I was casually browsing through a forum for Doctor Who as I do every couple of days. I usually just see what the most recent threads are, occasionally look at a few filming spoilers and then carry on with the rest of my internet browsing. Yesterday I noticed a thread about a ‘University Study on Sexism in Doctor Who‘ and clicked on it to read the posts and the original article itself. As someone who has studied Doctor Who academically and written essays/a dissertation on the programme, I was interested in reading another young researcher’s work and to see how they approached it. After reading the research project, I read some of the posts on the thread and was appalled by some fans’ responses. Some questioned the topic, others targeted the researcher. I’m not going to specifically address my ideas about whether Doctor Who is sexist or not as a lot of others already have (including The Guardian). This post is more about fan responses to research.
The research was conducted by Rebecca Moore and some coursemates for a university project to demonstrate the application of research methods to a media text. This is a common assignment for Media students as we learn how to collect both primary and secondary research through our courses. The group decided to study Doctor Who and tried to determine whether the programme can be understood as sexist through a method called the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test is usually applied to films and is attributed to the cartoonist Alison Bechdel. To pass the Bechdel test a film must have 2 named female characters who talk to one another about something other than a man. Personally, I think the Bechdel test has limitations when applied to television because of the differences between television and film narrative structures and the test can even be limiting to films as well. However, as a researcher I found the infographic very interesting and informative.
Whilst I could accept some parts of the research and recognise that other parts were problematic/limiting, Doctor Who fans on this particular forum criticised the work and the researcher. Some of these posts specifically argued that the researcher’s demographic affected the outcome of the research despite the project being a group effort! I think it is unfair to assume that the researcher’s own beliefs would affect a piece of research.
For the methodology section of my dissertation I had to assess the strengths and weaknesses of my chosen method. Textual analysis, in my case, had to carried out carefully to avoid producing biased data. If the researcher has strong opinions/beliefs about their subject, the research *could* be forced and odd interpretations made to suit the researcher’s existing notions. BUT if they did that, they wouldn’t be a very good researcher! Ethically, the researcher would have to remove any bias or agenda when approaching their research i.e. I couldn’t let my status as a feminist filter into my dissertation otherwise i would be using the research to support my political notions and the research could be deemed invalid by the reader because of that affiliation. So if the group who did the research followed the ethics of their method, the results shouldn’t be reflective of them as researchers. The research would be a standalone project. I know a lot of people on my university course, myself included, chose texts we were fans of to study for our dissertations because researching them would be an enjoyable (but still slightly stressful) experience. Through our knowledge of how to approach research methods, we all hopefully avoided any bias.
The posts that really bugged me on this forum criticised the researcher for the course she studied and her gender. The comments about her course were a general dig at media studies. People assume that it is not a “proper” course and that media/cultural research does not contribute anything to society. I’m not going to say much more about this because I am sure I will write another long ranty blogpost about the attitude towards Media as an academic field of study at some point in the future! I just think some people are ignorant about how they use the media and I believe that a basic level of media literacy should be taught in PSE lessons in school.
The comments about her gender also really annoyed me. I don’t think her gender had any particular influence on the work especially as Rebecca Moore produced this research as part of a group assessment. As I have mentioned above, her gender and any connotations of being a female shouldn’t have any impact on her research if she has learnt how to conduct research ethically and produce unbiased data. However, as the subject matter is sexism, some posters on this forum attacked the researcher. I think they believe that because the project studies sexism that it is by an oppressed female who wishes to promote research that demonstrates her plight as a woman. Interestingly, all the posters who criticised the author for being female and having an agenda to “make Doctor Who sexist” are male. It just so happens that reading this thread has come after a week of seeing the #yesallwomen hashtag on twitter. The hashtag has raised visibility and awareness of the dangers women face due to misogyny, sexism and oppression. Basically, the hashtag demonstrated that women still aren’t equal and that we have a long way to go before we are. To me, the attacks on Rebecca’s gender are unnecessary comments by those who can’t appreciate a piece of research as a standalone project.
You can agree and disagree with a piece of research. Cultural studies is all about interpretation. I accept some parts of this research project but I see limitations to it too. Some fans need to accept that other fans (and researchers) may have different interpretations of a programme which conflict with their own ideas. Fandoms are very diverse and fans must understand that they won’t like every idea or research that is shared. If a fan doesn’t like it, the last thing they should do is attack another fan or researcher based on a demographic that has little to do with their fandom or work.