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The Sontarans that we see in The Sontaran Stratagem and The Poison Sky seem to be remarkably sexist in their attitudes to women.

STAAL: Is that a reference to my height?
HARRIS: Short answer, yes.
STAAL: A pity. Words are the weapons of womenfolk. I must judge you unfit.
(The Sontaran Stratagem).

SKORR: Success. The operative has the necessary information.
STAAL: Good work for a female. Now she must be protected.
SKORR: I will prepare an attack squad.
(The Poison Sky).

Yet, as far as I can understand, there were no female Sontarans. As a species of clones that were bred by machines they seem to have only one gender. Consequently, Strax is shown to have little understanding of (human) gender.

STRAX: Silence, boy!
DOCTOR: That's Strax. And as you can see, he's easily confused.
STRAX: Silence, girl. Sorry, lad.
DOCTOR: Sontaran. Clone warrior race. Factory produced, whole legions at a time. Two genders is a bit further than he can count.
STRAX: Sir, do not discuss my reproductive cycle in front of enemy girls. It's embarrassing.
DOCTOR: Typical middle child of six million.
(The Snowmen).

How did the Sontarans come to develop their sexist mentality? Why do they have such a low view of women if there are no female (or male) Sontarans? Was this a view which emerged over time based on their observations of other species?

See a related discussion on Reddit here.

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    Um, as a species of clones bred to have only one gender, might the attitude come from whatever caused the culture choose to clone them with only one gender? That is, maybe when being set up somebody somewhere noted they only wanted male clones and/or decided their clones were male because [reasons], and this got passed on to the clones and down their history (plus or minus changes over time) and became culturally integrated into their perceptions of what it means to be male/female? – Megha Jul 26 '17 at 2:17
  • @Megha: I fully agree with you here as a likely explanation. However, it does seem contradictory for the Doctor to argue that the Sontarans cannot comprehend more than one gender; if your answer inherently assumes that they do comprehend it since they are born with an innate sense of gender stereotyping. – Flater Jul 26 '17 at 9:22
  • I would associate this more with bad writing than anything else. Doctor Who's universe is absurdly vast, and some weird stuff shows up from time to time that has no reason in-universe to be that way. I'm a long-time fan of the series, but I have to admit that the Sontarans are more or less poorly written. – T. Sar Jul 26 '17 at 13:58
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The Sontarans are a stereotypically warlike race. They see everything in the context of warmaking. Even wishing someone well (which is a peaceful action) often references wishing they will have a glorious battle.

They love war. They're not just angry or aggressive. In fact, they can be very courteous to people, even ones they dislike (I remember Strax telling someone that he was happy to expect a glorious battle, and he said so with honest kindness).


Out of universe, the Sontaran "pro male" attitude can be argued to be a continuation of their incessant military attitude. Their character resembles that of an alpha male. It helps paint the picture, and creates some comedy as the Sontaran ideas are outdated human ideas. Less than 200 years ago, many men shared the exact same opinion that the Sontarans show today.


In universe, this can be argued as the Sontaran interpretation of gender roles in function of military aptitude.

Though Strax is shown to be incapable of telling a man from a woman, he does understand that they are different.

But given their military single-minded nature, when a Sontaran contemplates the difference between a man and a woman, his interests will boil down to one question:

Who is the most efficient soldier?

If you describe the biological difference between men and women, what would you say?
Women are, on average, shorter and less physically strong than men. They also get pregnant, which renders them physically weaker (in regard to combat prowess).

While shortness is not an issue for a Sontaran (as they are rather short themselves), physical strength seems to be very important to them, as their bodies seem to be designed specifically to withstand a lot of physical pressure.

This is reflected in your examples. I'll add his assumed thoughts to his statements:

A pity. Words are the weapons of womenfolk, who are not strong enough to use their fists. I must judge you unfit.

Good work for a female, who I would have expected to be useless to us in this war. Now she must be protected.

Edit
"Good [military] work for a female" is equivalent to "fast running for a handicapped person".

It considers being female as a handicap that obviously lowers the expected quality of the outcome; but the Sontaran still acknowledge that this is a better result than expected given that they are so handicapped to begin with.


Although I will repeat myself here, let me answer your questions directly:

How did the Sontarans come to develop their sexist mentality?

They see the world as one big military war. Everything is judged in the face of military prowess.

Why do they have such a low view of women if there are no female (or male) Sontarans?

Women are ill-suited for combat; which is the most important trait to a Sontaran.

Was this a view which emerged over time based on their observations of other species?

There are two options, in my opinion:

(1) It's possible that the Sontaran objectively looked at the biological differences between men and women, and they themselves decided to consider women inferior, based on their (objectively measurable) lower combat prowess compared to men.
Keep in mind that the Sontarans are simpletons, they do not understand anything but military prowess.

(2) It's possible that Sontarans merely adopted human gender stereotypes, as they felt connected to human soldiers (because they are soldiers), but can also be considered to be the stereotypical alpha male that promotes gender inequality.

I am stereotyping military personnel here; but the Sontarans are comical stereotypes too. Take this with a grain of salt please, the Sontarans are meant as a comical diversion, not a serious statement about the inferiority of the female gender.


Edit A slightly more elaborate answer to the comment below.

Do not forget that the Sontarans are simpletons. We can argue that stereotypically female traits can have benefits too (e.g. diplomacy, espionage, ...), but this discussion far surpasses the cognitive capacities of a Sontaran mind.

The Sontarans cannot evaluate something that they are incapable of understanding in the first place.

The Doctor says so himself:

Two genders is a bit further than he can count.

This doesn't just state that they only know one gender. It also takes a stab at the Sontaran's lower intelligence, suggesting that they are incapable of counting to two.
Please do note that the Doctor is not literally saying that Sontarans can't count to two. It's a tongue-in-cheek overstatement, not meant to be factually correct.

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    @TheDarkLord: Inferior does not mean incapable. I am an inferior runner compared to Usain Bolt, but that doesn't mean that I can't run at all. Sontarans consider women inferior to men in combat, not incapable of combat. Also, remember that Sontarans are simpletons, they tend to be incapable of multidimensional evaluations. Even for war, their primary purpose in life, they see little use for espionage or cloak and dagger style approaches. – Flater Jul 25 '17 at 12:12
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    @TheDarkLord Genders will get harder to define the further from "human" you get. "Woman" might just be a translation for "the sex that is less useful in war" (by the Tardis into English). So they may well come up upon races whose "women" are the war makers as well as child bearers, and the Tardis would translate "the sex that is less useful in war" to male, or whatever the least war-useful gender is of the race. – Philbo Jul 25 '17 at 12:19
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    @Edelk: Strax' current profession (which is a punishment given to him by the Doctor, not a chosen profession) seems unrelated to the general Sontaran sexist attitude that existed since before Strax was punished (disregarding time travel shenanigans). Milk can also serve a purpose, e.g. the ability to provide food (to other Sontaran who are starving) in times of need, e.g. behind enemy lines with no provisions. – Flater Jul 25 '17 at 12:44
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    In today's world it bears mentioning that the Sontarans are intended to look like simpletons who know very little about the world and their archaic view of gender roles is a part of that. It's not a statement endorsing the view that women are weak, if anything it's the opposite. – Cronax Jul 25 '17 at 14:40
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    "If you need to count to two, it means you are not killing your enemies fast enough and allowed them to double up on you. Kill faster!" – Cort Ammon Jul 25 '17 at 20:08
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How did the Sontarans come to develop their sexist mentality

What makes you think that they did? The Sontarans are a clone species deliberately created by the Kaveetch (original natives of Sontar). They don't have cultural or scientific development. Every single member of their entire species engages only in activities that promote war.

The simplest explanation is that every single attitude we see present in a modern Sontaran was also present in the original Sontarans. No development. Their species is essentially the same now as when it was first created. So what we are actually seeing are the attitudes trained into them by their Kaveetch creators. Including

  • Sontarans are superior to other races, including the Kaveetch (which is why they killed them).
  • The Kaveetch were weakened by having half their members "weaker" females (they say this about other races).

We don't know what most Kaveetch believed. But apparently most of those involved with setting up the Sontaran training program had a lot of sexist and racist stereotypes, including a personal inferiority complex.

This is unsurprising given what the Kaveetch did. They essentially created a perfect army because they themselves felt imperfect and incapable of winning the war. Their perfect army destroyed them due to that perception of inferiority.

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    A few more paragraphs and you will have proven that Sontarans are actually Daleks. – Mr Lister Jul 26 '17 at 7:03
  • @MrLister I initially wanted to touch on the Daleks in my answer. It's interesting to note that Sontarans were engineerd to wage war. Daleks were engineered to hate (thus making war an inevitable consequence, but not their main purpose). Though the engineers' plans were the same (creating a genetically superior soldier), their approach was completely different. – Flater Jul 26 '17 at 13:11

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