#include std_disclaimer.h

When I was in high school, I loved English class. If you believe, as I do, that human cultures are the stories we tell ourselves, then there is no subject more fit for study than stories. I got enormously excited about it all, this wonderful lit crit toolkit we were being given that let you poke at the innards of culture itself, to see what its programming was like, and I was always faintly mystified and sad that none of my friends wanted to talk lit crit once we’d all finished AP English.

Needless to say, when I first found fandom, I had that familiar “OMG I HAVE FOUND THE MOTHERSHIP” feeling that so many fans have. Finally, people who also wanted to take the lit crit toolkit and turn it on pop culture! But, alas–in the AP English class that is fandom, there are also those kids who whined about “being allowed to just enjoy something”, rather than “analyzing it to death”. And they outnumber you; and, now that there’s no AP test looming to provide at least a short-term motivation for using their minds, there is nothing they love better than to glance at your analysis and boil it down to a dismissive sentence or two.

It’s true that the Internet makes this easier. People can be jerks on the Internet in a way that they’d never tolerate in meatspace. But if I’m going to spend my time writing a detailed analysis of why the character of Abigail Pettigrew bothers me, only to see some asshole toss off a sneering “Hey @steven_moffat! Some twerp at @Doctorher thinks you’re sexist!”, well damn–I’m certainly going to provide my side of the story, which is that I love Doctor Who. I love watching it, thinking about it, and most of all thinking critically about it. I love Steven Moffat’s writing. For that matter, I love RTD’s writing, too. I think we’re living in television’s golden age, and I think that they’re a large part of that. Also, I’ve met Steven Moffat. I’ve bought him beers. I like him, as much as a person can like someone she’s spent a handful of tongue-tied minutes in the presence of, and I don’t want him to think I think he’s a sexist bigot. I don’t. I think his writing of women is sometimes problematic, which isn’t the same thing. All of us are biased, and the best we can do is to try to be aware of our biases and work past them. It comes from living in the kyriarchy. Stuff gets burned in, and it doesn’t come out easily. The US has plenty of people wringing their hands over, say, academic achievements of Black children, and no one remembers that we’ve spent the last approximately 400 years discouraging Black literacy. It won’t happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen, or that it doesn’t need to happen, or even that it will happen by itself without people using the lit crit toolkit to debug our culture’s stories.

So ok, do I just post that disclaimer at the head of every post I make from now on? Should all my posts be larded with caveats to the effect of “WARNING: ANALYSIS NOT INTENDED AS A PERSONAL CRITICISM”, “WARNING: WRITER IS PROBABLY NOT ANY MORE SEXIST THAN ANYONE ELSE, REALLY”, or “WARNING: I KNOW THE WRITER DIDN’T MEAN IT THAT WAY, BUT I’M ARGUING THAT SEXISM STEMS FROM UNCHALLENGED ASSUMPTIONS, NOT PERSONAL FAILINGS”? Or can we, dear readers, agree to include them in all our posts as if they were written out?

Thanks. I knew I could count on you.



  1. James says:

    But yes, I’d say that criticism of a person’s writing is just that, unless there’s something openly stated to the effect that one is talking specifically about the writer.

    Having said which, there’s a couple of Dr Who writers who I would describe as sexist, based on examples of their behaviour I’ve had described to me by people I trust. Disappointing, really.

  2. At least now you have something to link to! *grins*

    I do think it’s really important to talk about this positive stuff as well as critiquing the thing that we love, because there is the danger that you can just – spend so much time critiquing that you forget how much you love something. Not in every post, but certainly from time to time.

    With feminist critique in particular I know that it is so very easy to end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater – the discussion around the problematic gender issues in Twilight were a great example of this, where legitimate issues with the text and its influence on teen readers shifted so quickly to ‘hey Twilight readers are STUPID and anyone who likes Bella is a bad person, and wow we shouldn’t trust women to choose their own reading material AT ALL’ which I know made me feel really uncomfortable about further critique of the media.

    Whenever we talk about a lack of women involved in the show, or not having enough female characters with agency, it IS worth chucking in a disclaimer or two, so as not to add to the general habit of disappearing those women/female characters who have contributed so much.

    When we’re talking about the problems around female characters, it’s easy to slip into the habit of expecting more from female characters than male ones – Sarah Rees Brennan is a great YA writer who has commented on the level of critique people level at her heroines AS PEOPLE as compared to her heroes, who apparently can do so wrong.

    (Which is why I personally get cranky about all the ‘I hate Amy Pond’ business when it happens, because pouring hate on girl characters is not a subversive feminist thing, it’s something that happens constantly, and the ‘hating’ is often a symptom of society’s double standards)

    The main thing is to keep talking – and talk about all aspects of the show, not just the things that bother us. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t love the show…

    But it doesn’t hurt for all of us to stop and check ourselves and make sure we are, for instance, critiquing the work and not the people, and to remind ourselves of all the awesome bits of this show AS WELL as all the ways in which it could be better.

    Feminism isn’t something that is the same for everyone, and it’s certainly not something that any of us deserve a 100% passing grade on – we all fail or flub or do something awkwardly from time to time. We can all learn from our mistakes and try to do better next time. Sometimes talking about HOW we talk about things is just as important as talking about them in the first place.

    • Wow, I need to learn to write shorter comments or just turn it into my own damn post. Sorry, Nightsky! I think your post was cool.

      • Brass Cupcake says:

        – “At least now you have something to link to! *grins*”

        lol. I was thinking the same thing.

        — “I do think it’s really important to talk about this positive stuff as well as critiquing the thing that we love, because there is the danger that you can just – spend so much time critiquing that you forget how much you love something.”

        That’s true. Sometimes in trying to apply a thoughtful and aware eye to material, we get lost in its shortcomings and forget the great things that got us there in the first place. It can provide a nice balance if once in awhile we note the things a show does right, or what inspires us to keep watching.

        I think Nightsky’s post on Bernice Summerfield and Kate Elmer’s critique of the companions are examples of positive posts, and posts that include positive points with critique. So FWIW as a reader, it seems Doctor Her has been doing a nice job of keeping balance. :)

      • Brass Cupcake says:

        P.S. – your long comments make me feel better about my own inability to discuss this stuff in less than 2000 words. ;)

    • Kate Elmer says:

      I tend to separate myself sometimes…me the feminist and me the enjoyer of films/telly etc. I know the personal is political and all that but I found many times in my life that the political took over the personal to the point where I wasn’t sure who I was. I love Twilight personally while at the same time recognising how messed up it is and hating the message it gives our girls. But I eat Doritoes too even though I know they are bad for me.

  3. I don’t know if I would agree that you always need a balance. As s.e. smith points out, posts that just say “This is awesome!” are often dull. Critique is interesting; it provides us with a conversation that isn’t just, “So what’s YOUR favorite thing about this awesome thing we all agree is just AWESOME?”

    Here’s the thing about popular culture, and stuff people are fans of: it’s salvageable. I love Doctor Who, but I love Doctor Who because I can read a lot of stuff into the show. I don’t love it because all of its writers/actors/producers/cameramen are amazing feminists who make feminist work. They are not and they do not. But they make a show that I can make relevant to my life and experiences, as well as relevant to my feminism. But I have to do that work as a viewer. We all do that work as viewers.

    So if you don’t want to write “Doctor Who is THE BEST” kinds of posts, you shouldn’t feel obligated to. I know that doesn’t jive with my actual experience with Doctor Who, and I will probably never write a post that isn’t at least partially critique. Plus, we have plenty of positive posts on Doctor Her; they actually outnumber critical posts.

    I’m not a big fan of Moffat as he presents himself in public, so I kind of have no problem ragging on him either. Whenever he is confronted in interviews with critiques of his female characters, his response is usually dismissive, and of the “feminists are the REAL sexists” variety. Which, gross. That said, no one should assume “Moffat writes problematic ladies. He seems to be bad at it” means MOFFAT IS A SEXISTY SEXIST. So feel free to delete comments that read stuff like that into your critique, without actually engaging with what you actually said.

    Short version: I don’t think you need a disclaimer, Nightsky, you need to just hit the “Trash” button on commenters who say shit like “But Moffat isn’t sexist!” (when you didn’t say that) or “Y U GOTTA READ INTO IT?” more often. :)

    • Nightsky says:

      It is true that my rant above comes from a weariness sustained over years of arguing in unmoderated forums, and that I’m maybe twitching at trolls who have not actually manifested as such. Yet. *paranoid glance around*

      It just seems like every time, in every media fandom, the trajectory of conversation goes something like:
      1. $fandom is awesome!
      2. $fandom is awesome, but I don’t like x and y, and here’s why.
      3. That’s a really good point! Let’s talk about that.
      4. Hey, what’s with all the negativity in the forum recently? I think $fandom is awesome!
      5. GOTO 1.

      I just… can we keep it at 2 and 3, without the ritualistic disclaimers that we are in fact fans? Is it even possible?

      • Brass Cupcake says:

        Yeah, what Courtney said. :) Much has been written on the subject of how ill-equipped geek culture is to deal with social criticism, or the presence of someone other than Straight White Male fan. I could probably find half a dozen links on the topic. I think Courtney herself has addressed this is past posts on her A&M Blog. So I think both fans and writers like yourself have to keep that in mind when gauging responses.

        As Courtney mentioned — “So feel free to delete comments that read stuff like that into your critique, without actually engaging with what you actually said.”

        In other words, not all responses are equal. Some are just uninformed, some are reactionary and privilege-blind, some are trolls, some are going la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you-DW-is-perfect-la-la-la. That doesn’t mean we should automatically dismiss opposing viewpoints. But I think we need to look at what’s being said, how it’s communicated, and who is saying it.

        Even if you did include a disclaimer (the title made me laugh) you’d probably encounter the same problems because the types of people who are likely to respond in the ways you’ve described are the same types who won’t see the forest for the trees (i.e. – ignoring the disclaimer and 3 paragraphs of praise for the 1 sentence that hints at a possible sexist portrayal).

        I think that any blog writer is at risk of being misunderstood or misrepresented, because posting makes her/him more visible. And that visibility is not limited to your target audience. Links get passed around and that means people who have no context for your writing, who may not be skilled at lit crit or expressing their views, are exposed to your posts.

        If you think it may help, one thing you can do is put a disclaimer type of thing in an About Me profile page, or create a tab link something like About Criticism.

      • Brass Cupcake says:

        Forgot to say that I hear you about forums. I think those problems are partly why a space like Doctor Her is so helpful.

        I remember discussing a movie on a social forum, where I made the mistake of mentioning the obvious lack of female characters (it was like a 30:1 male:female ratio). I wrote about 2 paragraphs discussing other details of the film, only briefly mentioning (in a lighthearted manner) my disappointment that as a woman there were so few characters to identify with.

        And of course the predominantly male userbase took that one small element, ignoring everything else, and blew it up into a raging flame fest for several pages. I was accused of playing a victim, of pushing an agenda, of looking for problems just to complain, of having personal issues, and told that if I didn’t like it I should shut up and make my own damn films. No surprise, I didn’t express an opinion with any social awareness again, and left the forum shortly after.

        So yeah, I understand your concern here and your desire to avoid similar situations with your blog posts. I just don’t know if there’s a way to fully avoid it. Maybe more like risk management?

        • “Forgot to say that I hear you about forums. I think those problems are partly why a space like Doctor Her is so helpful.”

          For. Real. I was told I was cray-cray (literally, I was told that I needed therapy) at Gallifrey Base, because I suggested that sexist jokes have actual affects on actual ladies. Not at all a sexist way to run me off a forum, Doctor Who fans!

        • And, there is no way to avoid it. What we have to do is remember that is a conversation, and that for the conversation to be productive, every member needs to have a couple basic assumptions:

          1. Feminism is a valid lens through which to look at the world.

          2. Doctor Who is not above critique, even though we are all fans.

          Don’t feel bad deleting (or editing, or emailing the commenter and asking them to edit and resubmit) comments that don’t include these two assumptions, even if they are well-meaning. We can’t actually have high-level, productive conversations here if we are spending all our time giving 101-feminism/critique education to commenters.

  4. […] written about moving beyond fandom binaries before–here’s my own piece. There’s another fandom binary that revolves around whether the Doctor is a sexual being, and […]

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