Pop Culture's Sexy Double Standard: It's Elementary


The BBC/PBS Masterpiece series Sherlock wraps up its third season this Sunday, much to the chagrin of a fan base that has come to embrace the belief, as “The Woman” Irene Adler explained in season 2, that “brainy is the new sexy.” The self-proclaimed sociopath Sherlock Holmes is a character that has turned the otherwise average looking actor Benedict Cumberbatch into an international sex symbol; even religious readers of Christianity Today dig Sherlock’s sex appeal:

The show highlights a male hero who breaks our hypermasculine stereotypes while demonstrating qualities we also find in a mature Christian life: Sensitivity to those around us, friendships that support growth, investment into community, and a discerning focus on truth. No wonder he gets our attention.

The “spiritual is sexy” conclusion isn’t lost on the show’s creator/writer, either:

“The most attractive person in the room is not always the best-looking; it’s the most interesting.” …The showrunner emphasizes that his Holmes isn’t a Vulcan with no emotions – he’s simply decided that things like sex and jokes would interfere with his deduction. “It’s the decision of a monk, not an affliction,” Moffat says. “It’s an achievable superpower.”

In fact, Sherlock’s female-skewed fan base flies in the face of pop culture’s obsession with the Greek-god-like male form:

“It wasn’t like, in all fairness, anyone was salivating over Benedict before he was Sherlock Holmes,” he told the University Observer when asked about the newfound popularity of the show among women. “It’s a meeting of part and actor I think that makes geeky sexy.”

The show’s writer went on to admit that this is probably the first time the Sherlock Holmes audience has been “female skewed” despite the fact that more traditionally attractive actors have taken on the role in the past.

Pop culture goes on to obsess over all things geeky, praising Big Bang Theory and Comic-Con to the skies, while establishing a new double standard when it comes to the intersection of gender and sex appeal. Sure, geeky guys can be cute, but it isn’t as if Amy Farrah Fowler look-alikes are trolling geekfests to be drooled over. Sherlock may be breaking new ground when it comes to depicting the sex appeal of an intelligent man, but women are still expected to house their brain in their booty.


Sherlock is sexy in a trench, but when smart and sassy Melissa McCarthy picks a black coat for the cover of Elle, feminists launch “Jacketgate” accusing the magazine of having a “fat shaming” attitude because the comedienne wasn’t, well, near-naked.

Last Monday, while the Sherlock fandom drooled over their hero’s latest takedown, mainstream pop culture, like the writers at Self, was busy drooling in post-Grammys commentary:

We’re still reeling from Beyonce’s performance of “Drunk in Love” with hubby Jay-Z, a track off of her secretly released album that broke the internet. Our jaws dropped when she appeared in her strappy bodysuit, which she paired with a choppy, wet-looking bob. (Remember how actresses at the Golden Globes were all over this beauty trend?)

Beyonce’s cinched waist looked teensy-eensy, and we could spy some majorly flat abs through her sheer costume. But we couldn’t stop body crushing on those killer legs of hers. Seriously, from ankle up to the hip, her legs could not have been more toned — and we know that going vegan only played a super-small part in that. We kid. We know Bey works her, well, ass off. Show off your own set of stems in the season’s best high hems.

Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z opened the show with a salacious performance featuring the female artist dressed and dancing like a stripper in a chair for the audience as her husband looked on before rapping to the crowd. The lyrics of the song, edited for the live performance, caused Time magazine to question whether or not the lyrics “make light of domestic abuse.”

Self magazine also complimented Pink’s rear end, although her “…signature six-pack may have not been all up in our face as we’re used to….” Heidi Klum, however, received props from E! this week for “flashing” her “outrageously toned” flat abs at the phenomenally unthinkable age of 40. Beyonce, Pink and Klum are all mothers rewarded for their ability to flatten their formerly round stomachs as if the ugliness of pregnancy and childbirth never even happened to their gorgeous, seemingly nubile flesh.

Female body obsession doesn’t belong solely to pop culture. Celebrities like Katy Perry feed the frenzy with comments like:

“I lay on my back one night and looked down at my feet, and I prayed to God. I said, ‘God, will you please let me have boobs so big that I can’t see my feet when I’m lying down?'” she said. “God answered my prayers [when I turned 11]. I had no clue they would fall into my armpits eventually.”

Now, Perry, 29, is proud of her body, and she said that she’s never had it surgically enhanced.

“Not a nose, not a chin, not a cheek, not a tit,” she said. “So my messages of self-empowerment are truly coming from an au naturel product.”

For Perry, her perfect body fulfills her sense of self. That is the message she is passing along to her “Katy Cat” fans in February’s GQ along with some contradictory statements about pot, her belief in aliens, and the fact that Obama “called me a couple times.” Her sheer vapidity is something Sherlock himself would write off in an instant; for while his Irene Adler may have strutted around naked in his presence, it was her mind, not her body, that caused the otherwise unattached Sherlock to fall in love.

Why is it then that the pop culture that is so quick to embrace Sherlock is so slow to learn from him?

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