Friday, March 27, 2009

‘Dollhouse’ and rape (by Suzie)

            The premise of the TV show is that the Dollhouse can wipe the minds of its Actives and implant new personalities and skills to suit each client. Some clients want sex. Others want other services, from a safecracker to a midwife.
            Co-creator Joss Whedon has compared the Dollhouse to human trafficking, and last Friday’s show dealt explicitly with rape. I’m hoping the show will teach lessons about consent. I've spelled some out for those who don't get it.
           Allegedly, all the actives (or dolls) volunteered to work for the Dollhouse. But the choice of the main character, Echo, seems about as free as the one made by La Femme Nikita. Lesson #1: Consent can’t be coerced.
          Clients have no way of knowing whether actives have freely consented or not. Lesson #2: Don’t have sex with someone if there’s any chance that she is being coerced.
          On a thread at IMDB, someone suggested that the sexual assignments amounted to rape. Others denied it. They insisted that Echo signed a contract, and thus, she agreed to whatever might be done to her, and it’s her fault if she didn’t know what she might face. (My guess is that these commenters do not specialize in contract law.) One dissident summed up my own feelings: “She signed a contract so whatever Dollhouse does to her is okay? You might as well say ‘she knew what she was getting into when she went to that frat house.’ Talk about a creepy blame-the-victim vibe.”
          Even if consent is freely given at the outset, the actives are put into a state in which they no longer can consent, and there’s no way they could know everything that would happen to them. Lesson #3: If a woman agrees to sex, but then passes out or slips into a coma or has a psychotic break or becomes incapacitated in some other way, think twice before you do whatever you want to her.     
            Lesson #4: People should have the right to withdraw consent to sex, even if they consented initially. Not all judges agree.
           Lesson #5: Don’t have sex with someone who cannot legally consent because her mind has been wiped by the Dollhouse or she’s too intoxicated or she’s mentally ill or she lacks the mental capacity to consent or she’s in a coma or she’s a child.
              An IMDB commenter said: “Just because they are given a different personality and their mind wiped clean doesn't mean they are not consenting.” Another retorted: “This is why I love this board ... you can always find somebody willing to argue ‘it's not rape if she's been brainwashed.’ ")
               Some of the clients are attractive rich guys. Lesson #6: Attractive rich guys can commit rape, too.
                Last Friday’s episode had an unattractive rich guy who bought a dream house for his wife, but she died before he could show it to her. Every year on the anniversary of her death, he hires an active who is programmed to be his wife. He wants to see her surprise at the house … and, yes, to have sex with her. It is played so that a lot of people will sympathize with the man, but there are other ways to remember our loved ones, other than hiring people to impersonate them. Lesson #7: A man may have touching and compelling reasons for wanting the company of a woman, but it can still be rape.
                  The Dollhouse staff can be witty and likable. Lesson #8: Witty and likable people can be complicit in wrongdoing.
                 Two characters, Echo’s handler and the doctor, dislike what’s going on. Lesson #9: If you’re part of a business in which women get raped, tell the authorities or find some way to shut it down or get out. Otherwise, you’re not a good guy. (In the show, we don't know whether some of the staff are trying to subvert it.)
               An IMDB commenter said: “It's comparable to sex slave prostitution not rape.” Lesson #10: Slaves and prostitutes and sex-slave prostitutes can be raped. They also should have the right to withdraw consent, even if they agreed initially, even if they've accepted money.
               Speaking of sex slaves, a commenter mentioned BDSM, saying a lot of women want forced sex. Lesson #11: “Forced sex” stops being “play” when the woman no longer has a choice.
               A commenter said: “I've been raped. Yet, I don't think this is 'rape' in the strictest sense of the word and doesn't keep me from watching a great series... Okay, example... You cannot technically 'rape' your wife. A marriage license is considered consent in a court of law.” Lesson #12: Know the law. Although marital rape is a crime in all 50 U.S. states, some consider it a lesser crime than raping someone outside marriage.
              Another commenter said: “There's different degrees of rape ranging from getting a girl tipsy and taking advantage of her in her drowsy state to full-blown assault and rape. This show leans toward the former but is still rape.” Yes, laws often distinguish which rapes are considered worse than others, but victims may see it differently. 
      Pocochina calls what happens to the actives "rape." Plus, she's blogging on each episode.