perihadion: (Amy Pond (lost in a forest))
[personal profile] perihadion
Let's talk about Amy Pond: she's smart, she's sassy, she's sexy; she's the fearless little girl all grown up — and Doctor Who fandom has a serious problem with her. I'm also going to touch on Rory and my issues with him and his relationship with Amy.

I'm tired of having this discussion with people who seem to think that the only realistic portrayals of women are middle-of-the-bell-curve characters with few — if any — quirks. Amy is described as "unrealistic" because she's intelligent despite not (apparently) being university-educated, because she's 'mad', because she's confident and beautiful and she knows it.

Let me tell you something: a lot of intelligent women never made it to university and a lot of them dropped out. You can be intelligent without being educated and there are a lot of women with a natural aptitude for reasoning who never formally honed it because girls are discouraged from studying maths and sciences, because sometimes circumstances prohibit people from progressing in their education, because sometimes people are lazy and have other priorities[*] — this doesn't mean they're not smart, this doesn't mean they can't reason things through, this doesn't mean that they're unrealistic. In short, not everyone who is intelligent is educated — and don't assume your kissogram is not smart.

[*] Personally I dropped out of university when I was 19 and didn't return until I was 21. I study physics now but let me tell you that for those two years I had a lot of people assume I was too stupid for education when honestly it came down to the fact that there were a lot of obstacles, and a lot of indecision and flailing on my part. Amy is mid-flail in figuring out where she wants to go in life. Let me also tell you that part of the reason I didn't immediately go into a physics degree course when I was 18 was because a lot of people treated me like I was defective for wanting to — for a lot of the same reasons that people seem to think that Amy is an "unrealistic" character (i.e. that it didn't fit the mould of what people expect from women).

I also strongly feel like Amy has been established as an emotionally more than an analytically intelligent character. I said this a lot around the time of "The Beast Below" — because I really felt like that episode was establishing this Doctor as analytically but not emotionally intelligent, especially not with respect to himself, and Amy as emotionally intelligent by contrast (which is a theme which was carried through "The Victory of the Daleks" where Amy 'saved the day' by connecting with a character emotionally after the Doctor had figured everything else out with his powers of analysis). These actually are not such radical roles for a character team to assume and frankly I don't think anybody would accuse Amy of undermining the Doctor's intelligence if she were male — because she doesn't, she has a different type of intelligence.

And just as people are sometimes unexpectedly intelligent — and intelligent in unexpected ways — people sometimes have unusual personality types. I don't think the combination of Amy's personality and her intelligence make her 'unrealistic' — in fact, I think that her personality goes a long way to explaining why she never left Leadworth when she was clearly uncomfortable there. Amy's personality is a product of who she was as a child — the little girl who was afraid of nothing but the crack in her wall — and her experiences as an orphan who spent her whole life from the age of seven being told that she was insane. The problem with Amy is that she's too big for Leadworth to contain. She has spent her whole life trying to escape — which is what the acting out, the promiscuity, the problems in her relationship with Rory (which I'll get to later) all stem from.

I also have to say that I have a lot of issues with the prevailing idea that "Amelia" was a better character than Amy — because frankly they're the same character and I can't help but feel like the implication here is that a grown woman confident in her intelligence and in charge of her sexuality is inherently inferior to an asexual little girl who is nonetheless just as madcap and fearless. I've seen Amy criticised for more or less laughing in the face of danger when that was established with Amelia and the Doctor commented on it ("Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box," etc.).

It actually feels like women are only allowed to be as confident and as smug as the Doctor if they're not or can't be treated as a potential sexual conquest: Donna was allowed to be confident and smug, Amelia is allowed to be confident and smug — but these are ruinous character traits in Martha Jones (who also had the word 'unrealistic' flung in her direction despite being university-educated because she was 'only' a medical student rather than a qualified doctor), River Song (who — gasp! — sometimes knows things the Doctor doesn't and is just as self-satisfied about it as he always is when he knows things others don't), and the adult Amy Pond (who's just smarter than a real woman could ever possibly be, you guys). In fact, there are a lot of things women are only allowed to be when they're not potential sexual conquests.

Amy and Rory
Now let's take a look at Rory: this is a character who has been embraced by the fandom essentially for being everything that Amy is not. He is the "everyguy" character, the man who finds the colourful world of the Doctor just a little too much to handle and wants nothing more than to settle down in a nice village with a wife and kid and maybe have a pint with his friends of an evening; he's also passive-aggressive and needy and has something of a manipulative streak. Rory in my eyes embodies the "nice guy" archetype: the man who is nice to your face but never without expecting something — love, sex — in return. In "The Eleventh Hour" he says with a note of resentment that Amy "made" him dress up as the Doctor when they were children — this is not a man who does things with Amy out of a mutual interest or even as part of a system of compromise but a man who does things with Amy because he knows that if he didn't she would leave him in the dust. I feel like the reason that Amy and Rory are together is that Rory is the only man in the village willing to let Amy walk all over him, and she just fell into a relationship with him because it was "easy", because he was always there, and because he always would let her walk all over him. But it's not the life she wanted.

This is why I have problems with posts criticising Amy for being "mean" to Rory — because frankly I think Rory is getting exactly what he signed up for. He's not willing to take the risk that Amy might not care enough about him to stay with him if he makes her work for their relationship so he'll take the sarcasm and he'll let her deflect discussions about her feelings (as in "The Vampires of Venice") in exchange for the odd kiss or hug and the promise that she'll never leave him. But he's extremely wary of the Doctor's relationship with Amy because he senses — correctly — that with or without the promise of romance Amy might leave him for the sake of the adventure. That's why he paternalistically speaks on Amy's behalf to the Doctor (again in "The Vampires of Venice") as if she's a small child who must be swept out of harm's way regardless of what she wants, that's why in "Amy's Choice" he kept sending out feelers to Amy about whether she even wanted to settle down with him in Leadworth. It's not even that he necessarily thinks that Amy will fall in love with the Doctor and abandon him — it's that he knows Amy might abandon him anyway.

And frankly Amy doesn't owe Rory anything. If you're in a long-term relationship with someone you can't really see yourself with in ten years ("The Hungry Earth") it's not selfish if you eventually choose to walk out — whether you do it on foot or by Tardis (and it's not evil of her not to have figured this out when she agreed to marry him). I think that Amy cares about Rory, and I think she probably has a degree of guilt about him, but I find the idea that she's in love with him — or even frankly that he's in love with her when their interests are so divergent — a little hard to swallow. It's been established that settling down in Leadworth permanently is really the last thing that Amy wants — even in the alternate reality presented in "Amy's Choice" it's implied that she's been waiting for the Doctor to return. I can't help but feel like if Amy and Rory end up together Doctor Who will be just one more fantasy story where the awesome female protagonist had to give up on a life of adventure and shackle herself to a man who didn't really appreciate her when she was awesome so that she could settle into a life of unremarkableness she never really wanted to begin with. Because, children, settling into the life you never wanted is what growing up is all about (if you're female).

I would have so many fewer problems with Rory if he had only been written a little differently — if he had been genuinely sweet to Amy without expecting anything in return, if he'd been more confident, if he'd been willing to take a chance to better his relationship rather than passive-aggressively "wait" for Amy, if Amy hadn't seemed embarrassed to admit that he was her boyfriend in "The Eleventh Hour", if she had thought to ask the Doctor to take Rory along when he whisked her away (something I would expect of someone in a loving relationship), etc. But that's not the character or the relationship that I think has been depicted.
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September 2010

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