Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Girls on Film


Although I occasionally make fun of him, I’m starting to understand how the little kid from The Sixth Sense (I don’t remember the character’s name either) felt—except, instead of dead people, I see sex. Okay, granted, it’s not quite the same, as I don’t have crazy dead ghosts yapping in my ear and making some future therapist a bunch of money. But, all the same, I can’t stop noticing things even though I might want to.

“Fox is messed up,” I lamented to my coworker Michael. “Every time a girl has sex on Dollhouse, bad things happen to her.”

I should back up a second and say that I wanted to be a fan of this show—I was checking the website for weeks in advance and I’ve seen every episode to date. Overall, it’s not bad (and there’s nothing else on during the timeslot), but it’s certainly not great and there is that pesky problem with the show’s conservative attitude toward sex.

On one hand, the show certainly isn’t afraid to show its characters in sexual situations (the majority of the episodes to date have featured a prominent group shower insert that has very little to do with anything) and the title sequence features a (half?) naked Eliza. I get that her lack of clothing is supposed to comment on her character, but she’s still naked.

Despite the saturation of sex in the show’s environment, Dollhouse demonstrates very poor consequences for women who engage in sexual activity. Where to start?

The main character, Echo, has sex with a pretty attractive, rich, and normal-seeming guy who, upon climax, begins to hunt her down. Literally. With a bow and arrow. (On a side note, can we talk about how this scenario plays into many women’s worst fear that a guy, once slept with, will turn into a monster? This situation is not quite as literal as Angel turning into a soulless vampire after he slept with Buffy, but why does this keep coming up in Joss’ shows?)

A secondary character suffers an episode of rape committed by her handler (I don’t have time to discuss the many issues at play here) and then has her memory erased. I can see the small value in making people forget some traumatic incident that happened to them (especially given the world of the show) but I can’t help but feel incredible sorrow for the character—she was raped and is not going to even know that it happened. For the rest of her life, other people will know what truly happened to her, and how she was violated, and she will not; I can see the upside to this but I also see a huge downside.

Finally, we have a desperate neighbor who is doing everything she can to sleep with one of the male leads, finally does, and then is brutally attacked. If you’ve seen this past episode, you can argue that she takes charge and dispatches her assailant, but I would also mention that her civilian persona still has to deal with the aftermath.

In case you’re keeping score, half of the men who have had sex on the show have suffered no consequences and half have died (I strongly suspect that these male characters perished more because they were assholes and perished while they were trying to kill someone else, than because they were slated to suffer consequences from engaging in sexual intercourse). The “good guys” who have had sex are doing just fine.

Angry yet?

I don’t have many qualms with the show overall and I don’t necessarily think that women should have to not face consequences for having sex—all I’m saying is that the depiction of sex should be more balanced (like Fox!). The danger, I feel, lies in our tendency to soak up these skewed external messages of sex subconsciously and to make them our own.

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