“Flesh and Stone” is the fifth episode of the most recent (2010) episode of Doctor Who, a wildly popular BBC family television program. I am a huge fan of the show. In the last part of “Flesh and Stone” a scene, less than three minutes long, depicts a sexual assault committed by one main character on another. I believe the only spoilers in this post are for that particular scene in F&S, but no promises for the comment thread.
After the events of the episode, the Doctor and Amy have returned in the TARDIS to Amy’s bedroom. They sit on the bed together. Amy says that the aforementioned events have made her think about what and who she wants, indicating the Doctor, but he is oblivious to her meaning. Amy leans in for a kiss. The Doctor first leans away, then leaps away, standing up. He says “But you’re getting married in the morning!” Amy follows him and backs him up against the TARDIS. She says “The morning’s a long time away.” She slides his suspenders off his shoulders; he pulls them back up.
Throughout that exchange and the next, Amy’s hands are constantly on him: touching his neck, chest, and shoulders or trying to undo his tie. The Doctor is constantly fending her off. He very seriously says “I am 907 years old. Do you understand that?” Amy, unlike him, is smiling. He slips away in the other direction. Amy says “It’s been a while?” He is flustered and at first says yes, then “No, no! I don’t get older. I just change. You get older, you don’t change, and this can’t ever work.” Amy again slides down his suspenders and the Doctor again pulls them up, leaping away yet again. Amy follows him again, saying that she’s not looking for something so long-term. Her tone is still unserious. She puts her hands on his shoulders and kisses him again, for longer this time.
The Doctor shoves Amy off him saying “But you’re human! you’re Amy! You’re getting married in the morning!” Amy goes in for another kiss, but the Doctor says “–in the morning…” And he says that last line like he’s just realized something, which is enough for Amy to pause. As the Doctor begins thinking out loud, Amy positions herself invitingly on the bed. The Doctor says “I need to get you sorted out right now!” and Amy takes this as sexual innuendo, saying “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.” The Doctor takes her hand and pulls her to the TARDIS; she maneuvers it so that they’re embracing and says “Doctor…” in a way that makes it clear she’s still in a sexual mood. He extricates himself; she finally goes into the TARDIS, and with a glance at the clock in Amy’s room, the Doctor follows.
Do you really think that was sexual assault?
Yes, I really do. The Doctor’s nonconsent was obvious and constant, and Amy did not pay attention to it at all. Sexually touching someone–in this case, attempting to remove their clothes or kissing them–after they have indicated their nonconsent, is sexual assault.
But it didn’t look like sexual assault to me. Sexual assault is violent and serious.
I hear this a lot in rape apology. Often sexual assault that does not take place in a police/military/corporate context involves no weapons nor punching nor direct physical dominance. Many sexual assault victims think of their experience as “the time that person had sex with me/touched me/kissed me and I didn’t want them to,” because they feel as though sexual assault is a concept that should be reserved for something serious.
The truth is, that’s all there is to sexual assault: you indicated you didn’t want to have sexual contact, but somebody made sexual contact with you anyway. (Sexual assault can also happen if someone makes sexual contact with you without giving you a chance to consent.) While sexual assault with a weapon or accompanied by a physical beating can often be more traumatizing to a victim (for example, higher rates of PTSD), any sexual assault is violent.
What about the power difference between Amy and the Doctor? He’s a man and she’s a woman. And he’s a Sufficiently Advanced semi-immortal alien genius and she’s an young, ordinary human.
Power differentials are about averages and systemic differences, and neither of those things negate the reality of exceptions. Men do rape far more than women do, and women are raped far more than men are. This means that most discussions of sexual assault should focus on women as systemically targeted. It does not mean a woman who sexually assaults a man has not sexually assaulted him, and neither does it make that sexual assault less serious.
When it comes to sexual assault other than stranger-danger assault, the physical or mental vigor of the victim is not really a good predictor of whether the victim can/does successfully fend off an attack. The Doctor probably could hurt Amy if he wanted to, but he considers her a friend, and in any case is a pacifist, so all his defensive moves were designed to get her hands off of him and nothing else.
Often, someone citing the power difference when the victim is considered to have more power, is making the implication that the serious violence had not started yet or that the victim was not in any real danger. Sexual assault is serious violence. Sexual assault is a real danger.
How can you blame Amy for this? She’s under a lot of stress! Her wedding’s tomorrow! And she didn’t have any good role models as a kid, so I think it’s understandable that she acts sexually inappropriately.
Amy is an adult, and she is perfectly capable of comprehending the Doctor’s no, but she chose to ignore it.
Every sexual assault has context. Plenty of rapists and sexual-assaulters are under a lot of stress, or have depression, or were taught bad lessons about healthy sexuality when they were kids. This idea that people only really committed sexual assault if they specifically wanted to hurt someone, or if the thought “I’m gonna rape this person” was at the forefront of their mind, or if they otherwise seem like a scumbag to you is another aspect of rape culture. It keeps victims from realizing they’ve been assaulted and helps perpetrators rationalize their actions. If you are going to confront sexual assault, you need to come to terms with the reality that perpetrators are humans just like you.
Remember that everyone who sexually assaults was brought up in a rape culture. This is either an excuse for all sexual assaults or it is an excuse for none.
But the Doctor wasn’t saying “I don’t ever want to have sex with you ever and I hate you.” He didn’t even really say “no!” He only didn’t want to have sex because he objected to the power difference and Amy’s upcoming marriage.
Your opinion on how good are the Doctor’s reasons for not wanting sex is as irrelevant to the issue of consent as Amy’s was. A “no” does not necessarily mean “Never with you.” It may mean “Not with you right here right now this way.” It is still, however, a no. In the Doctor’s case, he was saying “no” to Amy’s immediate actions, which she did not cease.
If Amy thought the Doctor had bad or irrelevant reasons for not wanting sex and wanted to address them, she could have dealt with his concerns before attempting to take off his clothes or kiss him again. She could have stopped touching him and explained that she just wanted one night, not a lifetime relationship.
She didn’t, though. She continually grabbed at him and tried to undress him while he was making his protests and without waiting for his consent. In fact, she showed a total disregard, throughout the scene, for his nonconsent, despite the fact that he was physically and verbally showing her he was flustered, upset, and unwilling. Although the word “no” didn’t pass his lips, he was still saying no every time he physically removed himself, shoved her hands away, redressed himself, and verbally gave reasons he did not want to have sex.
His “no” is unmistakable except by people who have an interest in not hearing it. This is common in instances of sexual assault. Most sexual-assaulters would claim they could tell their victim really wanted it, no matter how explicit the no was.
The community members who revictimize the survivor are also very good at questioning the “no” no matter how explicit it was. Challenge this aspect of rape culture. Do not put the burden of proof on the victim and do not search for ways the no could have been misinterpreted.
You’re mean! I think you’re telling me I’m a bad person because I still like Amy.
You’re not (necessarily) a bad person, and you don’t necessarily have to hate Amy for this. Again, sexual-assaulters are human too, and sexual assault is just one of Amy’s many behaviors, others of which are admirable. Plenty of people who commit sexual assault have done loads of good things, although sexual assault is not one of them.
Consider that this is a reaction typical of people, even people who consider themselves anti-violence or advocates for victims, who discover a specific rape in their community. Consider further that negative reactions against those who insist on discussing and condemning the assault are a part of rape culture. For many victims of sexual assault, the secondary victimization by the community is the most devastating part of the assault.
To be clear, the Doctor is a fictional character and cannot be revictimized by your actions, and I am not the victim of Amy’s sexual assault. However, survivors of sexual assault are reading and taking part in the discussions about this scene. Those of you who use this discussion to talk about how upset you are that people are attacking you for liking Amy, are doing so in front of sexual assault survivors. If they are lucky, they will recognize that this says something about you and will remember to be careful about discussing their own sexual assault around you. If they are unlucky, they will internalize the message that survivors and victims are the least important people in the discussion.
Again, this doesn’t mean that you have to hate Amy (the Doctor doesn’t, after all), but it does mean that if you reacted to the fact of Amy’s sexual assault with a defense of your right to still like Amy, you have played your part in rape culture as the community that commits the second victimization.
I feel so guilty. I feel like such a bad person. I didn’t react negatively to that scene at all and I thought it was kinda funny. After reading this post, I am so, so sorry and I just want to die of shame.
Events that happen in television shows are sometimes difficult to recognize for what they are, because television is limited to sight and sound, or because you are not the one personally having the experiences, or because they are not labelled for your convenience, or because the show is portraying the event in a way that skews reality.
Please do not go into the shame corner here. If you have spoken with anyone about this scene and minimized its seriousness, consider returning to the conversation with them and reexamining what happened.
Remember that coming into the discussion abasing yourself focuses it on you, which is probably not productive.
I think we were supposed to react badly to Amy’s actions, so I don’t know why we’re even having this discussion. Why are you knocking the show?
In my opinion, it’s not clear whether Amy’s sexual assault was a sign of something gone wrong with time that ties into the season arc. It might be, but then again it might not be. It’s also not clear more generally whether we were supposed to see her actions as acceptable or unacceptable. We might learn more by the end of the season. For this reason I’m not knocking the show or commending it. In general, I love Doctor Who. It is one of my all-time favorite shows.
Plenty of self-identified feminists, anti-sexists, and people who otherwise assert that they are aware of the reality of rape and rape culture spent most of the discussion denying that a sexual assault happened in this scene, reacting defensively because they like Amy, or acting as though they were personally attacked. I am really disturbed by this. I see it as similar to the way things play out when abuse is discovered in feminist/progressive/radical communities. In other words, I wouldn’t have to push so much on this if I weren’t meeting with so much resistance.
I still think you are hateful and mean and attacking me for not being as enraged about this as you are.
Examine what you have invested in rape culture.