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The Real Woman? Why Molly Hooper Is The One Who Counts

Molly Hooper became my hero roughly a year and a half ago, not long into the first transmission of A Study In Pink. A little sooner, perhaps, than she became a hero for everyone else, but the potential has always been there. This, I thought, is the woman. This is the woman who talks like me.

It’s Irene Adler who was called the woman by Arthur Conan Doyle, of course. The one woman who could match Sherlock Holmes, who could beat him. The only woman in the entire Holmes canon who really counted.

But the second series of Sherlock changed that. Irene Adler might have been called the woman, but it was Molly Hooper who left an indelible mark. For one hundred and sixty years Irene has been the only one, and then Molly Hooper was born, created at the end of a blinking cursor. Two little scenes in The Reichenbach Fall, but they made all the difference in the world because to a hundred young girls, it was Molly Hooper who became the woman – the one woman that they absorb through their media who looks and sounds and feels like them.

There is absolutely nothing wrong, of course, with Irene Adler. I admire her immensely. She’s smart and sassy and confidant, competent, enjoys sex with neither an accompanying neurosis nor shame, and is more than a match for Sherlock Holmes and his massive intellect. She’s a Moffat creation in the mould of River Song and Amy Pond, women with personalities who can hold their own. Like most of the archetypes of “strong female” I come across in my media consumption, she’s a character I can objectively admire and understand, but never look for in the mirror.

There is a trend in media for strong women who are outwardly so. They are witty, snarky, toned, and know how to hold a gun. The role model being pushed is that of the ultimate woman. It’s progress – I wouldn’t trade River Song for a hundred people from Hollywood’s past – but there’s a silent repercussion, a fortification of the idea that women have to be twice as accomplished to be considered half as good, to deserve this screen time at all. They are always extraordinary, always the one in a million. Importantly, there’s no variety – only one mould to fit ourselves into. It’s a great mould, yes, but not for everyone – because there is no such thing as a real woman, no one mould that anyone should have to squeeze themselves into if it doesn’t fit.

Molly Hooper is, finally, different. Molly Hooper is kind, thoughtful, always smiling, and intelligent in a way that you don’t really notice until you remember she’s a pathologist. She asks after people and cares about the answers, remembers little details because everything someone says is important. She probably still remembers how Sherlock likes his coffee. Her blog is pink, covered in kittens, and uses Comic Sans. She blunders her way through speaking, has serious foot-in-mouth syndrome, and can’t put on a pair of plastic gloves without making faces. She is one of the strongest women I have ever seen.

She puts up with what can only be described as “total bullshit.” You might say that makes her a bit of a doormat, but for people like Molly (like me), who like kindness and hate conflict, it takes serious guts to call someone on their behaviour and say you’re hurting me. It takes guts to carry that kind of unrequited love and still first and foremost be a friend, to ask what do you need? Molly Hooper makes Sherlock Holmes, a man who can barely articulate anything beyond the scientific, try to be kinder. In the end, Molly isn’t the woman who counts, but the friend.

My sister is fifteen. She doesn’t remember the Spice Girls, that burst of girl power which carried me, seven years older, through childhood, and then faded into a world where all prominent  role models are pulled from The Only Way Is Essex or an ITV2 reality show, a world where I discovered Caitlin Moran – and consequently myself –  purely by accident. But she remembers Molly, and she loves her. We can’t jump from skyscrapers like River Song or point guns at CIA agents like Irene Adler, however much we admire them for it. But we can be thoughtful and we can be kind. We can choose a career we love and we can be a friend to someone who needs us. I can’t hope to be Irene or River, but I can be Molly. I would rather be Molly.

Molly Hooper is important because she’s not just my hero, but my sister’s as well, and the hero of a hundred other girls who look at her and think, that’s the woman I’d like to see in the mirror. Perhaps she’s even more important to the girls – quiet, kind, stumbling over their words and wishing they could be as cool as River Song – who already see her there.


The title of this article is not meant to be exclusionary to anyone, including trans* women, those who consider themselves queer/genderqueer, or indeed anywhere under the LGBTQ* umbrella. It was designed to work in conjunction with a later point in this article – that “there is no such thing as a real woman, no one mould that anyone should have to squeeze themselves into if it doesn’t fit” – something which I vehemently believe. The inclusion of cis, trans*, queer, genderqueer (and all other) women was implicit, but that isn’t really clear, and this addendum is here to acknowledge that and recognise that the title could in fact reinforce exactly what it was trying to dispel. It remains here as an acknowledgement of my mistake.

arrow50 Responses

  1. 30 mos ago

    You have addressed exactly how I felt from the moment we met Molly Hooper on “Study in Pink” and why I enjoy the writing in Sherlock so much. In much of the media the focus has been on the more stand-out characters, but that is not to fault of the writers so much as what society finds fascinating.

    The writing in Sherlock focuses on the subtle characters like Molly as well, and even though she is not on screen for long, she is written with as much care as Sherlock, John or Moriarty. And to top it off the creative powers took the time to cast her with the perfectly talented Louise Brealey. I look forward to seeing Molly as much as the boys in Series 3 of Sherlock.

  2. Melaszka
    30 mos ago

    Thank you for this. You’ve managed to encapsulate everything I’ve long thought and felt about Molly and about the idea of the “strong female character”, but far more movingly and articulately than I ever could.

  3. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    30 mos ago

    Thank you for this lovely comment! I agree, Louise Brealey is the last piece of the puzzle when it comes to why Molly is so wonderful. I can’t wait to see the evolution of her role in Series Three…

  4. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    30 mos ago

    Thank you so much for your comment! It’s wonderful to know that you enjoyed this post and what I was trying to say.

  5. I approve
    29 mos, 4 wks ago

    Great points that I hadn’t considered. Well said.

  6. Tara
    29 mos, 4 wks ago

    I can’t write anything profound about Molly because you have already captured everything I love about her. A lovely article indeed!

  7. Rachel
    29 mos, 3 wks ago

    Thanks for penning this lovely, thoughtful article. I adore and admire Molly and you’ve perfectly articulated why she’s so wonderful and someone we can both empathise with and aspire to.

  8. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    29 mos, 3 wks ago

    Thank you very much, Tara, and thank you for reading!

  9. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    29 mos, 3 wks ago

    Thank you for reading and for your feedback, Rachel. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed the article and that you love Molly too.

  10. 29 mos, 3 wks ago

    Very well-written piece explaining some of the dissatisfaction about female characters that I’ve always found in media but never been able to put into words. It sounds like Molly is really a stellar example of what female characters could be. I shared your post here http://blogfullofwords.blogspot.com/2012/02/things-i-like-this-week-issue-2.html.

  11. Federica
    29 mos, 1 wk ago

    I really love your article, is well-written, clean and expresses all your feelings for Molly. Feelings I share. She’s nice, but totally underrated and Moffat showed us in the Reichnbach fall. What had Sherlock ever done without her? We all understood that Sherlock faked his own death, ONLY trusting Molly to do it. Not Mrs. Hudson, not John. Just Molly. The Woman.

  12. Cara
    28 mos, 3 wks ago

    Oh my god, yes. Thanks for expressing your thoughts and sentiments, and so clearly and beautifully. You have encapsulated mine in them, and I am so very pleased to have come across your article. I have been a fan of the character of Sherlock for many, many years, and I have always lamented that there would be no room for me in his universe. I am no Irene. But from the first instant in Moffat’s Sherlock, when Molly asked Sherlock if he’d like to get coffee, I knew that Molly was the “Me” in Holmes’ world. I have loved and sympathized with her from that moment. Your words, your thoughtful elucidation on “real women” and why Molly matters brought tears to my eyes.

    Yes, a thousand times yes. You have hit the proverbial nail on the head, and I love you for it.

  13. 28 mos, 1 wk ago

    I have to admit that I was, for a moment, tantalized with Irene Adler when she appeared in A Scandal in Belgravia. But I think that in terms of being a woman, of being The Woman, Irene is no match to Molly.

    It was an extremely heartwarming scene when Molly asked Sherlock if he needed any help, because while everyone thinks that Sherlock is either a genius or a maniac, it was Molly who thought of him as simply a human being who needed help.

    So thank you, thank you for this. :)

  14. 26 mos, 4 wks ago

    Thank you for this wonderful article! You really express how I view Molly as well except you expressed it more beautifully and in writing too. :)

  15. 26 mos, 1 wk ago

    Oh, wow, thank you so much for this. I’m pretty much tearing up here because it’s exactly right. When she was created, I thought, “Well, Molly basically is the fandom, isn’t she?” Except when she was created the fandom didn’t really exist yet.

    But the second series took a woman who could have forever been something of a doormat and made her exceptional for being a friend.

    I can’t hope to be Irene or River, but I can be Molly. I would rather be Molly.

    That last sentence especially–the difference between “strong female roles” and, you know, real women who are strong. Molly is so real. I’ve met people exactly like her and am privileged to be their friends, and I can actually aspire to be more kind and patient and smart. Her portrayal in series three is one of the things I am looking forward to the most.

  16. Jackie
    24 mos, 4 wks ago

    Stumbled upon this and found myself unable to leave without writing a reply.

    Some people write to shock the world with the outrageous and the obscene. But you, you write across the heart – grounded, heartfelt and real.

    Thanks for this great entry. It was a real treat.

    Continue to write kind, beautiful, thoughtful things. You are a good writer. I bet Molly would write just like you if she happened to be one.

    Bless you.

  17. Nikki
    24 mos, 2 wks ago

    I am thoroughly impressed by your ideas of Molly. I can honestly say at first I just thought she was a cute girl who was a bit of a doormat. I loved her, but I honestly wanted her to be stronger at the same time. But it took me the the first episode in Season two, where she calls on Sherlock for being such a prick (A amazinglygorgeoushotprick XD) for me to see her strength. It was quiet yet so…strong! And I like how you compare her to Irene. I think she’s wonderful and smart and the perfect match for Sherlock (other than John XD) and yet it’s true that Molly is the ordinary girl who can still help him. I never really thought of that before and that wowed me! And I love how you point out that while she might not end up with him, she is still strong enough to be a friend. I thought this was such an insightful and thought provoking piece on your part!

  18. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    22 mos, 1 wk ago

    Thank you for your comment!

  19. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    22 mos, 1 wk ago

    Thank you Megan, that means a lot. Thank you for reading!

  20. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    22 mos, 1 wk ago

    Thank you very much for your comment Federica, I’m really glad that you enjoyed the article and felt it adequately expressed your feelings. Thank you for reading!

  21. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    22 mos, 1 wk ago

    Hi Cara – thank you so much for your lovely, thought-out comment. I very much wrote this hoping it would connect with other people so it’s lovely to hear that it meant something to you. I feel very strongly that there’s a place for the Mollys of this world – a place for ALL women – so I’m glad to hear that you feel the same. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  22. Soph
    21 mos, 1 wk ago

    yes sophie! I’ve just been linked to this by my lovely boyfriend and I agree with every word. Perfect, and much better than I could have put it (:

  23. Trina
    20 mos, 2 wks ago

    Wonderful tribute to Molly!  In the end, she’s also the woman who observed, and deduced, in Reichenbach.  Quietly, without fanfare, but clearly. I loved that!  And of course Molly wouldn’t be our Molly without Loo Brealey, who breathes life into this character who was originally intended to be a one-off, but became so much more.

  24. 20 mos, 1 wk ago

    I wouldn’t necessarily define myself as a Molly. I can be loud and brash and I’m naturally sarcastic. Heck, I own a crossbow. But that is me around other people. When I’m alone, I read, I write fanfiction and I geek out over Star Trek, Doctor Who and (of course) Sherlock. Basically, I’m not River Song 24/7. I don’t want to even fit in the River Song box or the Irene Adler box. I want my own box. A box where I can be Molly and Amy Pond and Tina Fey and any number of females I aspire to be somewhat like. It’s wonderful to see a character like Molly being portrayed on television, because women like me who are a little bit Molly can appreciate that side of themselves without feeling like we have to be “on” all the time. And for those women who completely identify as a Molly, they don’t have to be anyone but themselves, and still be wonderful.

  25. Hannah
    19 mos ago

    Thank you for this well thought out and truthful analysis.  I think more teen girls are Molly Hoopers rather than Irene Adler’s and that’s quite alright.  I find myself more and more desiring Molly’s happiness in the series over anyone else’s, which is a quite a feat considering the amount of screen time she has been given. 

    Cheers and thank you for a lovely post. :) 

  26. Pat
    19 mos ago

    This is amazing. Thank you for this. 

  27. jacque
    18 mos, 3 wks ago

    some say that molly is not the strong female character, but maybe she is… maybe mollyis showing us what it really means to be strong. she is like a pillar that holds up a building. quietly bearing the weight placed upon her, never baosting her strength, but instead acceptingit as part of her role in life. i believe she is te type of strong ihope to be. strong enough to not let anyone opinions and actions get in the way of her happiness, or anyone elses happiness for that matter. not to mention, she is strong enough to care, so she does not show when sherlock hurts her because she knows he doesnt really know any better. whe i grow up i want to be like molly hooper.

  28. Samantha
    17 mos, 2 wks ago

    Wow. I’m so glad you brought this up. You make a valid and wonderful point. Molly is the girl in the show most female veiwers will relate to and veiw as a heroine. She possesses a quiet strength that often over looked.
    She is one of my favorite female characters and though I don’t veiw her as my personal hero (mine is actually John), she is a wonderful role model for women today.

  29. IK
    16 mos ago

    Lovely article! I’ve always seen myself more as an aspiring kick-ass woman in the mould of Irene Adler or Mata Hari, and I like it that way, drama and the stage are an important part of me, but I have come a long way from being a “Molly Hooper” and I’m very glad I have been there once. It gives not only perspective, but keeps you grounded in yourself, not an ideal, media-pushed role.
    I love the way Louise Brealey reinvented Molly Hooper into something stronger than anything Moffat had probably imagined. Even obviously strong and dramatic women can identify with her. Because what you write is true: The Irene Adlers and River Songs have to be better men and still stay women. They have to be a hundred times better and bigger-than-life than anyone they meet, they have to keep to their roles and play the game 110%. And like so many of their media-sisters – think of Tomb Raider or Lady deWinter – they are just a teensy tiny bit demonized, play a role but are rarely deep characters and mostly get (still, from society’s point of view: deserve) an unhappy ending. As a living, breathing woman (what else does “real woman” mean?) you are more than an ideal, a stereotype and a media-hyped role. No matter whether we wear red lipstick and high-heels oder jeans and a book-bag, what’s inside is important, not the projected image. Why not do both at the same time? ;) And I think that’s what Louise Brealey shows so perfectly with her take on Molly Hooper, the “little mouse”, that proves to be so much more.
    But films and the media need role-models, and I’m glad for all the obviously strong ones out there. Still, both kinds of female Archetypes are strong and it’s high time, society recognizes that. There are so many kinds of different women out there – as many, I’d say, as there are women. And all of them are strong and interesting in their own way and therefore worth noting!

  30. Miss Transmission
    Miss Transmission
    16 mos ago

    Thank you for such a fantastic comment – your point about the demonisation of women like River Song and Irene Adler is spot on. I always wanted to stress that this isn’t about Molly being ‘better’ than River or Irene (to be honest, I’m somewhere in the middle between an Adler and a Hooper), only that we’re in danger of leaving one trope behind for another (the ‘strong’ woman), and it’s really fantastic to see Molly embraced.

    It’s not so much about role models as mirrors, I think. I can see a fair bit of myself in River, but it was a new experience to see other, ‘quieter’ things in Molly, and I don’t think there’s enough of that. The wider point of this was always that women aren’t one-note, and there’s a whole spectrum of female experience that we haven’t seen on TV yet.

    Again, thanks for taking the time to comment, a really interesting and thought-provoking discussion. And you get about 10,000 extra points for mentioning Mata Hari!

  31. John Zheng
    16 mos ago

    I’m a guy and I love girls like MollY!

  32. i could marry you for this! Molly so much more than just a side character(moffat said at first they wanted to leave her out after study in pink but audiences loved her so much they kept her) I really hope,maybe if even in the very last ep sherlock will see how much molly helped him,and where he stands then just because of her.And not because of Irene adler.Maybe he respects irene yes,ok.But Molly will be the one he has to thank.Nit only for ‘saving’ his life but for so much more.

  33. 15 mos, 1 wk ago

    Wow. Well said!

    I grew up (the 60s) in a world where the guys had all the fun and women vacuumed the floors in heels and pearls like Beaver Cleaver’s mom. Hence, exactly zero female role models (although Uhura opening hailing frequencies on the bridge of the Enterprise was sort of close). 

    Thank you, Molly, for existing. And for the great crew of Sherlock for bringing her to us. 

  34. 9 mos, 2 wks ago

    The other day I was talking to my friend who commented about how much a mutual friend of ours reminded her of Sherlock. She then said how much I reminded her of Molly. I was at the time rather offended and hurt partially because I liked the friend that reminded her of Sherlock and I wondered if it was so painfully obvious as with Molly, but also because I didn’t really respect her. Now that I’ve read this, I do. I’ve come to terms with my inner Molly – thank you.
     

  35. Mom2KidsDog
    9 mos, 1 wk ago

    You are awesome, and so is your article. Everything you’ve said rings true. Molly personifies to me, as well, what we should all (male and female) aspire to . . . bright, kind, self-possessed and a spine of steel when it comes to standing up to people (regardless of whether you’re in love with them or not). Well done.

  36. Curious
    7 mos, 1 wk ago

    Hi there… A few months ago my boyfriend and I were in a conversation about what characters most resembled the other person. He had told me then after much thought that I was like Molly Hooper. I actually at the time was a bit offended cause I thought she was sad and had no backbone. I recognized that she was sweet and kind, helpful and intelligent.. But the qualities are shy. I had asked him why Molly and he said she is kind hearted, smart, genuine and always willing to do anything for others. Your description of her really interested me and made me feel so proud to be considered comparable to her! I hope more women in the world aspire to be whole heartedly kind and willing to do things for the good of others and deal with other people’s baggage, instead of “strong” and aggressively independent. Which I also do believe there is a time and place for that, too. Just not so intensified and at the risk of other people. Anyways, really lovely insight!

  37. Katrille
    6 mos, 2 wks ago

    I appreciate the presence of Molly alongside Irene Adler.

    What has generally annoyed me with Moffat’s writing on Dr. Who is his inability to write more than one female character so much of the time.  I guess Jenny sort of stands as the outlyer, and maybe that’s what Molly is.  The Jenny to Irene’s Madam Vastra.

    Like you said, there’s nothing wrong with an aggressive strongwoman, but it’s really refreshing to see a woman being portrayed as more passive but still strong.  I think it’s important that both types of female characters are present–after all, a show shouldn’t have to just pick one mold.  

    I think sometimes it’s easy for people–especially writers–to forget that women -are- people, and their personalities vary about as much as men’s do.  Diversity is the answer.

    Personally I fancy myself a female Lestrade. 

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