Did ‘Sherlock’ Mansplain Feminism?

by Gabriella Giambanco

In January, I went to see the new Sherlock special, “The Abominable Bride,” at my local movie theater. As I held my ticket in my hand, the excitement began to set in. Many Sherlock fans, including myself, had waited nearly two years for this season special and could not be more enthusiastic to revisit the characters we have come to love. Interestingly, this special took place in Victorian England during the 1800s, around the same time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories originally took place. The Victorian era was also the backdrop of the suffragettes’ movement. 

“The Abominable Bride” is a story about a bride who publicly kills herself and then seemingly returns from the dead as a ghostly figure to kill powerful men including her husband and ex-lover. This case give Sherlock a run for his money, as he cannot come understand how a woman supposedly dead comes back to life. There is a pivotal scene in the episode where Sherlock finds himself surrounded by a group of women, specifically a room full of suffragettes, where he begins to explain to them the suffering, prejudice, and oppression they face because of their gender. He explains to this group of women that they have be oppressed because they lack the right to vote.

During this spiel, I thought to myself, “Why does Sherlock have to explain to them the oppression and prejudice they face as women? They already know they live it every day.” This is what we call mansplaining. Mansplaining at its fundamental core has a very specific definition. It is what happens when a man talks condescendingly or patronizing to someone (most likely a woman) about something he has inadequate knowledge of, with the misguided assumption that he knows or even understands more about it than the person he is talking to does. Sherlock does not even need to explain to these women about oppression and prejudice because they live it every day.  According to the Daily Telegraph’s review, “The ghostly bride represented the invisible army of women, rising up to claim the vote and wreak vengeance on abusive men.” This can seem problematic to some because feminism is not murdering men for the sake of the cause and should not be portrayed as such. 

ABOM chair

I do believe Moffat and Gatiss had good intentions with the scene, however, the problem lies with the delivery of the scene. According to the Telegraph’s online voter polls, 61% of voters thought the suffragette scene was not a good idea. Interestingly, 39% of voters thought that it was brilliant to see women’s rights being portrayed on TV. I think it is important to integrate women’s rights onto television, but we don’t have to settle for this. It makes me sad how this scene could have gone and how it could have been a staple piece of women’s rights in television. 

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