Fri
Dec 30 2011 10:00am

Moffat’s Women Christmas Special: Why Madge Pwns Abigail

There’s already a recap of this year’s Doctor Who Christmas special here at Tor, so I won’t go too much into what I thought about the episode as a whole. What I will say is that I loved it even more than last year’s “A Christmas Carol.” I loved that “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe” captured what’s awesome about Doctor Who, particularly Matt Smith’s Doctor. The fact that he talks to children as if they are smarter than adults. To quote Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, “Parents are always more knowledgeable than their children, but children are always smarter than their parents.” I think this idea is central to who The Doctor is, and this special captured that in the two wonderful children at its heart, and in the way The Doctor built them a Christmas getaway that so readily appealed to them.

However, I also loved that this was the Girl Power (or rather, Woman Power) episode of Doctor Who. Now, there’s been a lot of debate about that on the internet, so allow me to lay out my case for why this episode was not the affront by Steven Moffat to women everywhere that I’ve seen it depicted as on Twitter. I’d also like to lay out how his Madge Arwell trumps his more problematic Christmastime female character, Abigail, of “A Christmas Carol.”

Motherhood is Power

I’ve engaged in a lot of debate about “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” regarding the portrayal of motherhood as a power. Several fans, apparently upset about the way Amy’s motherhood was used in Series 6 of Doctor Who, have had their anger carry over to this Christmas special, chiding Moffat for his “cult of motherhood” mentality; some even going so far as to liken it to the way the Nazis used motherhood and woodland imagery and symbolism in their propaganda. (No, seriously.)

While I’m not going to get into problems with Amy’s motherhood (my short comment: I don’t think there are any), I will say that in Madge’s case, motherhood was not presented as a woman’s only power. It was presented as one power women have, and I think that’s important. It’s important to see The Doctor — the all-knowing Doctor who can figure his way out of any problem, even to the point of overcoming his physical limitations (let’s face it, in hand-to-hand combat, this Doctor would have his ass handed to him) with his brain — acknowledge the one limitation he will always have. I’ve always been someone who believes that feminism doesn’t mean shunning feminine qualities and traits as “weaknesses,” but embracing them as strengths. Being a mother is a strength, and the vibe I get from Moffat’s scripts is that he respects and acknowledges the fact that giving birth to a child is something that a man will never be able to do or understand, and employs a valuable kind of strength that men will never have. Men and women either are equal, or can be made equal in many other ways. Even with regard to physical strength, a man and a woman might not be evenly matched on their own, but give the woman a weapon, and the playing field can be levelled. Yet there’s no way that a man can be modified to carry and give birth to a child, and with that comes a whole slew of experiences. This is not to say that all women are meant to be mothers, or should be. This is also not to say that all women are cis women. What I’m saying is that it is not only the physical ability to have a baby, but also the traits and characteristics associated with motherhood (everything from women being really good at multitasking, to our ability to nurture, to our ability to express our feelings, compromise, and pay attention to details), that are part of what make women powerful.

This is also not to say that there aren’t strengths that men have that women don’t have either. I’m not trying to say women are better, nor am I saying that fatherhood isn’t equally important (I love episodes like “Closing Time,” and “Father’s Day” precisely because of the way they highlight the importance of fathers). I’m saying this is one thing that women can do that men can’t do. That’s all. It shouldn’t be considered threatening. And what I love about Moffat’s scripts with regard to motherhood is that he doesn’t write about it as a threat. He writes about it as a power. His nuanced female characters don’t have to shed the parts of themselves that allow them to be mothers in order to be competent, intelligent, brave, or bold. No one of those things need detract from the others.

 

Beyond Motherhood

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” wasn’t just about the power of motherhood. From the beginning of the episode, Madge Arwell is guided by her motherly instincts. She wants her children to have a great Christmas and not associate the holiday with the death of their father so, at the expense of her own grieving process, she decides to put on a brave face, not tell her children the news she’s received, and wait until after the holiday to tell the kids the bad news. Later, when the tree energy needs a vessel, she allows herself to be used as one.

However, this isn’t the reason why they are saved. As they travel through the Time Vortex, her thoughts have to be focused enough to guide them home. She must think about her dead husband, and it is here that she has to shrug off her motherly instincts and act simply as a woman with her own emotional needs, in spite of her children being made aware of their father’s death. She allows herself to grieve for the man she loves, and it is this that saves them. It not only saves them, but it also saves her husband. Madge Arwell saves her Husband In Distress by not acting as a mother.

 

What’s So Great About Madge Arwell?

Madge makes good on the troublesome issues surrounding Doctor-Donna and even Rose As A God. Whereas Donna had her memory forcibly taken from her, and Rose was eventually exiled to another timeline with a Doctor who wasn’t really The Doctor, Madge Arwell has this experience of ingesting an entire race and seeing the Universe through Nature’s eyes, and is allowed to keep the memory and have it inform the rest of her life. She even, in a humorous moment, gets to treat it nonchalantly. She tells her husband something to the effect of, “The Time Vortex is wonderful! I’ve seen it! Well, let’s go have dinner!” leaving her husband extremely puzzled. She doesn’t suffer Rose’s ennui in normal life after having been exposed to an amazing experience. Madge is not only strong enough to have an extraordinary experience, but she’s strong enough to hold onto it without it making her crazy, or affecting her relationships with people.

There’s also the matter of her PILOTING A ROBOT HAVING ONLY EVER SEEN HER HUSBAND FLY A PLANE. This is, of course, after she took the robot over at gunpoint from a three-person crew.

Madge is a woman who takes care of business in spite of, and then because of, her grief. She is strong in many ways that have nothing to do with her motherhood. She is someone who, unafraid and unfazed, helps a man in a backwards spacesuit to a phone box no questions asked. She is a mother who loves her children, coddling and disciplining them as needed. She is someone who saves her husband, carries a race of beings through the Time Vortex to safety, meets The Doctor, and still has the fortitude to simply go on with the rest of her life without freaking out or compromising any part of herself.

Which is why I don’t understand the criticisms I’ve read of her husband courting her by following her home every day. I’ve seen this dismissed as “stalking.” However, Madge is not a woman who would allow someone to follow her home if she weren’t interested. This was not a case of her husband wearing her down until she reluctantly went out with him. You can see it in the way she talks about the memory. This was a case of her allowing someone she was interested in to prove his interest. She made him work for it, and he proved himself worthy of her by doing just that.

 

The Problem With Abigail

Honestly, I’m surprised that I didn’t see more feminist hubbub about Abigail around the time of “A Christmas Carol” last year. Even I didn’t mention it in my review, because I was so in love with Kazran Sardick’s story that I didn’t even stop to think about Abigail’s role. But that’s precisely the trouble, isn’t it? She’s so insignificant, it didn’t even occur to me to give her role any thought. When I do stop to think about it, I realize just how problematic she is as a female character.

She’s problematic, because she doesn’t really have a role in Kazran’s story. Abigail is essentially a prop. Her only function in that episode is as a symbol of Kazran’s frozen heart. That’s it. She is literally the embodiment of Kazran’s frozen love. I mean, SHE’S ACTUALLY FROZEN. She has no personality of her own, we only hear about her from other people, and she only exists as a goal for Kazran, whose story “A Christmas Carol” is. She doesn’t even come up with the idea to sing into the sonic screwdriver herself. The Doctor tells her that. She contributes nothing to the story but a pretty face and a pretty voice, neither of which she seems to have any control over. Once unfrozen, she never attempts to stay unfrozen. She has an incurable disease, but rather than spend her remaining time with her family, or even simply living her remaining days in freedom, she willingly returns to the cryogenic storeroom in service to Kazran’s desires. Because she loves him? More than her own life and experiences? More than her family? More than anything? This guy that she’s only ever seen once a year? Really?

The more I think about Abigail, the more annoyed I get.

I’m all for women in love. I don’t think love is a weakness. I think that writing a woman who doesn’t have a nuanced personality is a weakness, one to which Steven Moffat succumbed in writing “A Christmas Carol.” However, he shows us that he can do it right with Madge Arwell in “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe,” which made this Christmas a happy one indeed!


Teresa Jusino wouldn’t mind being Madge Arwell when she grows up. She can be heard on the popular Doctor Who podcast, 2 Minute Time Lord, participating in a roundtable on Series 6.1. Her “feminist brown person” take on pop culture has been featured on websites like ChinaShopMag.com, PinkRaygun.com, Newsarama, and PopMatters.com. Her fiction has appeared in the sci-fi literary magazine, Crossed Genres; she is the editor of Beginning of Line, the Caprica fan fiction site; and her essay “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse” is included in Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them, which is on sale now wherever books are sold! 2012 will see Teresa’s work in an upcoming non-fiction sci-fi anthology. Get Twitterpated with Teresa, “like” her on Facebook, or visit her at The Teresa Jusino Experience.

19 comments
Bittersweet Fountain
1. Bittersweet Fountain
Doesn't Abigail return because her family owes Kazran's dad some sort of money? The entire time Kazran is letting her out its kind of behind his father's back, but his father really wouldn't notice she was missing for one day. But surely he does inventory of all the people he has frozen at some point and then he would notice Abigail isn't there and he would then punish her family (and let's be honest, she would probably be dead at this point). So yes, she could ask Kazran to free her permenantly to live her last few days in freedom but the cost of those last few days would be a great deal for her family in the long run.

She should have made Kazran free her once his father was dead and Kazran himself had the power to forgive her family's debt.

That being said, I generally agree with your assessment of Abigail, who serves no purpose other than being a sort of Christmas Angel, who is just kind and beautiful.

And I loved this year's Christmas Episode. I had no qualms with Madge's character and generally agree with your thoughts. :)
Bittersweet Fountain
2. mordicai
I share people's concerns with the whole "magical motherhood!" trope, & I think Moffat can be wonky on gender issues...but those concerns were put to rest for me the moment she whipped out that pistol. Agency through superior firepower!
Bittersweet Fountain
3. James M.
Reading "The Doctor, The Widow, And The Wardrobe" as an intentional counterpoint by Moffat to "the fans" maybe has legs. I'm always a little bugged by the way the Moffat show seems to interface most directly with the most hardcore, most internet-forum-aggressive subset of People Who Watch Doctor Who. Part of what made the first few seasons work, for me -- especially the episodes written by Steven Moffat -- was the sense that maybe the show was mostly concerned with the British primetime audience. Accessible, fun, a little scary, a little melodramatic, and "why not let's put as many non-straight, non-white folks into this show as we possibly can while we're at it."
R O T
4. rogerothornhill
As is almost always the case with your DW pieces, I could not agree with you more. Craig is much more defined by his parental role in "Closing Time" than Madge is in this episode. She is a woman who has to function as a single parent and thus performs tasks traditionally assigned to both genders. Abigail, by contrast, mainly lives to be pretty, self-sacrificing, and auditorially pleasing.

Moffat isn't necessarily sexist, but if someone wants to lob the charge of heteronormative at him, that might be fairer. But the real charge is parent-preferential, since I have LGQBT friends for whom parenthood looms large as well.

Moffat's Who valorizes parenthood much more than Davies' did and adopts the parent's point of view repeatedly (as Davies era eps like "Father's Day" and "The Doctor's Daughter," for example, never really did). I think that's what bugs a lot of viewers who frankly may never see themselves as parents. They want to be the cool teenager or young professional who sails off to explore the universe, not Madge or Craig or any of the others.
Bittersweet Fountain
5. James Davis Nicoll
Yet there’s no way that a man can be modified to carry and give birth to a child, and with that comes a whole slew of experiences.

Since technology marches on, I'd be very cautious about that "no way".

Simply a matter of inducing what amounts to an ectopic pregnancy in a man, isn't it? Adopt an attitude of callous indifference to the dangers involved, implant the wee bairn somewhere in the fellow's abdomen - well, given the risks, implant a bunch of fetuses in the abdomens of a lot of men - and bob's your baby!
Andrew Barton
6. MadLogician
There is also the possibility of a male Time Lord regenerating as a woman. I don't think we ever see this in canon but it does happen in the charity special 'Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death' - also by Moffat.
Bittersweet Fountain
7. Mo
James @ 5: Um. Ectopic pregnancies don't create babies due to the fact that, unless surgically ended, they are generally fatal to the mother. So inducing them in men would be rather beside the point.

Glad to have missed the uproar, but the whole weak/strong labelling bothered me. It's just an updating of the "woman loses her magic when she loses her virginity" trope. We're all cool with sexually active women now, but we can't have womanhood being inherently powerful (look at how much apologizing you had to do in your review), so now it's "you get magic powers when you become a Mom!" Creepy as hell when you think about it.

Madge driving the robot was another bad choice. Dr. Who is at its best when the humans realize that they are more capable than they thought. The leap from "I watched my husband fly her plane" to her being able to do it is so daft that I felt it made Madge smaller rather than larger. "I drove a tractor on grandfather's farm" would have worked better.

"A Christmas Carol" worked for me because it really drew from the strengths of the original story - a curmudgeon who has destroyed the lives of others because he cannot stand anyone else's happiness. The Narnia books are far less complex. Turning what was a child's journey into an adult woman's one doesn't help. Moffat doesn't/can't let a Madge fall far enough to actually need redemption, so the story does fall a bit flat. I can buy the whole Doctor saves the missing dad, as a Christmas episode, but The Doctor teaches a widow that she has the strength to raise her children alone in the middle of a war would have been much stronger.
Bittersweet Fountain
8. AlBrown
Abigail in the last Who Christmas special was not so much a bad character as she was an incomplete one.
When I was young I read many a story where the hero had a 'love interest.' The standard adventure stories of the early 20th Century were full of young men striving and succeeding, and girls being beautiful and grateful for being rescued from danger. Abagail falls squarely into this camp.
Most times authors would hew to this formula, as Arthur Conan Doyle did in his novel The White Company, where the hero Alleyne falls in love with the beautiful Maude, who serves little purpose in the story other than to be beautiful and desirable, and to wed the hero in the end. On the other hand, that same author, in The Lost World, plays with the notion of romance fulfilled when Ned Malone returns from his adventures to find that the fickle object of his affections has married another. But in neither case are the women truly well rounded characters.
Far more interesting are the stories of today, where the female characters are not one dimensional, and have minds, desires, and adventures of their own. Whatever a viewer might think of Madge's character in this year's Christmas special, at least she is enough of a character to make the discussion interesting.
Bittersweet Fountain
9. Raskolnikov
Being a mother is a strength, and the vibe I get from Moffat’s scripts
is that he respects and acknowledges the fact that giving birth to a
child is something that a man will never be able to do or understand,
and employs a valuable kind of strength that men will never have.
That's blatantly essentialist. And of course the problem in most societal systems is that the 'unique strength' is, when positioned as natural, innate, pre-political, gets slotted as unpaid labor. The refusal of the episode to realistically assess the sexism of the time (The 1940s, for God's sake!) puts a sharp upper limit on any kind of empowering message, and the pattern of characterization makes the issue worse than muddled.

Frankly I find the tone of this commentary bizarre--criticzing people for ruining fun good times of a Christmas special with feminist angles? In what world is the former issue more important than the latter? And on the stalking issue isn't it rather obvious how it's problematic, what with promising to follow her home each day until Madge returned the interest? Dealing with that in terms of affection and sentiment doesn't help the issue, instead it romanticizes and normalizes an aspect of rape culture.

Entertainment for children, everyone!
Bittersweet Fountain
10. TansyRR
I agree that this felt to me like an extremely feminist episode, and it made me feel better about the many, many episodes of the last season which dealt with the importance of fatherhood while Amy's motherhood was literally removed from her story.

Madge is a great character and I liked the way that, much like Nancy in The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, she felt of her time - her domestic role and the role of women left alone in wartime were essential parts of her personality. I felt she was a symbol for the many women in WWII who were forced into unfamiliar roles and not only coped with their changing circumstances, but excelled at them. And the horror of trying to explain the death of your children's father to them - it unfolded so beautifully.

We were due a heroic mother story in this era of Doctor Who (it's a
looong time since Jackie Tyler) and I liked this one very much!
Ursula L
12. Ursula
Thinking about these two characters, in comparison, gave me some new thoughts about Abigail.

Abigail isn't merely frozen. She is, in a sense, dead. She was given seven days to live, decades ago. She said her goodbyes to her loved ones, her life ended, and she was buried.

At the beginning of the episode, Kazran is an old man, and Abigail has been frozen and gone since he was a little boy.

Did her family ever have a realistic expectation of paying off their debt and redeeming her? Was anyone in that society ever able to pay off their debts, or did the "surplus population" remain frozen indefinately? It would seem that Abigail's family's debt was left unpaid for fifty or more years, as Kazran grew into an old man.

Was the nature of the debt not one where the person would be freed when the debt was paid, but rather that the person would be thawed without reviving (killing them) if the interest was left unpaid, putting desperate families into a cycle of perpetual debt and endless intrest payments, costing many times the original debt and without hope of redemption?

We're talking about a clearly predatory lending practice just by taking humans as collateral, so I'm inclined to think the worst of the terms of the loan. Debt-slavery and impossible-to-pay terms for the desperate and poor are real things in the world.

Were Abigail and her family, in desperation, trying to game a system that involved exchanging the life of a loved one for the money to survive, by having the life they sacrificed be someone on her deathbed? They may have had a faint hope of getting her back, later, for her last few days of life, but they had less to loose by using her as collateral than by using someone healthy.

While the Doctor casts himself and Amy in the role of the ghosts of Christmas, it is Abigail who is really the ghost. She died long ago. And she drifts through time, occasionally being able to reach out and interact for a few brief hours.

She is the ghost of Christmas Present to the child and adolescent Kazran. She is the ghost of Christmas Past to his adult self, the reminder of the few happy hours of his childhood. And her last day is the ghost of Christmas Future - the promise of one last Christmas, that if ever redeemed will be lost to time. To claim that promised Christmas is to give up hope of any more Christmasses in the future.

She had given up her life for the sake of her family, and did not expect to get any last days. Each one was a gift, but there were a limited number available. Asking Kazran to thaw her and free her when he came of age would not grant her life but would just mean her final death.

***

So Abigail is deliberately a cypher, a ghost. She's let go of her life and her dreams, her future. She drifts, as the fading spirits do, neither able to return to life nor to move on.

Comparing Madge, who is supposed to be a living and vibrant human, with the ghost-Abigail, is a very low standard of characterization. Madge has everything to live for, and very real problems to tackle.
David Thomson
13. ZetaStriker
I thought Madge came off as at least a wee bit crazy, myself. I could have mistaken her for her husband's "special sister" rather than wife in the opening sequence, and that set an odd mood for me as it clearly was not the intention.
Risha Jorgensen
14. RishaBree
I cringed a little at the following her home everyday bit myself, but I have no doubt that he simply considered it a way to get her attention instead of a threat - and that's realistic for the 20(?)s, isn't it? One of the things that I liked about the episode (the only thing, really, as I was otherwise thoroughly bored), is that Madge was strong, but very rooted into the time she inhabited. Motherhood was revered as a woman's raison d'etre, and she embodied that as she no doubt would have thought only proper. But she also loved her husband deeply as a lover, was willing to pick up a gun, and had enough flexibility of mind to help an alien just because she could - which unlike the rest of the episode, had absolutely nothing to do with her family. (Which I also had no problem with. What else should she be thinking about when her husband just died?)

And, as a human, occasionally made very bad decisions. I've seen very little criticism of her decision to hide their father's death from the children. If I was them, I'd be very, very resentful of her for leaving me in ignorance - if not then, then when I was older. Actually, it read more to me as a flimsy excuse to deny the truth to herself than any concern for the children. She even explicitly admits to taking it out on them, for no reason that they would have been able to understand.
Ursula L
15. Ursula
Delaying telling them, I can see. The kids seem a bit old for that, particularly the daughter. But kids don't necessarily have the same sense of time as adults, so if they were younger, it might play better.

But telling them he'd be there, when she knew he wouldn't, that I had a problem with. Also, telling them it would be the "best Christmas ever" knowing it would end with them learning of their father's death, and also knowing that with the war going on they might well get news of harm to their friends, family or neighbors, seemed a bit much. A lie, really.

Perhaps a different conversation with the daughter than the son would have helped. The son was the age where a fantasy of the "best Christmas ever" might work. The daughter, not so much. She had a solid head on her shoulders, and knew what the war ment.
Bittersweet Fountain
16. AlBrown
Just never let the Doctor act as your travel agent. He takes Donna on a sightseeing trip to the ancient Roman empire, and ends up at Vesuvius. Rory and Amy get taken to romantic Venice, and nearly get devoured by vampire girls. In last year's Christmas Special, he recommends a rocketliner honeymoon to Rory and Amy on a ship that nearly crashes. The trip in "The Girl Who Waited" ends up being to a planet devastated by plague, that gets Amy marooned. And in this Christmas Special, he arranges for a visit by Madge and her family to a forest that is about to be destroyed by acid.
I don't know about anyone else, but I see a pattern emerging...
Nicole LeBoeuf-Little
17. NicoleJLeBoeuf
As someone who plans never to have children and is aware of the world around me constantly sending messages -- some blatant, some subtle -- that women are supposed to have children and we aren't complete without children and we're still children ourselves unless we have children and if we don't want children we're wrong and wicked and bad -- well. Between watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special the other day ("Women become truly powerful by virtue of motherhood") and reading "If Dragon's Mass Eve..." here on Tor.com tonight ("You don't really learn about love until you have a child"), I feel like I just got a double-shot of that.

This review got off on the wrong foot for me in all sorts of ways.

I didn't really need another lecture on how feminists are Grinches for letting worries about Moffat's portayal of women (because of course there aren't any problems in said portrayal; the real problem is feminists seeing sexism everywhere and reading too much into things) get in the way of just enjoying Christmas (or of enjoying a joke, or of letting people around me enjoy the evening in peace, whatever). This is all way too familiar. Point out an instance of sexism, and it's "You sure are oversensitive," and "you know he didn't mean it that way" (because how a man means it has much more weight than how what he does affects women) and "get a sense of humor already." And, apparently, "Come on, it's Doctor Who! It's Christmas! Lighten up!"

And in making an argument in defense of the episode, did the reviewer really have to immediately bring up the most absurd internet specimen of Moffat criticism she could find? I mean, as a strategy for dishonestly discrediting feminist critique of Moffat by ensuring the reader associates such with "Moffat = Hitler? OMGWTFBBQ!" right from the beginning of the article, it's pretty darn effective. But as a component of an *honest* argument, I'm hard pressed to figure out what point that served.
Ursula L
18. Ursula
Moffat has said, if I remember correctly, that he wants to write about sex and relationships in his children's programming in a way that shows that sex is something fun that nice adults do together, in order to provide a positive message, apart from lectures from parents and teachers and the focus on violent extremes you see in the news.

So I figure, he's aiming for a high standard, and he should be held to that high standard.

And the bit about the father following Madge home, saying he wouldn't stop until she agreed to marry him, and her agreeing because she didn't want a fuss, is creepy and unromantic. If it turned out okay in the story, it is because the story was written with romantic-comedy and sitcom logic, rather than with thinking about how this type of courting technique works in the real world.

A creepy and potentially threatening action, that happens to have a good result, is a matter of luck. It doesn't somehow become a good example of romance.

It would have been quite easy to write the same basic idea without the stalkerish elements. Instead of "he followed me home, and said he wouldn't stop until I agreed to marry him" something like "he'd walk me home, and we wouldn't run out of things to talk about, so we decided to marry so we wouldn't have to stop" would allow the same atmosphere of them walking together in a country setting and not wanting to part, without any element of coercion, or of her being reluctant to express a "no" if it would create a scene.

Moffat wrote a scene that, if you look plainly at the text, is creepy and stalkerish. They then decided that this creepy and stalkerish action should be treated as romantic. And then, when people notice that this really is creepy and stalkerish, and that the writing should have and could easily have avoided showing creepy and stalkerish behavior as romantic, seeing the problem in what's on screen is being treated as a fault with the viewer seeing the problem, rather than with the text.
Bittersweet Fountain
19. omega_n
I think the basic logic behind this article is silly. "This Moffat-written woman must be cool and empowering because this other Moffat-written woman was pathetic." Instead of, I don't know, looking at Moffat's track record of problematic female characters and problematic plotlines for them, the arguments against Madge get brushed aside with, "But Abigail was REALLY BAD!" (Which I'm not disagreeing with. Abigail was a cipher with a lovely voice.)

They can both be poorly written characters. It's not a contest. I liked some aspects of Madge; I liked the prologue with the Doctor in the space suit.

But then Moffat's plot blew it all to hell.

"What I’m saying is that it is not only the physical ability to have a baby, but also the traits and characteristics associated with motherhood (everything from women being really good at multitasking, to our ability to nurture, to our ability to express our feelings, compromise, and pay attention to details), that are part of what make women powerful."

In arguing against the people who had an issue with the gender essentialism in the episode, you use gender essentialism. "Positive" stereotypes are no less harmful and limiting than "negative" ones. (cis)Women are not naturally better at nuturing, compromising, or expressing our emotions because of our uteruses; some of us are better at those things because we are conditioned by a patriarchal society to be so. Women are taught to be nuturing from a young age, with baby dolls and kitchen sets; women are taught to "compromise," when that really means "give up what you want so your man can have what he wants;" we are encouraged to express our emotions so we do not seem cold and unfeminine. When these supposedly "natural" traits are used as a character's only source of strength and motivation, it's called gender essentialism.

"There’s also the matter of her PILOTING A ROBOT HAVING ONLY EVER SEEN HER HUSBAND FLY A PLANE. This is, of course, after she took the robot over at gunpoint from a three-person crew."

That first example? That's not a character trait. That's a teeny Sesame Street band-aid over a gaping plot hole. It was patently ludicrous in the episode and it's even more ludicrous to try and use it as some kind of proof of Madge's abilities. And she took over the robot by first crying and then saying, in essence, "You should be afraid of me because I'm a mother protecting her children. Obviously, I am the most terrifying being in the multiverse, because of my Uterine Powers of Nurturing and Wuv." I liked her as a character up to that moment.

"She is strong in many ways that have nothing to do with her motherhood. She is someone who, unafraid and unfazed, helps a man in a backwards spacesuit to a phone box no questions asked. She is a mother who loves her children, coddling and disciplining them as needed. She is someonewho saves her husband, carries a race of beings through the Time Vortex to safety,"

You start this paragraph off with the claim that Madge is strong in non-maternal ways. Your second example, though, is about her motherhood, and your third one is about her husband and her ability to "mother" an entire race of aliens because of her Uterine Superpowers. Clearly, examples of her non-maternal abilities are few and far between. And weren't you eariler saying that Motherhood is Awesome? So why are you turning around and trying to find ways in which Madge is not SuperMom?

The Doctor says it himself: Madge is strong because she's a mother, not because she's strong as a person. Women are strong because they can be mothers. Not because they as individuals can be rocket scientists, or soldiers, or chefs, or Time Lords. Women are strong because of their uteruses. That is some gender essentialist hooey right there.
Bittersweet Fountain
20. RichieB
Anyone else just sit back and watch the episode with all sense of disbelief suspended?
But... Is it giving birth that makes a woman 'strong' in the sense of the episode or is it motherhood? What about women who are mothers to children who are not biologically theirs? That was made The Empty Child such a good episode, she had become a mother figure to all of the lost children & that was more important than the fact that the 'empty child' was her biological son.
Throughout sci-fi & fantasy there are countless examples of 'they are powerful because they have the act of creation' which is frankly a pile of steaming ordure. True motherhood is the caring and nurturing involved in raising children.

Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children. William Makepeace Thackeray...

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