April 2009

It sounded like a good idea on paper: a young woman becomes someone new every week. Her personas (or imprints) can be anyone or anything. She is perfect at any job that she does. A mysterious organization is behind everything. A loyal agent works to find her and crack the secret. Joss Whedon writes and directs. A leaked script showed her working as a councilor and nurse. And then…something happened.

Somehow, the man behind such shows as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog – the man known for his strong female characters – managed to create a show about a brothel. True, it is a brothel with both male and female escorts, but it still somehow turns into a brothel. So far, not a single episode has aired that did not have some gratuitous nudity. Though, to give credit, that nudity has gone both ways.

So far, we have seen Echo (the main character played by Eliza Dushku) in a variety of roles. She has been a negotiator, a bodyguard, a midwife, a safecracker, and a cult follower. But she’s also been a blind date, a long dead wife, and a dominatrix. (For a full list, go here.) And somehow, even the non-sexual jobs ended up with Echo wearing less than a full outfit of clothes.

In comparison, the one male Doll who plays a large part in the story (Victor) has so far only had one on-screen sexual job. Of course, that one happened to be with the woman who is running the entire branch of the Dollhouse that the story follows. And, as it happens, a large portion of the sexual awakening in the dolls seems to happen to Victor.

Sexuality in general becomes a very strange topic within the shows. On the one hand, the Dolls are being basically prostituted out. On the other hand, when not active, they are as innocent as young children. What’s extremely interesting is seeing how it develops as the show goes on.

At first, it is blatant. The Dolls are sleeping with their clients throughout the series. All the characters seem to have a tendency to take their clothes off as much as possible. But then, something seems to shift. The focus of the show finally goes away from the gratuitous nudity and moves to actually exploring the topics that are being brought up.

Some people are citing network meddling as the cause of the less-than-stellar first half of the series. Going by Fox’s and Whedon’s past history (both together and apart) that is a fairly likely possibility. Sex sells and Fox executives know this very well. Dollhouse is, after all, aimed at the 19 to 45, male crowd of science fiction enthusiasts. Though this still being Whedon, there is are several strong female characters as well, and the male characters take off their shirts – even though it is less often then the female characters end up “dressed up.”

What’s interesting is what happens when the show finally takes a step away from the blatant sex and sexuality and begins to deal with the topics that it had begun to bring up earlier. Suddenly, even though the Dolls are still basically living in a brothel, the show actually begins to address this. And what’s even more unusual for a modern day show is the fact that they start addressing this through the male Dolls first. Victor and Sierra (another prominent female Doll) begin to develop a relationship – or as much a relationship as two people with no memories or personalities can have. At first, it is a very innocent relationship, with them spending time together and looking at pictures together.

But then, their relationship takes on an interesting turn. Victor begins to get aroused whenever Sierra is around in the showers. At first, the workers at the Dollhouse assume it is because one of his previous assignments has been used too much and is leaking through to his base status. But then, it becomes evident that he only has a reaction to Sierra. The show then takes another twist. When it is discovered that Sierra is being raped, Victor is of course the first one to be accused. When he is, of coursed, cleared, his first instinct is to go to protect the girl. Without personality, without memory, without knowledge of social norms, Victor still manages to both react physically to a girl he likes and to control these feelings to protect her.

Victor also becomes the Doll that is used to make a point about the people who use the Dollhouse. A typical Dollhouse client never has to deal with the Doll’s in their base state. They only see and deal with the personality or character that they requested. At their base level, they are nothing more than the guy who hires a prostitute for his own fun. Though the major difference between them and the Dollhouse clients is that as the show progresses of the clients don’t use the Dolls just for sex. But among the people who use the Dolls for sex is Ms. DeWitt, the woman who runs the Dollhouse. She has seen Victor as a mindless Doll and has sent him out on a variety of engagements. She knows exactly what she is getting involved with. This, however, does not stop her from using her own services to create a partner who she can confide in as well as sleep with. It is only when she realizes the folly of having this “security blanket” that she stops. She sees herself as pathetic as the clients who only request creative bed-partners.

The other example of a Dollhouse worker using a Doll for his own purposes doesn’t even involve sex. The laboratory worker is allowed personal use of a Doll once a year for his birthday. His request is not sexual in the least. Instead, all he wants is a special day with a friend who understands him and shares his interests. When making his request, he doesn’t even care which Doll he gets. He has a deep need, and Dollhouse can fill it. Ironically, he is truly using the Dollhouse in the way it was meant: to make a person who can fill a unique position.

So far, Dollhouse has gone through a roller coaster of possibilities. It started out sounding like an excellent idea. Then, it’s first few episodes made people wonder what exactly the network and the writers were thinking. But after that, the show took off. Yes, it is still at its core a very well run brothel. But the show recognizes this fact and works with it. The characters know that what they’re doing is on the morally grey horizon and they acknowledge this fact. What’s even more interesting is that gender differences end up being only superficial. The Dolls are used for all jobs – dangerous and not, sexy and not – regardless of their gender. In their base state, the Dolls are all perfect blanks. Only Joss Whedon could take a show about a brothel and turn all expectations upside down.


I really don’t know why I started reading For Better or for Worse on purpose. It used to be just another comic that I glanced at when looking through the Sunday Comics as a kid. And somehow, I seem to be following it again, even after the re-start.

And these two strips just bug me. Possibly because I find traditional (translation: 1950s) gender roles to be annoying and inapplicable to today’s world. Possibly because it feels to me like that father is putting the mother down or lessing her role in the household. I don’t know. But it does bother me.

Okay, I get wanting to look like your daughter – to a point. This? is taking it a step or five too far.

There are many reasons I avoid reading opinion pieces. Sometimes, they make my blood pressure spike up in a very dangerous way. For instance, this.

Let’s start with the first sentence: “Forget about what statistics say; men are better drivers. It’s that simple.”
Translation: Science and math are hard and we don’t understand what empirical evidence is, so let’s make up some stuff that makes us feel better about ourselves.

10. “They let their dogs in the car”.
Because every single woman ever is a Hollywood blond who likes being on camera. And of course no man ever let his dog into the car. Because that would be unmanly.

9. “They let their friends in the car”
Apparently, having friends and doing them favors makes you a bad driver. All of my friends with cars are female. Only one of them gets distracted by friends in the car. She also gets distracted by shinny things, bright lights, and funny signs. And again, because no real man ever lets his friends into his car. And of course no women have male friends or vice versa.

8. “They obstruct their vision with crap”
I don’t even know where to start here. I’m pretty sure men and women are equally likely to hang things on their front mirror.

7. “They sing while driving”
Not only is the writer of this article a self-centered idiot, he also has never watched Office Space. It probably wasn’t manly enough for him. Or met my Dad, the only driver I know who sings while driving.

6. “They use the mirrors to look at themselves”
I just really have nothing to say here. If this was a conversation, my jaw would be somewhere near the floor and I would be making odd gestures and sounds as I tried to find some bit of logic to cling to.

5. “They make calls and send texts while driving”
I don’t know if the writer got the memo, but that’s only a little bit against the law here, in California. And I hate to be the bearer of logical statements (no, wait, I don’t) but men are equally likely to text and call. More so actually, since men are more likely to want to break the law and get “one over the man”.

4. “They have no interest in cars”
And they also have no interest in computers, video games, pants, action movies, or any of the other completely male interests. Of course all men like cars is the other assumption here. Women should stick to things they are supposed to have interests in like shopping and cooking.

3. “They have no interest in driving”
See my comments for four. Except the part about pants.

2. “They have no spatial awareness”
I have a personal problem with this statement. First of all, at the age of twelve, I placed 12th in the country on a test measuring spatial awareness. Second, I know we’re ignoring science and all but still, let me try. There have been no studies to back up this finding. There have been studies showing that women actually sometimes have better spatial awareness and are more observant then men though.

1. “They have no driving gene”
There’s ignoring science, and then there’s standing on its grave and doing a little dance. If I have to tell you that there is no such thing as a driving gene, then my faith in humanity has died just that much more.

Bonus: “For just about everyone else, the only antidote is good insurance.”
And guess what insurance companies say to that? Oh yeah, they charge men more than women since men are more likely to cause accidents that end in injury or fatality.

I have decided that my battle cry is going to be “There is more difference between individuals of the same gender than there are between the two genders.” It’s not a very good battle cry, I realize, but at least it gets my point across.

I am terrified of dogs. Have been most of my life. It probably didn’t help that a neighborhood dog terrorized me for the first six years of my life. I am much better at controlling my dog fear now then when I was a small child. But something like this would still cause me to flip out.

I realize that the woman is blind and had to have her dog with her. That’s not the issue. The issue is the passengers around her. My father is severely allergic to dogs. A flight near a dog would leave him in a very bad physical state. More than ten minutes in the company of a dog would reduce me to a sobbing, shuddering wreck.

In elementary school, my fourth grade teacher was training a guide dog and informed us that she would be bringing him in every day to school. By the end of my first day of fourth grade, I was a blubbering, screaming wreck. The teacher had decided that the best way to deal with my fear was to let me sit near the dog and see how gentle he was. I saw. But logic has nothing to do with a phobia, and it has very little to do with being nine. I spent the second day of fourth grade (and the rest of the year) in another classroom. I did my best to avoid the dog at all times, which was fairly easy.

I cross streets to get away from dogs. When we moved to a new neighborhood, my neighbors realized that I was terrified of their puppy and stopped taking him outside for his walk at the exact time that I would get home from school. (A five minute time shift made everyone happy.) It took me four years of international travel to manage to get through customs without clutching at someone’s arm. I’ve almost stopped throwing people between myself and the dog. I was once late to class because my neighbors dog was sitting out side my door, yapping. My neighbors dog is a 6 inch tall poodle. (The only time I jumped up a trip though, was to avoid a goose who decided that I looked like a tasty treat.) My fear knows no logic. I have long since resolved myself to this fact.

Now, part of the problem here was that the plane was a commuter plane and there was only one seat for a steward. I fly commuter planes fairly often (around a dozen or so times a year). I believe I have only twice been on the flight I was registered for. Commuter planes leave one an hour. It takes very little effort or time to transfer to a flight who’s time works for you, especially in a large company like Delta. In addition, most people on commuter planes don’t check baggage nor are they at 100% capacity. (Unless you fly at six pm on Friday. Never fly at six pm on Friday.) There’s a reason they are commuter planes.

The stewardess should have been simply transferred to a later flight. Had it been an actual passenger, simply asking to change seats or take the next flight out (with an offer of a discount) should have sufficed. Personally, I would have volunteered to leave later just to avoid sitting next to a dog. This shouldn’t have been a problem. Being blind trumps most phobias. And good customer service should always be a priority.

In a rare turn for a political child, Bristol Palin is still in the media’s lime light. Her trick? Getting in the middle of a hot topic. When the Senator’s daughter was first revealed to be a pregnant high school student, people were shocked. When she and the father of the child got engaged, people either thought it was adorable or assumed it was a political ploy. When they broke up, no one was too surprised. But when Bristol went on national television and stated that she doesn’t think that abstinence only education (which her mother supports) is realistic she really got the media’s attention.

Here was a young woman who was living, breathing proof that what was taught to her in school about sex and her own body was simply not enough. Of course she stated that she loves her son and is happy to have the chance to raise him. But she also admitted that she is disappointed in all the opportunities that she lost and that she did not know enough to have avoided ending up with a fatherless child before she even graduated from high school. Her mother took the opportunity to remind everyone that abstinence only education is best for everyone involved; even as her daughter admitted that it abstinence is an impossible thing to ask of young adults.

What is abstinence only education and why is it so popular in the United States? By definition, it is sexual health education that only teaches young adults to avoid sex. It doesn’t cover what to do in case you do have sex, or how to avoid various diseases. Often times, abstinence only education only involves giving information about failure rates of various contraceptives and reminding students that they shouldn’t be having sex outside of marriage.

This sort of education has one basic flaw in it (one big one, there are others that stem from it). It assumes that teenagers won’t have sex. The problem with that is that as Miss Palin’s example shows, teenagers have, do, and will have sex. And a class discussion on the evils of sex will only discourage a very, very small portion of the students involved. In most cases, those are the students who wouldn’t have had premarital sex anyway.

The problem is then the students who don’t have the information to have sex but end up having sex anyway. Studies have shown that those are the students who are at risk for unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted disease, and emotional problems. Since they are not expecting to have sex, they usually don’t have a condom available with them.

Interestingly enough, this problem is far more common in the United States than Europe. A recent documentary on sexual education even showed why. European teenagers of various ages and backgrounds knew where to buy a condom, how to use a condom, and why they should have a condom on them. European commercials such as this one [NSFW] show that using condoms is necessary for sex. American condom commercials avoid using words such as condom or sex and usually appear after midnight, if at all.

During the interviews with the teenagers, a few more differences emerged. Almost all the European teenagers had condoms in their wallets and thought it would be strange to date someone who was not prepared. Most of the American teenagers and young adults didn’t have condoms with them. They believed that carrying condoms made them appear more promiscuous and some even commented that going out with someone who had a condom with them made them feel like that person expected something more from the date.

So which side had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the answer is “United States.”

Why then is abstinence only education still being taught (and encouraged) in schools across the country? Well, one of the main reasons is that it promotes having no sexual encounters until marriage. In theory, this would help young adults avoid both unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease since abstinence is the only 100% effective method of avoiding both. However, as Miss Palin stated, this is simply unrealistic.

At our core nature, humans are animals. And animals mate. Sure, we have more control over our sexual behavior than a monkey or cat, but at the end of the day people still want to have sex. Of all the life stages, young adult is one of the most chaotic ones. A teenager’s front cortex is still not fully developed and their ability to make rational decisions is highly impaired. Combined with the turbulent changes going on in their bodies, teenagers are more likely than any other age group to do something stupid or rash.

To most teenagers, the words of a teacher, religious figure, parent, or other mentor only go so far. By the time a student hits middle school, his or her peers have a far greater influence on the choices he or she will make. And it’s not only in that. In the heat of the moment, hormones are yelling in a voice far louder than that of any authority figure. A teenager who at least has the background information needed can take the necessary steps to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. A teenager who has only been taught that sex should be avoided would not only not know what measures are needed but also would be too ashamed to ask his or her partner and would feel far more shame once the hormone storm dies away.

Is there a solution? Like many other middle school students, I suffered through sexual education classes. The difference was that I lived in one of the most liberal cities in the world, and our sexual education classes covered anything and everything you could dream of. The phrase “abstinence only education” was treated with disdain. The two week lecture series went over the biological and emotional components of puberty and sex. It also went over all the possible life paths a young man or woman could face, how to avoid the undesirable ones, and everything that could possibly go wrong.

Did it work? Out of my class of about 600 students, almost all graduated from high school and of those, about 80% went on to college. There were less than teenage 20 pregnancies. (That number does not include the handful of girls who got married right out of high school and had kids before turning 20.) However, my school was considered an academic school and a feeder school to an even more academic high school and I went through sexual education with the honors students. My personal observations and history are not the most stereotypical example. However, psychological studies do back up the point that young adults with a full sexual education are statistically less likely to get pregnant (or get their partner’s pregnant) or contact a sexually transmitted disease.

Had Senator Palin endorsed sexual education in her state, would her daughter now be in college instead of having sleepless nights with her son? There is no way to know for sure. But for the sake of countless girls – and boys – just entering puberty, I hope that more states and school districts have a more comprehensive approach to sexual education.

[References taken from various psychology and sociology lectures, videos, and readings I’ve stumbled across in the past few years.]

It looks like it’s not only the SAT’s that have a gender and race bias. Even the simple California Exit Exams are biased. Now, I might be a bit biased here due to having competed in mathematics for many years and being an accounting student, but I just want to roll my eyes.

A test can’t be biased. It’s a piece of paper that has no opinion about the person making markings on it. However, asking a student his gender and race before the test has been shown to have an impact on the scoring. Reminding a girl or a student of non-white or non-Asian ethnicity that they are not white or not Asian causes them to do worse. Or better, depending on their personality. But mostly worse.

And yes, being Asian helped. When white boys were given tests that asked their race when sitting next to Asian boys, they would do worse than if they had not been asked their race since they expected the Asian boys to be smart.

The moral? Don’t ask the gender or ethnicity before a test. Do it after the exam if you absolutely have to. There goes a large part of the bias.

(For the record, I don’t understand how people still find the exit exam difficult. It tests basic arithmetic and reading skills one should have learned by the fourth grade.)

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