Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Joss Whedon: Sexist Monster?

That's the theory posited by this gal, based on the content of the Firefly universe:

I have become increasingly interested in examining Joss Whedon’s work from a feminist perspective since I had a conversation with another lesbian feminist sister at the International Feminist Summit about whether Joss was a feminist. I am really quite shocked by how readily Joss is accepted as a feminist, and that his works are widely considered to be feminist. I decided to start re-watching Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and also to watch Firefly and the movie Serenity.

I have to say that now that I have subjected myself to the horror that is Firefly, I really am beyond worried about how much men hate us, given that this was written by a man who calls himself a feminist.

I find much of Joss Whedon’s work to be heavily influenced by pornography, and pornographic humour. While I would argue that there are some aspects of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer that are feminist and progressive, there is much that isn’t and I find it highly problematic that there are many very woman-hating messages contained within a show that purports itself as feminism. But Firefly takes misogyny to a new level of terrifying. I am really, really worried that women can call the man who made this show a feminist.

For myself, I’m not sure that I will recover from the shock of watching the malicious way in which Joss stripped his female characters of their integrity, the pleasure he seemed to take from showing potentially powerful women bashed, the way he gleefully demonized female power and selfhood and smashed women into little bits, male fists in women’s faces, male voices drowning out our words.

There is so much hatred towards women contained within the scripts and action of the series that I doubt very much that this post will even begin to cover it. . . .

Mind you, she does try. Click through to see the valiant effort. Is this all an elaborate put-on? I know a few third-wave feminist types (Go Smith!), and my guess is that they would only write this way as a goof. But maybe I'm naive.

In any case, Ace of Spades has a funny rejoinder:

This has got to be the stupidest fucking essay ever written in the whole of the 'Verse. And when I say that, I'm including the Reavers' poetry.

Of course, we forget what radical feminism looks like at our own peril. Witness the greatest bit of unintentional self-parody ever produced: This piece in Salon about a woman who decides to explore the political results of strapping it on and giving it to her (very questionable) boyfriend. Read it for the hysterical sex talk (the boyfriend wants her to use something called "The Boss"), but stay for the ridiculous cultural musings. Here's a sample:

With the Boss, I was conquering, silent, responsible, the taker. With his legs spread, Adam was agreeable, inviting, ashamed, taken. I felt closer to him that night than any other time, because we changed in front of each other's eyes. Parts of ourselves that had been locked away from it engaged in sex for the first time.

The world looks different since then. I was riding up a steep escalator a few weeks after I took Adam's cherry, idly watching the butts up ahead of me as I usually do -- as a pleasing shape. And suddenly a slide clicked over the round female bottom perched above me: Access. Men aren't just admiring the curve of a butt the way women do; they're negotiating access. It's a hill to be taken.

And men do love access. Clubs, fraternities, committees, old-boy networks -- they've built a world where access is power. They like slit skirts, open-toed shoes, crotchless panties. They like finding a way in. I think the name of the highest-profile condom brand is no accident -- the Trojan Horse was the original tool of access!

Which is crazier: That or Whedon as sexist monster? I report, you decide.


Anonymous said...

Anything potentially "feminist" written by a guy can be torn to shreds by any seasoned feminist on the basis of gender.


The real question you might be asking is if Whedon was a woman and telling the same stories, would you take that person to task as much?

And if the counterpoint is that "women don't write this way", then it falls into a gender-based pigeon-hole, which, on the basis of gender, no one can dig themselves out of even if they wanted to.

This is a chinese-finger trap of an argument.

Anonymous said...


it is impossible to tell a good story anymore without offending someone.

Anonymous said...



It's one thing to argue that there are problems with accepting this series (or others written by the same person) as feminist friendly.

It's another thing altogether to say a man one has never met rapes and abuses his wife, whom one has also never met.

Last I checked, that was called slander.

Anonymous said...

I actually cried when I read her blog. I wept. I'm a feminist. I majored in Women's Studies and the kind of hate she is spewing, her theory that all men must be rapists is beyond bigoted. Plus she dissed on my Joss and there is no forgiving that.

Anonymous said...

I think there's a real problem with what people think feminism means, today. What's sad is that this kind of hardline condemnation alienates people who are "on the fence," so to speak. The reasonable people who don't want to be sexist but don't realize how they are being sexist. Raised as we are, in the kind of society, global as well as local, I'm not going to hold it against someone who's willing to learn and change.

Sexism is everywhere in pop culture. It's not a nice truth, but a truth nonetheless. Joss Whedon isn't guiltless, here, however he is far from the kind of problems feminist should be worrying about. Buffy as feminist art is, I think, kind of a misguided project. But I think Whedon was working through a lot as an artist throughout the series and I'm not going to hold the gender issues he opted not to deal with in Buffy.

Firefly, however, doesn't deserve feminist ire. Allecto has equated feminism with... I'm trying to find a better word for witch-hunting, but nothing's coming to mind. She reached her conclusion long before she watched Firefly twice, read all the scripts thrice, etc. She raises a number of points that sound like feminism. Ostensibly, she could well have had something, but the show doesn't work that way. Allecto wants the women to be held in special regard. This isn't feminism. It's just a different kind of sexism.

I don't really blame her, even, because it's very easy to get the two mixed up. But here's a test. Step into a hypothetical machine, and switch the genders of everyone on the show. With the possible exception of Jayne - who's supposed to be an asshole - everything still works. Allecto's hangups on men ordering women around, on the commodification of sex as imprisoning women, actually reflect old world values, which is something feminism should be rebelling against. But putting women in chain of command roles, allowing for equal-opportunity prostitution, and allowing women to get into fights with men when we're cheering for the men is more liberating than putting them on a pedestal and refusing to let them get as dirty as everyone else.

Plus, bringing race into the discussion is an entirely moot point, as Firefly is set in a world where race doesn't seem to matter at all. Mal and Zoe don't see each other as different.

Yes, these women are flawed. But women are flawed, because they are people, which is something Allecto's brand of feminism seems to forget. We're all the same, except that we're all different. This doesn't have anything to do with gender and race. I feel for her, because I know where she's coming from. It's fun, frankly, to get riled up into that kind of frenzy, and I even encourage it, but you can't lose perspective. Feminism should be about rubbing out all the lines in the sand, not drawing new ones.

Anonymous said...

That essay is the most flawed analysis of a television series since my 8 year old niece concluded the Flintstones was an accurate representation of the Stone Age. The writer assumes Joss Whedon is a rapist. She assumes, because she doesn't know of any, that there are no healthy interracial relationships. She assumes that no woman can knowingly engage in heterosexual sex and not be used.

Girlfriend has intellectual and personal issues. She needs to get out more.

Anonymous said...

What is disturbing is the rampant vilification, with the pseudo-syntax of a scholar. However, we see absolutely nothing in terms of evidence. Is she looking at something we might be missing or just taking things out of context in a reflex action.

For example, Inara is a Companion. Prostitution is historically seen as demeaning and offensive to the feminist paradigms. Yet, in the 'verse, she's got a lot of personal and professional power. But, you have to look at the series beyond one scene or one episode.

Largely, I get annoyed with such trash, mostly because that is what it is. It's just a lot of wind because someone is annoyed, without substance to back up some vague notions.

Anonymous said...

It's a garbage essay. That being said, Whedon Does have a lot of Issues.

Spike raped Buffy in the next to last season, later Buffy fell in love with him and had implied off-screen sex with the character. Before the rape there's plenty of icky, violent sex in an alley by a dumpster, in public, etc.

Firefly had a proposed episode where Minear talked Whedon out of it, that had Mal tauting Inara as a whore, Inara is taken by the Reavers and injects herself with a drug, they Reavers (offscreen) all rape Inara and die from the drug (the drug gimmick was used on Angel btw). After the crew rescues Inara, and find the dead Reavers, Mal kisses her hand like a queen.

Is Whedon a sexist? No more than most in Hollywood, he's probably pretty feminist (which is why much of his stuff sucks without strong collaborators). He relies on "shock" i.e. character rape, death, etc. over and over again. It's a cliche. Predictable. As predictable as figuring the Southern Christian is the bad guy.

Conclusion: this woman is a feminist and whack job (I know, redundant). Whedon is a hack writer depending on shock which got old sometime around 1830 or so, unless he's got someone strong to tell him "No Joss that sucks we're not doing it."