Moffat is a feminist. But he’s also a writer. These are characters. Characters are a reflection of society. There are women who are just like River, or Amy or whatever other character he’s written that you may believe makes him sexist. Trying to say women can’t be like this is in itself sexist. Women can be whatever the fuck they want, and if that’s a housewife who raises the kids and cooks all the meals and cleans the house then fuck off, that’s her life. And if it’s being the head of some big company and never marrying or having kids then fuck off, that’s her life. And if it’s being so god damn in love with a man that they would do anything, anything, to try and save them, then fuck off! That’s what being in love is. And if it’s flirting left right and centre without care, claiming their sexuality and using it for their own self confidence, then fuck off! Being sexist means forcing one gender into one role, it means not letting them do the same things as the other gender, and belittling them as being worth less. Moffat does none of that. He empowers women the way women have empowered themselves. He is a writer and he gets his characters from real attributes of the people all around him. Saying that the way he’s written River as a sex symbol, or as a woman who is defined by her love for the Doctor is sexist of him, isn’t. It’s sexist of you.
K, but you’re wrong.
Nobody is saying women can’t be like that. That’s not a complaint I’ve seen anyone register against Moffat or his writing. I’ve also never seen anyone complain about the fact that the women he writes want to raise children. Or model. Or any of those things. The trouble people generally have with Moffat’s writing - the problem I have with his writing - is that all of the women he writes are defined by the men in their lives. All of them. Not to themselves, but to the writers, and to us as the audience. Even Madame du Pompadour - a real historical figure with numerous remarkable accomplishments and a canonical life outside of her affiliation with the Doctor - was essentially reduced to a love interest in a Moffat episode. This is not the only time he’s done something like this.
Both River and Amy are defined not to themselves but to US as an audience entirely by their love for the Doctor. Tell me one thing about Amy Pond that doesn’t directly relate to her relationship with Rory, or the Doctor, or River. Tell me one thing. Try. Although we have never been given any indication that Amy is interested in being a wife and a mother, that’s become the entire focus of her character over the past season. She’s had multiple pregnancy-related story lines - including one very disturbing and traumatic one, the emotional ramifications of which were bafflingly never dealt with on screen - despite the fact that there were no previous indications that this was what she wanted to do with her life. This is typical of Moff’s women. Amy constantly has her decisions made for her. Her husband is shown as jealous and at times controlling, as is the Doctor. In the Comic Relief short, Rory pretty much straight out says that she only passed her driving test because she wore a short skirt, so she’s being defined by other people by her sexuality, and those people are not shown to be wrong for treating her that way, or reducing her to one aspect of herself. THAT is what makes it sexist.
The women in this universe lack autonomy. They are not allowed to define themselves. Amy didn’t choose motherhood, she had it thrust upon her. And when she discovered that she couldn’t have kids, she was upset because Rory wanted them, not because she did. Then, when the Doctor meddled to put them back together, it undermined one of the only major decisions she’s been able to make for herself in years. He does this a lot.
When the Doctor acts in a patriarchal manner towards his female companions, like not telling Amy that she was a ganger or anything about her pregnancy despite having suspected it for a long time, he’s never shown to be wrong for treating them this way. He asks Rory for permission to hug Amy, but he doesn’t ask Amy for permission. Despite the fact that she’s just been kidnapped and assaulted, he doesn’t let Amy exercise any bodily autonomy. It’s like a tacit admission that Amy doesn’t (or shouldn’t) have control over what happens to her body, because, well, she belongs to Rory now. Or to Madame Kovarian. Or to whoever decides to exercise control over her. In The God Complex, the way the Doctor tells Amy she needs to grow up is by calling her by her husband’s last name, despite the fact that we are never given any reason to believe that she has taken his name. This suggests that “growing up,” for Amy, means being a wife in a very specific sense of that word. And again, it’s a man in Amy’s life making her decisions for her. Amy didn’t choose that name, the Doctor assigned it to her. He chose his own name, but he doesn’t respect that she chose hers. Moff’s Doctor does that a lot. The Doctor doesn’t seem to respect her as a women or as an individual. And that bothers me tremendously.
Both Amy and River were shaped from a very young age by their knowledge of the Doctor, and honestly, he treats River like a child very much of the time. Even in The Wedding of River Song, where he supposedly marries her, he doesn’t let her in on the plan until the very last second. He basically just gives her shit about her decision the whole time. Again, the Doctor does that a lot, especially in Moff’s version of the show. He doesn’t explain himself. He doesn’t let the people around him make informed decisions. The Doctor does what he wants, manipulates who he needs to, and lets the chips fall where he wants them to fall.
It’s not sexist because of the choices the women make. It’s sexist because the women almost never get to make them. They’re constantly put in “damsel in distress” type situations, like Amy was in Asylum of the Daleks. And before that in… most episodes. The Doctor and Rory spend a lot of time saving Amy, protecting Amy, guarding Amy, etc. And that wouldn’t be a problem if this were real life, where saving people just makes you decent. But it’s not real life. It’s a TV show. Moff writes these situations, he has control over what happens in them. THAT’S why it’s a problem. Moff writes all of his women the same way. Every dynamic he gives us is problematic, especially the Doctor and River Song, who is basically his brainwashed child bride at the beginning of their courtship. That is fucked up. Seriously. Think about it. How can she really give meaningful consent in that situation? We know her whole life has been gearing up to kill him. We know she’s brainwashed. And we know that Moffat wrote her this way intentionally. That is why it’s sexist.
If these were real women making real choices, that would be a different thing entirely. What’s going on here is that a man (Steven Moffat) is putting his female characters in fucked up, problematic situations and acting like that’s totally fine, normal, and not something we should be concerned about. THAT is why it’s sexist. Not to mention the numerous sexist things Moffat has said in interviews.
That said, you don’t have to now hate Doctor Who, or even Moffat. You don’t. But refusing to acknowledge the sexist elements of this show isn’t going to make them magically disappear. There ARE problems with his writing. There ARE problems with Doctor Who. And I care because I adore this show. I have been watching Doctor Who for years and years, and if I didn’t care about the show, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about the way it’s being written. The problem with Doctor Who is that Moffat and his fans refuse to acknowledge when Moffat does something wrong. The refuse to learn. they refuse to get better, because they’re so concerned with defending themselves against accusations of sexism that they don’t consider what the accusers are saying, and whether or not those accusations have some merit.
Good people screw up. So do good shows. The best thing to do is admit it, accept it, and try to do better moving forward.