When the BBC’s modern version of Sherlock aired in 2010, it appealed to my deep seated love of problem solving, mysteries and attention to detail. I had read The Hound of the Baskervilles and one or two of the short stories in the past, but decided to read the entire Sherlock canon, which is comprised of four novels and 56 short stories. Overall, they were a very enjoyable read. However, given that the stories were written between 1887 and 1921 it is not surprising that Sherlock holds some extremely sexist attitudes. First of all, he completely distances himself from any form of emotion or romantic feeling. From “A Scandal in Bohemia”:
He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer – excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results.
Secondly, he solves all of his mysteries through using logic and by interviewing the individuals involved. But he is very wary of interviewing women as he claims that they are completely irrational. From “The Adventure of the Second Stain”:
And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. You remember the woman at Margate whom I suspected for the same reason. No powder on her nose — that proved to be the correct solution. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling tongs.
Despite Sherlock’s shortcomings, I really identified with him as a character. I believe that this is because from a young age, I enjoyed problem solving. I loved my math classes. I would take notes of important information in complex novels, and would construct elaborate family trees laying out all the relationships between various characters. I think this love of problem solving was one reason why I became interested in scientific research and later became a psychologist. However, as I read the Sherlock stories I wondered whether a convincing female Sherlock character could be created. Perhaps Miss Marple or Temperance Brennan from “Bones” come the closest. However, I believe that it is hard to imagine a female Sherlock because the idea that men are primarily defined by reason and logic and women are primarily defined by emotion is so deep seated in our society. For example, as a missionary it was not uncommon for men to look me in the eyes and tell me that I just believed in my religion because women will follow anything that they feel good about. They would explain in a kind but patronizing voice that they knew I was sincere about my feelings, but I had been deceived because I hadn’t really thought about what my church was teaching me.
I think that in current LDS culture that the idea that men are naturally rational and women are naturally in tune with emotions is still alive and well. Although it may not be explicitly stated, it is manifested through the male and female role models that we see in General Conference and other church settings. Almost every time I heard Elder Maxwell speak, I would think to myself, “When are we going to see a female Elder Maxwell?” I longed for a role model that I could identify with; who exemplified my desire to analyze and think deeply about things who was a woman like me. I still haven’t found those role models in traditional church settings, but I have found them on the Mormon blogs and podcasts. Mormon Matters, especially, finally gave me the female role models that I had been longing for. Almost every panel discussion includes women who are wiling to think deeply, express themselves eloquently and who are not afraid to ask hard questions. I don’t know how long it will be before we see role models like these in traditional church settings.
I think there are two limitations that need to be overcome in order to make progress. First, Sherlock expressed the idea that becoming emotional makes you less rational. I do not believe this is true. I believe that we should strive to understand our own emotions and the emotions of others while we also strive to reason about complex problems and situations. In many cases, understanding human emotions can help us think more rationally, and vice versa. Second, contrary to some aspects of mainstream culture, the LDS church appears to foster emotionality in men. It is not surprising to see men (even in the highest positions in the LDS church) tear up when they are talking about something near and dear to their hearts. However, I don’t know that the LDS church encourages women to become more logical and rational. Personally, it is hard for me to think of times that Relief Society included a deeper analysis of the scriptures or some gospel principle. It is hard for me to think of women that I would consider to be “great scriptorians” who are looked to in Sunday School to address deeper gospel questions. I think that we should strive to foster these qualities in women and girls by providing role models, by asking them harder questions, and by really listening to what they have to say.
What do you think? Does the culture of the LDS church perpetuate the idea that women are primarily emotional and men are primarily rational? What about our general society? How can we foster deeper reasoning skills in women and girls and encourage them to present themselves in this way?
- 30 June 2012