Thursday, 31 December 2015

Critisizing Plain Jane part 6: Episode 1 part IV

Part 1: Introduction on why I hate these kind of reality makeover shows
Part 2: Opening credits
Part 3: Episode 1 part I
Part 4: Episode 1 part II
Part 5: Episode 1 part III
Final part: Episode 1 part V

Continuing with my review-commentary of the first episode of this horrific makeover show...

This part includes the most 'controversial' issues, so as an early disclaimer I'll say that I'm firmly anti-porn and against anything having to do with and/or promoting the sex industry. I'm against bashing sex workers, because that's the easy - and misogynistic - way to deal with the industry, and many of them do not choose that way of life and need a lot of help. But I'm also against idealizing and promoting an industry which uses people - and generally women - as an object of consumption. It's not empowering, and I'm against any simplistic 'sex positive' 'choice feminism' arguments which claim that being a stripper, prostitute or porn star is an 'empowering choice'. The fact that it's a 'choice' - when it is a choice - does not take away the inherent misogyny and inequality of the job or of the industry in general, and this is why I find so many flaws with the 'choice feminism' movement. And frankly, teaching impressionable young girls that learning burlesque trips is a must when it comes to wanting to be with a man, as if it were an even remotely healthy idea when it comes to having a relationship with somebody, that's nuts, pure and simple. 

Part IV

üSummary: In the most infuriating and cringe-worthy part of this wonderfully sexist makeover, the stylist takes Cristen to a burlesque club in order to teach her how to behave seductively for her crush. Because every woman must learn to self-objectify herself and be ready to be objectified by others as a fully 'empowering' and completely healthy way to start dating someone. Because duh, people must see us as the sex object that we are in order to find us attractive enough to want to date us!

 "If Cristen wants to stop being one of the guys, she needs to own her feminine side, so I brought her to a special place to meet a friend of mine." 
So in our next installment of 'Louise the stylist's pearls of wisdom' we now learn that in order to win a man, a woman must learn to be seductive and flirt expertly. You are in danger of being mistaken for *gasp* a man if you don't! And, take note, our feminine side is going to involve viewing ourselves as a sex object for public consumption.
So you're basically telling me, apart from the twisted use of the 'masculine' and 'feminine' constructs, that the only way of being 'feminine' is being appealing to the other sex. And what's more, appealing in a dehumanizing way, as we'll see right now. Apparently, that's the only way a woman is 'confident', too. What about the women who are not particularly interested in flirting or purposefully trying to be appealing to anyone? Are they 'guys'?  Once again, there are so many things wrong with this kind of thinking. Everything here is telling women that they're solely there to please men. That’s their freaking role in life and they won’t be considered ‘women’ if they don’t conform to that. Bravo.

So how can Cristen “own her feminine side”? The answer is logical and straightforward: By imitating the activities of those women whose unfortunate job is to objectify themselves in order to please and entertain men. Wonderful. And so legit.  
This is the way all women should be learning to boost their confidence. We are all so liberal and liberated here.
So enter Cristen and her stylist meeting a burlesque dancer, Lindsey, at a club, who gives them a show at their arrival, full of oh-so-tasteful and not-dehumanizing-at-all close shots of her legs, backside, chest and pubic area - And this is all mellowed down because it's a 'teenager-friendly' (hysterical laugh) show, pink ensembles included, so think about that. All through she's smiling widely, telling us 'look how liberated and happy I am!' while the stylist also beams widely at her own satisfaction ('I'm so liberal, I think this is so liberating and empowering') and at Cristen's initial 'prude' shocked reaction.
This is the 21st Century and the path to empowerment, Cristen.
I'm being so empowered here, why aren't all women learning to dance for men, because I'm the ultimate role model for young girls who want a date.
She acts as a kind of 'empowering' mentor and teaches Cristen how to 'boost her confidence' by learning the tricks of the trade. Cristen shows more than once her reluctance and is uncomfortable to put on the clothes she's told to try on, but as always, we're taught that 'no really means yes' (she'll love it all once she's been persuaded) and that taking someone forcibly out of their comfort zone ('Just roll with me') is a totally OK thing to do.
Oh my gods, Cristen, stop being such a prude and empower yourself, you're just scared to try new things!
(Lindsey) "The art of burlesque helps boost women's confidence, and it helps them feel empowered in a really fun and flirty way."
(Stylist) "If you can master what you're about to do then you're going to be taken right out of the friendzone."
My reaction exactly, Ten
If you think getting objectified by viewers who leer and whistle at you is boosting your confidence, I for one think you are very wrong. First of all, women's confidence should be about more things than your body. If you're only confident when a man thinks you're sexy, that's anything but empowering. Second, boosting your confidence in this respect would mean being proud of your body and comfortable about your sexuality, by wearing whatever you like and feel good in, and involving in sexual activities whenever you like, but without the need to objectify yourself and doing it all solely for men.  Are you telling me all women should act in a strip/dancers' club in order to feel confident? Are you telling me that the way to boost your confidence is to let men view you as a sex object?  That the only way to get a date involves doing this? Do you know how utterly f*cked up this is??
These pseudo-liberal sexist nano-brains apparently don't 
(Lindsey) "The art of burlesque is knowing that you are a woman and celebrating your inner woman just by being who you are. We're just opening Cristen up so that the little sex goddess can come out."

Empowerment in progress
So being a woman and being yourself and celebrating your womanhood means objectifying yourself for men and being reduced to being a 'sex goddess'. Aha. Hell yeah *sarcastic applause* Also, as far as I'm aware, you're not letting Cristen be herself. You're molding her ('we're opening Cristen up', now that doesn't sound creepy at.all). So please don't be a hypocrite and claim that all this is to make her who she is.

And although 'boys' clubs' are growing in number,  and that is wrong as well, you don't really hear someone tell a man 'The way you can be confident and yourself and celebrating your manhood involves objectifying yourself in front of women. Go practise as a stripteaser for a while'. RIGHT?

Our wonderful mentor Lindsey starts teaching Cristen titillating (and very 'liberating'!) moves on the stage in order to 'tease the audience. The art of Burlesque is all about the tease', making me seethe and facepalm again because she's supposed to think that all women must do this to be 'confident' and 'a woman' and in order to get off with someone. 

"Imagine Tye was watching. We're gonna change the way Tye sees you, so you need to change the way you see you."

"Tye would be loving that!" 

Oh yes, this is obviously about boosting Cristen's confidence. It's not about helping her objectify herself so that Tye is turned on - the only way a woman could attract a man, by him viewing her as the object she is! Although this is not all about Tye. Of course it isn't. It's about making her confident and liberated *intense sarcasm*  That's why the camera is busy showing us close-ups of her pelvis now.
The path to confidence and liberation is this one, don't think you're anything else than an object made to titillate your man
'Now I want you to show me what you've learned'  And don't be mistaken, we're not talking university studies here.  She also refers to this as a 'proper, amazing experience'. In your paralell universe where doing this is empowered, dude.

Now Cristen has to put on a Burlesque attire ('Oh Lord! I have to wear that?!' Yes, Cristen, no one cares about your comfort zone, you must become confident!!) and show these charming misogynistic women how much of a sex object she makes in front of the audience. The sure way to get her date. 

'Your bum is gonna be cute in those!' Confident=Identifying as an object. We get it.

'Just a bit of fun. It's just a bit of fun'. No, it well damn isn't. If it's so funny to you, why don't you self-objectify yourself for the menz and leave the rest of women in peace?

'It's OK to celebrate curves (...) Give me that foul shirt'  Thanks for mixing up two very different concepts: 1) Celebrating your body, curves or no curves. 2) Objectifying yourself for others as a necessity to be 'confident'. It's not that OK to 'celebrate curves' when those curves are only there to be ogled by leering men, don't you think?

(whimpering) 'This is very weird, Louise!'
(stylist) "I can't wait to see her on the stage!"
I help women so much it hurts
The misogynistic women stand as the audience as Cristen leaves her prude fears behind and finds her empowerment and liberation in the stage. Because this is not scripted at all (or because these girls are just soooo difficult to brainwash) Cristen suddenly realizes that all that is being imposed upon her is how she wanted to be all along.

"Ba-ba-boom!! Oh my God!"
"She looks a-mazing!!"  
"There's a shot for Tye!" (Because this isn't about Tye at all, remember)

(Cristen) "I feel kind of good! It was fun to know I can do that"
"I want you to hold onto this feel of empowerment [yeah...] and sexiness and owning it, because that's what's going to take it out of the friendzone with Tye, and that's gonna make him see you differently."
Martha Jones isn't having any of your bullshit, Plain Jane
I think it's plain twisted to teach a girl that the way to empower herself is to dress sexy for men and objectify her sexuality in order to seduce men. That's so WRONG. A woman's body and sexuality is her own. And it's not there to decorate anyone's world. And it's not there to be objectified, or ogled at, or paid for (and don't you tell me it's a choice and a potentially liberating one, 'choice feminism'. Being able to have casual sex without being branded a 'slut' is empowering. Being demanded by a patriarchal industry in order to cater to the services of (usually male) clients and having to fake your own pleasure is so NOT empowering or liberating, and those jobs should never be romantizised as such).

I disagree with people who think that objectifying yourself is empowering . I disagree with people who enjoy watching someone objectify themselves. Those people, quite simply put, disgust me. I also strongly disagree with the faction of (wrongly) called 'feminists’ that states that pole-dancing, stripping and prostitution is actually a form of 'sexual empowerment'. I see no empowerment in the sexual explotation and objectification of human-beings, be them men or women. Sue me. And this has nothing to do with me siding with any 'modesty mindset', which are just as bad and just as objectifying, and both things usually go hand in hand. 

 So, Plain Jane team and anyone who agrees with them, if you think that women owe anyone all this, dressing and acting desirable, or covering up when requested, you're WRONG. And if you think that the only way to feel sexy is at the stage of a strip or burlesque club, again, you're WRONG. You’re SO FREAKING WRONG.

üSummary: Because learning the value of self-objectification isn't enough, Cristen must now learn to flirt and successfully entertain random strangers before she can practise on her crush.

"If our Plain Jane wants to take it to the next level with her secret crush tomorrow night, she'll have to use her new style and confidence to learn how to flirt"

 Of course, let's just use our appearance. And let's think that a woman is here to make men feel good. And that the only way to get a partner/boyfriend/relationship/date/whatever is showing him you're sexy and you're here to please him with your flirting skills.

Do men get taught how to flirt? How to groom themselves in order to get a woman? Nowadays, it must be happening more and more, what with all the idiotic TV reality shows which are being made, but there's still a huge double standard about this. Men are often just receivers of the woman's sexy makeover and flirtatious conversation. They play along, they decide if they're interested, usually they make the first move and the woman has to play both flirtatious and coy, following their cue.

Now there's also a male dating coach joining the sexist team, ready to instruct Cristen how to catch a man with her flirting skills. And these tips are basically smile, feed their ego and don't ask intrusive, 'obvious' questions.

(Stylist) "I want you to chat (these guys) up. Hey, if you can't talk to guys, here, how are you going to talk to Tye?'

Because people don't need to be 100% extraverted and flirty with the whole of the opposite sex (I guess this show isn't very same-sex-relationship friendly) in order to date someone? Because Tye was supposedly already her friend and they were familiar with each other? 

And of course, then there's the nice addition of torture. Like a dog in training (she's in a dog area where guys are walking their dogs, so they even feed us the metaphor that way as well), she's going to get zapped if the stylist and dating coach don't think she's flirting properly, or if she doesn't attract the man's interest.
But they weren't, Nine, they weren't!
"Anytime you fall back into your Plain Jane ways, I'm gonna give you a zap. How fun is this?"

Well, it would be way funnier if you were the one getting zapped every time you spewed sexist bullshit out of your mouth.

And yay, she's wearing heels already, because, like they told us during their shopping session, a woman with constricted walking capabilities seems to be  essential to attract all the men.
No mobility-impairing heels: No men in your life, and no worth as a woman
"You're walking as if you're wearing stilts"
Well, DUH, she's wearing impossibly high wedges, what on earth did you expect??

"Don't be rude to him"
"Don't ask him about work"
"Don't be sarcastic"
"A little feisty this time"
So 'Think all the time about pleasing them, but we can be as rude as we want with you'.

"Let's make him jealous" By talking to two guys at once. Hell yeah, because women are in this world to make men fight and compete for us thanks to bouts of jealousy caused by our provocative approaches. A very legit dating tip.

"Stand up. You are not on your knees here"

Oh, isn't she?
I'm going to be needing your pulverizer when you can spare it, Missy
(Cristen) "Oh, he's real cute (...) Louise, did you see how cute he was?!"  Weren't you interested in Tye?

"You're gonna get this guy's number or you're gonna get zapped"

Also, this isn't scripted at all, because the conversation is basically 'Hi, do you want to give me your number?' 'Yeah, sure'. OK, very realistic. Also, let's talk about how they're playing with the men here as well. They have feelings too, right? I guess many are sort of accustomed to this and won't suffer at all, but still.

"You've got the confidence, you've learned how to flirt, now tomorrow night Tye's not gonna know what hit him."

Confidence “=” Objectifying yourself by learning to titillate men in a burlesque (or strip) club.
Learning to flirt “=” Essential when it comes to having a significant relationship.
All that matters “=” The man being pleased.
Triple facepalm.

She feels 'a little bit more confident about herself'  because she has burlesque danced and managed to ask a guy's phone number and flirt. That's what it takes to build your confidence as a woman, Seriously? Interesting that we know nothing about her studies or job or anything. And her hobbies are just things that she should ditch.

By the way, when this episode was up in YouTube, the comments were very illustrative. So many girls saying this is so cute  and romantic and how jealous they are of her. That's what really makes me scared. All the impressionable girls like Cristen out there who think this is the way to get a relationship. Of all the comments I managed to read (because I kept facepalming too hard), only one person thought the whole thing was sexist and disrespectful, Only ONE. And she got all the negative votes. I weep for humanity.

So Cristen's got everything she needs to attract a man now! A society-conforming wardrobe, self-objectifying mindsets masquerading as 'confidence', flirting, men-catering skills...She just needs the physical makeover now! Final part of the episode coming soon!

  • Long discussion: On the sex industry and objectification - It's not about the workers. It's about the people (men) who demand them.
Continuing from my initial 'disclaimer' in this post, any criticism, blame or shame here goes exclusively to the people who BUY and DEMAND the services of the sex industry, NOT to the women who offer them and make a living in the sex industry, be it in a forced or “chosen” way (and in a lesser degree, also men – But given that the women in the sex industry represent a higher percentage, and that the series refers to women, I’ll stick to the women here).  I think that blaming the people who work in the sex industry, labelling them as ‘sluts’ and ‘disgusting’ to say the least, is a very convenient and very cowardly measure to keep the blame off the people who actually demand the services that created the sex industry in the first place. Sex-working women are not the ones ‘to blame’, not in the slightest – People (mostly men) who demand they work in jobs that generally demean, objectify and humiliate them ARE. 

Quite a number of indivuals (some of whom identify as feminists) defend sex-work because people generally end up going against sex-workers instead of bashing the people who actually demand the services of those sex workers. But I think that those might also be forgetting that all these occupations are creations of Patriarchy for the enjoyment of men and the denigration of women (of course, not all men agree with Patriarchy on that respect), and that to defend and exalt them is ultimately to keep on promoting objectification and sexism.  People  also seem to be forgetting that the majority of sex-workers are not there willingly or as their first option, and their lives are not exactly easy and oh-so-empowering-and-sexy.

Following this line of thought, some people try to keep the ‘blame’ off the consumers by saying that some of these women actually ‘choose’ and even ‘enjoy’ working in the sex industry, so no problems anywhere, and also, we’re not entitled to comment on or critisize anything. But here I’m not dealing with personal reasons or likes. I’m critisizing the inherent misogyny of the issue, and, as I mentioned at the start of this post, contrary to what ‘choice feminism’ thinks, the fact that a woman freely ‘chooses’ to do something does not make her choice automatically feminist or sexism-free. Be these people coerced or making their own choices, the sex industry is inherently sexist no matter what because the women who work in it have it as their job to fake their emotions and their pleasure, to objectify themselves and have others objectify them, and to cater to their (usually male) clients in every single way, usually dehumanizing and diminishing themselves in the processAnd that, disregardless of one’s choices or reasons or likes on the matter, is something that is inherently and utterly misogynistic. How the hell is that empowering or liberating? How the hell does that question the patriarchal status quo in any single way? 

Sex work does not challenge the patriarchal status quo in any way, ergo it is not feminist in any way. Pseudo-liberal 'feminist' currents should stop making people think it's something that makes women 'empowered' in the 21st Century. Women have more options now. We're not in the past, when being a sex worker or a nun often were the lesser evils because those occupations could actually allow women to get an education (courtesans) or a bit more independence (money, absence of a husband) - at the expense of dehumanizing yourself, of course, but that's a male-dominated society for you. But glorifying sex work as a pefectly good job option for women is now as ridiculous as it is anachronistic.

and about those people who like to argue saying that such a job can be 'sexually liberating' (series such as Secret Diary of a Call Girl have helped to give many people such an idea): A woman has all the right in the world of having sex and enjoying her sexuality, but it's plain wrong to consider that a woman's sexuality is there to please you. Men or anyone else.  That burlesque, or pole dancing, or strip clubs, or being a courtesan or a prostitute/escort/call-girl, are 'empowering role models' and an 'empowering' job. If you're viewing a woman as a sex object that flaunts her sexuality to please you (in a job created by a society which demands that of women) then that's called objectification, plain and simple, and how the hell is that 'sexually liberating'? These are occupations made by men in order to make women please them, and it's plain ridiculous that critisizing objectification should be seen as 'narrow-minded' or 'prudish' (and the same goes for men who are asked to objectify themselves, btw).

 If someone wants to have a busy sex life, good for them!  But why on earth would anyone think that paying someone who they automatically dehumanize to do what they tell them to their body is remotely OK? People can find other people sexually attractive, but still see them as human beings. But going to a place where human beings are dehumanized and seen as sole sex objects for other people's pleasure and arousal, how is that remotely OK? We're not freaking animals, for heaven's sake. People should stop justifying their dehumanization of so many people by alluding to their 'basic urges' which are 'natural' and 'cannot be controlled'. 

Critisizing the sex industry does not mean upholding 'modesty mindsets'. A very different matter is to defend women's right to wear whatever they want and to have a free sexual life. There are ways of being 'sexy' and 'owning it' and 'feeling empowered about your body' and 'feeling inner the sex goddess', like the burlesque part dialogue said, without equating it to institutions who make use of women's bodies for profit and people's (normally, men's) enjoyment, and I wish people stopped mixing those two very different concepts up, because it does a lot of wrong.

Critisizing the sex industry is indeed very different from the so-called “slut shaming”. 'Slut shaming' (a term that I don’t appreciate because it seems that people are entitled to think you’re a 'slut' but simply should not say it because it's rude) is a way of attacking women who are in control of their sex life, and also a way of attacking women who dress 'too provocative', especially in those cases or contexts when it's not particularly in order to be appealing to men. Why attack a woman who wears low tank tops or women who are sexually experienced, when in a patriarchal society we have a good history of women flaunting their sexuality for men in clubs and being pretty much forced to dress sexy in order to be desirable? Because these women are daring to step away from patriarchal control by not directly laying their sexuality at the feet of men.  So they must be labelled sluts, because that won't do.

As I see it, this kind of objectification is very different from:
  -Being confident about your body and/or sexuality.
 -Dressing exactly like you want (oppressive head and body coverings, usually religious, not included, because that’s hardly a misogyny-free choice, when it is a choice)
  -Natural nudity, as in the depiction of naked people without viewing them as meat. Rad, I know.
  -Being in control of your sex life, choosing how much sex you have and when and where and with whom.
 -Healthy erotica, which exalts sexuality without objectifying people. Very different from porn, which generally glorifies sexism, lack of consent, humiliation, and violence against women.

And I sincerely wish people were able to make a difference between what's dehumanizing and what's simply having to do with 'sex' and 'sexuality', because I'm tired of being called a 'narrow-minded prude' every time I dare to critisize these issues.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Doctor Who feminist reviews - 'Mighty Kublai Khan'

-Doctor: First
-Companions: Susan (the Doctor's granddaughter), Barbara Wright (Susan's history teacher) and Ian Chesterton (Susan's science teacher).
-Episode: 'Mighty Kublai Khan' (Classic Who, 1964. Season 1 Marco Polo story part 6/7). Only some pictures and the audio narration remain.

My first Classic Who review! And yes, I'm starting with part 6/7 because 1) Timey-wimey stuff xD and 2) I read an article in September's Doctor Who magazine (DWM), which led to me watching-listening to the episode, which led to this review.

Synopsis here. This review contains SPOILERS.

-Sexism, feminist content and the role of women:
  • Number of women: 3 - Susan, Barbara and Ping-Cho. Court noblewomen in the background.
  • Bechdel test and female bonding: Yes - Susan and Barbara. Susan and Ping-Cho (very briefly, and one-sided, with Ping-Cho saying 'Goodbye, Susan' to a sleeping Susan in the room they share, just as she is ready to escape from the inn).
  •  Empowered traits in at least one female character? Susan and Barbara speak out against a sexist arranged marriage and Ping-Cho shows agency when trying to escape said marriage.
  • Feminist content in the script:  Criticism of arranged marriages. Susan and Barbara speak out against Ping-Cho’s arranged marriage with a man way older than her, and Barbara says that Ian and the Doctor are against the arranged marriage as well:
    Susan and Barbara rock with their outspoken feminist criticism in this episode
"TEGANA: Ah, all their sympathies are with Ping-Cho. They are all against this marriage. 
POLO: Then why did Ian go back to look for her? 
TEGANA: Exactly. 
(Susan and Barbara enter, laughing.) 
TEGANA: I'm glad to see that your humour is not impaired by our misfortune. 
BARBARA: What do you mean? What misfortune? 
TEGANA: Well, your friend Ian has not returned. We can only assume that he's failed to find Ping-Cho. 
BARBARA: Oh, you haven't given him enough time yet. 
SUSAN: Anyway, I'm glad. I hope he doesn't. 
TEGANA: Oh, I see. You want to see her alone, do you? Without friends? She might be kidnapped, murdered. 
SUSAN: Well, that won't happen to her. She's got money. She can buy a safe passage home. 
TEGANA: Money! Are we all sit in fear for her, and her intended husband sits in despair? 
SUSAN: Oh, even you couldn't be so cruel as to want her to marry a man four times her age. 
TEGANA: Even I? I thank you, lady. And this is your opinion too, I suppose? 
BARBARA (snarky): I suppose so. 
POLO: One moment. Are you opposed to Ping-Cho's marriage? 
BARBARA: Look, why are we- 
POLO: Answer my question please. 
BARBARA: Yes I am. Completely opposed to it. 
TEGANA: How very unusual for you and Ian to disagree. 
BARBARA: It isn't unusual at all. We don't agree about everything. And in this case, we're in complete agreement. All of us. 
POLO: This marriage has the Khan's blessing. Am I to understand that you oppose it? Am I? 
POLO: All four of you? 
BARBARA: Yes, all four of us."
You go, girls!
  • Role of women in the episode
   - Susan fulfills a pretty passive role, being captured by Tegana at the beginning of the episode and threatened before the Doctor, Ian and Barbara in exchange for the TARDIS (damsel in distress trope). She does show assertiveness later in the episode when speaking out alongside Barbara against Ping-Cho's arranged marriage.
    -Although Ian does most of the action, going back for the escaping Ping-Cho, siding with her to search for the stolen TARDIS and confronting Tegana at the end, Barbara also takes some part in the events, speaking to Ian about the need to convince Marco Polo that they’re time travellers in order to recover the TARDIS ('Listen, we need the TARDIS. You must talk to Marco.'). But, although Ian seems to talk with her in a reasonably equal level and actually seems to want for her to try to convince Marco alongside him, Barbara merely advises Ian on what to do, but probably because, thanks to gender roles, Marco would hardly want to listen to her, not because of a lack of assertiveness: Afterwards, Barbara speaks out in a wonderfuly assertive way, alongside Susan, against Ping-Cho’s arranged marriage.
The damsel in distress trope appear twice in this eppisode, but that doesn't prevent all three female characters from showing some assertiveness and agency at least once!
   - Ping-Cho shows agency when trying to escape her arranged marriage with an older man by fleeing Marco’s caravan and attempting to join another, but is also portrayed as naïve (being tricked by the false caravan member - Kuiju, Tegana's accomplice-, who robs her) and her position in that society is, as expected, one of little power (for example, the man at the Cheng-Ting way station, Wang Lo, grabs hold of her and prevents her escape when he finds out she has run away, and Ian has to come to her rescue - another damsel in distress trope). She continues showing agency when siding with Ian, though. She also confronts Kuiju at the end of the episode, helping to disarm him and asking for her money back.

"IAN: Ping-Cho, why did you do it? 
PING-CHO: The key. And I can't marry a man old enough to be my grandfather. I can't. Please don't take me back. Please."
  • Level of sexism: Women are viewed as inferior in that society and time, as can be expected.
- Patronizing attitudes towards Susan and Barbara from characters such as Marco Polo, Mongol warlord Tegana and Kublai Khan (patriarchal chivalry in the latter's case: 'These gracious ladies also accompany you, Marco?').

- Male characters, such as Kuiju and Wang Lo, call Ping-Cho ‘little one’ and 'foolish child'/'silly child' in a patronizing and demeaning way.   In contrast, Ian treats Ping-Cho in a more equal (or at least respectful) way, and ultimately includes her in his plans to retrieve the stolen TARDIS and sides with her in order to confront Kuiju. 
Ian gains points by including Ping-Cho's in his plans to regain the TARDIS
-The Doctor also addresses Susan in a gruff manner in one occassion ('Oh, do be quiet, child.'). He seems to be like that with everyone from time to time, though, and he shows concern for Susan's safety and affection towards her at the beginning of the episode, handing over the TARDIS key to Tegana and Marco Polo immediately ('Tell that man to take his hands off my grandchild! (...) So long as you're safe, Susan. That's all that matters.').

-Racial issuesMany of the actors portraying Oriental characters are Caucasian or have non-Asian ethnicities. This is addressed by the episode's director, Waris Hussein, in DWM 485: "Waris is relieved to see a few Oriental-sounding names. "Can you imagine! Today they'd be rioting in the streets if we cast all these people as Orientals. I mean, Derren Nesbitt as Tegana. And Kublai Khan was played by Martin Miller, a nice little Jewish guy from Hampstead." "

In the story proper, though, "[Marco Polo's story] showed a mixed-ethnic group rather than a stereotypical collection of one race." (Source)

-Class issues:  
The Doctor opposes the Khan’s order to kneel and humble himself before him, and I loved that part, not only because of the Doctor's snark, but also because I choose to read it as a potential criticism of the classism and ridiculous snobbish attitudes of the 'royalty' sector, and not only as a humourous moment where the Doctor can't kneel down because of his sore back and ends up bonding with the Khan over their shared ailments.
"VIZIER: When great Kublai Khan appears, you will make your obeisance to him. so that he may look kindly upon you, and spare your worthless lives. 
DOCTOR: Pray then, what am I supposed to do, sir? 
VIZIER: Kow-tow. Kneel upon the ground and touch your forehead upon the floor three times. 
DOCTOR: I shall do no such thing! 
VIZIER: Kublai Khan is the mightiest man the world has ever seen. Not to pay him homage will cost you your head. 
DOCTOR: Well, if it breaks my back, then he can take all of me. So why waste time on small items?
(Everyone kneels down except the Doctor)" 

Bonus Doctor snark:
"KHAN: Doctor? Oh, is he? Are you, perchance, a physician? 
DOCTOR: I am not a doctor of medicine, sire, otherwise I should be able to cure these pains."

-Morals, empathy and integrity: The Doctor doesn't hesitate to hand over the TARDIS key to Marco and Tegana in order to save Susan. Susan, Barbara, Ian and the Doctor express their opposition and distaste about Ping-Cho's arranged marriage. Ian refuses to kill Kiuju ("IAN: I'll kill him. TEGANA: Do so. He is of no importance. (Ian pushes Kiuju away)").

  • Things I liked
 -Susan and Barbara critisizing arranged marriages.
-The Doctor's snark and his refusal to kneel before the Khan.
-Ian's conversation with Marco about them being time-travellers.

"IAN: I come from another time. Our caravan, it not only covers distance, it can cross time. 
POLO: Travel into the past and the future? 
IAN: Yes. I know it's difficult to believe, but it's the truth."

Can't really judge about the episode in general (acting, cinematography, etc) without being able to see it, unfortunately, so that ends today's review. As to 'things I didn't like', I guess I'd include everything under the 'level of sexism' section (which is objective historical sexism which was to be expected and can be critisized), plus Tegana's character in general.