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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

Talking About Rape Culture and Our Teens

We’ve talked a lot on Teen Librarian Toolbox about sexual assault (in YA lit, in the media, in commercials, etc.). Going around the Twitterverse the other day was a piece by Patton Oswalt, a comedian out in LA entitled A Closed Letter to Myself About Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes, that was published by the Huffington Post. If you want to read it I linked to it- the part about rape culture is in the last third, although it is connected to his first and second parts.

At the end, he states:
And just because I find rape disgusting, and have never had that impulse, doesn’t mean I can make a leap into the minds of women and dismiss how they feel day to day, moment to moment, in ways both blatant and subtle, from other men, and the way the media represents the world they live in, and from what they hear in songs, see in movies, and witness on stage in a comedy club.
There is a collective consciousness that can detect the presence (and approach) of something good or bad, in society or the world, before any hard “evidence” exists. It’s happening now with the concept of “rape culture.” Which, by the way, isn’t a concept. It’s a reality. I’m just not the one who’s going to bring it into focus. But I’ve read enough viewpoints, and spoken to enough of my female friends (comedians and non-comedians) to know it isn’t some vaporous hysteria, some false meme or convenient catch-phrase.
I’m a comedian. I value and love what I do. And I value and love the fact that this sort of furious debate is going on about the art form I’ve decided to spend my life pursuing. If it wasn’t, it would mean all of the joke thief defenders and heckler supporters are right, that stand-up comedy is some low, disposable form of carnival distraction, a party trick anyone can do. It’s obviously not. This debate proves it. And I don’t want to be on the side of the debate that only argues from its own limited experience. And I don’t need the sense memory of an actor, or a degree from Columbia, or a moody, desert god to tell me that.
I’m a man. I get to be wrong. And I get to change.

What gets me is that he has to talk to his female friends in order to be
aware of the rape culture. It’s not like it’s some invisible wall until someone lifts the shield, like the little kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes. It’s a daily part of life. Don’t believe me? Check out The Everyday Sexism Project, or their twitter. The stories are heartbreaking, and happen EVERY DAY.
Not to mention the problems in the gaming culture. Check out this article about The Creepy Side of E3 and the stories about business cards being pushed down dresses. Or the crap Microsoft played off during their scripted demo during E3 (note that there’s a noise from the audience, but at the end of the fight, there’s no applause, nor is there anywhere during the demo- where their would actually be if it wasn’t insulting)
It’s hidden in movies as well. I showed Hotel Transylvania for our Tween Night (8-12 years old, mostly 8-10 years that night), and near the beginning of the movie there’s a scene where the zombie crew is catcalling a female zombie in a business suit:
Hotel Transylvania
It was meant to gain a laugh from adults, and went over the head of most of my kids. When I did hear laughs, I paused the movie for a minute and asked them a question- did they think it was funny when the guy zombies were talking and whistling at the girl zombie, and they said maybe.  Then I asked them if they thought it would be funny if someone did that to their mom walking down the street, and the answer instantly changed to no. Just that one dynamic change shifted their ideas. 

Just shifting things a little bit can change the course of thinking- enough that we can make a difference.