Feminism and Dollhouse - Every Fan (and Hater) Must Read
Thursday, May 07, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist

When I first posted about the new Joss Whedon show Dollhouse, I got a lot of interesting responses on my reviews of early episodes. Some fans stuck around and are enjoying the show in the second half of the season. But other fans were repelled at the basic premise of the show. I saw commenters charge Joss Whedon with creating a misogynistic, sexist show. There was a lot of vitroil in some of those comments.

Anyway, I wanted to bring to your attention this excellent article from Tiger Beatdown, entitled "Dollhouse, Joss Whedon, and the Strange and Difficult Path of Feminist Dudes: Some Thoughts" Here's an excerpt:

Which leads me to: this new show, Dollhouse. Are you watching it? Oh my goodness, it is amazing. It is also the Whedon show that has drawn the most critique from other feminists: because it depicts rape of a very "gray" variety, because it doesn't condemn the forced prostitution and human trafficking it conveys strongly enough, because its characters aren't Strong or lovable in the way they have been in past Whedon shows. Fair points, all! Also: points with which I disagree.

Dollhouse is, pretty much specifically and entirely, a show about consent. It's built around an organization - the titular Dollhouse - which erases volunteers' personalities and memories and renders them childlike and passive, in order to implant them with new, built-to-order personalities custom made for wealthy clients who wish to order the "perfect" person for a specific job. The purpose for which these mind-wiped folks (called "dolls," and I do not think that we are for a second supposed to miss how creepy that term is) are rented out is, primarily, sex. Also, they have no knowledge of or ability to consent to the "engagements" for which they are rented out. Also, they seem, in large part, to not really be volunteers at all - most of the ones we know about, including the central character, Echo, have become dolls in order to get out of jail time or worse, and one woman in particular was literally sold into the organization. Also, several Dolls have been used for sex by Dollhouse employees, sometimes with the illusion of consent in place and sometimes not.

So, at this point, people were like, "um, is noted feminist auteur Joss Whedon aware that he is making a show about forced prostitution and rape?" Whedon's politics have repeatedly been called into question, and usually for damn good reason. (Here is the thing about doing stuff that appeals to politically engaged audiences: you cannot fuck up politically and have people fail to notice or just go, "oh well, par for the course, ha ha ha!" You get yelled at. Sorry. Deal.) Dollhouse, in particular, had the potential to be hugely offensive. Here is the thing: Whedon, unlike most folks and many feminist or progressive-identified dudes, seems to actually listen when he is called out and to improve his work accordingly. In the case of Dollhouse, I think he is doing smarter work than he ever was. Getting smarter about oppression, I would submit to you, requires making the visible manifestations of it or metaphors for it much, much uglier.
Anyway, I highly encourage you to head over to that blog and read the whole piece. It's really thought-provoking, even if it doesn't bring some of you around totally.
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