15 April 2010

Am I going to have to listen to sexist nonsense about Karen Gillan for the next year?

UPDATE: In response to this post, DWO Whocast invited me to speak on their show! Apparently, there was quite a bit lost in cultural translation, but Paul was very nice about it and said that he still thinks my point is valid. So I have a new post up explaining that mis-translation (Sorry, by the way, Paul, for calling you an asshole.) and clearing up a few points more elegantly than I did in the interview. I'll also link to the podcast once it's up.

That question is rhetorical. Because the answer is, unless Doctor Who podcasters get their heads out of their asses: YES.

This started at the Gallifrey forum, where I saw a lots of posts from men being gross about Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond, the Doctor's newest companion. I think the men felt more comfortable doing this with Amy than they had with other companions because Karen Gillan used to be a model. So, there are pictures. Which I won't link here, but you can google it if you don't know what I mean. Anyway, that is no excuse for leering at her and treating her like her body is public fucking property. Which shouldn't need saying. There were also a few posts by women protesting this, particularly since Tennant fangirls were teased, if not outright rejected, because they liked DW "for the wrong reasons," and because DW isn't "about that." But as soon as Karen Gillan steps on the scene, male fans are allowed to put on their misogynist hats and gush about how! damn! hot! she is. Which isn't to say that objectifying Tennant was okay or anything, but Tennant fangirl-ism starts (most of the time) with how wonderful of an actor he is, how well he plays the Doctor and how convincingly, and ends with how attractive he is. I say this as a Tennant fangirl myself. Yes, he's gorgeous, but his attractiveness is a result of his general awesomeness as the Doctor, not his body or his hair. (He does have great hair.)

Anyway, I don't go on DW forums anymore. But, I do listen to the podcasts. I still want to be a part of the fan culture, and have my ear to the ground, so this is how I do it. I listen to the four most popular DW podcasts: DWO Whocast, Doctor Who Podshock, Radio Free Skaro, and The Doctor Who Podcast, as well as a couple outliers: Sonic Newsdriver and Tardis Tavern.

SO. I listen to a lot of podcasts. Enough for this to be surprising: there are no women on any of them. You read that right. NOT ONE. And these aren't one-man podcasts. All except Sonic Newsdriver have two hosts, and many have three. Why are there no women? I honestly don't know. Maybe men don't think women watch Doctor Who. Or they don't think women have opinions about Doctor Who. Opinions worth listening to, anyway. When I first listened to the podcasts I'm about to talk about, I twittered this:
Oh for crissake, am I really going to have to listen for the rest of Amy Pond's reign about how she's beautiful first and good actress 1/2
Second? YOU HAVE FEMALE LISTENERS Doctor Who podcasts! Women who would like to be treated like people! Craziness. 2/2
Most of the DW podcasts follow you if you follow them, so I got this response from Tardis Tavern:
@cnstoker I have to admit I'm surprised at the amount of feedback we get from female listeners! But that is DW for you! :-)
Which pissed me off a little. You are surprised? Why? Doctor Who has a huge female fan base. This is NOT NEWS. Are you surprised they want to listen to podcasts? Do women not do that or something? Or are you surprised that women are fans in the same way that men are fans, meaning that they want to engage with the show beyond just watching it and having sex fantasies about Matt Smith? I mean, we all know women do cosplay and silly things like that, but LISTENING to ANALYSES of the show? Did you think their TINY BRAINS might explode from the ANALYTICAL GENIUS of the DW podcast world? (As a literary critic, let me just point out: no, they would not, even if women had the tiniest of brains, because the analysis of the podcasters is usually barely above surface level.) Anyway, I didn't write that response, because I don't want to discourage them reaching out to female listeners. Instead I wrote something like this:
1/2 @tardistavern I wonder if their reasoning is anything like mine, which is going to make me sound like a grump: no matter how many times
2/2 @tardistavern the podcasts talk about Amy like that, they will never be as sexist as the forums. Maybe I need to try Livejournal.
@tardistavern Which is all to say: good for you for noticing! Ladies and DW are a natural fit. :)
Needless to say, I was so proud of myself for how nice I was. As we all know, I am a grump. And DW podcasters acting SURPRISED at having female listeners makes me grumpy. But not, friends, as grumpy as listening to podcasters make disgusting comments about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan does. Not even close.

It all stared with Podshock, episode 190. Which went well. They brought on a bunch of guests to talk about the first episode of the new season, The Eleventh Hour (unsurprisingly, no lady guests). Lots of enthusiasm and excitement and love. Then came Darth Skeptical, who said this about 30 minutes in:
Certainly nothing wrong with Karen Gillan, occasional moments where I think she overacts slightly, but…who cares because she’s gorgeous and because most of the time she hits the right notes anyway.(emphasis mine)
I rewound to make sure I heard that right. Oh, I did. I sent Podshock an angry response on their voicemail feedback number, but so far nothing. Here's the deal: no one said anything about this. None of the hosts, none of the guests, because no one seemed to find anything wrong with it. If Darth had said this about Tennant or Smith, had said something like "Sometimes I think Tennant/Smith overacts a bit, but who cares because he's gorgeous/he has great hair/he looks hot in that suit and most of the time he hits the right note anyway," SURELY someone would have interrupted him. SURELY someone would have said, "Gee, Darth, wait a minute. Tennant's hair doesn't have anything to do with his performance. Smith's gorgeous face isn't really relevant in this conversation." But Darth wouldn't have said that, because it sounds ridiculous when you say something like that about a man. We're all used to hearing about women as though their attractiveness comes first and any talent they have a distant second, but even with all of Darth's qualifiers, THIS IS NOT OKAY. If Karen Gillan is a good Amy Pond (and I think she is), she is so because she's a great actress, because she has good chemistry with the Doctor. Not because she looks good in a miniskirt.

Darth's comment was more or less innocuous, and picking it out of his commentary could be construed as nit-picking. Which is what Doctor Who fans do, but whatever. I'm over it. Until I listen to the DWO Podcast a little later, and here this horrifying conversation from episode 5.2, starting about 18 minutes in (my comments in parentheses):
Paul: I want to quickly talk about Amy, because isn't she gorgeous?
(The tone of this is: Well, now let's talk about the important things, like how hot Amy is.)

Seb: Yeah, yeah. And a fantastic actress as well.
(You can tell he's a bit taken aback by this turn in direction.)

Paul: Yeah, absolutely.
(This tone is the most telling; he says, "yeah, absolutely" in a sort of "well, sure, but that's not really the point, is it?" way.) But, um, you know her running around in her, her nightdress and uh (both laugh)I wonder...

Seb: Get, getting wet.

(Both laugh)

Paul: I wonder how many men tried to, uh, look up her, look up her nightdress (Seb laughing) as she's (Seb interrupts, difficult to interpret)

Seb: Quickly finish that sentence.

Paul:(laughs) Come on, I reckon there's a lot of men out there who tried look at her knickers up that little dress there.

Seb:(laughing)Oh dear. You, you went exactly where I didn't want you to. (both laughing)

Paul: They wouldn't have put it in if, if, if they hadn't wanted something along those lines. Let's face it, you know, she's a "kiss-o-gram," in quotes, and that, in another language, means she's a stripper. I mean, it...I've got no doubt in my mind about that. The other thing is, you know, uh. Uh, about little Amy is, I absolutely adore her.

Seb: Yeah, the other thing about her is she's a very good foil for the Doctor.

Paul: Oh yeah. (continues talking about things that aren't Amy's body, apparently getting the fucking point)
In Seb's defense, he tried to shut down the conversation early. He laughed and everything, but you could tell from the beginning that this was not how he wanted to conversation to go. I don't know what his motivations for that were, because it could have just been because of podcast content and not his own respect for women, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, since I don't have much evidence either way. Even given that, however, he should have spoken up more forcefully, made it clear that the things Paul was saying were NOT OKAY. You don't help women when you let people like Paul think that it's normal to talk like this.

But Paul. CHRIST, Paul. What the hell happened there? You decided that treating a woman like a person was just TOO FUCKING HARD, so instead of doing that you're going to tell everyone about how you were DESPERATELY trying to upskirt Karen Gillan while watching Doctor Who? Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU? This is Feminism 101 stuff: Don't treat women like public property. Don't insinuate that it's okay to treat women like public property if they're in sex work. Don't call grown women "little Amy." Don't act like your gross-ass sexual appropriation of said grown woman's body is appropriately labelled "adoration."

Here's the deal with Amy: she is an openly sexual character. With which I have no problem. Women should be promiscuous as they like with no judgment from anyone. But promiscuous women should not be subject to men thinking that their promiscuity gives those men the right to TRY TO LOOK UP THEIR SKIRTS. And, frankly, when normatively attractive women are on television, and written as promiscuous, it's very likely that the people creating the show had something like that "in mind," because the objectification and appropriation of women's bodies is a real, terrible thing in the world. But that doesn't excuse Paul, because he should be fucking aware of the fact that Karen Gillan is a REAL PERSON. And he has no right. None.

The kiss-o-gram = stripper comment was particularly telling, as well. Paul knows, on some level, that this would be an inappropriate conversation to have about NORMAL women, but he thinks that sex workers ARE public property, and thus he can safely talk about Amy like this if he can establish that she is in the same class as a sex worker. Aside from the fact that this argument makes no goddamn sense on its face (a kiss-o-gram is NOT a euphemism for "stripper," but an entirely different occupation), Paul is tipping his asshole hand here rather clearly. So, Paul, in case no one else tells you: Trying to look up the skirt of a stripper, unless she is clearly and enthusiastically inviting you to do so, is NOT OKAY. You have to get consent, even from strippers. Even (take a deep breath) PROSTITUTES reserve the right to tell you no. Or fuck off, if they're feeling cheeky.

So, one more time with feeling: Women's bodies are not public property, or there for your judgment and approval. Not even Karen Gillan's. So cut it the fuck out, DW podcasts.


Anonymous said...
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Gemma said...

"Tennant fangirls were teased, if not outright rejected, because they liked DW "for the wrong reasons," and because DW isn't "about that." But as soon as Karen Gillan steps on the scene, male fans are allowed to put on their misogynist hats and gush about how! damn! hot! she is."

This, so very much. I am a total DT fangirl, but I love the old-school episodes with Tom Baker just as much and he's not exactly pretty (good god, just no). See, even in a feminist space I feel like I have to explain that because there is such a double standard. I find it immensely irritating that it's okay for dudes to say whatever the hell they want about Karen Gillan because she's hot. Well yeah she is, but Amy Pond is also one of the best companions for the Doctor in years. She is smart and doesn't take crap from the Doctor when he gets in one of his grumpy moods. These things make Amy attractive and awesome just as much as her face or body.

For the last five years I've had constant comments about how I must only watch David Tennant's Doctor Who episodes because I think he's cute, and yet if you suggest the same thing but with Karen Gillan to dudes they're all NO THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE MEN LIKE SCIENCE FICTION FOR THE EXPLOSIONS AND GIRLS LIKE IT FOR THE HOT GUYS. Ugh, so patronising. I should be used to this- I'm a gamer and a metal musician as well as a sci-fi geek- but I never really get over the assumptions that a)only dudes are allowed to comment on an actor's physical attractiveness and b) it's totally cool to do so in a manner which negates all their other attributes. They can say what they want about the Tennant fangirls, at least we respect his acting ability as well as his looks. The guy has played Hamlet for Pete's sake. I get the feeling any Shakespeare performed by Karen Gillan would be disregarded because HURR BEWBS.

Came here via Feministe, by the way. Hi, and sorry about my rant!

Courtney said...

Don't apologize, friend! This is a rant friendly space. And it's nice, I know, to find people who have experienced the same thing so you know that, despite what the menz say, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. This is a thing. And it's a thing not just in DW fandom, but lots of geek fandoms.

I don't think you should be used to it. You should never be used to be treated as less than. I'm a gamer, too (although I avoid the fan spaces, unless they are explicitly feminist, for obvious reasons), a Whedonite, a sci fi academic (mostly Victorian, but I'm branching out), and a sci fi fan. I think this nonsense is in all of those communities (in fact, DW is probably one of the least egregious offenders, although it may tie with Whedon fandom, since Whedon fandom also thinks of itself as progressive), but I hope I never get such a thick skin that it stops bothering me. It drains me a bit to have it bother me, but the alternative seems more dangerous.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you keep reading, because this blog seems to be veering away from "I am living in a conservative hellhole" and towards "OMG LET'S TALK ABOUT GEEK THINGS ALL THE TIME."

Tex said...

Male gaze is not even remotely terrible. The whole feminist fiction of 'objectification' actually gets in the way of making real progress toward gender equality. Sure, in the 70s it was important to point out that ignoring female self determination by treating women as objects was an important point to make (as you correctly point out, this is feminism 101), but that was a very long time ago in the culture war, and there are much worse problems to tackle now.

Some will argue that allowing 'male gaze' is the gateway to men beating women up, but this is as unsound as saying marijuana is a gateway to herion. Sure, many herion users once smoked, but most potheads remain potheads and never gateway to anything. Similarly, even men who champion sexual equality and believe there is nothing inferior about having double X chromosomes can look on a woman's sexual agency without denying the whole of her humanity.

That is because the fiction of objectification ignores the obvious facts. Men are totally uninterested in legs or breats or vaginas disembodied from real people, regardless of how much feminists say the opposite. Regarding a woman in a sexual way, in ones mind does not erase the rest of the person, because the idea of having sex with an entity lacking speech, emotion, and an entire body is pretty revolting to all but a tiny twisted minority, and those aren't the ones you seem to be interested in calling out.

I also feel bad that euphemisms seem to go lost. Perhaps you've never heard of a prostitute being referred to as a singer. I'm not such an expert on Anglican lingo, but I wouldn't be surprised if Paul was correct in his assumption, given the context.

I feel for the women in the sex industry, if you trust the self described 'healthy' voices coming from inside, you know most of the women there have suffered betrayal by men they trusted, most often, their fathers. This deserves a lot more attention than it gets and is a much better place to put our energies.

The issues and difficulties in gender issues have very little to do with 'male gaze' and much more to do with abuse, and the two have no significant relationship. I have not done a study on this, nor can I site one, but from a purely metaphysical point of view, it's easy to argue the point in a more meaningful way and also easy to make the mistake many feminists make regarding it.

For the record, I don't much like hearing women gush about an attractive man either, because it makes me feel self conscious, but I understand where the negative feeling comes from and know it has nothing to do with the objectification of men. I'm not suggesting anyone else's feelings share the same root as mine. But, regardless of what I'm feeling, when trying to discover the motivation of that feeling, I always start with what's least desirable and work my way up. When I feel altruistic, I always assume there is a selfish motivation at work, which is usually true, even if I really want to help, I can usually find an upside for me in the deal as well. I think most people are lazy and not willing to look at the worst in themselves before criticizing others. Like that old thing about he without sin casting the first stone. No one is perfect, but if we're to have a debate, lets first get off our pulpits and speak person to person, accepting that we all have flaws.

P.S. I see an opportunity here for an all female Doctor Who podcast, which, I bet, a lot of male listeners would really like to hear. In my life, I know lots of Doctor Who fans, but only one of them is female. I'd love to get more female perspective on the show, and a podcast would be a great way to get it. hint hint

Courtney said...

Thanks for your mansplanation, Tex. Obviously, if YOU think the male gaze and objectification aren't harmful and/or aren't that big of a deal, it must be true. Never mind 40+ years of feminist theory by very smart ladies.

Believe it or not, feminists can focus on more than one issue at a time. We can blog about objectification, volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood, and even call out our man-friends for their sexism, all in the same day! And feminist organizations and activists fight on multiple fronts, because "ignore the little/unimportant stuff" has been an anti-feminist chant for decades now, and its effect is to perpetuate a misogynistic culture. Feminist organizations and women are quite capable of setting their own agendas without your help.

I would love to see an all-female DW podcast, too. It would have the potential to be kind of bad-ass.

Adrienne said...

"That is because the fiction of objectification ignores the obvious facts. Men are totally uninterested in legs or breats or vaginas disembodied from real people, regardless of how much feminists say the opposite. Regarding a woman in a sexual way, in ones mind does not erase the rest of the person, because the idea of having sex with an entity lacking speech, emotion, and an entire body is pretty revolting to all but a tiny twisted minority, and those aren't the ones you seem to be interested in calling out."

Ooohhh... good thing you know that the female orgasm has always been such an important focus to men. Good thing they suuuuure have been worried about speech, emotion, and the entire body. Not punishing women when they get wet and enjoy sex... or cauterizing their vaginas because they have an orgasm. Noooo men totally just enjoy sex a whole lot more than women and that has nothing to do with using women and objectifying them while ignoring them and their needs.

I'm sure that strippers, hooters waitresses, and prostitutes are regularly hired for their emotional insights and thoughtful commentaries. I'm also sure there aren't hundreds of jokes about those very things as well. You're right that I don't daily hear an obnoxious joke about how the sex was great until she opened her mouth. Also good thing that men don't say and do whatever they want to get into a woman's pants and then walk away or get insensitive and callous afterward. Good thing rape isn't a huge issue. Clearly none of this has to do with objectification. Also good thing that there isn't currently an increase in male anorexia, male anxiety disorders, male rape etc. because of an increase in the rise of objectification of men.

You might really want to start reading those studies... it's nice that you are just arguing a point without researching it to prove all those damn feminists are wrong ...you know... the ones who have spent years and years researching it.

Adrienne said...

*Heavy sarcasm used. As well as perhaps a problematic generalization of men. But using it for a reason.

Tex said...


With all due respect, and I do respect you a great deal and appreciate you bringing this topic to people who may be ignorant of such things, I think we are on the same page, for the most part, we want women to be treated with much greater respect, but we seem to differ on methods and means.

I admit to using inflammatory language in my last post, and should apologize for doing so. I'm sorry. Because it gets in the way of my point. Which I am willing to defend and believe it is defensible.

Briefly, 'male gaze' is not objectification, because the vast majority of males who are 'gazing' have no interest in 'objects' but in people who happen to be female. They are not simply interested in putting their male parts into something to make liquids come out, but in having an experience with another person. I'm willing to explain why I think this is so. Admittedly, my observations are not scientific, but are also not likely catalogued in women's studies classes.

Your own, truthful observations not-with-standing, men do make offensive jokes about woman (and all sorts of other subjects, races, religions, etc), but this can hardly be the whole representation of their feelings. The desire to make others laugh can sometimes trump good taste. But I digress.

I'm going to assume you have not spent countless hours in men's locker rooms listening to men talk about sex, but there's a constant theme. Part of the whole conquest brag is discourse on how much their partner enjoyed it, often enumerated in how many times she experienced orgasm. These are the same people whose descriptions of women would land them into the objectifier column (for reference, I'm in the wallflower/listener category in the locker room, I don't like to 'kiss and tell'). Another facet of these tales is talking about how 'wet' the woman was at some earlier point. These are not unusual versions of the conquest story, in fact, their pretty ubiquitous. If the objectification process was truly at play, it's hard to imagine why they would care how much pleasure their partner had, even if they put such things on a quantitative rather than qualitative scale.

tex said...

You are also right that men will say or do anything to get a woman to sleep with them, and then promptly leave the next morning. I can't defend that behavior, but it has a lot to do with immaturity, and sometimes with shame, and sometimes with respect. Nothing of which is very healthy, but it's also far from treating people as means rather than ends in themselves.

Rape is rightfully a crime and repugnant, but this kind of smooth talking enticement is not the same thing, in fact, men who pride themselves on being able to convince a woman to sleep with them would view rape as an utter failure of their 'skills', something to be avoided because it would ruin their self image.

I have never heard the argument that 'male gaze' itself causes harm, that somehow those photons landing on the man's retina induces some pain in the woman they are admiring, but I'm open to hearing that argument.

What I have heard is that such behavior leads to crimes like rape and abuse, which is why I mentioned the pot heads. Lots of guys like to look at women, especially married guys, I've noticed, but would never touch any of them in a legal or illegal way. Looking is itself the end for these people, and that's the vast majority (again, my observations are not scientific, but there's a lot of people in NY, and I spent a lot of time people watching and talking to 'guys'). I don't buy the gateway argument for girl watchers or potheads. Studies I'm aware of usually looked at sex criminals and found they had a history of 'looking' but I'm not aware of a study of lookers to see how many were abusers and rapists.

Obviously, there's a lot to be done to make gender relations better. What I was trying to say before was that 'male gaze' and 'objectification' were important arguments to make in 1970, but times have changed. It's possible those arguments were accurate then, but we need new arguments for a new time. Woman deserve a lot more respect than they get currently but the use of 40 year old and IMO inaccurate terminology actually gets in the way of progress, rather than fostering it.

I realize I have totally not addressed the issues you mention about unhealthy male disorders on the rise. But, like female body image disorders, it's almost equally connected to same gender criticism as it is to an attempt to fit some societal or other gender 'norm' perception. In fact, (again not scientific) every person I've met with these disorders always disavowed the role of the other gender in their decisions, saying they believed what they believed without regard to 'desirability'. Obviously, these voices are distorted by disease and therefore unreliable, but worth noting still.

Courtney said...

@Tex: I don't think you're getting it. Adrienne and I both get your point: Your opinion is that focusing on the male gaze and the objectification of female bodies is ineffective. But your opinion is wrong. And nearly the entirety of feminist activism thinks you're wrong. And you can't just dismiss that as casually as you do on your own dubious authority without being called out, quite rightly, as an obnoxious mansplainer.

Female objectification is a part of rape culture. This is not particularly controversial, unless you're the sort that doesn't believe rape culture exists. In which case, you and Adrienne are not at all on the same page. You do seem utterly unaware of how rape culture functions, as though jokes, advertising, television, films, news stories, and locker-room banter have no impact on actual violence against women. They do, because they justify violence and rape. They do, because they encourage victim-blaming and rape apology. You seem concerned only with what leads to the actual rapist or violent perpetrator. What about everyone else? What about juries that blame women for their own rapes? What about police officers/neighbors/family members that excuse or ignore domestic violence? What about young men or women that look the other way when a friend or aquaintance rapes a woman who is so drunk she's unconscious (or, worse, congratulate and celebrate him for it)? That's what rape culture does; it allows the conditions for rape to exist. And female objectification is a part of it (although certainly not all of it).

Unfortunately, times have not changed. Even TV Tropers agree, the male gaze is still a thing. And since you don't seem to think there are any studies that prove that the male gaze hurts women (a patently obvious claim even without any science behind it), here's a recent one.

Adrienne said...

"'male gaze' is not objectification"

You do realize that male gaze isn't just a term that means the gaze that a male has, right? Male gaze is a very specific and theoretical concept popularized by Laura Mulvey in her article "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and while objectification and male gaze can't be used interchangably... the male gaze is a fetishistic and voyeuristic thing. Very negative. Was then. Is now. While the debate after this article has primarily been about how much the male gaze dominates visual culture and how things can get more complicated than just the male gaze... theorists working with gender studies don't really disagree that the male gaze as defined is bad. Bad. And really really part and parcel of a lot of gender problems. Very linked to objectification.

And just an aside... men brag about how many times they got the women off not because they're happy she's happy... the whole bragging thing has nothing to do with that. They brag because they need to show other men in their nice homosocial relationship that they're real men, total studs, and in chaaaaarge of sex. "I gave her 4 orgasms." Good thing, she had nothing to do with her own orgasms.

Unfortunately I really do believe that this notion that we've made so much progress that we don't need to focus on issues that are still huge, prevalent, and damaging is what is hindering progress. Not ignoring them and pretending it's so much better.

Anonymous said...

And ignoring the mansplaining to say, great post.

although it may tie with Whedon fandom, since Whedon fandom also thinks of itself as progressive

It scares me that the Whedon fanbase is one of the more progressive ones.

DarthSkeptical said...

Doctor Who Podschock are in no way responsible for my comments when I appear on their show, and they needn't be made to answer for problems you had with my review. It's not their job to respond. It's mine.

I can quite see that my comments were potentially insensitive. If I've interpreted you correctly, you're trying to say that my comments were subtly sexist and unchallenged because, essentially, that's just how some men are. However, I wasn't being lazy: I absolutely and unapologetically meant to objectify Gillan here, cause that's the only option her acting left me. My point was to contrast her, and for that matter Smith, with the stellar work of Catlin Blackwood.

Blackwood flatly outacted both of them, and rendered Gillan mostly a thing of beauty in this episode. Yes, I said it. I said "thing" of beauty.

That isn't to say I only objectified her. I did make note of the fact that she did hit some emotional beats, in my mind, "correctly" — but of the main cast, the person who was clearly possessed of the most natural ability in this episode was Caitlin Blackwood.

It should be pointed out, as well, that my remarks were greatly truncated in this particular Podshock because of the host's schedule. Had I been allowed to continue, I would have explained myself more fully.

Even so, I don't think there's one thing wrong with saying that Gillan's occasionally lackluster performance reduced her to eye candy, especially in the presence of the much better acting going on between Smith and Blackwood. Nor do I think, and you're going to hate this statement, that there's one thing wrong with saying of a woman, "You're a Nobel laureate, a chemist with a startling mind, I'm honored to be in your presence, but I have to say that you have a fabulous ass as well." That's nowhere close to objectification; that's noting the person in full. Sexual attraction is a legitimate area of human inquiry.

And there is no necessary correlation between noting the beauty of an actor in Doctor Who and a life led of general objectification. At the end of the day, DW is an entertainment, a work of art even. And one of the criteria of art is beauty. Many have recently commented, for instance, that "Victory of the Daleks" is pretty, but vacuous. There's no harm in applying that standard to particular aspects of the show, even the actors in it: Amy Pond isn't real. And the actor should be taken to task when she fails to imbue the character with verisimilitude. That's her job.

In later Podshock episodes, particularly the one on "Victory of the Daleks", I have noted the strength of Gillan's acting alone. In this particular episode, Karen is simply the inferior actor of the three leads, and in the absence of surprising acting choices, we're left mostly to watch her pout. That's not my fault; that's hers. She could have done something more interesting — clearly, "Victory" shows she was possessed of the ability to do so — but she didn't.

I'll also note that I happily objectify men in DW, too. There are episodes of the Tennant era — notably "Planet of the Dead" — where I'm happily ogling the Doctor, because Tennant's not doing anything terribly innovative. And it can't be said that John Barrowman is such a ubiquitous force at BBC Wales because he created this surprisingly complex character in Captain Jack. No, come on: he's easy on the eyes. It's not my fault that he was cast, but since he has been, it can only be honestly noted that sometimes his beauty outweighs his ability.

In sum, you say Gillan is a great actor; I disagree based on the evidence in "Hour". Gillan's acting allowed for the objectification that distresses you. Address your comments to her.

Chris said...

If you haven't found the Staggering Stories Podcast yet, you may want to check out some of the episodes. There is a semi-regular cast of five (on any given episode three or four of the podcasters contribute) of whom two identify as female. Doctor Who is, it seems to me, the main focus, with divergences into other British (occasionally American) Sci-fi.

Thank you for appearing on the WhoCast. That's how I found your blog.

Courtney said...

@Darth: I don't blame Podshock for what you say, I only blamed them for not, you know, saying anything. Which may have been time, or whatever. But when time constraints cut out addressing that kind of thing, but not eight nearly-identical reviews of The Eleventh Hour, there are some priority problems.

You're right, I'm not going to tell you it's okay to talk about women as things. You may think you're being subtle or critical, or whatever, and maybe I could give you credit until I hear you say something even dumber than in the podcast: "Nor do I think, and you're going to hate this statement, that there's one thing wrong with saying of a woman, "You're a Nobel laureate, a chemist with a startling mind, I'm honored to be in your presence, but I have to say that you have a fabulous ass as well." That's nowhere close to objectification; that's noting the person in full. Sexual attraction is a legitimate area of human inquiry." You're right, I think you're an idiot for saying that. In fact, if I was that Nobel laureate, I would deck you. Believe it or not, women's bodies are not public property, and it is unbelievably rude to assume that you can comment on them at any time, like they're works of art or blog posts. Do you think it's appropriate to say to that Nobel laureate that she's a fatass and could stand to lose a few pounds? Do you think it would be appropriate to tell her that she would look so beautiful if she just wore make-up? I sure as fuck hope not, because that would make you an unbelievable level of asshole. It's not different if it's a compliment. It's not better if it's a compliment. It's exactly the same, because the assumption is always that women's bodies are on display, not just for men's benefit or judgment, but for YOUR benefit or judgment. And we could go into it about women who specifically put their bodies on display (models, for example), but who can blame them? Women know from the time they're very young that this is the way of the world, and there are few options for you once you do know. Make yourself pretty (but not slutty, unless it's an appropriate situation to be slutty, just make sure you don't "get yourself" raped or something, because you'll probably get blamed for it), put your body on display, and get as much satisfaction from being conventionally beautiful as you can. If you're not conventionally beautiful, this satisfaction is limited, but it might not stop you from trying, because the other option is to not try. And boy are you going to get some shit for that. I got all sorts of nonsense from my mother when I stopped wearing make-up, for instance. I was working in her office for a summer as a secretary, and she told me that it was "unprofessional" not to wear make-up, and that my boss could force me (which is probably true). She's not the only one to suggest that my refusal to wear make-up is something akin to unprofessional or lazy behavior. Because that's how we see it, really. If women don't put their bodies on display--dress attractively, wear make-up, do their hair, wear jewelry, look "put together," shave their legs--they're "not taking care of themselves" or they're "letting themselves go." Because it's not okay to act like your body is for yourself. It's not okay to take control of your own body, to take pleasure in your own body, unless you're doing so for the benefit of a (male heterosexual white) audience. So, this isn't about Amy Pond, or Karen Gillan, or actresses, or Doctor Who. This is about how men look at female bodies and how women experience their own bodies. And you, Darth, aren't helping.

Courtney said...

@Chris: One of the wonderful things about this whole experience has been all the great recommendations I've gotten. I can't wait for this semester to be over, so I can finally have time to check them out. Thanks!

Adrienne said...

Well I would totally like to add something especially since I just got stolen and that makes me happy, but umm Courtney you just said it too damn well and I have nothing to add. Courtney right on and get on with your bad self.

DarthSkeptical said...

With respect, Courtney, you're not helping very much, either. Your arguments are so academic — though well-intentioned — that they don't take into account real life.

You seem to be suggesting that it is in every instance inappropriate to comment upon a person's level of attractiveness. And I have to reject that. Life is meant to be fun. It's not a dreary exercise in political correctness. Of course I'm not going to randomly go up to a person and say, "You have a great ass." That's not what I was saying, and I'd like to think you actually know that, but just don't want to get down off your soapbox. I'm saying that there are instances in which, if there's a spark of erotic energy between two people, one can, y'know, take a chance and say, "Look, I respect you and all your accomplishments, but I do find you incredibly physically attractive." There is nothing wrong with that.

It's easy to sit back and opine academically about what counts as objectification and what doesn't, but if the right person came up to you and said, "Wow, you're hot," — and please, don't nitpick the Neanderthal phraseology; I'm expressing a general sentiment, not writing a legal document — you're going to like it, however many letters you have after your name. No one, no matter how progressive or reactionary, how bigoted or liberal, can escape what the Italians call "the thunderbolt".

I never once said a damn thing about Karen's body. The "worst" I said was that she was "gorgeous". That is one hell of a long way from saying that she dressed up like a slut and was looking to get herself raped.

Once again, you have chosen to take one tiny part of my statement and focus on that. We're very far away from what we're really talking about: whether Karen Gillan in "The Eleventh Hour" succeeded at actually portraying a rounded character, or for the most part was just set decoration. You think she was the former. I think she was closer to the latter, though she did occasionally gave us glimpses of something more meaningful in her portrayal. And, in any case, her cousin can obviously out-act her, despite the fact that this is Blackwood's very first job. When compared to Liz Sladen, Caroline John, Louise Sladen, Mary Tamm, Catherine Tate and Billie Piper in their first adventures — Karen Gillan was all about emphasizing her physical beauty at the expense of her character. And that had nothing whatsoever to do with what she was wearing or how much makeup she wore. She was, in a couple of scenes, a hair's breadth away from fully mugging to the camera. Now, there might be a character reason for this down the road. I'm hoping so. But given the information we have on hand at the moment, I think your beef is with the incredibly obvious Gillan, not me.

Courtney said...

Um, no, that's not what "we're really talking about." I don't know if maybe you didn't notice the title of this post. Or the title of the next. Or the title of the THIRD post about Amy Pond/Karen Gillan. I don't really care what you think about her acting skills. I do care about the way this community talks about her.

If she looks like decoration, then, yes, it has EVERYTHING to do with her clothes and make-up. If she was fat, and conventionally unattractive, and had a poor make-up/hair person for this episode, you wouldn't call her set decoration. No matter how much preening she did, or how much the camera acted like she was super hot, let's-look-at-her-legs-now.

You don't get to predict what I would or wouldn't do in any situation, okay? Because you don't know me. As in, at fucking all. Do not act as though you have me figured out. You don't know that even if I do find someone attractive, if I don't already know them pretty well, I am literally repulsed by any compliments on my body. When someone says, "you're hot," and it's not a friend or a partner or someone similarly close to me, I am turned off. Quickly. So, yes, being grossed out by leering is part of my real life experience. And if I ever was pleased, it would be because (surprise!) I've been socialized since birth to think that my body is constantly supposed to be on display for the benefit of (again, male heterosexual) others, and that I should be pleased that it passes public opinion, even if that means being complimented by a random stranger or being catcalled on the street. *You* think this argument is academic, and has nothing to do with real life, but it is my everyday. It is "real life" for every woman that feels like she "has to" wear make-up to go to the store, put on a bra to take out the trash, wear particular clothes to the mall, dress up for class, *be pretty* just to be in public. For every woman who sucks in her stomach or is constantly hyper-aware of what her body looks like all day. This is also every day for the woman who doesn't do all that, and gets told she's letting herself go, she's not taking care of herself, she'd look so good if she just dropped 10 pounds/wore makeup/wore flattering clothing. You act like being looked at isn't something women deal with all the time, like we don't know our bodies are constantly NOT-OURS, but THIS IS EVERY DAY. This is real life. And it does not have a positive effect. You can have humor and subtlety and ambivalence in real life, too, and I'm not discounting that possibility. But treating women's bodies like public property is NOT OKAY.

Adrienne said...

"You seem to be suggesting that it is in every instance inappropriate to comment upon a person's level of attractiveness. [...] Of course I'm not going to randomly go up to a person and say, "You have a great ass." That's not what I was saying, and I'd like to think you actually know that, but just don't want to get down off your soapbox."

1) She definitely isn't suggesting that and I'm not sure how you read it like that.

2) I like how this goes from commentary about the overwhelming number of men (and women) commenting about a random person they literally don't know... saying things about Karen Gillan like "nice ass, nice body, gorgeous hair, legs to die for, etc..." to you saying you would never do that and we should know that. Isn't that the whole point of these blogs? Or is saying it where they can't hear it somehow so much better? You're right that there isn't anything wrong with telling someone you have an intimate relationship with that you love them for mind and body... but you're lumping that in with a whole lot of other scary instances of objectification.

You said you think it's noting a person fully by telling them "You're a Nobel laureate, a chemist with a startling mind, I'm honored to be in your presence, but I have to say that you have a fabulous ass as well." I think it's really interesting that you use "but" because that doesn't seem to be noting them fully... that seems to be dividing them actually. Dividing their body from their mind. You're smart, but you're hot too. Because one has nothing to do with the other. Hence the but. That's interesting wording right there.

I'm not sure that Courtney and I's views on this completely overlap- but I completely agree that women's bodies aren't public property and culturally they are still treated as if they are. And is it then really a surprise when women play into that hand and do exactly as culture asks them too and "mug" for the camera. (I don't agree that it was her doing this necessarily but) Geez after all this you seem to be saying it's fine if you sometimes reduce women to eye candy and physicality because sexual attraction if a legitimate area of human interest but then you're going to make fun of a woman when she plays into exactly what you've been doing. How dare she focus on physicality?! Isn't she shallow and talentless?

Katrina said...

Hi Courtney,
I see you listen to Radio Free Skaro, not sure how far back you've listened to but I've been a guest host off and on since episode #130 and I'm female. I may not always hold the popular female opinion and I'm anything but a Tennant fangirl (not that there's anything wrong with that) but we female podcasters do exist. :) I'm also one of main hosts of Bridging the Rift, a fandom devoted podcast available on iTunes.

To be honest until I was on RFS I didn't know of any female podcasters either but then again I didn't listen to Staggering Stories...

xanister on twitter

AnthonySBurdge said...

I want to come back & reread some posts but have to get up early to teach in the am.
I just found out about this after listening & calling into the latest episode of Podshock Live.
I'm a long-time geek, feminist, Doctor Who fan, gamer, rocker--whatever-- and I have to say what you, Courtney have been saying about the entire male DW community is just as out of line as some of those comments you're upset about.
The DW community is one of the most open & least objectifying of any of the sci-fi communities regarding women.

If you've listened to Podshock regularly then you know that there aren't guests. There are callers & often many of the callers that participate on the Live shows don't make it into the final cut. The episode I was on for "Victory of the Daleks" went well over 2 hours & there were female callers. And, you left out a MAJOR podcast in your list of most popular: The Happiness Patrol which has Tara Wheeler as one of the hosts. Tara's also been a guest commentator & host on Podshock many many many times. So, to point a finger at Louis & Ken crying misogynistic behavior for a single comment that may have been slightly off color isn't fair.

And, while I can understand some bristling at Darth Skeptical's comments-- it's not his comments about Karen Gillan being reduced to eye candy when her acting stinks-- I take issue with some of his other comments regarding the show itself (like the picking on Murray Gold for shoddy music :( ).

I'd also point out some of my comments, if they make it into the aired cut wonderful, regarding "Time for Angels" & River Song. I discussed River & Amy being part of the whole valkyrie motif that has been a running thread in the New Who. I've even written on this very topic (in the upcoming book _The Mythological Dimensions of Doctor Who_) where I examine the valkyrie image & the Companions. I do, however, take note of the single most offensive antifeminist thing in DW is NOT the crass comments about an actress-- but the Carrionites in the Shakespeare Code. If you want to get up in arms, dissect that with the feminist eye.

I would also take more of an issue with those chaps from DWO Podcast over what Darth said on Podshock. It was disgusting & personally I wouldn't appear on their program & would boycott it. Why bother & why set yourself up for a flamewar with dingbats like that?

Should there be an all female DW Podcast? Why not. But, please please please don't paint all DW podcasts with a broad brush. There are disgusting patriarchal nitwits who want to do nothing more than objectify & subvert women. The guys at Podshock are NOT like that at all. And, if you want to get super niggly-- just check out what the hell Zoe & Leela wore on the Classic Who. Talk about objectifying.

Courtney said...

"The DW community is one of the most open & least objectifying of any of the sci-fi communities regarding women."

I'm not trying to paint with broad strokes here, but I do have to generalize somewhat based on my own experience with DW fandom, which has been almost unequivocally not good. I agree with this claim, but I also don't think that's saying a whole lot. Whedon fandom is also one of the most female-friendly and female-oriented fandoms out there, but it still has a lot of unquestioned misogyny. And while the podcasts are not the worst offenders, they're also not the only part of the DW fandom that I've written about here. I'm not denying that DW fandom is a place where lots of women can feel comfortable and valued, partly because the fan community does exist in a multitude of places with a multitude of personalities. But we can't rest on our laurels because of that, and just decide that ignoring a misogynistic minority (or even just female-friendly men who make "off-color" sexist comments) when they speak up in the community is okay because mostly it's a feminist-friendly fandom.

I have already said on this blog (maybe multiple times? Certainly multiple times via email) that I missed some podcasts. I became familiar with these podcasts via iTunes. I just picked the most popular ones from their list of DW podcasts. That's not exactly a scientific method or anything. I didn't pick all-male podcasts in order to do this thing where I complain about the podcasts being all-male. It happened sort of naturally, because I wanted the most influential podcasts on my feeds, and if Happiness Patrol has as many listeners as RFS, Podshock, and Whocast, then I must have missed it on iTunes, or it isn't there, or whatever.

You might notice I DID make more of a deal over the DWO comments than Darth's. My post is almost entirely focused on DWO, and I even mention that the Darth comment is part of a trend, and a bit nitpicking. I don't think Darth himself was being particularly misogynistic (although his comment thread here has made me lean more towards that interpretation), but what he said, and how it was ignored, is PART OF A PATTERN. Maybe if I were willing to go back to Gallifrey (not going to happen), and quote all the sexist bullshit being said there a few months back about Karen Gillan, less people would be up in arms about this (though I sort of doubt that). But I still contend that this is a pattern, and the PATTERN is what's disturbing, not the individual one-off comments made by Darth or the DWO.

Also, I don't disagree with you that the SHOW does anti-feminist things. However, I don't inhabit the show. I do inhabit the fan community. And while sexism in the show is not unrelated to sexism in the community, the latter affects me a hell of a lot more.

I don't actually think we're disagreeing here. I just think we should be pointing out this stuff more often and with more force. How often does DW fandom have a self-critical conversation about how it treats women (or minorities, or the GLBTQI community, etc.)? From what I've seen, not that often. And it's not enough to just say, "but we're better than everyone else!" That's too low a standard.

Adrienne said...

You have to generalize when talking. It's the nature of language itself. And just because there are other things (perhaps worse things) that objectify doesn't mean that Courtney... or I or anyone else shouldn't criticize the things that we do. We do what we can.

We can't argue back if we're polite and nice all the time. It's a lovely thought, but it just doesn't work. That also doesn't mean we should go on the only aggressive, only mean path either. I do think that we should be able to express how we feel about the things that do oppress and hurt us. And that includes showing emotionally how they hurt us. If nothing else it does begin discussion which is something that is greatly needed about these issues. I mean- look what happened? Courtney got to have a wonderful and positive discussion with Paul and share that with all of us here. I'm glad that you pointed out other things Monacnong that are problematic. I'm also glad that you pointed out that the DW community and the podcasts aren't all misogynistic.

However, Courtney was not and has not been out of line in anything she has said. It's been productive. And interesting.

Jessica Burke said...

(I didn't realize my last post was under a different handle-- I'm the Monacnong; Jessie, actually ;) )

What I can say is that this has been informative & an interesting discussion-- one that's gone beyond just cyberspace as it's crossed into other arenas in Whodom (including a local pubmeet last night).

I've just read a bunch of Courtney's other more recent posts, though I haven't listened to the podcast that she appeared on, & my vocabulary has increased to include male gaze & mansplaining.
Regarding most popularity of podcasts-- Happiness Patrol isn't as old as Podshock (not that there are many out there that are) but they are one of the top ones for lots of the DW community both in the US & UK. I'd highly recommend them.
I'd also have to say that while I agree sometimes generalization is a natural byproduct of language, in that initial post-- the one that these comments are attached to-- some of the lines were blurred between "who" in Whodom was at issue because of broadbrush painting. And regardless of how nice Paul might be to talk to (those accents always soften some dickitude) those comments were still out of line.
I don't think that we're too much out of line in terms of agreement: I just don't trek through places like Gally because most of the posters are morons & I've got so many other better things to do. However, I can understand & respect the discussion regarding privilege & the male-centered, anti-feminist attitude.
I also think that having had a decade & a half to mellow; not in terms of acquiescence but to do my protests in a different manner-- like in my essay where, despite pleas at others in the community to remove the antifeminist discussion about the Carrionites because of who it might offend, I told them to lump it because I was doing an honest discussion of the Whoniverse & antifeminist images were fair game even if it offended the largely male homosexual community that propagated them. I was just as fired up as y'all back in my early twentysomethings. I find the subsequent posts regarding this issue more logically put together than that initial one, however. I'd also point out that Podshock helped to start an all, female podcast out of Australia & had a recent cast that was dedicated to the recently released "Chicks Dig TimeLords" --female fandom's dedication to Who.
It would be nice to have an all female Who podcast in the US though& I wouldn't mind chatting with you about it.
Blessed be

Courtney said...

Chat away! My email address is linked through my profile here.

I don't think we're really disagreeing too much here either. I'm also a big fan of Chicks Dig Time Lords, and I think the celebratory and positive tone of that book is lovely and refreshing. However, that doesn't mean that the negative and emotional tone of my own arguments are inappropriate or unnecessary or something. There's room for both and frankly, I think female fans need access to both when they try to inhabit the fan community of Doctor Who (or pretty much any other geek fandom). My first post wasn't intended to make friends or allies, just rant. It wasn't an analysis, and wasn't intended to be. Which is why I wrote those follow up posts, because after the interview, there was a conversation, not just me being a cranky-face.

I'll definitely check out the Happiness Patrol once I get done with the semester. Thanks for the recommendation!