In at least one previous blog, I made brief mention of ways in which Steed is a kind and nurturing man. In this post, I’d like to examine that in more detail, because it’s an extremely important facet of Steed’s personality and behavior. It says a lot about him that he nurtures not only his partners, but also other people that he meets in the course of his day, and he does this not in order to initiate a transaction in which the other person owes him something in return, but simply because it’s the right thing to do when one is a decent human being.
Steed’s nurturing behavior also is an expression of his feminism, and of his comfort with behaviors that are normally coded as “female/feminine” in Western culture. Although I could take examples from throughout the series, I’m going to stick with the Gale era, because I also have an axe to grind about perceptions of Steed’s character with respect to the earlier seasons in particular, as well as overall.
One important way that Steed’s nuturing side is expressed is in the way he feeds people. Not only does Steed do the traditional male/masculine thing of taking Cathy out to dinner—for example, at the opening of “The Golden Fleece”—he also frequently prepares food for Cathy and becomes concerned about her when she doesn’t eat. These examples centered on food and feeding make excellent loci for discussion of Steed’s feminism and spirit of service towards others, especially in the context of these early seasons.
“But you would have gone to Ali’s defence? Physically?” “Under different circumstances, certainly.” He did not seem angry at my disobedience, just puzzled. Finally he said, “But women do not fight.” “This one does,” I answered. He held my gaze, then looked sideways at Holmes. “This one does,” my mentor confirmed. — Mahmoud Hazr, Mary Russell, and Sherlock Holmes in O Jerusalem by Laurie R King
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One of the groundbreaking aspects of The Avengers from the beginning of the Cathy Gale era was that Steed’s female partners were treated as his equals, and hints were often dropped that the women might be even better than he was at some things, or smarter in some ways. This was done in absolute seriousness: Cathy Gale and Emma Peel were written neither in a humorous attempt to undermine Steed’s masculinity, nor in order to lampoon the women as ball-breaking viragos. These women are not caricatures: they are strong, skilled, capable, and intelligent, and expect to be treated accordingly. Steed certainly does that: he accepts Cathy and Emma just as they are. He is not threatened by their talents, but rather celebrates them, and Steed’s delight in his partners and what they can do is one of the finest aspects of those relationships.