If you haven't noticed the sexualization of violence against women, you haven't been paying attention. A defense in rape trials is often that the accused was just doing what the victim liked: giving her violent sex. Women, our culture tries to tell us, like it rough.
But the truth is revealed by the fact that in images of women subjected to violent sex, the woman is rarely happy. She's crying. She's terrified. She's pleading and/or fighting for her life. The violence isn't a turn-on for the woman; it's a turn-on for the person or people about to harm her.
And it's a turn-on, apparently, for audiences. And anyone who intentionally and explicitly links sex and violence in order to titillate an audience is not only not a feminist, s/he is a misogynist. I'm talking to YOU, Joss Whedon.
Which brings us to Reason #3 that Dollhouse is Misogynist Bullshit: sex made violent and violence against women made sexy; sex and violence linked so closely you can't tell where one ends and the other begins.
There are snippets of this in every episode, but the most explicit and extended is in Ep 2, "Target" the horrible, stupid version of "The Most Dangerous Game" that all sorts of people raved about. Echo is programmed to be an outdoorsy girl so she can accompany hot young thing Richard on a rafting trip. They make it through the rapids, shoot wild (and possibly illegal) game for dinner, have vigorous, energetic sex in a tent, and before the sweat covering their bodies has even cooled, Richard tells Echo that she better get moving because he's only giving her a five-minute head start.
It's totally gross. It's not just that he intends to hunt and kill her, it's that he gets off on horrifying, hurting and confusing a woman he's just had sex with by casually informing her that he intends to hunt and kill her. He makes her vulnerable; he asks for her trust; he tells her he really enjoys being with her; and then he says, essentially, "It's going to be really fun to track and kill you." His goal all along has been to kill her.
That's misogynist. And please don't try to tell me that Joss is being misogynist on purpose, to show that it's wrong. We all know already that it's wrong to kill and hunt another human being. What makes this episode extra misogynist and evil is the way sex is used to heighten the violence, and the way the hunter gets off on the mixture of sex and violence. That is NOT critiqued in this episode; at no point does the show deconstruct what Richard did. And as the ep progresses, Richard continues to talk to Echo like a lover, using endearments, telling her that "his father would have really liked her" and that "she really is the perfect woman."
The fact that she manages to kill him is NOT some sort of feminist victory; it's a necessary conclusion if the show is going to continue and Eliza Dushku is going to keep her job. The good guys never win here, because Echo is not fighting for the good guys; in this case, she is merely fighting someone who is even more sadistic and awful than the people who own her mind and body for a minimum of five years.
The other really, really gross linking of sex and violence is in "Man on the Street," the ep Joss wrote all by himself and is thoroughly proud of. Sierra's handler Hern has been caught forcing Sierra to have sex with him while she's in her "blank-slate" state, a huge violation of trust since Sierra has programmed to trust him completely and to believe he will never harm her. As a result of her programming, she does not resist at all his demand that she let him do what he wants to her. Hern, of course, is relieved of his duties when this is discovered, and beaten up, and assumes he might even be killed for damaging Dollhouse property. And then we get this conversation between Hern and Adelle DeWitt:
DeWitt: Did it make it better, that she didn’t struggle?
Hern: No. It made it easier.
Then the topic moves to Mellie, the woman with whom FBI agent Paul Ballard has been discussing his investigation of the Dollhouse:
DeWitt: I need her killed and it can’t be clean. This is you chance to avoid the attic. You may even consider it something of a promotion. After all, this one will, probably, struggle.
Get it? Killing a woman is a promotion for raping another. Yes! There's a discussion of how Mellie will, probably, struggle, and there is an immediate cut to Mellie moaning and shouting, her head thrown back--oh wait, she's having an orgasm! She's suddenly in bed with Paul! (How did those two fall madly in bed with each other, given that he was so dismissive of her earlier? I'm not saying it's impossible, I'm just saying that the writers didn't give a very full treatment of that relationship's development.)
The planning of her violent death and the fact that she will struggle is juxtaposed with her in orgasm. Given that Hern's in trouble for rape, this deliberate sexualization of the impending violence is really, really, really GROSS.
If you don't believe me, if you think I'm making a big deal out of nothing, think how different the scene would have been if the transition had not been from Adelle talking about how Mellie will struggle when being murdered, but to Sierra having her memory wiped yet again, and THEN and only then was there a cut to Mellie and Paul in bed having pillow talk, without the vivid sights and sounds of Mellie's orgasm.
The orgasm is there to make the violence sexy. But it doesn't work. It just makes the sex violent. It doesn't make the depiction we see of of the intersection of sex and violence a feminist study; it makes it hateful misogynist crap.
Now, someone will probably point out that Hern isn't really sent to kill Mellie; he's sent to be killed by Mellie, who is a sleeper active who turns into a ninja killer when she hears the phrase "There are three flowers in a vase. The third flower is green.” But the violence goes on for a while before that phrase is uttered. Mellie could have been activated the moment Hern walked in the door. Instead, we get to see her terrified for her life, running, being caught and dragged by her feet. The emphasis is on the fear of this woman, not her power.
Yeah. That's a good way to sum it up. Buffy was about female power; Dollhouse is about female fear--not the eradication of it, but the creation of it, because that's what keeps the series going. That's misogyny--AND bad television.
See Reason #1 here, Reason #2 here, and an overview of the problem with "recreating violence against women isn't misogyny if you're doing it to educate" argument here.