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Sunday Reflections: The Curious Case of Doctor Who Kissing without Consent, and why it matters

More about consent from The Feminist Anthropologist

She was 2 years old.  I had just strapped her into her car seat which held her in pretty tightly.  We were getting ready to pull out of her grandma’s driveway, but we weren’t going far – just to run some errands and such.  “Can Grandma have a kiss?”, she asked.  And the 2-year-old, who always spoke her mind, said no and turned her head away.  That was when the Grandma reached out and pinned her arms down and kissed her any way.  There she was, 2-years-old, already strapped in and now she was being forcibly held down so she could not resist and kissed even though she had just clearly said no, she didn’t want a kiss right now.  But that wasn’t respected.

After she was released, the 2-year-old smacked her grandmother in the face.  Surprised, and angry, she looked at me and said, “You should teach your children it’s not nice to hit.”  And although that is indeed true, my response to her was not what she expected: “You can’t hold people down and kiss them against their will, that’s not nice either.”  That’s the thing, people have a right to say no to being kissed, hugged, or touched in any way.

Consent: “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something”



As my children are growing older, I think often on this day.  To me, as an outsider, I was shocked by how violent the whole encounter was; the way my child’s wishes were totally disregarded and she was held down – disabled by someone more powerful than her – and forced to do something that she didn’t want to do.  I get it, 2-year-olds are cute.  And they don’t stay that little for very long.  Trust me, I am all too aware of how quickly they grow and change.  But when did we develop this notion that just because we want something – just a simple kiss, right – that it’s okay to take it?

Source: ColorLines.com

In Protecting the Gift, Gavin DeBecker talks about one of the most important things we can do to help protect our children from sexual abuse is to let them know from birth on that they have control and agency over their bodies.  This means that we do not force them to kiss or hug relatives when they don’t want to.  Yes, even grandmothers that they may only see on a rare occasion.  It’s a radical notion for some, I have seen it debated often online, but I don’t understand why just because children are small we feel that we can force them to express acts of affection without their consent.  And I can see the danger in setting this precedent where we teach our children even if you don’t want to kiss or hug someone, we do it because it is “nice”.  Or because they – the adult – wants it.  So how do they differentiate when they are a little older and it is a teacher or a coach or some other authority figure – or a boyfriend – asking them to do something they don’t want to do, that doesn’t feel right?  We have taught them that they have to do this thing because we do what adults say, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when they are confused when authority figures ask them to do things that they think probably aren’t right – they certainly don’t want to do these things – but they have been taught that they can’t say no.

Which brings me to Doctor Who.  Yes, it’s a big leap, so stay with me here.  My two daughters and I started watching Doctor Who this summer and we are BIG FANS.  We have seen all of Doctors 9, 10 and 11 – multiple times.  We may watch an episode almost daily.  Don’t judge.  But I love many things about the Doctor: he is a moral, compassionate being, he seems genuinely accepting of all – not just all races, but all species – he is open to exploration and adventures . . . But over time the Doctor has changed.  In fact, since the introduction of Clara, I find the show to be particularly problematic.  Though I don’t blame Clara, it’s a writing problem.

So this Christmas, we sat together to watch the 11th Doctor’s fond farewell.  We were anxious, a little sad, a little sorrowful because we had grown so fond of him.  And then it happened and to be honest, it was a real let down.

Actually, I had grown worried about it earlier in December when early promo pics had come out:


Please, please, please do not let this be a case of the Doctor does the manly work of saving the day while the girl cooks the turkey I tweeted.  But honestly, that’s kind of what it was.  In fact, the Doctor saved the day AND saved the turkey while Clara did – well, nothing really.  Actually, read these two reviews to get a handle on what some of the problems were (I excerpted the points relevant to my discussion below):

“The sexualization of Tasha’s power and her attempts to assert her autonomy became extremely problematic during the scene when the Doctor kisses her without her consent. When the Doctor releases Tasha she orders him to only kiss her when asked, and the Doctor replies “Only if you ask nicely,” and they immediately give each other bedroom eyes. The Doctor receives no punishment for kissing her without her consent, and her protest at having been kissed without her consent is trivialized and sexualized. It’s not a big deal she was kissed without her consent, the show tells us, because she secretly liked it.

Even more disturbing is the fact that this is the second time in a year I’ve had to write about Doctor Who‘s problematic treatment of sexual assault. Including the scene in “The Crimson Horror” where the Doctor laughs off Jenny’s protest that he forcibly kissed her was bad enough, but including a second scene in which the Doctor is portrayed laughing off a woman’s protest that he forcibly kissed her so soon after receiving a strong backlash to the first is particularly galling, and it’s hard to read it as anything other than a deliberate provocation.”

“Despite her rank and the supposed power of her position, she was easily taken over by the Daleks (don’t get me started to the whole eyestalk in the forehead thing) and when she eventually did manage to fight back her consciousness, the Doctor decided to lay a smacker on her without her consent.”



But more importantly, there was the kiss.  In a moment of celebration, the Doctor grabs Tasha’s face and kisses her.  Please note, he forcibly grabs her face in both hands and kisses her full on the mouth – he has all the power in this moment.  And as the above review mentions, this is not the first time during series 7 that this Doctor has done that.  So much forcible kissing.  And I am glad to see there are people talking about it because we should be talking about it.

We are in the midst of a cultural revolution right now.  Steubenville and other moments like it have opened some real dialogue about how we talk to our teens about respecting other people’s person-hood and the idea of consent.  And it IS an important idea.  A fundamental right.  You don’t get to kiss someone just because you want to.  Not if the are two and you are their grandma and you think they are cute.  Not if they are 16 and you have just bought them dinner and taken them to a movie.  Not because you are more powerful than them.  Not if they are . . . well, never actually.  That’s the point.  Human rights are important.  Bodily autonomy is an important human right if you ask me.  Consent matters.

In addition to all of our regular blogging here at TLT in 2014, we are dedicating the year to discussing important teen topics like sexual violence in the lives of teens and YA literature.  Join us on Wednesday, January 29th for a virtual panel with authors Carrie Mesrobian (Sex & Violence), Christa Desir (Fault Line), and Trish Doller (Where the Stars Still Shine) as we discuss sexual violence in the lives of teens and in their novels – and why it matters that we talk about it. 

Here’s the 411:

We’re going to Google Hangout and do a “virtual discussion panel” with authors Carrie Mesrobian (Sex & Violence), Christa Desir (Fault Line) and Trish Doller (Where the Stars Still Shine) on Wednesday, January 29th at Noon Eastern to discuss Sexual Violence in the lives of teens and YA lit.  You can join us for our virtual panel.  We will also be attempting to record it so you can view it later.  Some of the questions we will be discussing include how writers go about making realistic representations to raise awareness and give teen survivors a voice. These are all good books with some good discussion and I recommend reading them.  In fact, read them before January 29th and join us.

More About Sexual Violence in YA Lit on TLT:
What It’s Like for a Girl: How Monstrous Beauty by Elizabeth Fama made me think about the politics of sexuality in the life of girls
Sexual Assault Awareness Month, talking to teens about consent and rape part 1 and part 2
Should there be sex in YA books? 
Plan B: What Youth Advocates Need to Know 
Because No Always Mean No, a list of books dealing with sexual assault
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in YA Lit.  A look at consent and respecting boundaries in relationships outside of just sex. 
Incest, the last taboo 
This is What Consent Looks Like
Street Harassment
That Time Matt Smith Perpetuated Street Harassment Culture at Comic Con
An Anonymous Letter to Those Who Would Ban Eleanor and Park
Take 5: Difficult books on an important topic (sexual violence) 

Comments

  1. Thank you for this piece. I will hopefully remember the virtual panel. I'm writing a YA about teen rape, much like the Steubenville case. I don't watch Dr. Who, but do see the stolen kiss trope in many books/movies/TV shows. Boys learn it is acceptable and girls are taught to accept is as romance. Time to break the pattern.

  2. Janflora, the stolen kiss . . . bah. Good luck writing your book. I look forward to hearing more.

  3. This is such an important topic that needs to be addressed. Thank you for doing this talk. I am looking forward to participating. I will be sure to check out the links before the event.

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