Joss Whedon

Why the Issues People Have With Joss Whedon Are Unfounded (Part 2 of 3)

As mentioned in the first part, The Daily Dot has an interesting article covering why Joss Whedon is considered a geek god. However, the article goes on to list 3 reasons (racism, sexism and his lack of talent as a director) as to why he shouldn’t be considered as such.

Just like any other fan(atic), I have my own points of contention with Whedon. However, the 3 listed reasons just aren’t it for me. In the first part, I discussed the perceived racism in Whedon’s works and in this part it’ll be sexism.

Sexism

Oh my! Accusing Joss Whedon of being sexist is almost as bad as accusing Kanye West of being humble. But there it is, people are pointing at The Whedon and accusing Mr Equality Now of being sexist.

Now, of course this isn’t going to fly with me, the blind Whedon butt kisser that I am (as I’m sure many people would accuse/compliment me of being). But this time I’m going to start with pointing out the problem with our perceived idea of femininity.

Thanks to (what I’ve come to think of as) Internet Feminism, we have been led to believe that feminism is the act of glorifying women and glossing over the terrible things that they actually go through. Truth is, the world we live in today is unfairly tilted towards men. Women are objectified, subjugated and undermined and it does no one any favours by denying it. Feminism shouldn’t be about ignoring all of these but, rather, raising awareness to stop this misogynistic culture while celebrating the women that have been able to rise above these problems and still kick ass.

In the articles on The Daily Dot and The Mary Sue, the authors argue that a truly feminist writer wouldn’t have his female characters raped, broken, dependant or in perpetual states of sexualisation… but this kinda misses the point of feminism. To ignore the daily trials and tribulations of a woman would be both insulting and backward in the fight towards equality. But apparently, that is exactly what ‘feminists’ of this internet age want—fairy tale depictions of life for women. And Whedon’s work just doesn’t cut it for them.

After all, Whedon isn’t a feminist by the Tumblr/Facebook definition of feminism. In fact, feminism has gotten to the point where activists are looking for sexism even when there is none.

Anybody who has watched any of the X-Men movies would know that the reason Wolverine replaced Shadowcat in the X-Men movies because Wolverine sells. And honestly, the audience (even Cyclops fans like me) go into the theatre expecting 120 minutes of Hugh Jackman goodness. It isn’t a sexist statement to have a logical reasoning as to why a male character replaces a female character. It would have been sexist had Kitty been portrayed as a whiny little coward who needed a big, strong man to do her job for her. But that wasn’t the case.

Worse still, this knee jerk reaction seems to stem from this new school of “women don’t need no men” thought. And this brings about my first point as to why Whedon is ‘feminist’ despite all his women seeming to need men in their lives.

As one blogger (whose name I can’t be bothered to recall) so crudely put it, “Buffy is only as strong as the guy whose dick she’s holding on to.” Oh my!

Truth bomb: People, it is not non-feminist to need a man in your life. Just like how it isn’t non-masculine for a man to need a woman in his life. It is a perfectly human thing to need someone. And if you happen to be straight, then it’s pretty normal for that someone to be of the opposite gender. So, unless you can claim to never having turned to your boyfriend/girlfriend during trying periods of you life (and heaven knows, Buffy’s whole life was nothing if not trying) you really can’t accuse Buffy for needing her boyfriend.

My further assessment of non-sexism in Buffy is in response to the article found on site The Mary Sue.

Buffy, the Slayer
JW-Buffy

As the article correctly states, the Slayer line was created by men who, unwilling to combat demonic threats themselves, sought to imbue a demonic essence into a girl to give her the strength to fight these supernatural threats. While, yes, this is an analogy of men subjugating women to their own whims, the analogy does not end here. It continues on to season 3 of Buffy when she turns her back on those men, breaking centuries old chains of bondage and, in doing so, convinces her Watcher (Wesley) to do the same.

In fact, he is the second Watcher to convert to her cause (perhaps an analogy for the first male feminists?) after Giles who had already been removed from the Watcher’s Council following the events of the episode “Helpless.” This analogy continues on to season 5 where the Watchers attempt to re-impose their power on Buffy only to have the tables turned on them by the Scooby Gang, and finally concludes in season 7 when the Slayer is no longer a lone woman serving a council of men (who were all killed in a fiery explosion, by the way) but an army of girls working with each other to protect the world. So Slayers: 1, Misogynistic Council: 0.

The article goes on to accuse Buffy of being “textually weak in all her relationships.” Apparently, it’s being unreasonably weak for a 17 year old to fall apart after having had sex with her boyfriend for the first time only to have him revert to his true, demonic, sadistic self. Really, who wouldn’t be devastated by that? Also, she gets heartbroken when a guy she likes, Parker, reveals that he had only used her for a one night stand. But do keep in mind that during that point in time she was feeling like an outsider more than ever having lost Angel and, to an extent, Giles. Of course, a bunch of you ‘feminists’ are now raging that no woman should ever feel lost without a man, but keep in mind that one of them men whom she lost was a father figure (bitch all you want about boyfriends, but father figures are significant). And as for losing Angel, it’s not like it was a one-sided “only girls are weak post-break up” thing. If anything, Angel took it harder. He continued pining for her throughout the first season of Angel, going so far as to return to Sunnydale multiple times and didn’t properly move on till the very end of the third season of his own show. And Riley’s consorting with vamps doesn’t sexually undermine Buffy in any way.

If anything, Riley was a metaphor for men who are comfortable with their position in society (deferring only to an elder, somewhat masculine figure who just happened to be codenamed ‘Mother’) and have a hard time dealing with strong women. His spiraling was due to his insecurities beside Buffy and his paranoid perception of her relationship with Angel. In fact, his spiraling only came to a stop when he met and married Samantha. So if anything, Whedon could only be accused of being sexist against men. Between perpetually missing fathers, insecure boyfriends and male peers (Xander!) and men who make bad decisions influenced by their ego in the name of the greater good, Buffy mainly lacks strong, self-defining men who are wise beyond their own egos. But I don’t see anyone making an issue about that. (And if they did, I’d be back to tear them a new one with examples from Angel, Firefly and Astonishing X-Men.) Also, despite all of Buffy’s ‘weaknesses’ during the relationship, she has always come out stronger and, once again, breaks the bonds of male bondage. Being feminist isn’t about pretending that women don’t get emotional, don’t get objectified or don’t rely on men. That isn’t feminism, that’s fiction.

Feminism is showing that a woman is capable of overcoming any problem regardless of the nature (and genitalia) of that problem.

(Also, Parker gave us an awesome scene of pre-lesbian Willow verbally owning his ass.)

Xander
JW-Xander

Accusing Xander of being the worst perpetrator of demeaning women by way of his childish needs, is like being afraid of bunnies. Which would only make sense if you were Anya. While, yes, he has done some despicable things (cheating on Cordy by kissing Willow, and trying to make her fall in love with him by way of magic) he doesn’t go unpunished. For every accusation levelled at Whedon for ‘punishing’ sexually aware women, there is an example of males undergoing the same trauma. Angel literally can’t be happy in a relationship; Wesley makes only one good relationship choice that culminates in tragedy; Xander’s ultimate failing is his own insecurities.

Much like my point on Riley, Xander represents the insecure man, but this time one who is insecure with his own identity than Riley’s more contextual form of insecurity. Xander is a geek who gets bullied (and pretty viciously, at that) by the pretty girls. Cordelia included. While how he ultimately treated her is by no means right, he is still a well-written geek who has no other form of social protection other than his brand of asshole-ry.

Faith
JW-Faith

Faith is easily my favourite Buffy character. She is far from the best character written, and most of my favourite episodes are actually Willow-centric, but she is an incredibly fun character who (as stated by The Mary Sue article) was written as the thematic shadow of Buffy. Who ever said she was meant to be a sane, strong female?! She’s a mess. She was always supposed to be a mess (until season 1 of Angel) and that is exactly what makes her the anti-Buffy. Y’see, unlike Buffy, Faith doesn’t get shit thrown at her every two or three weeks. But also unlike Buffy, she doesn’t get her shit together and deal with it. That is the point of Faith.

Every weakness of Faith’s is a strength of Buffy’s. Now, on a more holistic approach, what amuses me is that these accusations of sexism are based on women being written like, well, women. Feminism isn’t about pretending that women are perfect, infallible characters. Feminism is about how women break out of objectification and that they’re just as capable as men in finding ways to make up for their flaws and coping in a world selfishly designed for men by men.

In fact, it would be offensive and insulting to women if Buffy (or Angel, or Firefly) was a seven year pretense that the world is perfect for women and it’s all rainbows and butterflies (thank you, Maroon 5) without being compromised.

Each and every one of the 144 episodes of Buffy repeatedly shows us that this is a girl (and, later, a woman) who is constantly reminded that the world is not yet accepting of strong, independent women and, yet, finds ways to beat the crap out of the bigotries of society.

Parts 1 and 3
Part 1 discusses the perceived racism in Whedon’s work.
Part 3 discusses Whedon the Writer vs Whedon the Director.

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