the avengers

Ableism, Sexism, and Toxic Masculinity: The Intersectional Violence at the Heart of “Noon Doomsday” and Season 6

Another in an occasional series on disability in the Avengers


Recently on social media, I saw a link to a story about comic book author Farida Bedwei, the creator of Karmzah, a superhero with cerebral palsy who derives her powers from her crutches. Ms Bedwei, who herself has cerebral palsy, created Karmzah because she wants to see heroes who are like herself, and to share them with other disabled people. She also wants to use Karmzah as a way to end the stigma over the need for assistive devices such as crutches, which are so vital for disabled people, but the use of which all too often comes with additional costs and frustrations because the world has not been constructed to be accessible to the disabled.

This terrific story about Bedwei’s comic and her crutch-wielding superhero set me thinking about the third act of the Season 6 episode “Noon Doomsday,” in which Tara’s ableist attitude ends up endangering both herself and a crutch-wielding Steed, and how Steed’s adaptability, foresight, and approach towards his temporary disability allow him to defeat the villain and rescue Tara. Further, the ableism of this episode exists in intersection with sexism and toxic masculinity, and the presence of all three of these issues is a direct result of the way Tara’s character and her relationship with Steed was handled by the Season 6 producers in general and by “Noon Doomsday” screenwriter Terry Nation in particular.

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Nurturing Steed, Part the Second

In my previous post, I discussed some of the ways that Steed nurtures people, with a particular focus on his relationship with Mrs Gale. That Steed would be kind and caring with a woman he loves might seem unsurprising, but what about how he nurtures other people and, in particular, men with whom he interacts, and what does that say about his character?

Scattered throughout the series are several instances of Steed acting in a nurturing way towards men. Steed helps them when they’re injured, and comforts them when they’ve been traumatized, and he does all these things with tenderness and compassion. Many of these examples are things that I’ve briefly noted both here and on my tumblr, but I want to draw them together both to create a more coherent picture of this aspect of Steed’s behavior and personality, and to examine it in more depth.

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A Little Thing About Steed, Emma, Neurodivergence, and Trusting the Process

Recently my fellow tumblr celluloidbroomcloset made some postings about Steed making models to figure out what’s happening in Winged Avenger, and Emma’s responses to that activity. I followed up with one about him making diagrams in Murder Market, and then the following ideas kinda happened:

Sometimes Steed really needs that hands-on, tactile, kinetic way of solving problems. If we accept my headcanon that Steed is ADHD, he probably has so many different ideas blossoming in his head at once that he can’t corral them without creating something concrete that he can latch his ideas onto. Making the model of the building or graphing the murders is a way for him to streamline his thoughts and get them into some semblance of order. Therefore those methods are necessary for him, even if ultimately they don’t provide the key to solving the case.

I think Emma understands this. Yes, she thinks it’s cute that he builds models and makes graphs, but she’s not mocking him for needing to do that just because she doesn’t. She understands that his brain works differently from hers, and that whereas she can just puzzle stuff out logically in her head, Steed sometimes needs to draw pictures or use tools or make models before he can get to the place that Emma already starts from.

Steed doesn’t feel ashamed of having to make graphs or models as part of settling in to a case, and he’s not wasting time by doing those things. Yes, those activities do take time, and they don’t directly lead to the solution to the case, but if he refused to do them at all because he was worried about it seeming weird or stupid or tangential he’d only make himself miserable and the process would take even longer and be even less productive.

Steed probably doesn’t know that he’s ADHD, because that diagnosis didn’t exist back then. But he does know what he needs to do to solve a problem, so that’s what he does. Emma understands that, and accommodates it. She helps him when she can, but mostly she just sits back and waits for him to be ready to go on to the next step, which she does without impatience and with the presumption of Steed’s competence to know what works best for him. In the meantime, Emma pursues her own leads, knowing that Steed will make his own important contributions to the case in his own way.


originally posted on sparklywaistcoat

John Steed Is a Feminist. David Keel … Isn’t.

Content notice for mention of sex trafficking

The literature on Avengers is chock full of commentators gushing about the cool feminist cred that Cathy Gale and Emma Peel brought to the show. These kickass women are never treated as anything other than Steed’s equals, and the unfortunate rarity of that kind of female character and that kind of parity between the male and female leads draws a lot of attention.  While it’s understandable that commentators might regularly feel compelled to examine the roles of Cathy Gale and Emma Peel (I mean, they’re both awesome: what’s not to like?), it’s somewhat curious to me that Steed’s own feminism tends to receive short shrift, even though a male feminist character is even rarer than a strong female character in the stripe of Cathy or Emma. (Although I’ve tried to mend that situation somewhat, for example here and here.)

As I noted in an earlier blog, the feminist leanings of John Steed were not something that sprang full-grown from the brows of the producers the minute Honor Blackman signed on the dotted line: Macnee himself demanded that Steed treat women with respect from the start, and Steed certainly behaves politely and respectfully towards the women he encounters. While that in itself might be neither much of a surprise nor much of a step in the direction of feminism, other aspects of Steed’s character do cement his status as a feminist and an ally, especially in his preference for treating women as full human beings having their own agency and their own right to self-determination, all of which he does even in the show’s first season, before either Cathy or Emma make their first appearances.

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Mumblings on Patriarchy, Perceptions, and Partnerships: or, Who Gets to Decide What Steed Wants?

Following some exchanges on tumblr regarding the whole Steed/Tara/Cathy/Emma conundrum, I began mulling some things over in my fevered brain, to wit:

A certain subset of (usually male) fans seem to be of the opinion that Tara is somehow the most suitable partner for Steed, some of them even going so far as to say that she is his “soulmate.” Cathy on the other hand, gets relegated by some viewers to Noli Me Tangere Ice Queen status, while Emma is seen as not being in either a romantic or sexual relationship with Steed, or if she is considered to be having sex with him it is simply a “friends with benefits” arrangement without much emotional attachment.

I have Some Thoughts about this.

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Voice and Ventriloquism in “How to Succeed … At Murder”

Business executives are being murdered at a rather alarming rate, so Steed and Mrs Peel are called in to investigate. They discover that the perpetrators are a group of women who are chafing under the bonds of a patriarchal system that keeps them subservient. These women have been trained first to create filing and accounting systems so baroque that only they understand them, and then to murder their bosses and take over the businesses themselves, since at that point the women are the only ones competent to do so.

The ringleader of the group of women turns out to be not another woman disaffected by patriarchy, but rather a man named Henry. Henry is a ventriloquist, and he gives orders to the women by means of a ventriloquist’s doll. The doll is dressed and speaks as a female, and is named Henrietta, after Henry’s late wife. Although the women see the doll when they have their meetings, they do not realize that Henry is the one supplying her voice: they think there is another woman somewhere that they have not yet seen who is speaking through the doll, and who is the actual leader of their group.

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Blindness, Ableism, and Models of Disability in “Second Sight”

The first in an occasional series on representations of disability in The Avengers


⊗ Content note for discussion of ableism and disabled-as-villain tropes

Odd and possibly criminal things might happening in connection with an intended corneal transplant involving a live donor and an exclusive eye clinic in the Swiss Alps, so Steed asks Mrs Gale to hop over to the Continent to check things out. Marten Halvarssen, a wealthy, blind recluse who is the owner of the clinic (although he himself lives in London), seems to be one of the possible players in the apparent nefariousness, along with Dr Eve Hawn, who is Halvarssen’s fiancee, and Neil Anstice, who at first appears to be one of the clinic’s surgeons but in fact is a sort of mercenary criminal hired to do the legwork of the scheme.

As the title of the episode and the above brief synopsis indicate, disability—in particular, blindness—plays a very important role in both characterization and plot. Although the blind man is worked up as a suspect and potential villain, his actual role in the criminal doings that drive the plot of the episode is rather less black-and-white, making him something of an outlier in Avengers and New Avengers episodes that feature disabled characters, who nearly universally are unequivocally bad guys. Even so, Halvarssen is no Boy Scout: the elaborate diamond-smuggling plot that leads to the murders of Hilda Brauer and Dr Spender was set in motion by him, although the deaths were not part of his plan and he is furious that Anstice killed those people. In the end, however, Halvarssen shows himself to be on the side of the good guys, at least for the moment, actively helping Steed and Mrs Gale take down the others.

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