about looking.


Any woman with any sense of self-preservation spends her whole life learning to read the male gaze. The reason is not because women are constantly checking to make sure they are desirable (as many men like to think); the reason is because women have to. The consequences for not noticing when a male gaze equals “desire” are very dangerous, and so obvious I don’t even have to explain them. Any woman who walks through a parking lot at night, who has to spend her days avoiding a co-worker who sexually harrasses her but not enough to make it worth it to fight back, who deals with members of the public service who laugh at her when she is being threatened (I am thinking of that woman in San Francisco who tried to get a BART bus driver to call the police when a man was threatening to rape her and got ignored)—any woman who LIVES ON THIS PLANET has to learn to be aware of the male gaze and interpret it for signs of arousal and/or danger from a young age. This is SO MUCH BIGGER than “women want romance” or “women want love” or any of that ignorant shorthand for “women aren’t reading this show correctly.” It is definitely bigger than Sherlock.


If a man stood right in my personal space and stared into my eyes I would know how to interpret that. If a man licked his lips while staring at my face I would know how to interpret that. If a man belitted and chased off my romantic partners I would know how to interpret that. If a man asked me to reach into his jacket and pull out his phone I would damn well know how to interpret that. Any time I have tried to brush aside suspicions under these circumstances, I was proved right that I should have trusted my instincts, and I wound up in dangerous situations (luckily, nothing terrible resulted thanks to being able to escape, but the danger was real). If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but at least I don’t get locked in a basement in Cleveland for a decade. Women have to err on the side of caution. People are right when they say the sexual tension moments in Sherlock are brief, but that doesn’t matter: if you’re a woman you have to take even the briefest flashes into account. There is a reason we call these moments “eyefucking.”


Sherlock is all about the power of sight, of the gaze, specifically the male gaze. (There’s a whole article in that, but I’ll resist.)


We get Sherlock POV when he interprets a scene, with those subtitles and graphics; we get John POV for everything else (that’s my reading, anyway; Watson is the narrator of the Sherlock Holmes tales, after all). There are only a few establishing shots/omniscient narrator scenes that aren’t from John or Sherlock’s POV, e.g. the victims at the beginning of ASIP, or Moriarty texting in front of Big Ben in ASIB or in a cell in THOB. We briefly see Irene’s POV as she looks at pictures of Sherlock (in that beautiful sequence where they look at pictures of each other), but that’s about it. (I’ve never been certain whether that dream sequence of Irene interpreting the “bed scene” was from her POV or Sherlock’s or both.) I have hopes we’ll see Molly’s POV in TEH but of course I haven’t seen it yet.

The denial of the male showrunners of Sherlock and the firm disagreement of the female fans just proves to me that even in the 21st century, men and women live in different worlds.

5 men: There’s no sexual tension.

Thousands of women: Yes there is.

5 men: Clearly you’re wrong!

I don’t need this ship to be canon, it’s not the differing opinions that bothers me. The writers are free to write whatever they want and I’m on board. I just want some acknowledgement—from the world at large—that women’s perspective on human interactions is just as valid as men’s and doesn’t come from wishful thinkingQuite the opposite.

Bottom bit bolded, because THIS. Fucking THIS, a thousand times THIS. It cannot be said strongly or loudly or often enough: we get so, so fucking tired of being told that we’re delusional, when everything - everything - is telling a different story than the ones TPTB think they’re telling.

Women are forever being told we’re imagining it all - from PMS to actual hostility and danger to narrative romance, and everything in-between. Women are always ’imagining things’, and men are always there to set us straight. Well, fuck that.

I love this with a fire like burning. Dammit, women can recognize a desiring gaze. It’s time for showrunners to admit that. But you know what else? They need to admit when a man is the object of the gaze. If you set Sherlock up to be looked at the way traditional cinema sets up women, and you still make the assumed audience of the show male, and you make most of the men on screen look at him too, don’t you fucking be surprised when we say he’s a sex object for those men.


This was some of the realest shit I’ve ever read.

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