“Not so much of that oatmeal, girl,” says Meg to one of the kitchen drudges, “It’s only pikemen we’re feeding, not horses.”
They’re in Irongron’s castle, somewhere in the century or so following the Norman Conquest. Sarah is undercover, cooking Irongron’s stew.
“Don’t the guards on the gate get stew?” she asks, wanting to know in which pots to drop the Doctor’s knock-out potion.
“What, meat for those common creatures? I should say not. They’ll have oatmeal the same as the rest of us, and lusty enough they are on that. So you watch yourself if ever you take out that skillet.”
So class is, perhaps, a more fundamental division than gender, but gender oppression brings its own particular problems.
“I’m not afraid of men. They don’t own the world.”
Well, they kind-of do… but Sarah isn’t discussing actual property relations. She’s talking about the way the world should work, with no one group ‘owning’ it.
“Why should women always have to cook and carry for them?” she demands.
“What else should we do?” asks Meg.
“Stand up for ourselves. Tell the men you’re tired of working for them like slaves.”
“We are slaves,” says Meg.
Wow. No mincing words there.
“Then you should set yourselves free,” says Sarah.
None there either.
“Oh? And how should we do that?”
That’s a trickier question. It always is. But surely the first hurdle, before the plan, has to be the will.
“Don’t you want to be free?” she demands. Essentially, this has become workplace agitation.
“Women will never be free while there are men in the world, girl,” says Meg, “We have our place.”
You still hear stuff like that today, albeit filtered through layers of code.
“What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!”
Yeah. We are, in many ways. We’re meant to laugh at this outburst, but there’s no question in my mind that we’re also meant to be on Sarah’s side.
There are all sorts of problems with this story. Sarah is – at least in conception – a stereotypical ‘wimmin’s libber’, all touchiness and naivety. The Doctor is deliberately (more) sexist (than usual) in her presence, and we’re meant to think this is funny. She’s made the butt of much sexist behaviour, apparently for our amusement. For instance, there’s the bit quoted above about the “lusty” guards… it’s obviously supposed to be cute, even as it acknowledges the particular dangers faced by women in a class hierarchy. And so on. Someone wants to say this story is irredeemably broken by sexism? I’m not going to argue.
But the fact remains, Sarah responds to a woman who is by demonstrably smarter than the men she serves – and aware of the fact that she’s a slave – by saying “set yourselves free”.
It shines out amidst the crap.