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.