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December 31 2009

Whedon's Brunettes: Dark, Dainty, Disturbed and ... Disturbing? Pretty, fragile, damaged and dangerous -- what's the connection among these traits in female characters who occupy an important role in a number of Whedon works, and what's behind their creator's fixation?

It really does bear examining, because various permutations of the exact same character show up again and again in his work. And I think that tells us something about Joss, that he can’t seem to produce a creative work without this character. He inserts her again and again, setting up situations in which she can be saved, but in the end, she’s often doomed despite the best efforts of the other (usually male) characters.

(There's a lot of focus on externals in this article, so I think it's fair to note, as well, that Joss gives tremendous narrative/psychological importance to the inner strength, courage and personal dignity of these characters. An appearance of weakness often veils an incredible and inspiring strength in Joss's worlds -- a message well worth taking away into RL.)

Without drama there can be no. . . well, drama.
This isn't the first time I've read an ager tinged academic article which analyses only character with no mention of narrative. For example, how can a discussion of Drusilla's helplessness not include a mention of her carrying Spike out of a burning church? If you're going to criticize Spike calling Dru pet, shouldn't you admit that Spike was called all sort os names by Angel when Spike was the weaker character?

How can a discussion of River not include Simon's love for her, or the fact that the attempts by men to "save" her usually make things worse.

And the discussion of the brunette dolls I assume imagines a completely different show where some of the characters aren't broken.
Can we also not talk about the fact that River is a complete bad-ass?

Besides, the barefoot thing, as I udnerstand it, has less to do with traditional gender roles that this particular academic would like to believe. While listening to commentary for Serenity, it seems to me that River's feet is less about her simply not wearing shoes, and more about her connection to things, to her surroundings, her groundedness even in space. I would love this writer to have listened to his commentaries for "Objects in Space" and "Serenity" before writing this piece.
The whole "use someone's art to psychoanalyze them" approach is tired. This particular theme could well be interesting, but when one decides that it gives them the ability to make pronouncements about the artist rather than the art, s/he sacrifices credibility (and dates their approach to pre-1960s lit crit).

Sorry, I just made it through grading several undergraduate essays where it became clear that my railing on this particular subject all semester didn't do as much good as I had hoped.
This article is mediocre at best. The fact that the characters mentioned are brunette seems to be just mere coincidence. Most every Whedon character contains some trace of neurosis and helplessness. Also every character has to be saved/rescued at some point.
Yes, much like every PERSON IN THE WORLD has to be saved/rescued at some point.
I'm eager to read this authors next installments of Sassy Red Heads & Not-So-Angelic Blondes.
Are there spoilers in this article?
There's a little Dollhouse stuff in passing but it would only spoil for Season 1, maybe early Season 2.
Huh - Robin from season 8, another mentally ill barefoot brunette.
I think one could write an interesting article on similarities between Drusilla and River--but this is not it. It would also be possible to draw some comparisons between the two of them and Fred (though that's a bit more of a stretch)--but the author's discussion of Tara struck me as a pretty bad case of bending the facts to fit the theory. (I mean, Tara's not even brunette!)

And as others have mentioned, the author ignores a lot of pertinent plot developments. As, for instance, the part where River ultimately saves herself (*and* the men who have tried to save her). Or the part where, without Fred's mathematical genius, Angel et. al. might never have made it out of Pylea. Not to mention the part where Dollhouse has an entire character who is a critique of males who feel compelled to save damsels in distress.
Robin's a Minder and responsible for guarding against instability, by containing it. Which is the crux of the thing, I think: you might assume a barefoot woman in a dress needs saving, and sometimes she does, but sometimes she saves herself and everyone else too.
1. Make a list of every character in a Joss Whedon production.
2. Pare down list to only those who are "disturbed brunettes who wander around barefoot."
3. Write about how disturbing it is that all the characters on your list are "disturbed brunettes who wander around barefoot."
4. Surprise!

The author does realize that virtually every character they referred to is portrayed by a former ballet dancer (Summer Glau, Juliet Landau, Amy Acker, Amber Benson.) That might possibly have something to do with why it is this particular set of characters have these specific physical traits/character tropes in common.

Personally I enjoy it when screenwriters write to the inherent strengths of their cast - things come across so much more believable that way.

Edited for grammar.

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2010-01-01 01:21 ]
The article does have to ignore all sorts of data in order to come up with these parallels. But the one that's really getting to me is the definition of "brunette", which is so forced as to make the methods of the rest of the article perfectly clear. I wouldn't have called Fred a brunette either; I always thought of her as dark blonde. Or Tara come to think of it. But none of the adduced hold up to closer analysis.

I'd be interested to see an article that tells me why Joss Whedon cannot (apparently) make a show without a Slayer in it, a deceptively fragile-looking woman who turns out to be more powerful than anyone else around. Even when he doesn't start there, he can't seem to keep himself from writing them in. Buffy; Illyria; River; Echo as she integrates. Can Joss make a show that doesn't have a superpowered woman? He hasn't yet.

But "damaged brunettes"? Find me a single character in any Whedon show that ISN'T damaged. It's not just the brunettes, and it's not just the women.

Myself, I'd like to know what Whedon has against academics - both Giles and Wesley, my favourite characters, got written into people I couldn't exactly like. I was very sorry to see that.
Spike literally calls her “pet,” emphasizing how disdainfully he views her,

The fact that this is a commonplace endearment in Britain, which he also uses to Buffy and, I think even Dawn, is completely overlooked. OTOH, Dana might actually contribute to the thesis but is completely overlooked (perhaps because she's so vulnerable she cuts Spike's arms off?)

This is a hypothesis looking for evidence in support, not a deduction drawn from plentiful evidence. And completely overlooking the vulnerable males and the vulnerable or screwed-up blondes for that matter!
This article was both good and bad. It was good in the sense that honestly I'd never paid much mind to the fact that there does seem to be a recurring brunette with psychological problems in his shows.

It was bad in the sense that it devolved into a rant so quickly that it wasn't very satisfying or very probing. It also felt very "thown together" in that the argument jumps around. Also, turning Spike's term "pet" into a demeaning term seems to a have a lot more to do with the author than the context. Especially since Spike's defining characteristic that season appeared to be his complete and utter devotion to Dru. And, as it was stated, that is not an uncommon term of endearment. Essentially, it GIVES the counterargument all the ammunition it needs to at the very least ad hominem the argument to death.

That said, from a purely academic standpoint I do not find the thesis truly lacking save one major omission: the lack of this character in Dr. Horrible. If the statement is, does Joss Whedon have a tendancy to create a brunette who's psychological problems would qualify as a qualitatively describable psychiatric condition rather than simple eccentricity, then the answer is most definitely yes.

But I don't think that says anything about Whedon's psychology other than he likes to employ the same tools in his craft. He wouldn't be the only one.
Interestingly, stronger brunette characters are skimmed over or not mentioned. Examples? Faith. Cordelia. Illyria.

The article does what all academic articles does. It oversimplifies things to make a broad reaching point that may or may not be valid.
From a totally academic standpoint, I find this poor excuse for serious criticism just totally lame. ;)

Joss writes about damaged characters, period. Which is a perfectly valid focus, considering the world we live in. On average, the women are just as strong as the men and I'd probably lean toward more strong women, with more resilience than most of the men.

Show me two characters in fiction more damaged than Angel or Wesley. Or more heroic than Buffy and River, - and I'm leaning toward adding Echo to that list.

There have always been a few reviewers who want to make a reputation by turning Joss's reputation for a feminist perspective on it's head.
The ones who don't understand that genuine feminism means equality, and that equality allows women to be just as fucked up as men, and allows all the characters to save -or further damage - each other, without regard to gender.
I suspect that Dollhouse will cause these myopic reviewers to really come roaring out of the woodwork.
When I read the title I could only think of River and Dana. Drusilla fits in, Fred I guess, but Tara isn't brunette or deadly.
And as far as Spike "disdainfully" calling Drusilla pet? What show was she watching? Spike calls lots of people pet. Affectionately.
Even Angel, or maybe I read too much slash. Shrug.
An argument might be made for crazy characters, I've noticed a recurrence of those, but the article doesn't make its "damaged brunette" argument very well. It's repetitive, thin on details, and bends other details to make its point.

Although it is right that Tara is a brunette. That's something I've never understood: she's referred to at least once on the show as a blonde, and once in the comic as a blonde. Amber Benson is not blonde, neither is Tara! I think her hair was dyed a slightly lighter shade when she and Willow first met, but that's it.
Interestingly, stronger brunette characters are skimmed over or not mentioned. Examples? Faith. Cordelia. Illyria.

Also Inara, Kaylee, Adelle, Lilah, Kennedy.

Not to mention the occasional crazy non-brunette (Glory).

[ edited by MissKittysMom on 2010-01-01 04:10 ]

[ edited by MissKittysMom on 2010-01-01 04:10 ]
I'm apologise in advance if these points have already been made, but I'm a little tired (3am) to read everything thoroughly:

1) Tara shouldn't be on that list.
2) The "independent person" criteria in that blog post isn't necessarily valid. We aren't independent creatures, however much we might want to be, and having friends to rely on isn't an example of weakness (regardless of their sex).
3) The claim that these characters need protecting is disingenuous. Illyria, who Fred in essence becomes, is incredibly powerful. River saves everyone at the end of Serenity. It goes without saying that Caroline is incredibly strong, as we're quickly seeing, and Dru was a vampire for goodness' sake. It might be good to realise the reasons for her insanity too... she was very clearly portrayed as a victim there.
4) I don't approve of the Bella analogy, but I shan't get into that here.

That all said, I appreciate the discussion. There certainly is a character-trend in Joss' work, and it's something to be mindful of. I just happen to think that when you pick and choose specific attributes you can always make someone out to be weak, but when it comes down to it overall these characters seem to be strong and, importantly, are rarely doomed. River, the strongest example of this character trait, is an excellent example of this: however much Simon wants to save her, in the end she saves herself.

Finally, I would like to point out that the comment at the end about "misogynists" and "ableists" (the latter is new to me) is not helpful. It is, in fact, strikingly similar to the language some men use when they try to dismiss feminists. When you start accusing people of that, you've already basically said that you don't care what they're saying and so any discussion is moot.

Just my take on this... hopefully I'll have chance to check back before this disappears off the front page. Again, apologies in advance if some of this has been more eloquently addressed above.
LOL Shey. Yes, it certainly is lame; I wasn't debating that. Especially when the author tried to turn it into criticism.

I just don't find the overall idea of a commonality that out of place. It was certainly noticeable once it was pointed out. Just not sure I really care after that ;)
Hitchcock predominantly used blonds in his films. Joss seems to like brunettes quite a bit. It's the purpose they serve in the narrative that means anything. Hitchcock's blonds were extremely different in temperament and psychology; some were desperate and on the lam (Psycho), some were headstrong and messed up (Marnie), some were amoral and devious (Vertigo), some were cool, collected businesswomen who got their mettle tested (The Birds) and the list goes on. And so with the women in JW's works. All I really care about is, "Can they act?" For the most part, they've acted up a storm. That's about all the analysis I'm up for.
I appreciated the essay. I hadn't noticed the recurrence of the character type before. Edit out the disdain and judgment, delete Tara, emphasize the "Fred-Whiskey-River" trio, reconsider the "needing rescue" conclusion (since none of them are successfully rescued that can't be correct), and take advantage of the comment that notes that "the real danger that the brunettes portray is knowledge. All the damaged women here are hurt by knowledge and intelligence", and it'd be an A paper.
Brown is also by far the most common hair color in the world. Natural blondes and redheads are comparatively rare.
Thought it would be black hair for the most common?

I was intrigued by the concept of mental illness as represented in the Joss-verse.
Am I blind? Where's the "flood of misogynist and ableist comments"? There are only ten comments on the post and they all looked like thoughtful, reasonable, non-accusatory opinions to me.

I'm left wondering if the author actually watched these shows in their entirety. At the end of the day these characters generally saved themselves (and others).

On the whole, the article perhaps raises the beginning of an interesting question - recurring damaged women - but misses the target by neglecting the fact that they often turn out to be the most powerful people on the show.

Also, the wheel always spins on Joss' shows. Today's "victim" is just as likely to be next week's hero.
Thought it would be black hair for the most common?

Well, "dark hair" would probably be a better term. Like Drusilla-- I'd call her hair black, but she's in the list of brunettes. I always thought of black hair as brunette.

And here I am categorizing the world's hair colors, as if that really matters for the article's argument, lol. I think it was pretty much the weakest part of a weak argument. Just wanted to point out that the overwhelming majority of people in the world have dark hair.
This does seem to be a case of someone maybe watching one episode and on the basis of their first impression leaping to a conclusion and then searching for evidence to support that opinion, ignoring anything that contradicts it.

For one, in any drama to show a character overcoming adversity you have to spend time showing them being subjected to adversity. Look at what McClane suffers in the first half of Die Hard. Why no article claiming that the writer "clearly hates men. Look at what John is subjected to!"?
Dru ends up powerful and independent. Fred a fully sane ind important part of the team, before becoming Ilyria and being even more powerful. River ends up sane and piloting the ship after saving everyone else. Whiskey/Saunders ends up (so far) becoming self aware and becoming independent and leaving the Dollhouse while Caroline/Echo is the strongest character on the show, able to face off against Alpha while Ballard and the others are helpless against him.

As others have mentioned here "Pet" is an endearing English term. To suggest that Spike actually considers Dru his pet is absurd. Was this the same blogger who criticised Joss for calling the female actives Echo, November etc while complaining that the males had proper names like Victor? Blissfully unaware that they are the phonetic alphabet?

And River was captured and had to be rescued in Serenity? This article suggests that River could wipe out Reavers but needed rescuing, totally missing the narrative arc of the movie.

Lastly, to post an article and then close comments and state that you do not want any communication is a pretty poor way to react to discussion simply because some people have opposing views and that offends your delicate feelings.
As a mentally ill barefoot brunette who identifies strongly with Drusilla, Fred, and River, this article makes me sad. I do not fantasize about being rescued from anything - including my mental illness - and what I find so empowering, especially in River, is the way this woman takes back her sanity. River gets them to Miranda... And when she looks up and says "I'm okay," you know that for the first time since before she went to the Academy, she really is.

The article also ignores what I think is a more prominent theme in Joss's work, which is the girl as weapon. A weapon whose strength is forced upon her by someone or something external, which usually means men (cf. Season 7 of Buffy, Alliance doctors, Topher) and then she must reclaim that strength for herself. That's where the more interesting and more defensible conversation lies.

I didn't read the whole article because as soon as people start yelling about how Joss isn't feminist I lose interest.
The article does what all academic articles does. It oversimplifies things to make a broad reaching point that may or may not be valid.

Funny line, though probably unintentionally so.
The essay ignores two of the strongest in support of her thesis characters in the Jossverse. Wesley Wyndham-Price and Doyle. Both brunettes, both physically slight relatively speaking, both clearly damaged, both doomed.

Okay, female, not so much. But otherwise completely fit her criteria better than River (who saves herself and everyone else), Drusilla (regains her strength and goes around striking terror) and Fred (becomes an important part of the team, saves the world from Jasmine).
This was a poorly constructed and unconvincing argument. The author reads way too much into things while overlooking points that possibly invalidate his/her thesis. It raises a few interesting points; however, when the author closes comments due to a "misogynist and ableist" flood (that appears to me to be a reasonable, good-natured discussion of the piece), he/she dissuades the reader from true evaluation of the ideas by discouraging thoughtful discussion.

Interesting that the article begins with the line, "Can we discuss, for a moment, Joss Whedon’s obsession with disturbed brunettes who wander around barefoot?". Apparently the answer to this question was a resounding no.
I really enjoy that "This Ain't Livin'" blog or website or whatever it is. The author is an instigator of the first order & it's great fun to read her work.

The crazy brunette thing doesn't bother me as much as the Large Number of Women With Tiny Little Girl Voices in the Whedonverse: Drusilla, Willow, River, Fred, Echo. This is an old Hollywood trope (think Judy Holliday & Marilyn Monroe) & it has always irritated the hell out of me.
I assume the comments that the author is unhappy with are ones she felt unable to approve not the ones we can see.

Good point, stellabee.
This article was seriously lacking in solid analysis. As many of you have already posted, he took female characters at face value and left out all of the narrative evidence that smashingly counters his argument. RIVER WAS NOT SAVED! Also, by the end of Serenity she was on the road to recovery and even quipping. Fred was not saved, she died a very sad and painful death. Echo/Caroline is still unfinished and Drusilla??? Badass. No way around it. I did find it interesting that she often needs a guardian of some sort but I wouldn't call it a defining aspect of her character.

The only argument that I can agree with in this article is the author's assertion that Whedon's depiction of mental illness is far from the mark, especially when Tara losses her marbles. I think the writers could do with some research into mental illness. But that's it and even this argument was a passing thought, it was not really fleshed out.

I think if this author had taken the time to actually research his thesis he might have been able to create a sound and articulate argument. But he didn't, he took a thought and went to town on it. While I think it's fantastic that we can start intelligent conversations this way, he closed down his comments and made this impossible (except here in the land of Whedon). This is why I hate blogs.
A few points:

- The author is a she.
- This is also a blog, just of the community type.
- Let's stick to discussing the blog entry and not the author or comments on her own blog.
First, all of Joss's major characters are damaged in some way, even Buffy, Angel, and Malcom Reynolds. All his characters go through periods where they are helpless and need help from others.
Second, what about Cordelia, Joyce Summers, Jenny Calender (?), Zoe, Inara, Gwen (electro-girl), Lilah, Kennedy, and others. All brunettes (dark haired), none of them presented as helpless.
Third, while each of the "helpless" brunettes might give the appearance of helplessness upon first appearance, none of them stayed helpless for long. They all grew, matured, and became strong women in different ways.

I'm a little tired of these articles where the author starts with an evident bias. Carefully picks only the evidence that seemly supports her argument, and ignores everything else. If you're going to title an article "Whedon's Brunettes," you better include them all and not just the few who support your thesis.

[ edited by bjarmson on 2010-01-01 21:58 ]
Sorry, I guess I should have done some research as well. Hello kettle, this is pot.
I always saw Spike as being weaker than Drusilla. Sure, when they first show up, she's ill. But his incessant doting on her isn't because she needs the protection, it's because he needs to feel like he's needed. I'd argue a lesser version of the same thing for River and Simon as well.

As for Fred, she's only insecure as an early plot point. After that she's just as able to take care of herself as any other character. And Illyria just does NOT fit the bill at all.
First, all of Joss's major characters are damaged in some way, even Buffy, Angel, and Malcom Reynolds.

*Even* Buffy, Angel and Mal? I'd argue that Mal is one of the most damaged characters in the Jossverse.

I'd also argue that the problem with the essay isn't that all the brunettes in the Jossverse don't fit her thesis. It's that none of the ones she cites fit it.

[ edited by Sunfire on 2010-01-02 04:25 ]
I don't really understand the assertion that any of the brunettes cited are fragile and at times dangerous creatures in need of male rescue. Fred, River, and (it appears at this rate in the canon) Whiskey had to pave their own mental salvation.

Also, I'd venture to say that Tara is among the least damaged of Whedon's creations.
The crazy brunette thing doesn't bother me as much as the Large Number of Women With Tiny Little Girl Voices in the Whedonverse: Drusilla, Willow, River, Fred, Echo. This is an old Hollywood trope (think Judy Holliday & Marilyn Monroe) & it has always irritated the hell out of me.


The only one that really annoyed me was Fred, though she got better in the fifth season.

About this article:

Joss writes characters with flaws? Totally un-feminist. I found the article troubling.
Why Fred specifically Shanshu? I'm just curious.
Well, "dark hair" would probably be a better term. Like Drusilla-- I'd call her hair black, but she's in the list of brunettes. I always thought of black hair as brunette.

I have black hair, I never know what category to put myself in. And you are correct; that is beside the point.
I am also currently barefoot and crazy, which may be more to the point...
Azzer's, because her "childish" voice always seemed the most affected, if that makes sense. She definitely got better in late season 4 and season 5. It has nothing to do with Amy - Illyria is one of my fave Angel characters and Claire Saunders is one of my favorites on Dollhouse.

[ edited by ShanshuBugaboo on 2010-01-02 11:49 ]
refridgeratorelf - I agree wholeheartedly re:Dru & Spike, but I completely disagree about the Simon/River relationship. River went through great effort to beg Simon to rescue her, and she clearly needed help functioning on a day to day basis until the end of Serenity.

More than that though, I have to take umbrage against the blogger's insistance that the portrayal of River's mental illness was inaccurate. I can't help but doubt that enough hyperintelligent psychic sleeper agents have been studied for modern science to be able to codify their reactions to excessive brain tampering coupled with access to disturbing state secrets.
Cordelia was the prominent brunette female on Angel, and didn't require (unsuccessful) rescue until the became a blonde. By the time she'd become a brunette again, she was already possessed.

I think that while it may be interesting to discover certain tropes within an author's writing, River, Fred and Drucilla's personalities may also have been as much a tribute to the acting capacities of the women cast as their being brunette.

Captain Hammer is brunette and ends up on a couch. Does he count?
Ahh yes, the voice! Since I'm from Texas and I have to listen actual accents that perspective has my total support.
The article would have been better served by some open minded exploration instead of becoming perturbed and throwing out accusations, but I think a fair minded individual can recognize that there are enough data points to make this phenomenon a good topic for discussion. To be clear, I'm not pinning this on Joss. These characters were conceivably dreamed up and/or developed by several different writers – and also possibly only made brunette through separate casting decisions. What's interesting is that out of that process there is a common thread that's emerged through characters like River, Fred, Dana, Drusilla, Gwen, Faith (especially circa BtVS S4/Angel S1) – and that beyond their creation, these characters have also generally created a fair amount of resonance with the audience.

I don't consider them pure damsels by any stretch – nor are they anything approaching carbon copies of each other, but there is a strong juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability. Strength enough that we respect, admire and possibly even fear them – and vulnerability to the point of being in some way considered “broken”. I think there is something of a titillation factor at work here. What do we generally want from a relationship? To feel our vulnerabilities are being sheltered and to shelter the vulnerabilities of our partner – the notion that through our relationships we make each other better. It's true of platonic relationships to some extent as well. I think these characters have the potential to play very well to both halves of the equation – we're drawn to their strengths while at the same time feeling that maybe we might be able to help them.

Why do they end up brunette? My opinion, I think it's more to the point that they're specifically not-blond. Symbolically, it's culturally drilled into us from our first childhood fairy tales that blond equates to virtue, honor, innocence and purity. And despite the best efforts of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton to counteract, I think it still creeps into the casting process that blond hair isn't symbolically correct for a character that's even half broken. You can also look at the instances where Buffy hasn't been the picture of sanity like Beer Bad and Bargaining and her tresses are dirtied and mangled – arguably by consequence of the plot, but also I believe, as a more symbolic disheveling to un-blond her. Bare feet? Again symbolic – of nature, wildness and being untamed. Also a good metaphor for... shall we say a “mentally less structured mind”?

And I'm not trying to claim I have “the answer” that explains the phenomenon fully, but my main point: I do think the topic was a good find and if it'd been approached a little differently, it could have made for a fine article.
Not much substance there really IMO. As others have said the article cherry picks to make a case then seems to ignore widely recognised character progressions and arcs e.g.
River is abducted and must be rescued in Serenity. Underscoring the fact that she is fragile and helpless and needs the men to save her (even though she also holds back a pack of Reavers singlehanded at the end, go figure).

Well, above-mentioned errors of fact aside, it's quite easy to figure (particularly when you're aware that the rescue scene in the first ten minutes or so of 'Serenity' is separated from the rest of the film by a TV series and at least several in-universe months) - River starts out the broken tool of a corrupt state, undergoes catharsis on Miranda and recovers her faculties enough to self-actualise and become a very working tool of herself, acting for her own ends. Simple. IMO not seeing that surely means the author's started with an axe to grind and "evaluated" the evidence on that basis.

And as others have pointed out "pet" is a very common term of endearment in Britain which i've always assumed was a shortening of 'petal' ('flower' being another common word used similarly). Where I live "duck" is a term of familiarity/endearment, if Spike came from 'round here then presumably the author would be telling us he considers Drusilla to be waterfowl ?

There've been a couple of similarly contentious blog posts from the same author linked on here (about 'Dollhouse' specifically in those cases) which also had a clear axe to grind but they had a bit more going for them IMO. This one's all grinding and no flour. Ah well.

[ edited by Saje on 2010-01-02 22:24 ]
And it should be noted that the author of this article had to suspend comments from readers after they became abusive.
It already has been, upthread.
I knew "pet" was common, but it never occurred to me that it came from "petal." Always learning things from Saje! :)
Well just to be clear, you may only have learned that I personally assume it's a shortening of 'petal' ;).

(i.e. I dunno, people say petal in the same context and it made sense to me but if anyone has any actual information either way i'm partly ears)
I don't know either but it could be short for poppet however I think it just is a word that is used as an endearment and isn't necessarily short for anything.
Well, I got some Googly confirmation for petal. (You think I was just going to believe Saje? :)

As for the topic, seems to me that people often look at Joss' work and say, "Look! All of his X characters are damaged/have terrible things happen to them!" when really it's just all of his characters, period.
According to my Merriam-Webster pet is from the Middle English pety: small. No mention is made of petal. And gee, we're online and can easily look it up, rather than speculate.

As to the blog posting, I've read a number of of these allegedly feminist nitpicking articles that cherry pick their fault finding. They almost always zero in on the earliest manifestation of the character and ignore what they end up like. Is Joss perfect? No. Is he a genius, who always strives to present characters who live and breath (well most of them, anyway): characters who, in addition to their extraordinary circumstances, have actual, real-life problems, hopes, dreams? Yes.
And here I always thought pet just meant... pet. You know, like kitten. Of course, it's probably because I'm an animal lover that I'd assume the word "pet" itself was affectionate. But it is, isn't it? A pet is something you keep around for no other reason than that you like it. So yeah, I say the word itself has affectionate overtones. I'm going to keep thinking that's what it means and pretend I never read any of this.
According to my Merriam-Webster pet is from the Middle English pety: small. No mention is made of petal. And gee, we're online and can easily look it up, rather than speculate.

Strangely, according to my Merriam-Webster (which i'd assume would be the same one) it's
Etymology: perhaps back-formation from Middle English pety small — more at petty
Date: 1508

(my emphasis) i.e. they don't know either (other dictionaries/articles basically state Scots Gaelic's 'peata' - 'tame animal' - as the source so being Scottish i'll go with that, obviously ;). Maybe new information's come to light since your edition was printed bjarmson ?
Wow, from assuming pet was short for petal to requiring the hyper-precision of the complete Merriam-Webster definition in only one day. I apologize abjectly and profusely. My Merriam-Webster reads the same as yours. Forgive me for merely accepting the educated guesses of professional word detectives and not qualifying the definition I listed with "perhaps."
Yep, I made an assumption, as I stated myself (which was wrong) and you made a statement (which also seems to be wrong). As my links show, other "professional word detectives" now seem to believe it's not from 'pety' (middle English) but 'peata' (Scots Gaelic or maybe its Irish Gaelic original). Etymologies change as new evidence comes to light, so it goes.

Doesn't seem much point in letting it upset you, there's no shame in being wrong (or even in not presenting the full facts, so long as it was an honest mistake), it just means you (and I) learned something new. Sounds like a plus to me ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2010-01-03 21:43 ]

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