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That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con 2013

Please read this note about the comments:  I wrote this post with the intention that we would consider how we talk to and about people, and that we consider doing so with respect.  I ask that if you comment, that you please comment respectfully.  Comments calling people or people groups names, using curse words, etc. will be deleted. (Note added 7/23/2013)

Fan: What would you like to do before you die?

Matt Smith: To start with, Jennifer Lawrence
(referenced multiple times on Tumblr)

Screen Shot of This Blog is a Mess at http://aldrineriksen.tumblr.com/post/55992976129  7/22/2013 9:24 AM
 Dear Matt Smith,

I have a bone to pick with you.  To begin with, you should know that I only learned who you were about a month ago when my two daughters and I started watching Doctor Who this summer.  We immediately became immersed in this wonderful story of a man, well alien really, who had tremendous integrity, valued life and people, and did hard things at often great personal cost to himself because they were the right things to do.  After a few episodes it became clear that this was a show that we could all watch and enjoy as a family, and we did.

Let me take a moment and tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a woman raising two daughters.  My goal is to help create a culture, an environment, where my daughters can walk safely down the street without being hooted and hollered at by men who feel that they can yell out that they want to “do” them because by golly, they have seen something they like and they are entitled to objectify and harass my daughters because – well – they want to.  I want my daughters to be judged not by their bodies, but by the body of their work.  Not by how they look, what lust they might inspire in a man, but who they are as a person.  And I want the men in this world to grow up understanding that all human beings, including female ones, have the right to walk around the world freely without fear of cat calling, whistling, being fondled, or being raped simply because that is what a man wants (and vice versa). 

So here you sit, a popular cultural figure on one of the world’s biggest stages and you were asked a question: “What would you like to do before you die?”  And you response, “To start with, Jennifer Lawrence.”  That is, at least, how you are being quoted around the Internet.  Not that you wanted to do a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, or to do lunch with Jennifer Lawrence.  No, you wanted to “do” Jennifer Lawrence.  Maybe you don’t know how this can be interpreted, but I can assure you after having worked with teenagers for 20 years now that everyone understood you to be saying that your first goal of things you would like to do before dying is to have sex with Jennifer Lawrence.  Wanting to “do” someone is dripping with sexual innuendo.  And in making this statement, you objectified a talented, hardworking actress and reinforced a lifetime of cultural norms that suggest to girls that they are nothing more than objects put on this Earth to satisfy the sexual desires of men.  You also reinforced the cultural norms that suggest that men are nothing more than an animilistic set of base desires that can hardly be contained.  Basically, your answer did no one any favors.

Here’s the rub: You definitely have a right to answer the questions anyway you would like.  It is your life, they are your last dying wishes after all.  But I would hope that you would come to understand that words have meanings.  These words are all over the Internet.  Fans of yours, of the Doctor Who universe, are reading them and taking them in and they see it as someone they look up to reinforcing this notion.  While we read in the news about rapes taking place in Steubenville and gang rapes taking place in Texas, we are asking ourselves: How can we change the culture so that woman are safe and the landscape of our lives, our cultural legacy, is something other than the fact that men and women are getting raped at all, let alone at such alarming rates?  Part of the answer is that we must take responsibility for our actions, learn to control our desires.  But the other part of our answer is that we must stop objectifying people and instead begin to see them as fully formed and worthy human beings.  Not simply bags of flesh that we can use to satisfy our sexual urges or that we can demean so that we have more power or a greater sense of self.

Many people will think that you paid Jennifer Lawrence a tremendous compliment in your answer.  Some will say you were simply trying to be funny.  Others will realize that you stripped her away of all her hard work and accomplishments, demeaned her, and reduced her to a physical object.  Imagine what a different impact you would have had if you had chosen to say before you died you wanted to make great art, or to learn new things, or to make the world a better place.  But no, your first desire was to “do” Jennifer Lawrence. You were basically engaging in a large scale moment of Street Harassment.  Street Harassment is “any action or comment between strangers in public places that is disrespectful, unwelcome, threatening and/or harassing and is motivated by gender or sexual orientation.”  (from StopStreetHarassment.org)  You took the stage and perpetuated a culture that others are working tirelessly to end because it harms others.  Teenage boys hanging their heads out their car windows telling women on the street that they “want to do them” will think nothing of it because, well, Matt Smith did it at Comic Con and everyone thought it was cool.  Bow ties are cool, street harassment is not.

I get that you are not the doctor, you are Matt Smith.  But I think we can all learn a lot from the Doctor.  And the first thing we should all learn from the Doctor is that people are more than simply beings that you want to “do”.  Perhaps you said it best in the character of the Doctor:

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.”
The Eleventh Doctor, A Christmas Carol

Comments

  1. I don't watch Doctor Who, but this is such an excellent response to a really really gross and disturbing answer!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The thing is (and this is not an excuse because I agree with you) was Who fans are so used to Matt's crush on Jennifer that I don't think they even heard it. He would get asked things like “Who would like to have on the show?” Jennifer Lawrence. “What would be your dream date?” Dinner with Jennifer Lawrence. Who should be the next companion?” Jennifer Lawrence. So when the thing came up with the bucket list the Who fans suspected he would say something about her and were already on to the next question. 'We get it Matt. You like her so.. what about the new trailer?' Most didn't stop to think what it actually SOUNDED like this time around to those who weren't used to him giving her name as an answer to everything. It was almost like white noise. It didn't hit me until later the impression that must have given and yes… should have noticed that one.

  3. Thank Rachelia

  4. That's all I want us to do, is to think about what it sounded like and how it didn't honor Jennifer as a person, how it can influence the way others choose to think about and talk about those they may find attractive, and how our words and actions can influence culture. And you know, maybe Jennifer Lawrence – and people in general – don't always want to know that you think they are in any way “hot”. Maybe they just want peace from judgment and that sense of entitlement that suggests they have a right to talk this way about us in public. And FTR, Amy and Rory were the perfect companions in my book :)

  5. Also, thank you for your comment and providing some additional information and context for this.

  6. I love Doctor who and I saw someone post a comment on this photo saying: “I'm totally disgusted by Matt reducing Jennifer Lawrence to nothing more than a body for him to use. I'm not the only one to feel this way either. This is from a mother who heard it.

    http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2013/07/that-time-matt-smith-perpetuated-street.html

    Way to go to encourage young men and boys to treat women and girls as sex objects, Matt. Frankly, I thought better of you.”

    SO I looked at the link to see what you had to say and I see your point and but from a teenage girl who goes to school you should know its not one sided. I know for a fact a lot of girls say they would like to 'do' that guy or what ever. i don't personally but I'm used to hearing it and just take it as a light joke. In the nicest way possible don't take everything so personally and try and relax a bit, that wont change the world but it will make it a bit more fun! :)

  7. You are right, it does go both ways and I don't mean to imply that it is acceptable going in either direction. I believe if you took some time to read some of the stories out there about people being threatened, intimidated, and violated, you would come to understand better why it is an issue. If we allow ourselves to become desensitized, that issue grows. Just because something is intended as a joke doesn't mean it can't have negative impacts. As a culture, we discuss issues and reflect and sometimes, we choose to change. Racist jokes, sexist jokes, jokes about the Holocaust – these aren't the same as knock knox jokes. Statistically 1 out of 3 teenage girls and I believe 1 out of 5 teenage boys will be the victims of sexual violence. Sexual violence happens in part because we have become desensitized to how we treat and view our fellow human beings and downgrade them to sexual objects and physical bodies. The world can be fun AND safe, the two are not mutually exclusive. Our fun shouldn't come at another person's expense.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How come it's wrong for him to have a crush on Jennifer Lawrence? Have you seen her during interveiws? She is really charming.

    This time, YOU are beeing the one assumption that he only wants to have sex with her based on her body.
    Matt never said that “I only want her because i like her body”.

    Her charm makes her prettier than most girls. Not her body.

    Again, this is YOU assuming.

    This isn't even close to as bad as you make it out to be.

  9. This is kind of petty.

    I want to do Benedict Cumberbatch

    A lot of women want to do Channing Tatum.

    Please, Come lecture me for objectifying these people.

    One of the best things about European Culture? They don't make issues out on non-issues.

  10. I don't think it is bad for him to have a crush on Jennifer Lawrence. I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence. I'm not talking about how we feel about people, I am talking about how we talk about people.

  11. Lust and even admiration, very real and normal responses. It's basic biology really. The difference is in how we choose to express them.

    In a somewhat related topic, I think the world of celebrity is interesting. They kind of depend on you becoming their fans, which often means using their sex appeal, but I hope if you saw Cumberbatch you would still respect him as a person and approach him respectfully. I am a big fan of his, a tremendously talented actor. And I think that Matt Smith is fabulous as the doctor.

    To you it is a nonissue, to the girl (or boy) who can't want to school without a gang of guys (or girls) yelling out that they want to do them, or giving them a numerical rating, it is a very real issue.

  12. That is a completely different topic than what Matt said, and what you should be writing about.

    It's been known for awhile Matt has a crush on Jennifer Lawrence, and until she takes vocal offense to this I think you and all other wanna-be feminists should keep your mouths shout and stop blowing this out of proportion.

  13. In this case, Matt was a fan and I think he could have expressed them more respectfully. That's my opinion. I can't and do not assume in any way to speak for Jennifer Lawrence, but I do and I will continue to ask us to think about what we say, and what we do, and how each incident can impact, change or reinforce culture. I really feel very strongly that every person deserve to be talked about respectfully, that every person deserves to be talked to respectfully, and that every person deserves to live in a world where they feel safe and comfortable. I am not always good at practicing what I preach, I often have to eat humble pie, but I'm not really going to quit asking us to think about. An unexamined life is not worth living and all that. I even think you have a right to disagree with me, but I do ask that you do so respectfully.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If the answer was from a woman in her mid thirties, and was 'George Clooney', you'd salute her as a champion of equal rights. Whoop, holler and then agree.

    Pick your battles, you harem of tedium.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Not to mention, there is no proof these quotes are real. You've taken something that anyone can put together and proliferate – then assumed it's true. YOUR SOURCE IS TUMBLR.

    FUUUUUCK.

    Doctor Who was a lot better before 'Murica stuck their fat fingers in the jar.

  16. Pocahontas says:

    Everything was better before the Americans turned up.

  17. Are people here saying that since it's well known that this man is infatuated with this woman, publicly talking about how he wants to have sex with her is totally cool or even cute? Has Jennifer Lawrence ever commented on Smith's public crush on her? Do they know each other? Have they ever met? Does it go both ways, or is she just the punchline in his running joke?

    I came of age during the celebrity “I am not a role model” era, so I'm not going to pretend that Smith should be held to a higher standard because of his celebrity. This post is relevant in the context of this blog specifically because Smith's words are so similar to things teens hear said around them, to them, and about them in the library and in the larger world. I would, without question, call a teen out if I heard him or her talking about someone in this way at a program. Then I'd point them toward the wwww.everydaysexism.com project, which is incidentally based in the UK.

  18. Ohhh, nice. Pretty language. Now, take a moment. The source of the *picture* is TUMBLR, the source of the quote is repeated multiple times from the Comic Con International Panel he *just* did over the weekend in San Diego. So, no, we (as a blog) are not making anything up.

    And no, if the panelist was someone saying that they would want to “do” George Clooney (or Matt Smith or Benedict Cumberbatch or anyone else) then yes, we'd be having this same conversation because to take a person and objectify them is completely off base, especially when you have a national audience.

    If you think that we're singling out someone based on their gender, you need to read the blog more often.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Nice straw man you set up there.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Looks like this blog post has attracted the lead paint eaters from across the pond!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Oh please. Every time a photograph emerges of David Tennant, Matt Smith, Christopher Ecclestone, John Barrowman or Arthur Darvil (Only using Doctor Who actors as an example)looking relatively attractive you'll see countless comments by women expressing lust in just as base innuendos as this.

    Objectifying women is no more wrong than objectifying men. A passing comment from an actor whom the fan base already knows has a crush on the actress in question does not need such an over the top reaction.

  22. I find it in a sense how sensitive people can be, when someone gives me a catcall or says what they'd do to me you know what I do? I thank them for the compliment. It isn't an uncommon thing to hear someone talking about a celebrity and how they wish they could have even one night with them. So how is it a big deal when he does it? Majority of anyone who would go down the street yelling catcalls at girls anymore are all desperate little wiggers who think they sit on top of the world because their parents have money. It isn't an issue of him being insensitive as a fan just you being extremely over sensitive. I imagine you might also get flabbergasted when someone makes a racial joke, but its that level of sensitivity that cause racial and sexual segregation and that someone deserves to be treated better or differently because of their gender(or race). Rather then have a total panic attack why not just sit down and relax a bit and take a double take, because what did the fans do? They rolled their eyes and laughed because they know he wouldnt just “do” her if he saw her, hell he would probably have a heart attack. So maybe just maybe relax a little, because not all men(or women) are like that but we all still go hitting on people Im sure one day your daughters will do it to. That's how the world works, maybe Im just a little crazy because my single mother taught me how fight my own battles for myself rather then her do it for me. Who knows, all Im asking is rather then have a black tirade just take a retake on it.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Just to throw my 2 cents in as an avid Who fan and a male, sex-positive person and feminist.

    I've never understood why it is often considered degrading to joke about sexual attraction. Smith didn't say he want to do Jennifer Lawrence because of a specific or general physical trait, or because of some trivialization of her as a person (great legs, nice bum, what have you). He simply stated his attraction to her in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.

    He could find her attractive because of her wonderful demeanor and talent, and that is not at all sexist, but rather sexually liberating.

    I find many individuals to be sexy, attractive and endearing people due to their talents and passions, more-so than their physical looks.

    I find so many folks, both men and women, very attractive, and for so many reasons! That doesn't mean I consider them any less of a person!

    If I were ever asked a question like this and I joked Charlize Theron, it's not just because I think she's physically beautiful, but also because I love her body of work. (our first date would mostly be me gushing about her role in Monster)

    So when Smith made this joke (not his first joke at Lawrence's expense, as it's a running skit that he appreciates her career and talent), he did so with the same good natured tone of sex-positivism and equality.

  24. the fact that matt smith has had a very public crush on jennifer lawrence and it appears she hasn't responded says something to me. matt may be a cute guy and a great doctor, but if you listen to him long enough or watch him, he comes across as kind of a goober kid. maybe not the kind of man lawrence would be attracted to. especially after the “do” remark. and yes, he did say that.

    the writer of the original post said some pretty profound things – things that didn't cross my mind initially when i was watching the panel. but now it makes sense.

  25. For the record, I made it clear in both the post (“and vice versa”) and in my comments that I feel respect goes in both directions.

  26. I agree that objectifying a woman is no more wrong than objectifying a man. And I don't take issue with anyone having a crush on another person, I would like us to think about how we express ourselves about and towards one another. You can express a crush in a way that isn't so sexually abrasive/aggressive.

  27. I can see some points of where you are coming from. My question is how can we express ourselves publicly in ways that make it clear that we value a person and that those who hear us speak and see our actions learn that value. For example, in the case of street harassmen (which I was trying to use this moment as a basis for example just because we think something or feel something doesn't mean we have a right to act on those – to subject others to it. Just because you see a woman and think she is attractive doesn't mean that you have a right to make catcalls, call her names, tell her that you want to have sex with her. And vice versa. There are laws in place protecting people in work environments, but there are no such laws protecting people in the public (until I believe actual touching is involved). I think discussing these issues is a valuable convesation to have. I, personally, get sick of being groped (it has happened 3 times), of being followed or harassed, or having men yell out their car windows while I am in the yard playing with my children how hot I am (happened once).

    It is interesting that you say, “not his first joke at Lawrence's expense.” It may just be a poor choice of words, but if that is an accurate statement it certainly gets back to the heart of the conversation: why does our humor ever have to be at another person's expense. Expense connotates (sp?) that it is taking something from the other person, so is it with their consent?

    As for sex and sexuality, I am not afraid of sex or sexuality and appreciate the concept of sexual liberation. But again, there are issues of consent and respect involved. You can choose sexual liberation for yourself, but he was involving another individual which is a different issue.

    I have to say, I appreciate your thoughtful comment and the fact that you are engaging in the discussion in meaningful ways.

  28. Who we are as a culture is a work in progress. We used to keep people as slaves and women weren't allowed to own property or vote. But with thoughtful discussions and sometimes very real and violent but painful revolt, we have changed – and we will continue to change. My sincere hope is that part of our ongoing evolution will be that we will continue to grow in compassion for the plights of others that are different than our own and that we will one day live in a world where people don't have to just accept the catcalls and verbal harassment of others. I hope that I am teaching my girls to be respectful, loving and kind to others (that is my goal) and that when they attempt to initiate relationships with others they will do so in ways that doesn't violate or degrade that person.

  29. Also, still totally a Who fan. Planning a Who birthday party as we speak.

  30. “Majority of anyone who would go down the street yelling catcalls at girls anymore are all desperate little wiggers who think they sit on top of the world because their parents have money.”

    Actually, I think people do that because they feel that 1. they can get away with it, and 2. they know that they're causing someone to be embarrassed/uncomfortable about themselves. Take a look at the experiences from Everyday Sexism, and you'll see that the ones that are speaking out about the experiences are not taking it for a compliment- they feel ashamed.

    “I imagine you might also get flabbergasted when someone makes a racial joke, but its that level of sensitivity that cause racial and sexual segregation and that someone deserves to be treated better or differently because of their gender(or race).”
    Yes, I *AM* upset when someone makes a racial or sexist joke, and speak up about it. I'm continually butting heads with my teens about what they joke about in my library, and they understand where I'm coming from- it's not a knee-jerk reaction. Do I think someone needs to be treated differently because of their gender or race? NO. Do I think they are? YES, often negatively. I think women are treated differently, I think people of color (POC) are treated differently, and I think people who identify as GLBTQ are treated different.

    Which is why I am a feminist and an activist.

    feminist
    fem·i·nist
    [fem-uh-nist]
    adjective Sometimes, fem·i·nis·tic.
    1.
    advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

    ac·tiv·ist
    [ak-tuh-vist]
    noun
    1.
    an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause,

    noun
    2.
    an advocate of such rights.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Yes, people do it all the time. I think it's just the fact that Matt Smith played a very influential character whom many look up to as a role model (I do). He gathered a large fan base, children, teens, and adults. For him to say that, it may have a profound affect on their behavior. I'm not saying that people are so easily swayed, but younger, susceptible people may take it in. Yes, he has a crush on her, and maybe it was funny, but… you get my point.

    I'm speaking from an objective point. I don't really know what to think of it; I'm just simplifying the article.

  32. It's true, I am wordy LOL

  33. Anonymous says:

    I'm sorry but it was a joke. A harmless joke. One of the biggest problems with people in America today is their inability to lighten up and take a joke.

  34. Actually, I think one of the biggest problems in America today is the fact that 1 out of 3 women and 1 out of 5 men report being sexually harassed or violated by the time they are 18 years old and that they think these statistics are actually under reported. But we can agree to disagree.

  35. Honestly, all he would have needed to say in answer to the question is, “I would like to meet Jennifer Lawrence.” Or, “I would like to go on a date with Jennifer Lawrence.” This is a completely acceptable acknowledgement of his 'admiration' of her. These would have been quite funny, but in a way that does not objectify another human being.

    What Karen has written specifically addresses a larger issue within our culture while pointing out a recent example of the issue. I don't believe she has any more or less of a problem with Matt Smith than with anyone else who speaks in this way. Language and actions which reduce other people to the status of object contribute to the continuing belief that harassment in any form is acceptable. This is not what we want our youth to grow up thinking. Those of us who work with youth do so both to make a difference now and to make a positive contribution to our future.

  36. As much as I like the doctor & matt (and am a die hard whovian), I get where you're going. It was done in bad taste, unfortunately he bought into the culture of objectification. In all his other interviews he seems genuinely nice, but I guess that goes to show that even in nice people, they can have the wrong mentality and say bad things. What David Tennant said in one of his interviews is right: Celebrities shouldn't be idolized. They're human, they make mistakes and should be held responsible for their mistakes (and also not totally condemned/demonized for small ones). Matt's still young and hopefully he'll realize more and mature to respect people even in jokes. That being said, I'll be sad to see him leave the role of the doctor. We'll live and we learn~

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