Talking About Sexism in Sci Fi

Quick! Somebody check! Is there a female Doctor's body squished under there?
Quick! Somebody check! Is there a female Doctor’s body squished under there?

The other day I was chillaxing with some friends and the conversation turned to Doctor Who, which, as we know, is a favorite topic for me. The other people involved in the conversation were both guys. Some of the most enlightened, aware, and feminist men I know, which is relevant. They were discussing Tennant vs. Smith, and I jumped in with

the assertion that I don’t have a problem, per se, with Matt Smith, but I think he was cast as the Doctor at a difficult time because the writing just seems to be heading more and more in the direction of suck. And I of course piped up that I wish they’d provide the Doctor with a decent companion who actually seems to have some agency and a soul, or break the mold somehow and make the next incarnation a fat black lesbian, or both.

They both blinked at me and sort of yes-ma’am-ed me until I stopped talking.

I’ve had some version of this scenario play out multiple times in Doctor Who discussions, as well as discussions about a whole load of other science fiction and fantasy related conversations. With very in-the-know men. WTF. It’s not that I get shushed, or told that I’m wrong, or laughed at for being a raging feminist. It’s that when I enter these conversations and point out that what might just seem like a simple problem (premise: that Matt Smith isn’t a good guy to play the Doctor) might actually be the result of much deeper and more difficult issues (that the showrunner is kind of a misogynist [see: Sherlock, but at least it works in that show] and that at this point in the game, after years of movement toward more women in sci fi, it ought to be more obvious to everyone that what’s needed is a shakeup, but that’s not happening because SCI FI, etc.), I get blank stares and head-nodding. I do not, most of the time, get a real conversation. As a matter of fact, most of the time I seem to put an end to the conversation.

This could be because I don’t so much join the conversation as butt in. I’m often a bit tipsy when I get into it. Or it could be that people really don’t want to think about this stuff. Or it could be that I’m just totally blowing people’s minds (good) because they see the standard-issue white-male-Doctor-with-pretty-much-nonentity-companion as so par for the course they don’t even question it (bad). Whatever the case may be, I wish people would engage with me about it. It’s not just me that wants issues like this in sci fi and fantasy addressed. It’s a big issue on the internet and in scholarship: we want to see more diversity in our smart-thinky entertainment, and that means people with different sex organs and people from different racial/ethnic/national/etc. backgrounds. Throw in some different levels of ability in there, too! Let’s do this. But when it gets brought up (to the showrunner himself, even), the request for a little variety and/or respect shown to people who aren’t white guys seems to not even take people aback so much as be not considered worth talking about. Sure, yeah, some of us are rabid feminists who start foaming at the mouth when the conversation starts, and that’s a little intimidating, but I’ve always found that confronting issues like this with an open mind and a willingness to see the conversation through gets everyone a lot farther than backing away slowly and making excuses like, “It just didn’t feel right.” The more you talk to us about it without dismissing us, the less we foam at the mouth.

C’mon, guys. Me saying that I’d like to see women treated better in sci fi is a lead-in to a great conversation. It’s not like I’m saying I think all men should be burned at the stake. I’m not saying we should get Doctor Who canceled. I just want to open up the conversation. In the same way that me pointing out that a comment in any conversation may have been made without checking one’s own privilege first: it’s not an attack. It’s an entrance to an important dialogue. Give me a chance!

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