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Women in Sherlock BBC

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1. Intro

When I started watching Sherlock BBC, I thought I had found another team of writers like Joss Whedon.
Witty dialogues, intelligent writing, interesting characters, a recognizable set, hints of a broader story arc and an unconventional romance, that has a justification in the ACD canon, or - that was what it seemed to be.
Of course, I assumed that there would be the artistic courage of a Joss Whedon, as well as his awareness of what his images show and teach the audience.
I also thought the writers had something to say.
So I gave them a lot of credit - undeserved as it turned out.

This little piece discusses the representation of women in Sherlock BBC.
In many regards, Sherlock BBC seems to be the antithesis of BtVS regarding female representation.
Whedon wrote stories about empowered women - and men (or women) who love them.
Mofftis created a show, which uses them as plot devices or rewrites canon originals in the worst way possible and opposition to ACD’s intentions.

Most women in ACD canon show resilience when faced with animosity or danger. A lot of them are notably pro-active about dealing with their problems, even if they come to Holmes to get help. Some of them have enough agency to take justice into their own hands (like Lady Swinstead in the case of C.A.M. or Kitty Winter in the case of Baron Gruner).
ACD wrote women who lose their self in her love for a man often as unsympathetic, morally questionable or even criminal (like Violet Merville in the Gruner case, the Greek Interpreter's sister, or Maria Gibson in Thor Bridge).
ACD was the Victorian version of what modern feminists would call an “ally.”
That’s one reason for the success of his stories with his female audience. He understood women.
He also understood the importance of factual and emotional logic.
His stories are beloved because he could write humans with an excellent understanding of their motifs, their choices, and their behavior.
He was interested in humans, and he loved them with open eyes.
The fact that he wrote one of his protagonists as an apparent misanthrope shows a sublime sense of irony.

I will only discuss women that repeatedly show up in the series. Otherwise, this would get out of hand.

 

2. Sally Donovan

 

She is the first woman we meet on this show.
Her job is important to her, and we see her doing it.
She seems to be good at it, too - at least she is successful enough to be Lestrade’s right hand in most cases, and we can assume a friend of his.
She is a black woman, who managed to be successful in a still often misogynistic and racist environment.
She cares about the victims. A lot of her hostility against Sherlock comes from her justified belief that he doesn’t.
She doesn’t put up with his shit when she is repeatedly and publicly humiliated by him.
Unfortunately, she is also the person who sucks off the other dislikable colleague in the show (who - of course - is an idiot), which gives her a smell of “slut.”
Since she is angry at Sherlock all the time, shows that in her attitude and has developed the habit of calling him “freak” - which admittedly isn’t “nice,” but then; is he? - she is the most hated character on this show.
In short; the only professional woman in the show is pictured as a bitch - surprise, surprise.

 

3. Molly Hooper

 

The second woman we meet is love struck pathologist Molly Hooper. Her attire and demeanor show her as a mirror of John Watson. She is also a juxtaposition to Sally Donovan.
Without that connection she is just another version of Miss Moneypenny, who somehow got stuck in the Sixties; the actual modern version is a badass compared to her.


During the first season, she only has a few short appearances that show her as a pathologist, who could also be a janitor working in the morgue for all we know. She never actually examines a body. In later seasons we at least get to see her making some chemical analyses.
She is so smitten with the protagonist that she lets him be rude to her and on several occasions manipulate her into doing him favors, that at times could even jeopardize her job.
She doesn’t stand up for herself except once - when she tells Sherlock “that he always says this mean things to her.” But with a peck on the cheek, all is forgiven.


We are told, that she is a pathologist, we don’t know, if she is the only one in St. Barts or if she has any colleagues and what her stand is in this community. Although we can assume, that she is intelligent given the fact that she successfully concluded her medical degree, and that she is a professional at her job; we never get to see that.
The only thing we do see, is her making moon-eyes at Sherlock - no matter, how condescending he is; being understanding and helpful when he needs it; and only getting seriously angry when he is endangering himself, never because he acts like a jerk or hurts her.


There is only one episode, where the person we know as Molly Hooper, is shown as a professional in her work field: The Abominable Bride. Here we see her dressed up as a man - possibly as a nod to Dr. James Barry, the extraordinary British Army surgeon and later Inspector General of Military Hospitals, who after “his” death in 1865 turned out to be a woman, who had hidden her gender for half a century.


Molly tries to move on from her infatuation two times - once with “gay Jim from IT” (who turns out to be Moriarty), and the second time with a cheap copy of Sherlock. The first we know to be a psychopath, the second seems to be one as well (she says as much in TEH, referring to them as “her type”).


So this is Molly Hooper; a physician, that doesn’t appear as a professional (and thus independent or empowered in any way), who is easily manipulated, falls in love with people, who treat her like shit and forgives quickly. She is unthreatening, doesn’t have a shred of self-esteem or pride and is a useful friend (or tool?) to have.

 

4. Mrs. Hudson

 

She is the mom in this show, and therefore naturally unthreatening enough to turn out pretty interesting throughout the series.
She reveals her life and the lessons she learned gradually, and there is just enough mystery to keep the audience hoping for more little tidbits about her.

 

5. Irene Adler

 

The BBC version of this character was one I hated because I read the books.

In ACD canon Irene Adler is a woman, who has one of the few careers a woman in the 19th century could have. She is an opera singer.


At some point in the past, she had a love affair with the King of Bohemia, who brings that particular case to Sherlock.
The king claims Ms. Adler attempts to blackmail him so that he doesn’t enter into a marriage of convenience, although their affair ended a few years before. Means of that blackmail is according to him a picture, which shows both of them. The motive would be him slighting her by breaking it off. Basically the old “Hell has no fury like a woman who is betrayed”-jingle. Earlier attempts to retrieve the photograph failed because the woman is too smart.


Holmes believes that version of occurrences because it fits his preconceptions about women and takes the case - confident he will solve it quickly. After all, his “opponent” is a mere woman.


We never get confirmation, if Ms. Adler tried to blackmail the king, but as it turns out in the investigation, she is generous, compassionate and spontaneous. Those character traits are contrary to the mindset of an extortionist. They are witnessed by her employees and later Holmes himself.
She also doesn’t have a motive, because in the course of the investigation she marries herself for love. That makes the truthfulness of the king’s version improbable.


And while she betrayed, where the photo is - prompted by a smoke bomb; she recognizes Holmes’s handiwork, follows him in disguise, confirms her suspicion and flees the premises with her newly wedded husband.
All she leaves behind is a letter for Holmes, which explains how she found him out, assures that the photo is a means of protection against retaliation from the king; and that it will never be used if she is left in peace.
The king remarks that her word on this is as good as having the photograph - which says everything about the integrity of the woman - and declares the case solved to his satisfaction.


Still, in finding Holmes out and keeping the photograph, Irene Adler becomes “the woman, that beat Holmes.”
She proved wrong all his prejudices about women, and even though he knew she was exceptional, according to Watson, he never slanted female intelligence again after that encounter.


ACD created a female character, that was independent, loved who she wanted, married who she wanted, didn’t cower in front of kings and outsmarted the genius, all while being a generous employer/mistress and having integrity and an honorable character.


The fact, that Moffat found her lacking as a villain has a simple reason - she wasn’t one.

In this case, it is the client and Sherlock Holmes, who have questionable motifs.
I don’t understand, that Moffat didn’t get that.

 

Now let’s take a look at BBC Irene.


She is a dominatrix - which is a fancy way of saying, she is a whore.
That alone wouldn’t be a problem. Joss Whedon has proven that by creating the character of Inara Serra, who is one of the most respectable characters in the show Firefly.
But taken in context, it comes off as, and probably is meant to be, degrading.


She blackmails the Royal Family and later the UK, which not only makes her a criminal but also puts her in the same class of criminals as C.A.M.

ACD Holmes says about him, "He is a serpent. I had to deal with 15 murderers in my career. The worst of them never gave me the sense of revulsion I feel now towards Mr. Charles Augustus Milverton."
She manipulates and deceives everyone she meets, and explains that with a simple, “I misbehave.”


Her client base is showing her as bisexual, she self-identifies as gay, yet she still manages to fall helplessly in love with her male mark. Yepp, they actually borrowed the lesbian-who-finally-meets-the-right-guy-cliché on top of the-con-artist-who-falls-in-love-with-her/his-mark-cliché!


She didn’t even come up with her plan to extort the British Government herself - no, she needed the consulting criminal to do it for her.

Given her conversation with Moriarty at the beginning of the episode, it’s not even entirely clear if she is working with him or for him. However, she is at least partly his puppet.


By solving the riddle of her “heart,” Sherlock finds her password at the last second, thereby thwarting her plans and leaving her life in danger. To show her his power over her, he makes her beg him for help and refuses after she demeans herself into doing so. She is captured and faces decapitation when he saves her at the last moment (facing and presumably defeating a whole camp of Muslim terrorists).

 

The woman, who beat Sherlock Holmes, became a sexualized damsel, who slapped him with a riding crop.

 

One of this storylines is showing a strong, intelligent and self-empowered woman; one is soaked in the worst clichés about women possible.
If I hadn’t seen that the 125-year-old version of the story is the progressive one, I wouldn’t believe it.

 

6. Mary Morstan

 

She is one of few female characters in this show, that is fascinating.
We meet her at the beginning of season three, where we find her helping John through his (still very apparent) grief for Sherlock.

In the course of the first two episodes, we see her as an intelligent, witty, tolerant and warm woman, who knows her boundaries and defends them. She calls both John and Sherlock out on their shit, and is accepting of and even facilitating the it-might-be-love-friendship of them since she knows that relationship to be essential for John’s happiness.


Because let’s face it; at least emotionally this is a threesome. And a potentially stable one at that (after the three work out the kinks every beginning relationship has).
Mary gets the illusion of stability, peace, and security in a marriage alongside a husband, who’s emotional focus is split between her and Sherlock. That allows for a certain degree of independence and freedom on her side. Otherwise, he would be a potentially clingy and needy partner, which would suffocate a woman like her.
Sherlock can continue his “I don’t do sentiment!”- routine without the total loss of John and the resulting admission, that he in fact, very much does sentiment.
John can live his heterosexual self-image alongside the bromance without confronting himself about both and therefore doesn't need to question his identity.
As long as nothing disturbs this equilibrium that could be a remarkable stable constellation.

Still, it is clear that Mary has secrets.


Those are lifted in episode three when she turns out to be a retired secret agent on the run, who is blackmailed by the “big bad” of the season. Her anxiety to lose John, should he learn the truth, leads to her shooting Sherlock nearly to death.
Sherlock assumes that her shot gave him a deliberate chance to survive; it is somewhat unclear if that is the case.
Of course, shooting John's best friend leads to a significant rift between spouses.
John is eventually willing to forgive her because he loves her, she is pregnant with his child, and he feels honor bound to do just that. That Christmas scene is one highlight of “Sherlock BBC” because it shows how complex and complicated feelings can be.


It would have been great if the writers had extended that into season four because it had great dramatic potential without being flashy and would have been a good starting point for Mary’s decision later in the show.
Instead, they let the power of that moment evaporate.

Mary Morstan in Season 3 is a compelling, complex and complicated character, that fits perfectly in the strange world of “The Boys.”
She changed the dynamic between those two and could have been an exciting addition to the team throughout the series.

And then came season 4.

In it’s beginning Mary is described as “a retired super agent with a terrifying skill set.”
That apparently includes calling her husband 59 times when in labor, but not dialing 999 once, all for a funny slapstick car scene.
And to be clear; I mean "funny" in a “funny-back-away-and-avoid-eye-contact”-way.

When she learns a former brother in arms thinks her a traitor and wants to kill her, she leaves her family behind.
That is a sensible decision. If a possible confrontation is a potential danger to your loved ones, you go as far away as you can to protect them.
Unfortunately, that’s where her plan ends - at least for the writers.
A woman like her in season three could and would have threat assessed the shit out of people.
She would have known, Ajay wouldn’t stop coming or might even try to flash her out by kidnapping her daughter, or hurting/killing her husband.
So her logical second step should have been to force the confrontation on her terms.
They could have hugged it out, or they could have fought.
And since this show isn’t about Mary that all could have happened off-screen.

If Ajay had killed her, the writers would have reached their goal for the episode and could have concentrated on John’s grief for his wife, Sherlock’s reaction to that and his pain over her death.
If they were interested in the characters, that would have been the perfect time to revisit “The Fall” and what that “suicide” did to their relationship, especially the fact that Sherlock made John watch it and then let him grieve for two years.

What suicide is like is the best illustration of what Sherlock did to John when he jumped off St. Barts.

There would have been plenty of drama right there.


And given the gifted cast, it could have been marvelous. Of course, that necessitates writers, who

a) are mature and self-reflected enough to know what their characters are going through emotionally,

b) have enough artistic courage to let that emotional journey influence the direction of the show, and

c) give a shit about them as “real” people.

Mary considered Ajay family, so they did share a close siblings-in-arms-bond at one time.
If she would have killed him, that loss and the guilt would have been a somewhat believable trigger for her decision to jump in front of that bullet; although not strong enough on its own.
But no – all the writers let her do was wandering all over the planet, like some goal- and brainless zombie. They took a character, that they simply did not establish as “the damseling kind” and turned her into a helpless idiot – so Sherlock and John could swoop in and save the day. And I won’t start on the many inconsistencies there. Otherwise, I’ll never finish.


They destroyed the strongest female character in this series even before killing her off - which was mercy at this point. Either that didn’t matter, or it was planned.
Women who don’t need saving are obviously a no-go in the Sherlock BBC world.

The reason for Mary’s suicide by saving a life also remains unclear.
It is triggered by Sherlock being shot at because he was an overconfident jerk - again. For someone supposedly intelligent, he surely is a slow learner.
But why didn’t she tackle him, instead of jumping before him (increasing both their chances; the bullet should’ve gone right through her and still into Sherlock given caliber and distance)?
Also, while guilt might be a powerful motivator, being the mother of a toddler is an even greater one. And her marriage might have been troubled, but not nearly enough to make her willing to kill herself at this point. She wasn't depressed. The writers didn’t establish anything in those directions. Same goes for the past that catches up with her.
There didn’t happen (or wasn’t shown) nearly enough to make a death wish or even getting tired of living in any way believable, not balanced against her survival instincts as a mother.

Mary dies in canon. Therefore she has to die in Sherlock BBC.
Given the freedoms, the writers took with other canonical characters; they could’ve just gone for divorce instead.
Instead, Mary was reduced from character to plot device - and there is no need to think about motivations of those.

 

7. Janine

 

I nearly forgot to include her; she is just that memorable.
But given that she shows up in two episodes, and Sherlock goes to the trouble of faking a relationship with her to get into Magnussen's office (as Holmes did in ACD canon with one of the maids of Charles Augustus Milverton), I feel that I should.


We meet her at John’s and Mary’s wedding as “maid of honor”/best woman of Mary. There she is an earthy, witty person. We learn that she is Mary’s friend and that she seems to be in search of a shag or possibly a boyfriend.
When we meet her again as Sherlock’s “girlfriend” - and seen through John’s eyes - she lost every bit of wit she had in the previous episode. She already has reorganized Sherlock’s kitchen, “banters” with Sherlock in the most idiotic way possible, appears to have no feeling for the concept of privacy and seems to be just a pretty, dumb face. So it is no surprise when it turns out Sherlock wasn’t seeing her. The greatest surprise was John being surprised about it.
She also seems to have either masochistic tendencies or not a shred of self-esteem, given what Magnussen admits doing to her on a regular basis. No money in the world is worth that disparaging treatment by her boss. I don’t know if UK laws would allow suing the man, but at minimum, she could have quit the job. Even McDonald would be preferable as an employer in this case.
Her retaliation for Sherlock’s bullshit was inspired, though. Painting him publicly as some sex monster, while she in truth didn’t get any was kinda fun.


Still, as a female character (and given the age of most of the audience) as a potential role model, she is terrible. She is nothing but a pretty face with immense sexual appetite, presumably not much of a brain and docile enough to put up with some severe abuse by her employer without opposition or consequences for him.
That's probably just how Moffat sees women, or maybe how he wishes them to be.

 

8. Eurus Holmes

 

I don’t even know how to start.
Maybe like this: Great cast. Sian Brooke has an incredible presence!

As for her character - well....
The problem is - there isn’t one. The writers take refuge in “psychosis” to get away with every bullshit they have Eurus do.

Newsflash boys; it is 2017, and the psycho explanation is Cliché.
Secondly; it’s badly done. “Insane” people are actually pretty rational; they just happen to act in a completely different reality than the rest of us. Plus, if you’re going to throw diagnoses around, read a book about psychiatry first or - to quote Sherlock - “Do your research!”
The only one with a full-blown psychosis this season was John.

So here are some of the problems I have with Eurus in detail.

We learn she is so intelligent, that she is essentially psychic/telepathic and can control others with her mind since she was five.
Yet she is incapable of distinguishing physical pain from other emotions, or - using a different expression - to feel.
Feelings are “mental experiences of body states, which arise as the brain interprets emotions, themselves physical states arising from the body’s responses to external stimuli.”
Given that she is so intelligent, sorting and cataloging her emotions - in other words - feeling, should be a highly refined and smooth process for her.
That process also is the basis for controlling others as she supposedly does, because the only thing she could “reprogram” by just talking is the cognitive input that is needed to process emotion. So she only can control feelings, and that is impossible if she can’t even recognize them in herself.
That’s just the latest example of the writer's tendency to

a) see emotions and feelings as similar and

b) equate higher intelligence with higher incapability to feel, when in reality the truth is exactly the opposite.

They do it with Sherlock and Mycroft all the time.

But not showing feelings or not acting on them doesn’t mean they’re not there.
That epiphany comes to Watson in ACD canon in “The Three Garridebs” when Holmes’s reaction to his injury led him “a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain.” In “Thor Bridge” Holmes expressively judges his client for having acted on his feelings for the governess while married, not for falling in love with her. 

We learn in the course of TFP that Eurus kidnapped Sherlock’s best friend when she was about five or six, put him in a death trap with a timed trigger and gave Sherlock a riddle to solve to get him back.
He wasn’t able to do that because he was too distraught about the disappearance of his friend. Victor died, an experience that led to Sherlock’s contempt for feelings (and his former self in later years) and also to him “deleting” not only Eurus but also the fact that “Redbeard” was a human being.
I can suspend my disbelief, but that was though to swallow.

Her parents and Mycroft were neither capable of talking her into giving the location of Victor or solving the riddle themselves, nor were they able to come up with a solution to find that boy without solving the puzzle.
Eurus was first brought to a psychiatric facility after that. A few months later either she set a fire and was taken into a secret high-security prison, where she was incarcerated in isolation, or the fire was set by someone else, and she was blamed for it for that purpose.
Her parents believed her to be killed, Sherlock had already deleted her, and Mycroft was apparently “in on it.” He describes the prison as hell, designed for the uncontainable.

So let’s look at some key points that pissed me off here.

a) I don’t know about the UK, but where I come from anybody under age of 14 is unable to be guilty of a crime, because children are either intellectually or socially unable to realize the full scope of their actions.
There are sensible discussions to lower that to 12, but Eurus was five or six, so that’s irrelevant here.

Even if we assume, that Eurus is very able intellectually, she isn’t socially.
The fact that she seems to have difficulties in distinguishing feelings also throws a damper on her intellectual ability (see above).
And no, she wasn’t a sociopath at that time. Because children tend to evolve, that diagnosis cannot be made before they’ve reached at least adolescence.

b) Her riddle is an elaborate and desperate measure to get love and help “before her doom.”
Which is a contradiction; if she doesn’t know feelings how can she know love and that she will be doomed without it? Why does she need this? And why from her youngest brother? Why doesn’t she go to her parents with this? Or to her older brother? What’s wrong with this family?
And in the present; why that obsession with Sherlock?

c) Why did the parents allow her to play this power game? Victor didn’t have to die.
It doesn’t take a genius to outsmart even a brilliant five-year-old in this case.
Eurus had given Sherlock some time to solve this riddle, apparently at least a day.
So you interrogate everyone else on the estate, establish when Victor and Eurus have been seen the last time and have - a time frame. If you estimate her speed with Victor and alone, you have a pretty good image of distance; she could have managed. Those factors combined give you a search radius.
You could refine that by looking just for places, where she could hide a kid within that range.
A search party of locals (that would have helped, people tend to be helpful when a kid goes missing) and the local police (Where were they?) could have gone over every square meter searching for the boy.
Why didn’t that happen? And it didn’t - otherwise, they would have at least found the body, which we know they didn’t because John is the one finding it. -
And since we’re at it; why didn’t Victor’s parents insist on locating their dead son so that they could give him at least a proper burial? Where were they? Why didn’t they bring charges against the Holmes parents for lack of supervision and negligence? Because since they didn't do any of those things, they are at least as guilty of Victor's death as Eurus.

d) Did anybody think, she would get better in prison? More to the point: In isolation? If that cell is anything to go by, she had next to nothing to occupy that brain of hers. Given how Sherlock reacts to being bored, it is a miracle; she turned out to be comparatively sane.
Plus, isolation didn’t help her to develop social skills because the only way to learn these is social interaction. In fact, given that Moriarty’s visit somehow “woke her up” (the Governor), it is safe to assume, that she showed symptoms of severe hospitalization before that.

e) I can’t help but compare: there is another fictional (super-)genius with psychosis (paranoid schizophrenia), that started with nearly psychic abilities but didn’t have the bad luck of having an uncle Rory and a brother named Mycroft, who can’t bare someone, they can’t control. - Sherlock only gets away with deleting his memory of her, because he was a kid himself.
She has a brother named Simon. Instead of leaving her in a place, that you need “a road map of hell” to find, he broke her out of it, sacrificing his status, his career and his social future in the process.
She is another one, who “could kill you with her brain. Someone dangerous. Who can’t be controlled. Can’t be trusted.”
Her name is River Tam. And no power in the ‘verse can stop her. She did just fine. Because even being weird, “morbid and creepifying” and a killer, she found a family, that accepted her. Gave her a home.
I wonder what would have happened to Eurus if she’d had that. -

Of course, that would be assuming, Eurus is supposed to have an actual character and a - if slightly disturbed - personality.
The way she is used suggests otherwise. She is a plot device in the form of a series of catalysts for Sherlock's emotional development.

 

And the real shame about that?


She could have been an opponent, that goes way beyond the cliched cardboard villains the show has presented so far (the only interesting one was - shortly - Mary).

No; BBC Moriarty isn’t even in the ballpark of a three-dimensional evil opponent. He’s not even scary. He is just a smart bully with money, connections and a blatant disregard for life. Fundamentally one of nowadays banker boys that ventures a little more on the dark side.

Scary are villains, who have a cause, an unshakable belief to do the right thing. If the writing can make the viewer sympathetic to their cause, the lines between good and evil begin to blur.
If the audience doesn’t know, if it wants to kiss the villain or kill him - that’s scary.

Eurus was wrongfully incarcerated and kept in isolation for 35 + years. She has every reason to be pissed off.
Look at it from her perspective.
Her family betrayed her.
There are the uncle and an older brother who brought her out of therapy and into prison at age 5 or 6. That same brother used her as a tool, to get an advantage in his intelligence business, and traded favors against her compliance with that.
Then there is a younger brother who “chose” to forget her.
Which leaves her parents, that - with all their brilliance didn’t realize, that;
a) their daughter needed some serious help before that drama went down and;
b) were gullible and maybe even relieved enough to buy the “she died in a fire”- explanation.
And we have no idea, what went down in that prison - besides the fact, that psychiatrists tried to "study" her - what did that entail?

Of course, her vengeance should’ve gone in another direction - Mycroft should have been her intended target (since Uncle Rory wasn’t available anymore).
There is just as much potential for drama there, even more, since at least emotionally it would’ve made some sense.

 

9. A message of feminism? - A closer look at The Abominable Bride

 

The writers apparently took the criticism about female representation in Sherlock BBC to heart (or were ordered to do so by the BBC). So they tried to convey the message that women’s rights are relevant in their Special “The Abominable Bride.” The question is; did they succeed?
The answer sadly is no.

They put their exploration of this theme into a Victorian context, which is a smart move. It is easier to highlight misogyny in a fully patriarchal setting.

Many women are treated with condescension in this episode, primarily by John.
He is using Mrs. Hudson as a plot device, would like for his wife to find her adventure in preparing a meal for when he and Sherlock come back from their adventure of solving crimes and is very irked about impertinent questions of his maid.
They are complaining about not getting a voice (Mrs. Hudson), not being included (Mary) and being invisible/unmentioned (the maid).

The problem; John is a well-liked character.
The situations are written in a way that lets his treatment of this women make him look ridiculous, which is great for humor and bad for allowing the audience to feel, how those little barbs and spikes every single day chipped away every remaining ounce of self-possession and self-esteem.
They were small, and “normal” reminders of powerlessness women experienced over the day, every day. The very act of ridiculing those reminders is, in fact, a way to lessen this power, which would have been great, if John would be an unlikable character.
But given the fact, that he is the one, the audience usually relates to, it has two emotional choices; either ignore the - well established - sympathy for John in these cases or diminish the valuable claims of these women. Since their complaints come across a little whiny and in context sometimes petty, chances are, that sympathies lie mostly with John.
Which kinda defeats the purpose of this episode.

Or - maybe it doesn't.

 

Two scenes especially made me angry.

In the first Sherlock and John are both summoned by Mycroft who instructs them to take a case that will be brought to them.
He cryptically warns about an enemy army that is invisible and everywhere and “must win the war, because they are right and we are wrong.”
Mycroft "He-is-the-British-Government" Holmes says literally; "We must allow them to win."

I remembered the women, who were incarcerated, declared insane and locked in asylums because they dared to stand up for themselves.
I remembered those, who were forced to undergo hysterectomies to "heal" their "mental instability"; were denied a broader education, had limited rights to trade and upon marriage became the factual property of their husbands.
I'm pretty sure, they all turned in their graves at that.

Because that scene makes it look as if the British Government one-day magnanimously and graciously decided to give women power when nothing could be further from the truth.

Another scene making me mad in that episode was the Temple Scene.

As it turns out in the case a bunch of women had founded a Secret Society and were enacting it with overt dramatics (like robes, gongs and ominous chantings) to kill abusive husbands.

Firstly; Secrets Society meetings in a temple out of town were a male domain.
Before the age of bicycles, women mostly traveled by foot, if they wanted to get anywhere. That alone made their world pretty small. Even if they had access to a coach, they usually needed permission to use it - from the male head of the house. That would have thrown a damper on the secrecy.
So realistically those meetings should have taken place in a town kitchen, where they could have talked business while they were chopping carrots and pounding meat tender.
Also, no woman has time for dramatics like that. The sewing of those robes alone would have taken ages, not to forget the extra money that most of them didn't have.

So that scene is ridiculous, no doubt about it.
To be fair, the writers did see that themselves, saved it by expressing that directly through Moriarty and revealed at this point, that the whole case was a drug-induced fever dream of Sherlock.

Still, the Temple Scene establishes a metaphor of feminists as "League of Furies," that are a bunch of men killing bitches.

That is not what feminism is about.
To picture it thus expresses fear of women, who want to live their lives on their terms, without getting discriminated for their sex.
That's something worth discussing.
Unfortunately, a metaphor like this also perpetuates that fear.
That's something worth criticising.