Sunday, 25 November 2012

Merlin & Sexism

Until a few weeks ago I had never seen an episode of BBC1s Merlin. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I set about to watch the first 4 series on DVD expecting great things. On the one hand, I love it. It is fun, easy to watch and entertaining. Arthur and Merlin are both likable characters whose relationship is both funny and endearing. The stories are a little predictable and clich├ęd but, for Saturday evening viewing, they do exactly what they set out to; they entertain. On the other hand, Merlin’s sexism irritates, and often even infuriates, me.

Other than Merlin, none of the characters appear to have mothers. Obviously they were all birthed by someone, yet every one (Arthur, Morgana, Guinevere, Mithian) has lost their mother at what would appear to be a young age. Camelot is clearly a dangerous place to give birth; it will inevitably lead to your untimely death. Merlin’s mother has been lucky to escape this fate so far, but she is rarely mentioned and seen even less.

All of the other women who have appeared in this show seem to only have one of three functions;

  1. To be a love interest    
  2.  To be a villain
  3. To die an untimely death

Some of the women, such as the druid Freya, have served all three functions in one episode. Others, such as Morgana and Guinevere, have shifted from one function to another. Both women had little, to no, storyline of their own other than to act as love interests/villains for the major, and male, characters. Don’t get me wrong, Morgana is a fantastic baddy and is great fun to watch. As individual characters the woman are not irritating but taken as a whole they paint a sad picture.

Guinevere was first a love interest for Arthur; star-crossed, tragic love is always entertaining apparently. Since finally marrying Arthur at the end of season 4 however, it appears the writers have no idea what to do with her. They don’t want to kill her off just yet so they have made her the villain of season 5 instead.

Isolde was a strong woman, capable of standing up for herself. She was introduced as part of a relationship but her love for Tristan enhanced her character rather than defining it. Of course, in Camelot, this was not acceptable and so she had to die.

Just once it would be great to see Merlin include a strong female character. She should be independent, capable, not defined by her relationship or her need for power, and she should be allowed to live! These are the kind of women I want to see on my TV. I am all in favour of a bit of eye candy, of which Merlin has plenty, but strong female characters would make the show something really worth watching. 


  1. Most of them have romance, but that doesn't make them drifting pets of their man. The relationships are also alliances for mutual principles. Arthur loves Gwen because she is not a mere decoration on the throne but a clever advisor.

    1. I disagree with your view of her I'm afraid. Personally I see her role as Queen serving two purposes, to tell Arthur he has made the right decision or to disagree because she fears for his life. She takes part in counsel meetings but rarely if ever makes any decisions. Her advise, if it disagrees with Arthur's decision, is always ignored.

  2. so glad you wrote this. agree 100%

  3. I'm watching the first season of Merlin as a DVD set, and I have to agree. I am further disgusted by the way Guinevere is portrayed as "ideal woman." so self effacing, selfless, forebearing. :"Oh, my, I didn't meant to suggest that..." Gag. Hardly queen material.

    This show is a bizarre mix of entertaining story and rampant sexism. I've also noticed a higher relative proportion of Black men get killed, eg. two knights and Gwen's father, all in the first few episodes. This show is a highly inaccurate portrayal of the Old Religion insofar as women were concerned. It has a heavy overlay of medieval Christian values. It is accurate that the Druids were bloodthirsty, practicing human sacrifice and hunting heads. But the portrayal of female followers of the Great Mother is far more accurate in the book, "The Mists of Avalon."

    Morgana is not a historically evil figure. She was a powerful priestess, a female Merlin. "Merlin", by the way, is a magical title. The fellow in this story's real name was Emrys.

  4. Oh almost forgot. Have you noticed: when a man is "evil," we get a full explanation of his childhood trauma in order to evince compassion. But women are just inherently so. Again, a medieval Church view of women as "vessels of filth." This view is what gave rise to the Inquisition.

    1. While I agree with the idea, I think that Morgana's evil (and I think that the show really does waffle on whether or not she is evil in really interesting ways) is fleshed out over multiple series. In the first two series, she fights to protect people with magic, long before Morgause shows up. I think that she is an awesome baddie - but we totally understand what caused her change, and understand that she isn't entirely wrong.