Friday, May 01, 2009

Men who play with dolls (by Suzie)

          Although I want to revisit “Dollhouse,” which airs tonight, I hope those who don’t watch the TV show will stay with me for the broader discussion of sex and relationships.
          An article on Daily Kos calls “Dollhouse” meta-fiction.
It's not about guys with a brain washing machine who can make someone behave how they want. It's about what it means that guys with a brain washing machine use that device to satisfy shallow, mostly sexual, fantasies. ... I suspect that there's still a lot of folks who think the point of this show is watching [star and co-producer Eliza] Dushku in her underwear. I think -- I hope -- they're going to be shocked.
          But what point are they going to get? So far, a number of fans seem to think the Dollhouse isn’t that bad. They may like the staff and clients who aren't violent. They seem to identify more with men who pay for sex than the women who provide it. They identify with corporate workers who rationalize their actions. To be blunt: They identify more with the abuser than the abused.
          One episode showed the madam with a male doll, longing for a real relationship. It reminded me of the captain in “Star Trek: Voyager,” who decides she would rather have a holographic man with flaws, rather that one tailored to her tastes. That story stood out to me after seeing so many Star Trek men use holographic women without concern that they might be too perfect. (I’ve commented before on female robots and other forms of artificial intelligence that service men in popular sci-fi.)
          I know some women want sex with no attachments and no concern for the other person, but I lose patience with the number of male sci-fi fans who express this desire. Maybe it’s the longing of the master or boss who wants work done without having to think of his slave or subordinate.
           Consider this thread on Whedonesque, the popular blog on the works of Joss Whedon, co-producer of “Dollhouse.” M said the Dollhouse could be great “for giving people an emotional outlet." But who provides that outlet and at what cost to their own emotional psyche?
           The argument turned to sex work, and DM gave a standard argument: "I know prostitutes who love their work. Sex, meeting new people, the strength from giving happiness to someone who might not be able to find it elsewhere." I’m sure women like that exist, but what about the ones who don’t love their work or didn't choose it?
           DM responded that clients have no responsibility to find out the circumstances in which people entered or remain in prostitution. I assume these are the same people who don’t care if their clothes are made in sweatshops or their diamonds funded conflicts. 
           I suggested they didn’t think men needed to care whether the prostitute liked her job or not. R said:
That's close to what I was suggesting, but actually I was suggesting that no one should deny themselves the pleasure of sex even if the sex worker, regardless of their gender, isn't really enjoying it.
         "Regardless of their gender" obscures the fact that there are many more men who pay for female prostitutes than vice versa. But I see this argument all the time: Some people insist that such-and-such isn’t about gender because it happens to men, too.
          R took me to task, saying: “… it's kind of a cheesy shortcut to take an argument about sex and turn it into an argument about gender.” Wow, who would mix sex and gender? But I’m capable of turning an argument about anything – let’s say Chihuahuas – into an argument about gender.
         Earlier, M suggested that “the Dollhouse could be seen as a better alternative” to prostitution because the dolls have their minds wiped after each assignment and are not supposed to remember.      
         Who gets aroused, who gets off, despite the very real possibility that the other person isn't enjoying herself and may even be so harmed that it would be better if the memory could be wiped from her mind? 
         R said he never intended to use a prostitute. But he argued that there are plenty of bad jobs.
... any job that involves, to use your phrase, "servicing others" is a soul-deadening proposition. Serving drinks, driving a cab, juggling geese, cleaning houses, whatever - they're all bad, soul-deadening jobs. Unless they involve sex or sexuality in some way, we tend not to talk about the "consequences" in grand, ominous terms. 
          Well, we do if we're socialists. More to the point: Around the world, too many men force themselves sexually on women, with no concern for the women, or with the intent of hurting them. Why would I be happy that men can pay for this? 
          I've decided that “Dollhouse” would make a great boyfriend test. A woman would be forewarned if the potential said: "Well, heck, this is no different from all the prostitutes who have serviced me and really loved it. … OK, maybe they didn't love it, but at least they didn’t get hurt … and not everyone loves their jobs ... and I have needs ... and they consented, more or less … and no one can say what's right or wrong … and slavery isn't necessarily bad."
        Yes, all of these are taken from real comments. But I don't mean to imply that all fans react this way. I'm grateful that many don't. Check out Ladybusiness's analysis.
         Giandujakiss has a disturbing video set to the song "It Depends on What You Pay," from "The Fantasticks." I was horrified by this song, which I had never heard before, but felt better after I heard this NPR interview with the writer. 
         Giandujakiss also mentions the Star Trek captain, but I swear I thought of this on my own, which just indicates what a geek I am.
          Want more? Read my older posts on Dollhouse here and here.