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Today I read a Sherlock fanfic story set after series three in a world where John is happily back in 221b and he and Mary are divorced. I don't want to name it publicly because I try not to single people out in a shaming way, and because this was a minor part of the story and hardly the only time where I've even people play with the idea. (If you want a link email me or PM me and I'll share it privately.) But it did remind me of a fandom theme hat really kind of bothers me, and I'd like to talk about that.

Basically, the facts are these: (a) Baby Girl Watson is born healthy, but (b) John is clearly not the father. (c) John and Mary go on to get a divorce, and (d) in explaining the divorce, John points to the divorce as providing the "why." Like I said, it's a minor part of the story, and I can easily see the author not feeling John could publicly give the "real" reason and just not making that explicit because it would be more trouble than it's worth.

Still, the basic idea strikes me as really very sexist. I'm not saying the author is, or that you can't write a story where John divorces Mary and ends up with Sherlock, even one where you don't speak of Mary in positive terms and even even where the divorce is spurred by learning Baby Girl Watson isn't a Watson after all. But I'm afraid I'm stuck on the basic idea - that this of all things would be the uncrossable bridge, and as I said, it just feels retrograde. I mean, Mary killed people. She did it because her government told her to and then she went freelance. There's a screenshot floating around of Mary's file, I think from Magnussen's mind palace (though I can't find it now, sadly), where there's Cyrillic text, suggesting her other employment wasn't just going freelance but becoming some kind of a traitor. She shoots Sherlock and the best spin I can put on that scene is she ran in such dangerous circles and took such risks she got in a position where she had no better choice than to do something that had a very real risk of killing him. She lies to John about who she is through their entire relationship, and then she puts Sherlock and John in Magnussen's path, and with the deleted scene we've now all seen [video], that's more than a bit not good. John has about a half-dozen reasons to want to be free of her, and really, I'm just getting warmed up. :-)

So it's not that I have a problem with the idea that John and Mary get divorced, it's the idea that after all that it would be being cuckolded that pushed John over the edge. The idea seems to be that Mary can kill people and put John and Sherlock in danger, but the one unforgivable sin, the one thing a female character just cannot do and move past, is to not be sexually faithful to her man. This is particularly hard to swallow in the wake of the Stag Night, where I'm fairly sure John would have had his own bout of infidelity if Tessa hadn't turned up when she did. (And thank goodness for that! As a Johnlock shipper, I'd much rather they do it right and honorably, not as a one-time fling.) So if Mary did take that step, well, that's certainly not good and one more reason why I think she's not a good match for a man who's supposed to be morally good.

All of which has me wondering how we should think and write about female characters, particularly ones who are morally grey. This isn't a problem limited to Sherlock. In Tolkien I read mostly the canon pairings because they made sense to me and I emotionally connected to them, but I know people who did prefer slash, Diamond of Long Cleeve has taken a bit of a beating over the years, and I'm fairly sure Arwen and Eowyn have as well. When you have a character like BBC!Mary, who isn't only morally grey (at best) but who also doesn't exactly feel fresh-faced and pitiable, it's all that much easier to paint her as a first-class hag, and I think that's a problem. But I'm also not sure panting her as without flaws is the way to go, either, because that says a woman can't have any flaws (certainly not flaws she's held accountable for), outside of ones where she wrongs her dearly beloved in the context of the relationship. So... I don't know. This kind of move, to have sexual infidelity be the thing that drives John over the edge, definitely feels off to me, but I'm not sure what the better option is.

So I'm curious. Have you written (or read) Mary, or any female character in a similar position, in a way you thought worked? How do you thread that needle?

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
mildred_bobbin
Nov. 14th, 2014 07:28 am (UTC)
This is interesting a) because I think I know the fic you are talking about and b) I've written Mary-was-unfaithful. If that is the fic I'm thinking of, I think the author has explored many possible reasons for Mary being out the picture in previous fics so perhaps they gave this one a try this time?

Anyway, I thought I'd tell you MY thought processes when making that narrative decision.

The premise of my plot bunny for the fic in question was that Mary had left John and taken the baby into protective custody, and John was left an angry, emotional, blamey mess. So I had to decide What Mary Had Done that a) John wouldn't go with her, b) wouldn't insist on keeping the baby, c) was angry and upset. If she'd just left, as series 3 stands now, John should have wanted to go too, at the very least because of his daughter (unless there was a secret plan in series 3 all along, and he hadn't actually forgiven Mary, but I didn't go with that route because John would not have been angry with Sherlock). So it had to be something bad, something that John would find unforgivable, something worse than being an assassin and shooting his best friend, because according to series 3 he's ok with that now.

I talked it through with Mr Bobbin, toying with infidelity or whatever it was from Mary's past that sent her into protective custody, and the only thing we could come up with on the assassin side that John would find unforgivable would be killing a child - but then would John just stand by and let Mary raise their daughter? Mr Bobbin felt that John would excuse infidelity, I felt whatever it was, it had to be personal to make John so upset - Mary had already shot Sherlock, what could possibly be more personal than that? If the baby was not John's, he would be conflicted and less adamant about his parental claim. If Mary had been unfaithful, he would not be in a happy place in their marriage and therefore not keen to go with her into hiding potentially forever. In the end I settled on the trifecta: the baby was not John's (leaving him questioning how he fit in with the child he'd loved as his biological daughter), Mary had killed an innocent nearly-child (eighteen year old daughter of a mob boss - whose family had managed to track Mary down and led to her protective custody), and Mary had worked for Moriarty and had been placed with John from the start (which in hindsight may have been personal and upsetting enough). Altogether they meant John couldn't let her past or her infidelity go, couldn't forgive, and because all of this was deduced by Sherlock, it left John figuratively shooting the messenger.

In my case, Mary's reason for infidelity was that it happened on John's stag night when she suspected he would sleep with Sherlock, so turned to her devoted ex, David, for comfort and what she felt was a justified 'one for the road' before she got married, convinced John was doing the same with Sherlock (and maybe, as you say, she may have been 100% correct if Tessa hadn't interrupted). If it had just been that, I felt that John might have been able to work through it, but in conjunction with the evidence of Mary's past (come back to haunt her, putting her, John and the baby at risk) and her role in Sherlock's fall, it was the final straw.

I see what you're saying though, why is infidelity the final straw? Is it because Series 3 has limited us by having John forgive Mary for shooting his best friend and being an assassin - what wouldn't he forgive? Or is infidelity something we wouldn't forgive? How do we react to infidelity by characters in m/m relationships? Is it a double standard? I recently read a johnlock infidelity fic which about killed me, where John washed his hands of Sherlock when he discovered his cheating.

I do see fics as not definitive versions of What Happened but more What If That Happened and experimenting with the multitudes of possibilities. It's also difficult when writing post-series 3 fic to decide how to address Mary and the baby, so I can understand a writer choosing an easy (?) explanation and moving on, especially if you've already covered the topic in depth in previous stories.



Edited at 2014-11-14 07:38 am (UTC)
marta_bee
Nov. 14th, 2014 08:04 am (UTC)
I do hope I wasn't so definite in that description that people will guess what story I was talking about. I went back and forth over whether to even mention it, but for several reasons it was easier to bring this up in the context of a specific story. I was *trying* to be vague, not just because I quite like the story even with this consideration but also because I don't think this idea is all that rare. As I said, this story was hardly the first time I've heard people saying that Mary was unfaithful and that would be what drives John and Mary to break up.

Anyway. Getting to the substance of your comment. I agree with you, series three is asking us to imagine John as a very forgiving person, especially given the way it establishes John's and Mary's marriage as being on the rocks even before Sherlock is shot. I also suspect there's a way to have Mary be unfaithful and have that drive them apart but carry that out in a way that has that be a betrayal without being one that assumes a wife being unfaithful is this unforgivable thing. Your story is a good example of it: having John not be the biological father does make it more likely (I think) that he'd let his daughter go with Mary, not because he'd want to or didn't love her but because I suppose he wouldn't have a right to stop her (or might be so shell-shocked he'd assume it wasn't a fight he could win). I do think series three painted us into a bit of a corner: we haven't been given a happy romance between the two of them, and I can see why a lot of fans would be driven to write John and Mary as being headed somewhere other than happily-ever-after land, but at the same time John has been so excessively forbidding. Unless you're going to challenge that narrative, there's not many other places a fanfic writer can go to seat that conflict that drives them apart.

I think the point where I seem to be struggling is that sexual infidelity just doesn't seem like this hugely unforgivable thing to me. This may well be my own lack of experience - not married, and actually asexual, so maybe I'm underestimating how devastating that kind of thing would be. But John has already forgiven her for lying every day about the most basic facts of her personal history, things that actively put him in danger. (If we believe that story, of course.) I really struggle to see how you can say finding out the baby wasn't his would blow apart his marriage in a way everything else hadn't; to my mind, it just seems to pale by comparison. Of course, it might make all the other deceptions get very real, very quickly. I can easily see why looking at a baby every day that only existed because your wife violated a trust would make it harder to hold on to illusions that your wife was trustworthy. But there's such a history of men being particularly upset when their wives cheat on them for all the wrong reasons, I don't think it's such a great leap to think a story where Mary cheated and that ended the marriage would be read through that same lens - unless the author makes it clear the reasoning is something else. Particularly when it so closely parallels what John and Sherlock were getting up to; it seems like you'd have to be walking a tightrope not to fall into double standards.

All of which makes me kind of happy my muses have been so silent. This may be why I've not been drawn to write. I just don't see a good way to get from the ending of HLV to anything like a good relationship footing for either John and Mary or John and Sherlock.
mildred_bobbin
Nov. 14th, 2014 08:49 am (UTC)
I think infidelity is one of the YMMV things. I... don't know, I was cheated on, by an ex, but I was in a terrible place with self-esteem issues and I wanted to let it go so I could keep him, even though I hated myself for doing so. On the other hand, another ex-boyfriend started a new relationship almost immediately after breaking up with me and that hurt in an entirely different way, to think that those last few times we were together he was comparing me with someone else. The johnlock fic I mentioned above covered the reasons why being cheated on is such a betrayal so well.

Would it matter to John? I think finding out the child he thought was his biologically was fathered by someone else would take some working through, more so than the cheating itself. I do think it would have to be paired with some heavier stuff - who Mary cheated with (was she Moriarty's lover all along?), what did it mean with John and the baby (is Mary going into hiding and therefore John needs to decide if he should go too or not). In isolation I think the author would need to explain why John felt this was one betrayal/lie too far and tease that out for me to truly accept it alone could be the end point for their marriage. Ok, now I'm thinking about it: what if John only forgave Mary because he believed she truly loved him, that she only shot Sherlock because she did honestly love John above any other consideration - if John then finds out she cheated on him willingly, then that makes that one thing he's clinging to, the thing that allowed him to forgive Mary, a complete lie. It undermines the last foundation he had to rebuild their marriage. Yep, I could buy that as why infidelity was the last straw.

I just don't see a good way to get from the ending of HLV to anything like a good relationship footing for either John and Mary or John and Sherlock.
I agree, it took me 35000 words of angst to get to a place where I could call it a happy ending.

Edited at 2014-11-14 08:51 am (UTC)
sjames_centre
Nov. 14th, 2014 06:23 pm (UTC)
In my story (Everybody Knows) - which I'm still writing and posting - spoiler alert if anyone cares - John is not the father of Mary's child. I think if he decides to leave her for good - the final push will be less about infidelity and more about the fact that the only reason he would have stayed would be to keep his child safe. If the infidelity was not tied to the pregnancy, then no, I don't think that would be enough to send John back to Sherlock (not if shooting Sherlock didn't).

Edited at 2014-11-14 06:23 pm (UTC)
snarryfool
Nov. 15th, 2014 06:31 am (UTC)
I'm just here to say thanks to marta-bee for asking these questions and to both commenters for responding thoughtfully, because I've had my qualms about this plot device also (though not in either commenter's fic).

I've also seen a story in which the baby dies and John basically gets over it lickety-split because the baby turns out not to have been his; that, I just couldn't stomach at all. It doesn't square with any version of John Watson good enough for Sherlock that his love would evaporate so swiftly. I could sympathize him having trouble bonding initially, with the child entering his life as a known marker of Mary's betrayal, but not ceasing to love the child once the love was established. And certainly not writing off the death.

Like mildred, I have a lot of trouble seeing a clear way forward from S3 to happiness for John, with anyone.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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