Sherlock: the Case of the Invisible Women


So we watched the last episode of Sherlock season 2 today, and I was really struck by how much of a men’s story it is: it’s all down to a confrontation between the two (male) leads on a rooftop, while the remaining (male) lead rushes to the rescue and comes too late. The H and I identified 5 women in the entire storyline, and there were so few women with so little screen time that we had to struggle to come up with them. The women (whom you barely see) fall into the broad roles of: the moral support (Molly/Mrs Hudson), the evil bitch (Donovan), and a couple supporting characters (the helpless kidnapped girl whose only role is to scream her head off, and the housekeeper who gets 20s of screen time before we move on to more important things). Everyone else is male. I mean freaking everyone else, up to the superintendent and the contingent of assassins that conveniently move in next to Baker Street.[1]

Meanwhile, those few women are all… bit parts? People far removed from the centre of the narration, who total very little screentime and have so very little importance overall. As a cumulative effect, it’s rather unsettling, and ends up being alienating (even the H balked). And I wish this was a one-off effect, something that happened only in this episode of this particular show, but this isn’t the first time I’ve had the feeling that TV shows only show us major women characters through a great effort of will (A Scandal in Bohemia, for instance, basically only had Irene Adler as a major female lead); or if they happen to need a handy victim (in which case said women tend to be dead, or to wind up dead in very short order).

And, you know, we were talking about it with the H, and I actually started making excuses for the show, going “but of course they’re going by the original short stories, and those were misogynistic as heck…”. Then some dim memory of reading the short stories struck me, and I checked myself, and went to the bookshelves to get our thick volume of Sherlock Holmes stories. And sure enough, those are full of women. I’m not saying they’re good women roles (they mostly conform to Victorian expectations), but at least they’re here, and they’re not only here, but up-front and centre in a great majority of the stories. You have heiresses to fortunes, and adventuresses (hello, Irene Adler) and spies; but you also have wronged wives, and wives trying to protect their children from grasping husbands and insane sons, and spinster ladies struggling to make a living; and sisters living together in their old ages, and dozens other women who have a strong presence in the narration and that don’t give you the feeling that the writer just happened to erase those bits of humanity that he didn’t approve of [2].

I thought about it some more, and mentally called up other 19th-Century “realistic” novels (excluding adventure novels, which are a really particular subgenre), and you know what? Most of those are horribly misogynistic, but they almost always give some space and some roles to women. Les Miserables has Cosette and Fantine and the Thenardier daughters; Charles Dickens’ books have plenty of prominent women characters. And, all in all, it ends up being a little of a paradox.
Women had a clearly defined place and clearly defined sphere in Victorian society, even though that place was deemed inferior to men. If you were a 19th-Century writer and wanted to write a story that took place in a realistic society (again, excluding “adventures abroad”), then you could hardly write something that had no women in them. It was expected that upstanding members of society would be married and have children, or have relatives which would include women (aunts, cousins, sisters). And those characters might well be subservient to men and have little freedom, but by and large, they’re always here. The wife, the maid, the daughter–they have a place and a role; they exist. The world isn’t 100%-male.

Whereas in our modern 21st-Century Western world… women have gained more rights in a general fashion, but we’ve also been moving towards a more individualistic society. Sherlock Holmes, a confirmed bachelor with no outward interest in the opposite gender, was an anomaly by Victorian standards (notice that Watson, the staunch everyman of the narration, gets all but engaged in the second ever Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of the Four); by our modern Western 21st Century standards, a man who gets married/into a serious relationship too quickly is the oddity, rather than bachelor Sherlock Holmes. This means that you can put a male character in the narration; and said male character can be a bachelor with distant/non-existent female relatives, and no one will blink an eye. Et voilà, you’ve just managed to handily remove women from the narration.

There is also a very clear separation between our daily work spheres and what we get up to at home: compare this with the Sherlock Holmes stories, in which this line is more blurred. It’s not that people didn’t have day jobs (there are several stories with tradesmen); but you get far more examples of gentlemen of leisure, or housewives, or people who work from home. Many stories take place on weekdays in households, which, again, would be a rarity today [3]. Most people are assumed to hold an office job. Why do I mention this? Because this means that it’s acceptable today to tell a story that is entirely in and about work settings, with very few inklings of relationships. Cop shows are a prime example of this (and Sherlock owes a lot to cop shows). Since the workplace is already almost entirely male (why bother with putting women on screen, they’re just distracting), you can also skip on showing women onscreen altogether: even if your male characters do happen to be married (like Lestrade), you can skip on showing their partners altogether.

All of this makes it, paradoxically, really easier if you want to cut out women out of the narration altogether: you make the characters not be married, or have casual flings you refrain from showing on-screen (like Watson’s girlfriends, who don’t really feature in this season. It’s telling that his only girlfriend with a significant role was solely there to be kidnapped in The Blind Banker). You set the story away from people’s homes, in a male-dominated workplace, and no one blinks an eye.
And this is why you end up with an adaptation of Conan Doyle for the 21st Century that ends up even more misogynistic than the original short stories. Or maybe a different flavour of misogynist, but just as bad. *headdesk*

What do you think? Am I off-base here? Did things really get worse in terms of screen-time for women, compared to the original stories, or am I misremembering my Conan Doyle/19th Century novels? Do you think not showing women at all a worse thing that showing them in subservient roles, or is it a different flavour of erasure?

[1] I won’t get into how much everyone is lily-White, but that was also a significant problem in that particular episode. And, hum, OK, maybe one of the assassins was a woman, but we only ever saw her picture, and never her in the flesh.
[2] The Conan Doyle stories also have POCs. Their depiction is as racist as heck (fiery, temperamental South Americans, untrustworthy Chinese, and so on, including a particularly lovely bit about a mixed-race South American/English that traumatised me when I was young). But at least POCs are here, they exist and they’re acknowledged, which is more than can be said the POCs in the Season 2 episodes (and few of them actually die in the stories, which is also pretty amazing compared to most mainstream Western TV).
[3] I’m not saying everyone commutes to an office job today–just that it’s become far more common and accepted in our current society.


  1. As I was reading, my knee jerked in the standard, “But that’s not what this story’s about, there were some female characters at least, this diminishes Molly yadda yadda, etc.” Fortunately my brain turned around and was all, “What are you talking about? You KNOW Sherlock is messed up.” It’s crazy how instinctive that, “But I *like* this thing, so it cannot be bad.”

    Because I do like Sherlock. But I also do recognize its failings, and they diminish the enjoyment that can be had from the show. And this is very true of most mainstream Western TV. (The only show that comes to mind that doesn’t regularly commit race/sex fail is Community, really.)

    My thinking with Sherlock is they either didn’t find women’s stories “interesting” enough or were concerned about displaying the same misogyny as in the stories. Considering “The Blind Banker,” and that Moffat is at the helm, I’m leaning towards option 1.

    It’s hard to say if it’s worse, but it’s definitely on the same level of “wtf, seriously?”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, and once again reminding me to think with my brain and not my knee.

  2. He, thank you for staying past the knee-jerk reaction! I’m not saying I don’t like Sherlock (I do, though there’s a softer spot in my heart for Doctor Who–my fave adaptation of Conan Doyle is the Brett and then the USSR version); but yeah, it’s immensely problematic in some respects. And, sadly, on part with other problematic shows…

    Also, this is the third time someone has recommended Community to me, and I really ought to give it a try one of those days..

    My thinking with Sherlock is they either didn’t find women’s stories “interesting” enough or were concerned about displaying the same misogyny as in the stories. Considering “The Blind Banker,” and that Moffat is at the helm, I’m leaning towards option 1.
    I hated “The Blind Banker” with such a passion…. (mostly because of the Orientalist fail, though amusingly my mom didn’t spot any of it, she assumed the blatant racism only applied to the Chinese and therefore not to her 😀 )

  3. Interestingly, what was probably Britain’s longest-running police show, The Bill, had a LOT of women in it. Women police officers as well as women victims/offenders. It also had a fantastic episode in which one black police officer was lecturing the other about being too white. Best. Episode. Ever.

  4. I’m glad you checked the originals. Under the assumption that the respective creators reflect the world they are comfortable with when deciding what sort of characters and what sort of attitudes, I find the new Sherlock to be rather worrying.

    There’s a new Australian TV series (based on the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood) that chooses to keep everything. Biasses show quite clearly, but society feels a lot richer, too. Comparing the two, Sherlock is a bit hollow even though it’s (in many ways) far better written. These decisions have narrative impact – not just social value.

  5. You are not wrong about this. I have Issues with how Steven Moffat portrays women in both Sherlock and Doctor Who, and have blogged about it ad nauseam. (If you’re interested, check my archives for the end of last year.) But yeah, this really bugs me. I’ve been reading through Sherlock Holmes for the first time roughly commensurate with rewatching the first series of Moffat’s and watching anew the second, and it’s astonishing how women’s roles have been altered and erased. For me, though, the most significant and irksome factor is Sherlock’s treatment of ladies: in the books, no matter how he chaffs Watson and Lestrade about their intelligence – which he does solely because they doubt him, or in the context of established, cheerful friendship – he always treats clients of either gender with respect. Moffat’s Holmes is bored by clients, insults their intelligence, calls them stupid and dull to their faces, and makes judgements about their sexuality and attractiveness that are ultimately played for laughs; Conan Doyle’s Holmes does no such thing, but regularly praises, in particular, the intelligence and bravery of his female clients, who – in that social context – are usually risking much more than the men to come to him for advice, and from a position of much lower social standing.

    This is why I get cross with Moffat: his Holmes belittles Molly – who is, and should be, a much more interesting character than his writing gives credit to – and acts much like his Doctor, playing abuse as though it were funny. And yet, I love both shows, and so am compelled to rail about them rather than let it go – because the *male* characterisation, dialogue and overall plotting are good. It’s just, why does this always have to be at the expense of women? And why with existing franchises whose characters I am already predisposed to like? I guarantee that if, after Who and Sherlock, Moffat tried to write an original show in the same vein, I would find it totally unpalatable. It’s only because we come to established premises with established loves that we give him the leeway we do; but he doesn’t see that, and so keeps slighting his ladies.

  6. Should quality matter over quality here? Molly in the last ep was crucial because she was overlooked- by Holmes and by Moriarty. Is there a middle ground between befuddled Mrs Hudson, who did have one nice moment, and Irene Adler. Who is The Woman. I wrote a bit about the Xmas Who ep…that got me thinking about roles for women in both shows. I think I want more in terms of what they offer for women precisely because I do like them both so much. I wonder about Elemental, with its female Watson. Interesting, but Watson is an everyperson, imagine a female Holmes!

  7. Debbie: I didn’t know the Bill, but it definitely sounds like a good show (by those admittedly limited but important standards). Thanks for pointing it out!
    Gillian: yup, I’m glad I did, too, or I would have gotten a completely false image of them! My favourite Sherlock Holmes series is still the ITV/Brett one, but it remains pretty faithful to the original stories (and thus doesn’t have Sherlock’s problems). I have the feeling that Sherlock just replaces Victorian biases by “modern” ones (and modern media, as Rose Lemberg was pointing out to me, isn’t really very feminist).

  8. Foz: I can’t really argue with any of that… The Holmes in the book is very different from the Holmes in the show–he’s really fundamentally a decent person who’s a bit of a cold fish (and can be a bit brusque, but always treats his clients with fundamental courtesy, as you say).
    And yes, I watch both shows because they’re established loves (though my Who love started with Eccleston, so it’s not exactly old), but I’m not sure I’d watch another Moffat show (the exception to all of this, amusingly, is “Blink”, which I still think is a terrific episode, up to and including its main female character).
    Bec: I’m assuming you mean quality over quantity? I don’t much like this argument, because it’s very often used as an excuse to shut people off shows (like the old-fashioned US quota systems, which had very few POCs but had them in prominent places, and were still, er, not up to par?). I like Molly, but I suspect people who watch the episode also overlook her (my test run for this is the H, who was mostly baffled at her behaviour rather than admirative, and couldn’t really remember her in the grand scheme of things). That said, I would sign up for a female Holmes in a heartbeat (and even more so if Holmes were portrayed by Lucy Liu!)

  9. Coming in from many links over, I thought I’d add my two cents.

    Leaving aside the issue of whether you are correct or not in your assessment, (I suspect you are, but it’s a case where numbers should do the talking, and collecting data to confirm or deny this is kind of a hassle.) my opinion is that you are too quick to assign a motivation to the director. You seem to think that women are written out of the story because the director disapproves of them, but that conclusion does not necessarily follow from existing data.

    Here’s a completely alternative theory for you: Women are written out of the story, because the screen time can then be given to things that make the show more profitable in the long term, namely, man-to-man relationships with homoerotic subtext, which is what the female audience seems to want.

    Allow me to elaborate a little… Back when fanfiction started out as a movement, the driving factor for determining what makes a story interesting for fanfiction was whether it’s ‘structurally complete’. Just like in science, paradigms provide frameworks to hang individual solutions to scientific puzzles onto, stories provide such paradigms to hang individual fiction works onto. Stories with strong paradigms, but not structurally complete, provide empty spaces where the fanfic writer can get in. For decades, expanded and expandable universes would have more fanfiction written for them than any others.

    While slash fiction is quite ancient as a phenomenon, (there’s enough research already on who writes slash fiction and why, so I’ll skip that, see Wikipedia for references) when the Net was the province of male college students, (skipping the long treatise on how the accessibility of publishing and readership affects amateur writing as well) i.e. up to mid-90s or so, slash fiction was a minority, because males typically have no interest in it, and social incentives not to participate in it even if they do. Once the Net becomes accessible to everyone, the male:female ratio evened out from 9:1 to at most 6:4 in only a few years, and women rapidly come to dominate fanfiction circles.

    Since then, the universes for which most fanfiction gets written appear to be selected not on the basis of structural qualities, but on the basis of whether they contain desirable male characters primed for slash relationships, with stories getting TV adaptations involving handsome actors quickly getting a boost in fanfiction written for them. Making a story suitable for writing slash about it ensures that more will be written, and creates a strong fan community, even though it is centered in a large part on erotic undertones. A strong fan community handily supports long-term popularity and sales and ensures mouth-to-mouth marketing. Slash communities tend to be fairly closed affairs, but they can keep going strong like few others.

    Moffat in particular seems well aware of the effects of fan participation, and his continual conscious use of homoerotic subtext leads me to think this is what he wanted to get. Whether he did or not, this is clearly what he got. 🙂

  10. I think that theory falls at the first fence: the idea that the programme is being designed with the female audience in mind.

  11. Mihara, what I like least about your theory – apart from Debbie’s argument which I think is extremely valid – is the conclusion that’s it’s the fault of women that there are no women in these films.

  12. The argument that there’s no proof that Sherlock was designed with the dominantly female audience in mind is certainly valid, however, slightly misplaced. Notice that all the listed considerations do not prevent a dominantly male audience from liking the program, so it’s possible to have both in mind.

    Mind you, female audience groups aren’t created equal, just like male audience groups aren’t created equal, my statements do not imply that ‘all women are like that’, just like the original reasoning in the above post does not imply that ‘all men are like that’. Simply that ‘enough exist’.

    How many is a complex problem involving many unknowns. In general, an author only has very foggy ideas about who their audience is, the only real indication up until recently having been the number of copies actually sold. Reader feedback is by it’s very nature not representative of the readers, just like mail-in opinion polls aren’t representative of the population snapshot they were sent to — only certain specific types of people will send in responses, and these will be different by the very virtue of having done so. To pull in an argument from a completely different culture, incidence of specific genres in anime radically changed around 2003, when high speed broadband finally took off in Japan. The reason was that anime studios could finally go dig for audience reactions, rather than wait for them to come trickling in on their own. What they found was a most vocal minority of diehard fans, which were vocal on the net because that was the only place where they could be vocal at all, overshadowing everyone else, and sharing certain interesting qualities — namely being almost exclusively male, underprivileged, and sex-starved. This gave anime a chance to produce serious drama to reflect upon itself and it’s place in the society, which did happen, but it also gave rise to a neverending stream of the most woman-degrading work ever produced — the minority is sufficiently vocal to be seen, and will spend money to support the conclusions made from seeing them about what kind of anime they want to see.

    As for this being anyone’s fault… If exploiting a weakness makes it someone’s fault they have a weakness, maybe, but I certainly don’t want to involve the concept of ‘fault’ in there at all.

  13. I don’t think that enjoying UST (or even open smexiness) between two (or more) male characters is a weakness. I’m down with it myself.

    However, even Torchwood, “where the slash is canon”, managed to include female characters where Sherlock seems to have excluded them. Not that I’m an expert on Sherlock, having stopped watching it after the whole opera singer becomes blatant male sexual fantasy episode.

    There’s no way to justify that episode on the basis of the popularity of m/m UST/smexiness. Plus my Twitter stream was full of comments from angry/disappointed/irate women after that episode aired.

    It’s possible to be down with the whole m/m thing and still want to see women rather than ‘female’ sex objects on the screen.

    But the argument that programme makers may be responding to a distorted perception of audience share is an interesting one.

  14. Do you think not showing women at all a worse thing that showing them in subservient roles, or is it a different flavour of erasure?

    Looking at individual stories, I’ve noticed that a story that denigrates women irritates me more than a story that doesn’t feature women. My example is the movie Ocean’s Eleven, which would have been a perfectly entertaining heist without the “here, you did the job, so you have deserved to get your personal property back. After all, a wife is a personality-less trophy and can’t possibly have principles” nonsense.

    If there are no women there, I can tune down my critical thinking and enjoy whatever is good about the story; if I get slapped in the face with “women aren’t people, just T&A/trophies”-attitudes, that doesn’t work.

    Looking at media in general, which make it hard to find the kind of stories I like focusing on women, there’s way, way too much of both.

  15. Anke: yes, I agree it’s less infuriating–however, I’d argue it’s more troublesome in the long run? As you say, we’re not offended, so we say nothing, but this stuff then gets everywhere, and so internalised that a lot of people, including women, see nothing wrong with it?
    (and yes, the “women are just trophies” pissed me off, too. Ocean’s Eleven was very very bad for this).

  16. It’s astounding how my favourite film portrayal of a woman is still Ripley in Alien. Nothing’s come along to supplant it in thirty-three years.

  17. Generally, I’d say that yes – there are more men in Sherlock than women. However, this description of all of them as too on-the-sides is a little odd. I don’t want to be all “but look there are more”, I really don’t, because it’s just going to seem like I’m making excuses, but dude – there are more.

    Because you said you identified 5 women, and the examples you gave added up to 5, I now know the 5 women you identified. So let’s go right back to the start of the episode, shall we?

    1. John’s therapist. And no, she’s not just more “comfort”. She’s his therapist.

    2. The judge-questioning-person (I really don’t know what her actual job is called, sorry) at the trial. Minor role, but she is there, and she does interact with Sherlock.

    3. The one who gets Moriarty’s gum. (again, minor, but if the screaming girl counts, then so does she.)

    4. The journalist that actually causes the whole issue. Honestly, I don’t know how you count up “women in the storyline” and get the screaming girl but not her. She and Sherlock instantly have issues, she takes in “Richard Brook”. How is she “removed from the centre of the narration”, exactly?

    5. This, really, was the reason I even bothered to respond to this. Allow me to quote you: “Everyone else is male. I mean freaking everyone else, up to the superintendent and the contingent of assassins that conveniently move in next to Baker Street. ”

    Now let’s look at the episode…

    “Diyachenko, Lyudmila…Russian killer. She’s taken the flat opposite.”

    Maybe you don’t recognize Russian names easily. Maybe her picture looked a little androgynous. Maybe the pronoun “she” just didn’t register. Again – normally, I’d just think “oh look this person wasn’t paying attention” and wouldn’t write anything. But you just posted an “invisible women” (as in under-representation of women, which I feel very strongly about and try to open other peoples’ eyes to) post about Sherlock (my favorite TV show) that tried to base a point on not paying attention, and people actually listened. I mean, this is what really bugs me – some movies and shows actually do grossly under-represent women. Some shows do only have 5 minor-character women for every 4 major character male ones (does that math sound right?). But this isn’t one of them. Not even all of the 5 listed were minor, and a really major one (in this episode) was completely ignored. A statement that probably swayed many people on this person’s side – the whole “even the assassins are all male” thing – wasn’t even true, and I shudder to think that people who haven’t even watched Sherlock have read this and gotten pissed about women erasure and now don’t like Sherlock. And while pointing out under-representation of women in the media is something I appreciate, what I do not appreciate is trying to do it by ignoring half the women on the show, and getting people dislike something they haven’t seen just because you didn’t notice something.

  18. Hermione: I think you’re misunderstanding me? First, the post refers NOT to a “A Scandal in Belgravia”, but to all three episodes of season 1. And, specifically, the first paragraph, the ones that lists the female characters such as Donovan and the screaming girl, is referring to the last episode, “The Reichenbach Fall” (the male assassins refer to the hitmen moving into position to target Mrs Hudson, John and Lestrade, not to the Russian assassin moving in next door to Sherlock in “Scandal”)
    I’m also mostly complaining about the lack of *major* female characters and positive female representation. Most of the examples you cite as counter-examples for a Scandal in Belgravia are perfectly fine characters, but they’re hardly major or significant, not on the level of Sherlock or John Watson, or even Molly. And the cumulative effect of those people is bad female representation, see below.
    By and large, “A Scandal in Belgravia” actually has the best female representation of the season (which isn’t much. I’m personally not really convinced that the femme fatale who dominates through her charms is a really shining example of female representation, and I likewise have issues with the journalist, whose presentation is hyper-sexualised and soon boils down to “the slighted woman” in a way that makes me uncomfortable). And, in that particular episode, Irene Adler is the only major female character (even the journalist doesn’t have much screen time compared to, say, Mycroft).

    I’m not saying that Sherlock is a complete failure on female representation; or that I don’t like the show (actually I quite enjoy it in spite of all my criticism about it). Just that, when you take all the episodes together (and again, not only “A Scandal in Belgravia”), it really feels as though the writers include women only as an effort of will.

  19. Now I’m just kind of confused. Because 1. ALL of the examples I cited are from the Reichenbach fall, which was also 2. the episode that you said you based this off of: “So we watched the last episode of Sherlock season 2 today, and I was really struck by how much of a men’s story it is” and 3. That assassin *is* one of those sent. I also don’t understand how the journalist is hyper-sexualised – yes, she poses as a fangirl at first, but after that – no. And could you please explain what you mean by “the slighted woman”, because I’m not sure what that means?

  20. Hum, apologies. I mixed up episodes 1 and 3. My bad. Sorry.
    Again, it’s been a long time since I watched the episode in question, but I’m almost certain that the Russian assassin never actually shows up beyond her picture and a few shots (vs the three male gunmen that are seen at the end of the episode, and have a fair amount of screen time).
    Women acting as femme fatales and fan girls, whether it’s a pose or not, is bad female representation for me, especially when it’s the only large-ish female representation in the episode. It reinforces the cliché that all women uses their wiles to get on in life (rather than, say, talent). It’s such a pervasive idea that the promotion of females in workplaces often gets greeted by people wondering who they slept with. And I wish I’d made this up, but I’ve seen it so many times it gets sickening.
    The “slighted woman” is the one who will do anything for revenge after her seduction attempts are turned down. It’s also a problematic depiction of women as being entirely ruled by irrational feelings–again, all of this wouldn’t be so bad if we had genuine female characters, but the journalist is the only such one (bar Molly, whose life revolves around making Sherlock pay attention to her, and Mrs Hudson, who doesn’t really have what I’d call a story arc).
    It’s also a classic tactic of female misrepresentation to add in a lot of female minor characters (like the judge), and pretend that they somehow add up to a major female character. But “The Reichenbach Fall” has no such major character. The best approximation to one is the journalist, who still remains offscreen a lot of the time when you compare her to Sherlock, John or even Mrs Hudson. My point about all the other roles–bar the journalist–that you mention being completely minor remains.

  21. But the (original) Reichenbach story didn’t *feature* any major female characters, and it is adapted from that. The BBC version changed it up a lot and made it more complex than just “Moriarty is out to get me so let’s travel”, building a web around it, and in that web, both men and women were added. One of the most important additions in that web was the journalist. As far as I can remember (pleas correct me if I’m wrong) no major male characters were added to this story. Saying that it’s not right to not have female characters as important as Sherlock or John…the story’s about them. They are the main characters. So no, there aren’t going to be women that are just as major as them. There are also not going to be men as major as them – because the spaces for the two main characters have been filled.

  22. I am at the stage where I tend to reject stories with all male, mostly male, and/or only male important characters, unless maybe if I really liked them before I got to this point. I’m vastly irritated or bored if they’re not there, and the same tends to happen if they’re just minor or badly done. But if they’re there, and I actually decide to watch/read, I can get invested in even a badly done character, even if I get angry or irriated on her behalf often. Of course that can’t last.

    And honestly, there are tropes that bother me more than others, though I wonder how much of that is how the trope is used.

    For example, there were a couple of anime this spring/summer that bothered me, and one is worse in some ways than the other in story quality, at least in the opinions I’ve seen (I haven’t decided whether I share that opinion). But the one that is considered better (and even has more female characters with personalities, actually!) plays to a trope I hate so much with the main female character (sexual fantasy of eager sexy girl all over awkward normal guy, with much focus on her body parts), whereas in the other one the main female character was good and it was the rest of the story and characters that had problems (and it’s based on a dating sim for a female audience, and has the several-guys-to-choose-from kind of fantasy though it’s not romance-centered). I was less frustrated with the latter, but both shows could use improvement. And the one with the trope I hate actually has a good female main character, but it’s got too much focus on that fantasy, and makes so much of the character moments she has about her relationship with him and how it’s good, that I was thrown out of the story quite often.

  23. @Tigerpetals: thanks for weighing in! I have a harder and harder time investing in the male gaze today, though I make exceptions for some stuff that ticks the right boxes…
    I agree it’s got little to do with story quality, but instead with which tropes are used and how.

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