#DickheadDetox : Joss Whedon for Telling Women How to be Feminists

I want Whedon to be a proper feminist ally. He uttered the phrase that so many people miss: feminism is about believing women are people too. That’s the basic definition of feminism regardless of where you fall on the spectrum: from socialist to radical to sex positive. We may fundamentally disagree on some very large points but we all start from the premise that women are human too.

The idea that women are human too is so very radical and so very few take the opportunity to think about what it actually means to treat women as if they are human too. And, this is my problem with Whedon: he talks the talk but I don’t think he walks the walk yet. I’m not even sure if he’s noticed there is a walk to walk. 

I grew up watching Degrassi Junior High. I’m Canadian; ask any kid of my generation living in an area with access to TV and they will be able to tell you all about Spike’s pregnancy, Wheel’s drunk driving and Joey’s hats. It was more real than any other TV program aimed at teenagers covering topics like divorce, suicide, drug addiction, poverty, disablism, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and shitty teenage friendships. It wasn’t feminism but it was real.

Then along came Buffy. Well, actually along came Beverly Hills 90210 and Saved by the Bell with the arrival of cable television. To this day, I cannot understand how a school in Beverly Hills could have a school paper and another school five miles down the road didn’t have enough money to buy textbooks for their kids. Seriously, as real as Degrassi was, at least they had fucking textbooks. The American school system boggles my mind. 

Buffy was like Degrassi but fun (plus, I had access to cable TV and I cannot emphasise enough how cool this was!). Buffy was everything I wanted to be, and she could go outside all year round without a parka and never had to worry about frostbite or outdoor PE at -30. I adored Buffy for her wardrobe because I was a teenager and totally self-absorbed. I also loved Buffy for falling for the bad boys.

And, this is where Buffy goes all wrong as a feminist program (and I cannot tell you how much I wish it were feminist). Angel was controlling and creepy before he became Angelus. There was nothing romantic about their relationship. Everyone carries on about Edward from Twilight being super-stalkery. I’m not sure Angel was all that different. Spike certainly wasn’t ever a dude you would want to reproduce with, even if he could. The male characters were all problematic: from inventing “sexbots” to stalking to general arsehattery. 

The relationship between Willow and Buffy was great. If that had been the focus of the show (and no love affair between a seriously old creepy vampire and a teenager) then Buffy would have been pretty damn cool. It still would have been a rather depressing example of white supremacy in action but it would have been marginally better.

And, this is where so much of Hollywood, Whedon included, fails. Does anyone seriously believe a public high school in California had an entirely white student body? I certainly never noticed there was a problem with Buffy having an almost entirely white cast as a teenager. There were only a few TV programs when I was a kid which had non-white characters: The Cosby Show and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  The effect of the erasure of people of colour from mainstream culture has had a detrimental effect on us all. Buffy contributed to this. 

And, this is why I’m struggling with Whedon the Super-Feminist narrative. Whedon implies he both understands racism and feminism in his speech but doesn’t acknowledge the fact that his programs have rarely featured non-white cast members. Whedon doesn’t discuss the fact that almost all his female characters are young, thin and pass the patriarchal fuckability test. He doesn’t mention his use of rape as a trope. In fact, the attempted rape of Buffy by Spike somehow gets written out of subsequent episodes and Spike’s appearance in season 5 of Angel. Rape is something that women fear daily. Using it to prove that a vampire is “bad” is a ridiculous and offensive use of rape-as-a-trope.

If it’s true that Whedon “unemployed” Charisma Carpenter from Angel because she was pregnant which resulted in a plot line so heinous that Angel was canceled, then Whedon really doesn’t get to call himself a feminist.

I used to think men could be feminists too. But, now, I mostly think men who call themselves feminists haven’t got a freaking clue. I know men who want to learn (and who shut up and listen) and I know men who are amazing feminist allies because they got that learning about feminism was something they had to do rather than demanding women educate them about it. (and, for the love of Pete, someone save us from “the reasonable man”).

Here’s what feminism doesn’t need and never has: rich, white dudes telling women they are doing feminism wrong. I may not agree with Katy Perry’s understanding of feminism but the person who has no right to call Perry out: rich, white dudes like Whedon.

Feminism is fundamentally about acknowledging that women are human too. It’s really not that difficult to do: you start by not attacking women for not being to succeed in an industry which punishes women for acting out with their prescribed gender roles as fucktoys. Katy Perry may not call herself a feminist and I certainly don’t like her videos or her music but she is a woman trying to survive. A rich, white dude like Whedon [even when poor and unpublished] will never understand what it is like to be a woman in a culture which hates us. 

He needs to do a whole lot more listening and a whole lot less yapping before we can even begin to discuss the term feminist ally.

Here are two excellent responses to the problems with the Whedon-The-Feminist narrative:

Why i can’t with the Whedon Bandwagon at Our Feminist Playschool

What Joss Whedon gets wrong with the word Feminist at The Atlantic

5 thoughts on “#DickheadDetox : Joss Whedon for Telling Women How to be Feminists”

  1. This was good to read. I love Buffy for the same reasons most people my age do, but it’s difficult to re-watch, especially the later bits.

    A very minor point that really grated with me recently was – Whedon writes a charater (one of his few non-whites, Kendra, bless her terrible accent), who is supposedly entirely cut off from society. To the point that she stammers when confronted with Real Manliness.

    But she wears a faceful of makeup. As you do.

    I am aware this is simply because nicely made-up girls look prettier on screen (rolls eyes), but if you think about it for a second it’s absolutely nuts, isn’t it? Like she missed out on the bit of conditioning with boys but got totally into the L’Oreal?

  2. He’s just another rich white dude with an agenda. Another crap writer too. And look at his work, it’s full of compulsory heterosexuality and pushing the penis-centred myth. Even in Buffy being lesbian is treated as some weird exception for dudes to get off on.

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