One of the hallmarks of The Avengers from Season 2 onwards was the way the show frequently turned gender roles on their heads, leading at least one commentator to describe Steed as a “feminized male” and his partner(s) as “masculinized female[s].” Even Patrick Macnee and Honor Blackman stated in interviews that Steed took on the (ostensibly) “female” role while his partner took the “male.” Other writers often remark on the fact that Steed is given to wearing fine clothes and carrying a “bumbershoot” (yes, some writers really use that word, God help them), leading to descriptions of Steed as “effete” or “foppish.” But is Steed really a “feminized male” (a phrase that could certainly do with some unpacking), or is there something else going on?
In many ways, The Avengers is dated. Sexism and racism are sadly present in many of the episodes, and none of the characters (including our heroes, alas) are perfect in this respect. But the series was also groundbreaking in its treatment of Steed’s female partners: these are strong, talented, capable women, whom Steed treats as his equals. He values and respects their skills and intelligence, and quite rightly expects others to do the same.
An early scene in “Room Without a View” exemplifies this (and also Steed’s general disdain for officialdom, but that’s a story for another time). Steed and Mrs. Peel arrive to take over the case and have to deal with Mr. Varnals, (more…)