‘Scandal in Belgravia’ the opening episode of the second series of “Sherlock”, attracted 9 million viewers with the most interesting character in the episode being Irene Adler, a gay dominatrix played by Lara Pulver.
In the episode she attempts to bring the government to its knees by a mixture of sex, wit and enthralling Sherlock.
Whilst the character fictional, she resonates in the real world. Irene Adler is the strongest female character to appear on “Sherlock”, a usually male dominated programme; however the character seems to be more of a trope than a strong independent woman.
In the original novels, Irene Adler only appeared once, in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’.
However, she is one of the most notable female characters due to the fact that she outwits Sherlock Holmes. Whilst her beauty is mentioned frequently within the novel, it is not the asset she uses to beat Holmes.
Instead it is her wit, “how the best plans of Mr Sherlock Holmes were beaten by a woman’s wit.”
Even in the film “Sherlock Holmes”, starring Rachel McAdams as Irene, whilst her sexuality is used once to outwit Holmes (it wouldn’t be a Hollywood film without the director putting in some nudity) she doesn’t constantly use it to be equal to Holmes.
Meanwhile, the adaption of the character for the TV series utilizes her sexuality to gain and exploit, thus fitting in with the trope ‘evil seductress,’ a female character who uses her sexuality as a means for some evil ends.
One of the most well known examples of this trope is the character Poison Ivy in the 1997 film “Batman & Robin”, who kills her victims by poisoning through kisses.
This implies that a woman must use a man’s desires to compete against them rather than her own intelligence. The implications of this trope are usually counteracted by another female protagonist, such as Batgirl in Batman and Robin.
So what is the counteraction in the episode of ‘Scandal in Belgravia’? There isn’t one. The only two other notable female characters are Molly Hooper, who desperately pursues Holmes, and Mrs Hudson, the caring old housekeeper.
Both these characters do not justify the use of this trope or her catchphrase, “I know what he likes,” whenever it is asked how she possessed a certain piece of information. I would concede that the writers have given the character a certain edge and comfortableness with her sexuality that show her as a strong female character.
However, the heavy reliance on her sexuality gives the character too much similarity with the trope ‘evil seductress.’
Whilst I might be criticising the representation of the character Irene Adler in “Sherlock” I personally would not brand the show as intentionally anti-feminist, and the point of this article was not to. If you want to see a piece of modern anti-feminist media watch ‘Sucker Punch’ directed by Zack Snyder.
It is a pseudo-feminist film which Snyder’s attempts to redeem by stating, “They might be dressed sexually, but I didn’t shoot the movie to exploit their sexuality,” which is either a blatant lie or formulated under some delusion.
The point of this article is to show how some supposedly strong female characters can convey anti-feminist statements, and how it is important to engage critically with characters that appear on our screens.