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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sex in Media: Books, Magazines, Films, TV & More » Dollhouse: feminist or not?

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Author Topic: Dollhouse: feminist or not?
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I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon’s work. I loved Buffy, Firefly (seriously, space cowboys?! What could be cooler?), and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and I liked most of Angel (though I got pretty lost when Darla got pregnant and Connor was born, grew up really fast, and started seeing Cordy; wtf?!). While I was skeptical of Dollhouse at first (a show starring Eliza Dushku that’s all about sex slaves? eh…), I still watched out of devotion to Joss Whedon and I grew to really like it. The characters are all complex and interesting, and the show looks at such important issues as rape, abuse, survivorhood, consent, and human trafficking on a deeper level and with (in my opinion) a feminist eye. As the show has entered into a second season, the characters have also started questioning their own ethics and morals.

So when I saw a couple of feminist blogs that charged Whedon, a self-avowed feminist, and Dollhouse with being pro-rape and anti-feminist, I was shocked and couldn’t see where they got those ideas from. To me, the show is very much against rape, and it asks us to question our ideas of consent and look more deeply at the way victims and survivors are treated in society. I’m curious what those of you who watch the show think. How do you feel Whedon portrays survivors? Do you feel the show supports or condemns violence against women? Do you feel the show has a pro-feminist or anti-feminist stance?

Listen, strange women lyin' in ponds distributin' swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.--Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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Executive Director & Founder
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I have to confess, Dollhouse has earnestly broken my heart. It's hard for me to tell what's been Joss' choices with it and what has been the influence of the network, but it's very hard for me to find the feminism in Dollhouse (especially because I had a really hard time finding it with the camera up Dushku's skirt so much), and I had to stop trying because the show bothered me so very much.

I know you know how much I hate to say that, because the way I love Joss Whedon is nearly embarrassing, but for me, there it is.

So, also bear in mind I have not watched any of the second season, and am trying not to to keep from heartbreak. But I would love to hear about how it's been different than the first if it has.

Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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I adore Dollhouse, but I have been a little disappointed with things surrounding the Echo character. I find Dushku's acting to be decidedly sub-par, and it feels like she overcompensates by trying to be super-sexy. That does bother me. However, it seems like most of the problems with the show have come from Fox's influence, not Joss.

However, the shows certainly looks at some very complex, deep isues, and that's a pleasure. Most shows on network TV tend to shy away from anything too serious. Characters like Adelle and Topher have been especially fascinating lately, because they've been waking up and realizing that the things going on around them are seriously not what they expected. Topher in particular has really surprised me; he started out as a ego-driven programmer who thought of the Dolls as toys, and now he's calling them 'friend' and realizing how deeply messed up the Rossum Corp is.

I find the show has given me a lot to think about regarding gender roles and the expectations that surround us. Victor (my absolute FAVOURITE) has been really interesting to me because he's male, but he's also a Doll, and has been stripped of all his power too. I'm not sure how to phrase it properly, but it's like he been feminized to an extent by the people in charge, and made to play whatever role they want. His actor is also extremely good at nuance. I see him literally become a new person every week, whereas Dushku just seems lost in her role. There was one week when Echo's imprint got switched with Victor's, and suddenly he was a college girl in a club. The resulting scene was memorable for many reasons. First of all, his impression was flawless and extremely funny. Flipping his nonexistant hair, shaking his hips, flirting brazenly with guys...I could imagine it was a girl's mind in a guy's body. But also, the fact that the entire scene just felt so strange made me start thinking about expectations. If a girl goes into a club and starts acting in a certain way, we don't think anything of it. Yet if a guy flaunts himself like that, this is deeply surprising.

Heather, I'm sorry Dollhouse has that affect on you. I do agree that there are times when the show is pretty questionable, but I do feel that things have gotten better this season. Not every single episode, but certain ones really stick out. Episode 4, Belonging, was centered on Sierra. I felt it dealt with the themes of the show in a unique way, and left a big emotional impact. If you remember from the 1st season, Sierra did not enter the Dollhouse voluntarily. She turned down the advances of a rich man, and he was so twisted by the desire to 'possess' her that he drugged her so severely she was institutionalized. The Dollhouse came to take her away and wipe her mind clear of what they thought was a mental imbalance, and she was essentially sold into slavery. Belonging is about the people in the Dollhouse realizing what had happened, and as orca says 'questioning their own ethics and morals'. It dealt with consent and human trafficking in a big way, but also contrasted her relationship with her abuser with the purer relationship she has with Victor.

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Originally posted by Kalex:
I adore Dollhouse, but I have been a little disappointed with things surrounding the Echo character. I find Dushku's acting to be decidedly sub-par, and it feels like she overcompensates by trying to be super-sexy.

I wholeheartedly agree! I think that generally, when I've taken issue with the Echo character as far as feminism goes, it is less the fault of the writing than it is the execution of the writing.

I also wonder how the series would have played out if the actress playing Dr. Saunders had been assigned the role of Echo; she seemed to have so much a deeper grasp of the complexity of Joss' characters and I would have enjoyed seeing what she would have done with the Echo character. It would have been more exciting to see the different personality implants played as actual people rather than vignettes or caricatures (as Dushku did).

I also like the way that the show began by asking us to reassess the moral gray areas of sexuality and consent (Can we really consent to the commodification of our bodies and to what degree?). I found it interesting that the show then progressed from that rhetoric to general issues of power struggle/hierarchy. Using sexuality as an allegory was an interesting and I suppose risky (in terms of controvery) way explore these ideas.

It's also good to note that as Kalex has already said, the second season has gotten much better and will probably also be more palatable (at least in terms of feminism; "The Attic" episode still leaves me shuddering). The ideas explored start to dig deeper than I think the first season had the chance to do. There are also a lot fewer "filler" episodes and attempts to catch the eye of an audience. I think by then, the eyecandy factors stopped overpowering the central themes of the plot.

(Also, even though I don't really have anything insightful to say in response to all of your post, Kalex, I agree with everything you've mentioned.)

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