Strong female leads: an adventure in anime

All I want in life is a kickass heroine.

Recently one of my friends and I were discusisng some of her favorite badass women in anime. Being lifelong weebs (or is otaku the cutesy “reclaimed” Western nickname major anime fans like to use?) this was an hours long discussion about different types of strength, the eras each anime came out, and character development. It also got me thinking about how people not familiar with anime view it as stereotypically sexist, when if done right it has some of the strongest, smartest, and most capable female representation.

One of the strongest instances of Chinese representation I remember as a kid isn’t Mulan. No, her name was Meiling, a sassy, fiery, martial arts expert from Hong Kong. She wasn’t from an American cartoon — she appeared in the classic magical girl anime Cardcaptor Sakura.

Seeing Meiling, a Chinese girl with long black hair and big brown eyes, influenced my aesthetic for years. She was Asian, loud, emotional, over confident, and kicked ass. Sailor Mars and Jupiter, Misty, and Jessie too. All of my love to Mulan and the other great Disney heroines, but when I think of empowering female leads from my childhood, the majority are all anime characters.

Like most anime fans my age, I fell down the hole watching the original Pokemon (Indigo League), some Yu-Gi-Oh, and the infamous dubs of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors. After a brief time period when I was Too Cool For Everything, it was through watching the pop-up-fun-fact marathon of Avatar the Last Airbender when I remembered how awesome anime is. And how in a lot of ways it helped define the media I enjoy and character role models I love.

Now, I also get that anime has its fair share of very terrible role models, both male or female, but I’m focusing on the females ones. From over the top fan service to terrible writing and development, a truly strong female lead can be hard to come by sometimes. But that’s what makes really good ones so great. So if you’re at all curious about anime and not sure where to start, here’s my list of a few shows I’ve seen that all involve at least one awesome female lead.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

This is a classic series, great place to start, you can’t go wrong. And the strong women in this show are the best.

Kill La Kill

Not gonna lie, I almost didn’t finish this series because of the fan service. But I stayed with it, and am so glad I did.

Ouran High School Host Club

Another classic, you can’t go wrong. Like I said, there’s different types of strength and badasses, and I certainly think Haruhi is a badass.

Attack on Titan

This show is a ride, let me tell you. But it’s fun (sometimes) and it’s got some great women in it. Though I do wish one of them (Mikasa) would get a bit more depth other than “I fight good because I’m in love with a useless dumbass.”

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

If you liked Ouran, you’ll love Nozaki-kun. The same satirical take on shojo romance with a charming disregard for traditional character roles.

Soul Eater

Another classic, it’s a fun adventure story if you’re in for a longer plot and story.
Spoiler Alert: At the time, I was kinda bummed Maka x Soul weren’t OTP, but now I really appreicate their friendship.

Code Geass

Come for the angsty boys, stay for the girl piloting a giant robot like a boss. And because you get emotionally wrecked along the way.

Cowboy Bebop

Truly a classic, Bebop set the precedent for many of the anime that followed it. So I’m glad Faye and Ed were some of the first examples of fully formed and thought-out space cowgirls.

Akame ga Kill

Most of the main squad are women with huge-ass weapons they are highly trained to use, it’s great. I’m also always here for a powerful lady villain too.

Yona of the Dawn

A slow arc with true character development, it’s a really good series and the cast is a lot of fun. But a warning: this anime is technically “unfinished” in that the end of season 1 doesn’t answer any questions, but there’s also no signs of a season 2 — you have to read the manga if you want any closure.

And of course if you really want to go old school: Cardcaptor Sakura and Sailor Moon

Honorable Mention: Puella Magi Madoka Magica (aka Madoka)

A lot of people love this anime, but I’m not one of them. Check it out for yourself and let me know where I went wrong.

There’s a lot of jokes, stereotypes, and misconceptions about anime, especially the women in it. But I think anime is just like any genre of media: there’s nuances, great examples, and problems that need greater discussion. Along with these shows I recommend, if you’re curious about the greater dialoge about female rep in anime check out the blog AnimeFeminist. And if you’re worried about being judged for anime, take heart in Sailor Mars’s words of wisdom:

Photos from Boston Pride 2018

A beautiful day to celebrate LGBTQIA identity, people, and pride.

Last weekend Boston Pride held its annual parade festival, walking from Copley Square (near the finish line) to city hall plaza Government Center. It was a beautiful day, one of the first summer days of Boston, and the first pride festival I’ve been to.

A few friends and I went to support and watch the parade, including our school Emerson College. We had a good time, and it was a nice way to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community in Boston. There were a lot of marchers, and it seemed like mostly corporate sponsors. But they, like everyone there, were still out there to celebrate and support one cause.

I don’t feel like there’s too much more I can add on about pride and Pride Month as a straight, cisgendered ally, so instead I took a bunch of photos. If you want to read about pride and the LGBTQIA+ community — its history, future, and other thoughts from trusted opinions — try here, here, or here.

These protesters weren’t an official part o the parade. Before everything got kicked off, they stood in front of everything and spoke about trans rights, POC exclusivity in the community, and how Boston Pride doesn’t acknowledge every identity.
The protesters
Once the parade got started, there were many rainbows to be seen
Classic Boston duck boat
Not 100% who this group was, but they looked like LGBTQ+ nerds/geeks/dorks/fans and I’m here for it
Powerful that they came to Boston, they got many cheers, and a few tears
The back of Elizabeth Warren’s head! Unlike a lot of the other politicians who came as themselves with signs and fanfare, Warren was just there, chilling and marching.
The parade ended in the plaze outside Boston City Hall for Pride Festival

Happy Pride Month ❤️💛💚💙💜

When Mashable called out “SNL”

Christina Warren was not having this bit — and she was right.

I cannot look away from Apple. I love all of their over-priced products, constantly watch out for the latest rumors, and cannot look away from every keynote. As much as I love pop culture and hard, gritty news, I really want to be a tech reporter for places like Wired, The Verge, or Mashable. But like everything else in the tech world, there’s an bezel-less, OLED glass ceiling.

While I watched Apple’s most recent WWDC on Monday, I kept remembering an op-ed from Mashable that I read a few years ago by Christina Warren where she took a bad SNL joke to task.

Warren recounts the joke (which seems to have disappeared from the internet) where Cecily Strong rolls up to the Weekend Update desk as Glamour magazine’s tech reporter Jill Davenport and immediately can’t function around host Colin Jost. In Warren’s words, “the clip, which, insulting conceit aside, was truly unfunny, is yet another reminder of just how much of a disconnect there is with the idea of women and tech.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I love all three of the things this bit included: Cecily Strong, “Weekend Update,” and tech reporting. I just don’t know how it all went so wrong when put together. I feel like tech is easy pickings for SNL, especially something short and punchy like “Update.” Overpriced products, terrible AI phone assistants, and ungodly amount of apps doing who knows what. Instead, they went with something completely unfunny and off base.

I remember watching this live and feeling really uncomfortable the entire time. I was with a few friends, all women, all feminists, and they thought it was (kinda) funny. But I couldn’t figure out what the joke was here. Was it that a woman had to flirt with Jost? Was it that all female journalists are flirts during interviews? Why did she have to specifically be a tech journalist? What was the punchline? Then I read Warren’s piece the next day and felt relieved that an actual female tech reporter also got that this joke was off putting.

But as a female tech reporter who has been covering gadgets and hardcore tech topics for the last eight years, what insults me most is that the sketch wasn’t even funny. Seriously SNL, if you’re going to insult a gender and be completely sexist about a topic as broad and mainstream as tech, you could at least be funny.

It’s bullshit. With issues of feminism so prevalent in so many fields — including other parts of journalism — I’m honestly bothered that there aren’t half a dozen hand-wringing essays about this on Medium.
When I go to tech events, I’m invariably confused as someone’s wife, assistant or girlfriend. This happens less now that I know more people, but in the early years of my career, I had to constantly let people know, “Yes, I’m the tech reporter.” And yes, I’m usually carrying a designer handbag. Deal with it.

It’s no longer OK to pretend like it’s funny that a woman would be a tech reporter. Or that a female publication would care about tech. Guess what — women use technology, too. We like our iPhones every bit as much as our male counterparts. We probably spend more on accessories. Women are engineers, CEOs, security experts and gadget lovers.

She understood that SNL had only reinforced stereotypes about female reporters, women’s magazines, and female tech reporters. She got that clearly some people still think tech is a boy’s club and women can’t possibly be there seriously. She’s experienced sexism in her field first hand. And she was put off by the lack of reaction then and outcry afterwards.

It’s not breaking news that women invested in tech don’t get taken seriously, be it as CEOs, engineers, developers, consumers, or apparently even as writers. And like I said, video evidence of the clip has since vanished from the internet, and we’ve never seen Jill Davenport again. Warren wrote her op-ed back in December 2015, so maybe it’s possible she and others were able to convince SNL that the bit wasn’t cool. But it’s been two years, I still think about Warren’s op-ed whenever tech news breaks, and I wonder how much has changed for them. My guess? Not much.

Other kickass female buddy movies we need in the works

Rihanna & Lupita Nyong’o are the first, but they shouldn’t be the last.

After one photo of Rihanna and Lupita Nyong’o at a fashion show went viral, a user on Tumblr captioned, “They look like they’re in a heist movie with Rihanna as the tough-as-nails leader/master thief and Lupita as the genius computer hacker.” And a glorious, wonderful meme was born. But more importantly, fairy godmother on earth Ava DuVernay blessed us all and granted our wish.

I don’t know what we did to deserve such a nice thing, but this is amazing. According to Entertainment Weekly, Netflix got the rights to make the film, which will be written by the great Issa Rae of HBO’s Insecure. I have no idea when either DuVernay or Rae will have time to write this movie in the middle of their hectic schedules, but I’m here for it and willing to wait as long as it takes.

Since the announcement came out only a few days ago, there’s no word on the plot, other characters, or dates for the start of the project. Until then, fans are left with only social media accounts of the two stars to string together fan theories about what these two could be up to. The most popular theory revolves around Rihanna scamming white guys out of their fortunes and Lupita acting as the mastermind schemer — a plot I am here for. I’d also (no surprise) be 110% here for their remake as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

That’s just wishful thinking, of course, but if we’re just brainstorming random ideas here… Because if the power of Twitter and Ava DuVernay can give us the Rihanna & Lupita Nyong’o movie of our dreams, I’m making some other requests.

Laverne Cox and Beyonce

Political drama: Laverne wants to be President of the United States, along with VP Beyonce, and their political savvy, cunning, and disregard for the rules of Washington will put them there.

Sofia Vergara and Priyanka Chopra

Raunchy comedy: The crazy escapades of entertainment’s two biggest stars and childhood best friends.

Chloe Bennet and Elizabeth Henstridge

Milennial/ Young Person comedy: Two news interns discover their governor is corrupt and go rouge to deliver the scoop.

Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon

Classic remake/ Reboot with a modern twist: Batman and Robin. Thelma and Louise. Kirk and Spock. Joe Friday and Bill Gannon. Lucy and Ethel. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Pick one or they could do them all.

Rachel Bloom and Gabrielle Ruiz and Vella Lovell

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Get ready for some Spice Girls action on Friday.

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Dystopian thriller (obviously): What does society look like in the year 3021 under the reign of Friendtopia?
(This movie is also a musical too. Obviously.)

Sasheer Zamata and Cecily Strong

Romantic comedy: Career-minded Cecily has always been unlucky in love until she realizes her best friend Sasheer was there all along.

Melissa McCarthy and Ellen

Goofy comedy: Secret service agent Ellen must protect President McCarthy from criminals, national security threats, and sometimes herself.

Photos from the Vulture Festival pop trivia from team Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Who brings a hand-made sign to Vulture Festival? “Crazy Ex” Fans #TeamBUNCHofCHANpions 5ever.

A few weeks ago, I sat around twiddling my thumbs when my friend sent me the link to the Vulture Festival in New York City. Special guests included panels with the cast of “Riverdale,” a discussion with Stephen Colbert, a taping/ show with 2 Dope Queens, and so much more. It was a great line up, but my friend and I kept our eyes on the prize: Pop trivia with the cast of Orange Is the New Black versus the cast of Crazy Ex Girlfriend.

I’ve written before how I fell in love with Crazy Ex, and why I believe everyone else should love it too. It’s an absurdist, whimsical, pointed rom-com that’s also a musical — what more does a person need? So given the chance to spend two hours watching the main cast, we stood in line an hour early, speed-walked our way through registration, and sat front row to all the shenanigans.

And damn. There were shenanigans. And while I tried to sit and enjoy the moment, I still took a few photos for all to enjoy. But they are still really poor quality. But enjoy!

Pretty sure the other team got the answer wrong?
Vinny is READY (Can I call him Vinny?)
I don’t remember what happened here, Vinny might have been dancing?
Team Crazy Ex is here supporting Donna in the final round

Thank you Vulture for the amazing festival, and the great line up of guests. It’s one thing to see talented and hilarious women on TV, it’s an even better thing to see them in person from the front row.
Also, both Rachel Bloom and Vincent Rodriguez said they loved my sign, so the pun stands.

Brightening my week with the“Perfectly Imperfect” podcast

It’s like if Christine Chen and Regina Fang were you older sisters.

Y’know that feeling when someone tells you the exact thing you just really needed to hear, even if you didn’t know you needed it? That’s what listening to Christine Chen and Regina Fang’s new podcast “Perfectly Imperfect” feels like every week.

Hosts and long-time friends Christine Chen and Regina Fang decided to start “Perfectly Imperfect” as a chance to share their stories as women with others, having honest conversations about life, hopes, success, dreams, and failures. Both women know what it’s like misunderstanding your family, struggling through school, figuring life out post-grad, and working in a boy’s club and want to share their experiences.

Unlike my other fave women-led podcast “2 Dope Queens,” “Perfectly Imperfect” has a very casual, genuine feel. It really does seem as if Fang and Chen are your older sisters, just being cool and talking in the living room with you. Where “Queens” hosts Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson are putting on a (KICK ASS) deliberate show to entertain and educate their audience, Fang and Chen talk almost as if they’re not aware of their listeners. “Perfectly Imperfect” isn’t here to entertain the masses, but be friends to lean on.

They’ve only done nine episodes so far, and I love the variety of topics they cover — some submitted or requested by fans. When most people think of offering advice to young girls and women, they immediately go straight for romantic help. While healthy relationships are important (and a dominant ideal enforced on young women) it’s not our only concern. And I feel like Chen and Fang are one of the few people — probably because they, too, are young women — who really get that. They look at their (I assume) mostly young female audience and see them as multi-faceted people with all sorts of daily struggles, just like both of them.

Each episode of “Perfectly Imperfect” — also, I love this name! It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Jane Austen’s Emma, “Faultless, despite all her faults.” — is about half an hour long, perfect for most commutes. I’m excited to see where the hosts take the podcast in the future!

P.S.: Because Christine Chen is an amazing human being, she’s started a special series of one-on-one chats with her followers who need someone to talk to about anything and everything. Through Skype or Google, people sign up here and Christine handles the rest. It’s a really sweet opportunity for people who feel like they have no one to talk to, and trust me on this, Christine is an angel who makes it seem like you’re already old friends. What should have been a 30 or 40 minute interview turned into an hour and a half conversation and my favorite profile ever.

The conversation paramount needs to hear after ‘Ghost in the Shell’ bombed

Forget Ghost in the Shell and read this roundtable.

Surprise surprise: Ghost in the Shell is doing terribly in theaters. And if you, like me, opted out of seeing GITS, then I highly suggest you go straight for the Hollywood Reporter’s roundtable discussion.

THR’s Rebecca Sun invited a group of actresses, writers, and comedians of Japanese descent to watch GITS followed by a roundtable discussion. The result, not surprisingly, is a funny, honest, and cathartic take on a terrible movie and even worse plot twist. The gathered, Keiko Agena, Traci Kato-Kiriyama, Atsuko Okatsuka, and Ai Yoshihara (y’know, actually being Japanese and Japanese American actresses and all) provide the most important point of view and will hopefully be heard by the rest of Hollywood. Doubtful, but hopefully.

Ai Yoshihara: Major’s backstory is white people trying to justify the casting.
Okatsuka: And they f — ed up in the process because now it looks even worse. The text at the beginning of the movie explained that Hanka Robotics is making a being that’s the best of human and the best of robotics. For some reason, the best stuff they make happens to be white. Michael Pitt used to be Hideo.
Agena: That was the other cringe-worthy moment, when they called each other by their Japanese names. We’re looking at these beautiful white bodies saying these Japanese names, and it hurt my heart a little bit.

Okatsuka: It’s not even about seeing me on the screen as a performer. It’s a bigger concern. It’s 2017 and I don’t know why these representation issues are still happening. It’s overwhelming. This means so much to our community but is so on the side, still, for a lot of people.
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s dispensable. We still feel dispensable.

Agena: …But as a fan, as a human Asian-American, I want to see that star being born. That was the part that hurt. This is such a star-making vehicle. And they can find people. They found that wonderful girl [Auli’i Cravalho] that played Moana. They found the guy that’s gonna star in Crazy Rich Asians [Henry Golding]. Yeah, it’s hard. But they can be found, and this could have made a young, kick-ass Asian actress out there a Hollywood name and star.
Kato-Kiriyama: And they know it, too. They know that they had that kind of power to change someone’s life.

Yoshihara: Yeah, a bunch of the Asian people got killed. All the minor roles are Asians who didn’t have lines. But all the core characters except Beat Takeshi and the mother were mainly white.
Kato-Kiriyama: The question itself has to be challenged. Why are you trying to drum up examples of people of color or specifically Japanese who are OK with it? Is it so you feel justified in maintaining your norm? Don’t you want to know why people are hurt? Aren’t you curious, as an artist? Isn’t there anywhere in your progressive, liberal mind that’s curious about the people that are feeling hurt?
Kato-Kiriyama: It’s trying to get the conversation away from race yet again. Sure, it’s a great role for women. I don’t know if kick-ass white woman action stars is such a void, but even that aside, it’s trying to step over the dead body. That’s fine when there are empowered characters who are women, but that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re actually talking about race. Can we just stay here for a little bit?
Okatsuka: When white feminists don’t know what to say about race, they go for the feminist thing. That’s what happened with the Women’s March. When women of color were like, “Will you be there, though, for the next march, when the next black kid gets shot? Will you be there when women of color need you?” they were like, “Wasn’t it great for women all around?”

Agena: That’s what’s so exciting about this time. There is a Master of None, there is a Fresh Off the Boat, there is a Get Out. I love being alive at this point, and that’s why I’m just waiting for the thing that’s not this movie. The thing where we can go out not as five women sitting there chewing our teeth through this movie, but five women going, “Yeah! Let’s go see this movie because we’re celebrating it!” I want that experience.

This whole conversation is everything the top decision makers at Paramount — or really anyone who gave this movie the go-ahead — need to hear right now, tomorrow, and every day. Kato-Kiriyama, Agena, Yoshihara, and Okatsuka were really able to break down what many Asian Americans were feeling as they watched the movie, from the first announcement of ScarJo two years ago to its premiere a few days ago. They understood how hard it was to watch this whole project get further through the process, green light after green light, and feel like all our voices and concerns were completely ignored. And then to watch (or hear about) the movie and know our voices had been ignored.

When Asian Americans are going to the movies more often than most other communities of color, why aren’t we seeing ourselves in our own damn roles? It’s been amazing to see that we’re barely four months in to 2017 and we’ve already seen “Ghost in the Shell,” Netflix’s “Death Note,” and Netflix’s “Iron Fist” (not doing great Netflix. Try harder buddy.) I’m not sure how we got to a media landscape where I can list off a handful of amazing AAPI representation accomplishments in media — “Power Rangers” “Andi Mack,” “Moana”— and a whole series of disappointments in one breath.

A few days ago the studio finally admitted that maybe casting Scarlett Johansson as The Major wasn’t the best move. It’s a shame that it took a dollar amount to show them what most of what the AAPI community had been shouting for months. Too little, too late, seeing as the movie is now out and everyone’s been paid. But I am hopeful for the future of Hollywood what with “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Mulan” in the works. Well, hopeful and a little (a lot) scared.

A dependable fantasy in “A Darker Shade of Magic”

A magician, a thief, and an intriguing world.

A few weeks ago, I was bored and felt nostalgic for some bad steampunk. I found a cheap YA steampunk novel (it was indeed bad but I enjoyed it anyways) and when I finished it my friend asked, “Do you want a book that doesn’t suck?” With that introduction, she handed me V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.

Prepare to be dazzled by a world of parallel Londons — where magic thrives, starves, or lies forgotten, and where power can destroy just as quickly as it can create.

There are four worlds, stacked like pieces of paper, only connected through London. Magic runs through each one but not evenly: Red London is drunk with magic, Grey London is fading, White London is starving, and Black London is a whispered legend. Kell, a powerful magician from Red London, is one of the few magicians who can travel between worlds (except, of course, Black London) as a royal ambassador. He uses his powers to smuggle trinkets between the worlds, a dangerous past time that crosses his path with Grey London pickpocket extraordinaire, Delilah Bard. First an adversary, then his savior, Kell and Lilah work together to fight off a darker magic to save their worlds.

Unlike Kell’s complicated navigation of the worlds, A Darker Shade of Magic is a pretty straightforward fantasy adventure. A solid storyline with plenty of plot twists and turns, it’s a quick and enjoyable read. Though a bit trope-y at times, I loved the characters and seeing their realistic development and depth. Most of the book focuses mainly on Kell, telling his points of view, thoughts, and story as he navigates through the dangerous magic he stumbles upon. But once Lilah is introduced, we hear more of her point of view and she stands out as one kickass kleptomaniac and heroine. For all of the ways each character fits into their genre — young angsty warlock, street smart pickpocket, charming prince, cruel royalty— they also have a strong, independent voice and personality.

Life-size cutouts of the main cast. Photo taken from V. E. Scwhab’s website

However, I liked the series best for the effortless world building in the stories, the ways that Schwab created four different dimensions so familiar and yet fantastic. Her world building is truly magical, balancing the four Londons and giving each its own distinct feel and imagery. I enjoyed reading about each city and trying to place where it was supposed to be in ours (for the record, I think Grey London is ours, the rest are pure imagination.) The magic in each wove itself naturally through the story; the main focus of the plot, but always as a natural given of the world instead of a thing that needed constant exposition. Creating one magic-based fantasy setting is hard enough, but this bitch created four.

I’m still in the middle of the second book, so I can’t give too much thought on the whole series — maybe I’ll do a trilogy review. But my friend was right, A Darker Shade of Magic indeed does not suck. In fact, it’s pretty great. It’s a solid first book for the trilogy, of which the third and final installment — “A Conjuring of Magic” — just released a few days ago. If you’re like me and looking for a reprieve from our actual world, V. E. Schwab’s four Londons is the perfect fantasy world to get lost in.

Photos from the Boston Women’s March

I’m not taking the next four years sitting down.

Last Saturday, 175 thousand people came together on the Boston Common to join in the international Women’s March. Between the 450 thousand in New York City, 625 thousand in Los Angeles, the 590 thousand in Washington D.C., and the others hundreds of thousands in smaller marches around the country, I think the protest made a point. And on Day 1 of the Trump administration — good, I hope it did.


I understand and don’t blame allies who didn’t come out to march for reasons entirely their own. The march had its faults, cheifly among them it left out a lot of voices and people like the LGBTQ community and women of color. Intersectional feminism has to be the core of the women’s movement today because a movement that’s supposedly meant to be uplifting or a voice for a community needs to recognize the entire community. A lot of what I saw at Boston’s march reinforced this need.

However, I knew I had to be a part of this march. I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself if I had sat this one out. Not because I wanted to be a part of history, or for fun, or other self satisfying reason. I just knew that I wanted to be a part of the message the protest was sending: we see you, we know you’re full of shit, and we’re not going to stand for it.

These are all my photos from the march (taken on an iPhone 6) so not the best of photojournalism. If you want to see professional photos of different marches from all seven continents, check out this piece from the NYT:

One of my favorite signs from the march, the other side said “Trump likes 3 Doors Down.”

School buses from all over Massachusetts came bringing students, seniors, or other interested groups.

Marching down the street

People in the Common

Another great sign

I like empowering signs

On the steps of the Arlington Street Church

I also saw “sushi rolls not gender roles” elsewhere

At the end of the march everyone put their signs on the fence around the Common.

The women of today’s Sherlock Holmes

Modern remakes of the famous duo also means updated takes on the women.

I love Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been working through the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle series for the past few years, loved Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s movies, wait (forever) for every season of Sherlock, and last fall I binged Elementary. With each new version of the classic stories, I always like seeing where they go with the same base characters — especially the women.

After the season four premiere episode, a Mary-heavy story, Sophie Gilbert wrote an article in The Atlantic (contains spoilers) talking about the women in Sherlock. Gilbert’s “The Troublesome Women of ‘Sherlock’” looks at all the different women in the show, their characters, backstories, development, and lack thereof. Looking at quotes from creators Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat, quotes from the original books, and articles written about “Sherlock,” Gilbert points out the faults of the show’s female representation.

“And when it comes to other female characters, in fact, Sherlock has sometimes been even more regressive than its Victorian source material. It’s a paradox: Why does one of the most dynamic and ingenious shows on television have problems fitting women into its universe?” Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic

Sherlock and its faults acknowledged, I still love the show and its interpretation with the Conan canon. Gilbert’s article also got me thinking about the other women in the Sherlock Holmes iterations that I watch. For the most part, I think any modern and more independent take on the Victorian-era females Conan Doyle wrote about is good, but each of my favorites — the ’09 RDJ- Law, Sherlock, and Elementary — took the same formulaic molds and made something different out of each of them.

Sherlock — (Netflix, Hulu, Season 4 on PBS)

The most popular of the Sherlock Holmes reboots, by far, is the BBC’s with Martin Freeman and Bumblebee Cummerbund. But, as Gilbert points out, it’s not a prefect retelling that could live up to all modern potential. However, I stand by their character building for the women. Each one has an interesting backstory, motivation, and depth… until the rest of the story enters in and nulls all that.

Irene Adler (Lara Pulver)


Let’s start with everyone’s favorite: The Woman. I really enjoyed the Irene Adler of “Sherlock,” she was clearly able to match wits with the defective detective. The spin on “the woman” was fun to watch, and the actress did a really great job teasing and challenging the men folk. The writers expanded on Conan’s woman with a compromising photograph nicely, and hopefully we’ll see more of Irene in season 6 when it comes out in 2054.

Mary Watson (Amanda Abbington)


Readers met Mary Morstan in “The Sign of Four,” as the pretty governess who hired the boys to solve a case before she up and marries Watson. That’s it. So the completely reworked backstory Sherlock gave Mary is amazing. A covert assassin running from her past? Brilliant. A seamless addition to the dynamic duo who understood both boys, I love Mary Watson.

Mrs. Hudson (Una Stubbs)


Sweet house keeping lady constantly put out by the shenanigans of her tenants, nothing more, nothing less. The former stripper and cartel backstory are fun, and I appreciate the sass she gives the boys.

Molly Hooper (Louise Brealey)


Molly is a non-Conan-canonical addition to the Sherlock Holmes cast. Adding a new character, especially a woman, to the tight crew of Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, Adler, and Mycroft isn’t an easy feat. Molly blends in as another character on the show Sherlock, canon be damned. Gilbert describes her as “a smart, intuitive, and realistic woman,” who adds one of the first real examples of women representation to the Sherlock world.

Elementary (CBS, Hulu)

The American remake of Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be compared to Sherlock because they’re not on the same field. The BBC’s version is a modern retelling of the stories with their own twists. Elementary, as I best describe it, is like an American AU fan-fiction of Conan Doyle’s characters. A cross between CSI and Sherlock Holmes, each episode is more singularly-plot focused on a crime, usually a murder, with an over-arching plot here and there. Currently in the middle of its fifth season, I suggest Elementary to any Sherlock Holmes fan because it’s an easy show to pick up and put down any time. In some ways, Elementary has made more modern strides where Sherlock has fallen.

Joan Watson (Lucy Liu)


The biggest, most noticeable difference about Elementary is the detective stylings of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Joan Watson. When I first heard about the switch, I didn’t want anything to do with Elementary because I assumed it was an excuse to finally couple up Holmes-Watson. Then a friend assured me that was not the case, and five seasons later it doesn’t seem like it ever will be. Liu’s Watson is the doctor-turned-detective that other reboots (Sherlock) struggle to write. She’s a good doctor, genuinely helpful to Holmes and the case, gives Sherlock a heart and conscience, and is a fine detective on her own.

Irene Adler (Natalie Dormer)


I love this Irene Adler, though audiences don’t meet her for a while. She’s sassy, sexy, and smart in all the ways fans know the woman to be for Sherlock, but she’s so much more. I watch a lot of Sherlock Holmes, and this Irene’s twist is my favorite.

Kitty Winter (Ophelia Lovibond)


Kitty Winter is a character taken from one of the Conan Doyle stories, “The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.” Kitty only appears for 12 episodes in season 3, but they’re some of my favorites. Another smart detective-to-be under Sherlock’s tutelage, Kitty comes with her own strengths, weaknesses, backstory — real depth. Buzzfeed did an article with Lovibond, Liu, and showrunner Rob Doherty about Kitty’s character and what she brought to the show.

Mrs. Hudson (Candis Cayne)


Mrs. Hudson only appears in three episodes so far, once per season. She also got a modern back story: “an expert in Ancient Greek who essentially makes a living as a kept woman and muse for various wealthy men.” But more importantly and more interestingly, she’s a transwoman (and actress) so I hope she comes around “the brownstone” more than once a season and we get to know more about her character. She also makes little shell warmers for their pet turtle, Clyde, which is great.

2009 & 2011 Sherlock Holmes movies

These are first Sherlock Holmes reboot I saw, I love these movies. They are, however, sheerly about the famous duo and there’s not too much outside the box interpretations of the women. But they still do more than stand around and look pretty.

Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams)


Smart, teasing, fun, this Irene moved almost separately from the duo and the main mystery. I also appreciate how the movies hinted at what Holmes and Adler had instead of forcing a romance into the movie. This Irene was competent and independent, and I liked her inclusion into the final plot at the end of the movie. Her appearance in the second was much of the same, and I thought it was too bad the writers stayed “canon” and cut her out of that ending as well.

Mary Watson (Kelly Reilly)


The most Victorian-era of the characters, I am glad the writers gave her a few lines that weren’t about Watson and showed she had some brains.

Madame Simza Heron (Noomi Rapace)


A non-Conan-canonical addition in the second movie, A Game of Shadows, Madame Simza added some heart to the plot and she wasn’t some fine Victorian lady who couldn’t get her skirt dirty. A Roma fortune teller, Simza kept up with Holmes and Watson, helped them out when she could, and my favorite part: did not get romantically involved with anyone. Simza wasn’t there to replace Irene Adler, she was there to save her brother.

Each of the three series are fun to watch, I recommend them all to everyone, and of course these aren’t the only reboots of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, Elementary, and the movies each bring something different to the characters everyone knows and loves, including how they interpret the limited number of women Conan Doyle wrote. Each woman’s story isn’t perfect, and not all the female characters get the same development or attention they deserve. But they sure as hell don’t stand around fretting in their corsets as the men folk go dashing off to solve mysteries.

And if you ask me, the next logical step in this reboot chain is a female Holmes and Watson.