I think the reason that lots of people think Steven Moffat’s version of Doctor Who is sexist is because it repeatedly acts and sounds sexist. It may be that Moffat consciously tries to craft his Who as feminist or pro-feminist. If so, I don’t think there’s any better illustration of the crucial point that, in a sexist society, however much of an ‘ally’ you may be, if you’re a man then you still enjoy male privilege, and probably don’t realise it half the time.
The Doctor describes Clara as “a mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight”. The Doctor describes Marilyn Monroe as though she really was nothing more than the stereotypical ‘man crazy’ ditz she played in some of her movies. Rory likens being married to Amy to being trapped inside a giant robot duplicate of her. We get dialogue like “Why did she try to kill you and then want to marry you?” “Because she’s a woman”. Osgood, a scientist, is shown to be secretly obsessed with jealousy towards her prettier sister. A Dalek develops a female alter-ego, and she spends her time cooking.
In Moffat’s show, women are overwhelmingly defined by their traditional gender roles or bodily functions. It doesn’t matter that their excellence in these gender roles is praised by show and lead character. It doesn’t matter that we’re supposed to be impressed by the virtuosity with which River tricks people using her feminine wiles. It doesn’t change anything that the Doctor goes into rhapsodies about the wonders of motherhood. That isn’t liberating; it’s still the mapping of male, patriarchal conceptions of female value onto female characters.
River exists entirely because of the Doctor. Who the hell is River? She is an assemblage of gender essentialist tropes and wisecracks. When does she ever – beyond, arguably, her first appearance – behave like an academic or a scientist? When does she ever display anything resembling erudition or intellectual curiosity? When does she ever do or say anything to show or engender love? Admittedly, the Doctor seems to be sexually aroused by the way she shoots people… which is just charming. In ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’, she is incarnated as Mels, a character we’ve never seen or heard of before, and plonked unceremoniously into the story out of sheer, brazen convenience. She stalks Amy and Rory (her unwitting mother and father) for years, pretending to be their friend, all because of her pre-programmed monomaniacal desire to get to the Doctor. She regenerates while “concentrating on a dress size”. She spends the rest of the episode obsessing over her hair, clothes, shoes and weight. River’s instability is finally conquered by the love of a good man. This seems intensely hostile and patronising. If that isn’t what was aimed at, then somebody is a very bad shot.
It doesn’t matter that River is ‘powerful’. Fetishizing ‘power’ in women characters – having them kicking ass and always being ready with a putdown - isn’t the same as writing them as human beings.”
[…]The reason I feel ill when the Doctor snogs River’s ghost at the end of ‘Name of the Doctor’ is not that I hate emotion in Who, or that I want – because I’m a sexually and emotionally repressed nerd or something – Doctor Who to be emotionless. Rather, the opposite of this is the truth. The reason I feel ill at moments like that is rather that I hate fake emotion, cheap emotion, unearned emotion. Commodified emotion. Packaged, marketed, profitable, sugary, junk emotion. Sentimentality, in other words.Sentimentality is disgusting because it’s not fundamentally about other people, or relationships. It’s about oneself. It’s self-regarding, self-comforting, self-pleasing. It isn’t social. It’s narcissistic. This is precisely what is so horribly wrong with all those Moffatian emotional tornadoes. How can they be touching when the characters and relationships are so shallow? When we’re watching narcissists adoring their own reflections in their partner’s eyes?[…]I don’t like having to hate this show. I want to love it.
You are 12. You’re at the library looking for some generic young adult fiction novel about a girl who falls for her best friend. Your dad makes a disgusted face. “This is about lesbians,” he says. The word falls out of his mouth as though it pains him. You check out a different book and cry when you get home, but you aren’t sure why. You learn that this is not a story about you, and if it is, you are disgusting.
You are 15. Your relatives are fawning over your cousin’s new boyfriend. “When will you have a boyfriend?” they ask. You shrug. “Maybe she’s one of those lesbians,” your grandpa says. You don’t say anything. You learn that to find love and acceptance from your family, you need a boyfriend who thinks you are worthy of love and acceptance.
You are 18. Your first boyfriend demands to know why you never want to have sex with him. He tells you that sex is normal and healthy. You learn that something is wrong with you.
You are 13. You’re at a pool party with a relative’s friend’s daughter. “There’s this lesbian in my gym class. It’s so gross,” she says. “Ugh, that’s disgusting,” another girl adds. They ask you, “do you have any lesbians at your school?” You tell them no and they say you are lucky. You learn to stay away from people.
You are 20. You have coffee with a girl and you can’t stop thinking about her for days afterwards. You learn the difference between a new friendship and new feelings for a person.
You are 13. Your mom is watching a movie. You see two girls kiss on screen. You feel butterflies and this sense that you identify with the girls on the screen. Your mom gets up and covers the screen. You learn that if you are like those girls, no one wants to see it.
You are 20. You and your friends are drunk and your ex-boyfriend dares you to make out with your friend. You both agree. You touch her face. It feels soft and warm. Her lips are small and her hands feel soft on your back. You learn the difference between being attracted to someone and recognizing that someone you care about is attractive.
You are 16. You find lesbian porn online. Their eyes look dead and their bodies are positioned in a way that you had never imagined. You learn that liking girls is acceptable if straight men can decide the terms.
You are 20. You are lying next to a beautiful girl and talking about everything. You tell her things that you don’t usually tell anyone. You learn how it feels not to want to go to sleep because you don’t want to miss out on any time with someone.
You are 15. Your parents are talking about a celebrity. Your dad has a grin on his face and says, “her girlfriend says that she’s having the best sex of her life with her!” You learn that being a lesbian is about the kind of sex you have and not how you love.
You are 18. You are in intro to women’s and gender studies. “Not all feminists are lesbians- I love my husband! Most of the feminists on our leadership team are straight! It’s just a stereotype,” the professor exclaims. You learn that lesbianism is something to separate yourself from.
You are 21 and you are kissing a beautiful girl and she’s your girlfriend and you understand why people write songs and make movies and stupid facebook statuses about this and time around you just seems to stop and you could spend forever like this and you learn that there is nothing wrong with you and you are falling in love.
You are 21. And you are okay.”