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"She saved the world. A lot."
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November 08 2013

Atlantic takes Joss to task for "Genderist". The Atlantic online pushes back against Joss' recent speech.

Well, he got a conversation started... so let's punch it up!

I used the term "genderist" today in conversation and the person who I directed at, got what I meant. And that was quite interesting to discover.

His argument hinges on insisting that there's no equivalent to the term "racist" for gender ("sexist" not being good enough basically because Whedon says so).

Back when I grew up, a man being called sexist did not have the same impact as being called racist. "Racism" was vile and far right. "Sexism" was Jim Davidson or the Carry On films. It had a cheeky connotation to it, a nudge and a wink and and oh-er missus, he's one of the lads. I think for my generation, by and large we don't associate that term with hatred and institutional/personal discrimination directed towards women. But for those in their teens or 20s, maybe the term does mean that.
I have been, for some time, and at risk of further marginalizing myself, grappling with what it means to say that Joss is feminist. Does this mean that his works support a feminist reading? That it always involves equality for women in his fictional works? I ask this because I have, for myself, seriously troubled readings of both Dollhouse and the Buffy comic. In DH, I have previously noted my problem with the question of consent and how it plays out in the dolls. There is no informed consent here, and the dolls are clearly used, at times, for sex. Sex without consent is legally rape. This is the same problem I have with the cosmic sex Buffy and Twilight/Angel had- either Buffy had that sex under the influence of Twilight (and thus did not give free consent) or she had sex with the person who was trying to kill her (thus having sex with her abuser). I admit that these are only one reading possible, but they are not readings I find "feminist." So what do we mean here, to say Joss is feminist? I know he writes strong women; this is not in question. But is he always "feminist?" All of us have seen very strongly argued- at time vilely argued- anti-Joss articles. These raise difficult questions. And the reading here, in this article, is rational and well argued. This is not to say I agree, or completely agree, though I am not sure where my areas of disagreement lie, nor where my agreements lie. But I do feel this is worth some discussion somewhere.
"Racism" was coined by radical leftist academics to manipulate people's thoughts and behaviors away from individual cases, and towards stereotyping a perceived evil. It worked.

[ edited by Mitrokhin on 2013-11-09 00:30 ]
Joss' s point that people feel there's some fuzzy middle ground between feminist and sexist seems very valid to me. A lot of young women don't embrace the term. If a new word helps, I say go for it.
Yes, Mr. Berlatsky, you are the true and bestest femin"ist" in all the land because you don't discount the struggle for equality, which is clearly what Joss Whedon has done time and time again throughout his career.

I'm just having a hard time with the motivation for this article. Why pick this fight? To what end? The semantic "correctness" of defining the true "natural" state vs what's an "artificial" construct evolved out of society/culture? Or is there true doubt as to Whedon's recognition of the movement? Because anyone who's been paying any attention at all knows exactly where Joss stands. It really seems like an argument for argument's sake.
I think malformed has the title wrong. The author isn't taking Joss to task for "genderist", but for "feminist".

And it seems a very odd rant. For some reason, Noah asked for (and demanded?) a history of feminists. That Joss can't bring forward a point in an entertaining manner without a list of those who came before (which would make it sound like an Oscar acceptance speech)?

And seems to willfully ignore what Joss meant by "natural state".
"If equality is something that is natural, if it's a thing that everyone understands innately, if it is the default, then it isn't something you have to learn from anyone. You don't need (various important leaders to tell you about problems)... You just know, naturally, what is right." Great goggly, is the point being missed. Equality being a natural state implies that hatred/discrimination is not a natural state, it is something that is taught. And unfortunately, it is being taught, and reinforced and perpetrated. Isn't that the point of all the discussion, to try to stop the education of ill?

(Edit: Just posted this in the article discussion section:
Your statement would imply that "equality is unnatural", which is not what I think you meant. Don't confuse "natural" for "normal".)

[ edited by OneTeV on 2013-11-09 00:59 ]
Dana, victor is not a female and yet he was used for sex too. There is nothing more equalitarian as Dollhouse. There are men and woman dolls I also disagree on consent. They did give consent for Dollhouse to use their bodies. For anything. And i dont think they would give their bodies away to be imprinted with personalities and not cover the posibility of using those bodies for sex. They werent stupid. You give your body away for five yaers you give consent to do whatever wih them.

When they discovered that one of the dolls had not given her consent to be a doll they call it was it was then: rape. Not that Rossum cared or anything... But they were evil.

Also twilight did NOT just force BUffy to have sex, but also Angel. They were both under the influence. If there was rape, well... it was very equalitarian indeed.

Joss is feminist not because he makes women great and wonderfull and always strong, but because he writes both men and women as people and has no problen giving a strong woman power and lead. But then again, neither is he afraid of doing so with a man. Angel and Mal arent precisely women leads...

[ edited by Darkness on 2013-11-09 00:48 ]
Writing about the Dollhouse is not an endorsement of what they did at the Dollhouse and does not negate his personal views. It's a story to explore an idea. One that I'm pretty sure he was saying was, "people are not things."
My thoughts. Joss is a feminist. That does not mean all of his work has a feminist message. Or that his work can't ever be genderist. He is a person, working with other flawed people to tell stories. Feminists still do and say genderist things, even though we are trying not to.

As for the article, it seems to be making a few odd leaps of logic. Joss argues that genderism is like a virus. Viruses are natural, so its odd to say that Joss's answer for inequality is that people will naturally be for equality and we don't need feminists to fight for equality. His speech is directed at a room full of feminists that take action for equality, all over the world. One of their actions is honoring Joss Whedon for his feminist actions. It seems safe to me to assume that he is not saying that feminists are no longer needed and that he, Joss Whedon, can fix everything as long as we ignore the long history of the feminist movement.
Where did the comments to the article disappear to? I don't see any on the page.

The author seems to be reaching pretty far and making some rather large assumptions to make what amounts to more of a personal attack on Joss Whedon rather than a disagreement on the use of the word "feminist".

[ edited by JossIzBoss on 2013-11-09 01:11 ]
@Dana: That treads the very fine line of drama. To show why something is good or bad, it has to be shown. For example, too many "drugs are bad" stories are terrible, because they start from that premise, as an absolute truth, without thinking about what that implies and why it would be true. Ignoring issues because they are wrong is not embracing the saying "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

On the other hand, I can understand your concern about it becoming salacious. I remember when "Hunter" (NBC cop series) had the female co-lead raped, to make a powerful and dramatic story. (I haven't seen it myself.) Unfortunately, the writers had it happen again.. and again... until the actress went to them and pointed out that they were being lazy and unimaginative (and that she was sick of it).

I agree with what Darkness wrote. Equality means that not every female character will be strong and wonderful. There are weak women, like there are weak men. It becomes an issue when the male characters are treated as "people" and the women are not.
equality as erasure... The argument in the editorial seems to be you can't discuss the terms feminist & feminism without discussing history. The point that I got from the speech that we should focus on how things should be. That the expectation should be equality is the norm.

Basically it comes down to should the terms reflect the struggle or the goal? If you focus on the goal, you ignore history (equality as erasure). Or should you start with an egalitarian view and anything less is unacceptable.

I tend to agree with the latter.
One of Noah's responses in the comments section was to link to Bartyzel's blog post racking Xander over the coals as sexist/misogynist. Noah contributed to the discussion of that article, at one point stating "...Xander is a key part of Buffyís anti-feminist vision."

I disagree fairly vehemently with Bartyzel and Berlatsky, so I'm coming to the realization that I should stay away from that discussion. Any debate/argument would be pointless for both them and me.

@JossIzBoss: The discussion was there last time I looked. It could be a problem with Disqus. Some of the commenters are pointing out that Joss was speaking at Equality Now, that it would be absurd for him to try to educate the many experts in the audience about the history of feminists. (A speech for one particular audience will not be the same as for another.)

[ edited by OneTeV on 2013-11-09 01:43 ]
darkness, consent is not consent unless it is informed. The dolls are not informed; they cannot know how their bodies are to be used and blanket consent is meaningless, legally. I could speak chapter and verse of informed consent- voluntariness, comprehension, etc. since this is the world I live in. This is akin to telling a research subject, do you consent to allowing us to use your tissue samples in any manner in which we choose, though we are not going to tell you what that is? The dolls did not freely give consent, and for shizzle Echo did not- she was confronted, basically, with either become a doll or going to jail. In what way is that consent? That's actually coercion. The fact that Victor was a doll as well does not change this essential fact.

Question: do you mean "equalitarian," or "egalitarian?" I think the latter makes more sense but does not speak to equality between sexes. And Victor's presence is the aberration, not the norm. Most dolls were female.

Please note US law on "exculpatory language":

NOTE: Any informed consent, whether written or oral, must not include exculpatory language such that the subject is made to waive, or appear to waive, any of his or her legal rights or to release the institutions or its agents, the investigators, from liability or negligence.

Examples of exculpatory language:

By agreeing to this use, you will give up all claim to personal benefit from commercial or other use of these substances.
I voluntarily and freely donate any and all blood, urine, and tissue samples to the U.S. Government and hereby relinquish all right, title, and interest to said items.
By consent to participate in this research, I give up any property rights I may have in bodily fluids or tissue samples obtained in the course of the research.
I waive any possibility of compensation for injuries that I may receive as a result of participation in this research.

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2013-11-09 02:19 ]
So Berlatsky has a problem with Joss not using his speech to talk about the history of feminism? Um, what? Why complain about a the things that weren't in the speech? How about just write your own speech? First of all, he's speaking to a crowd of feminists. There's no need to list names the audience probably already knows, and those names, while relevant to the movement, are irrelevant to the speech. The speech isn't about the history of feminism. It's about the way the word "feminist" is perceived by those who haven't looked into what it really means or where it comes from, and it's an exploration of what can be done to improve that first impression. The speech is really about marketing, in a sense. I've heard plenty of people speak of "feminists" as if they're some sort of conspiracy theorists who think the patriarchy is some sort of secret organization of men who control the world and oppresses women and rape culture is some sort of deliberate mainstream pro-rape bias. People hear words and brief descriptions and fill in the blanks with whatever they think it sounds like it might be.
Genderist is a word that makes sense as being useful, because where "racism" describes the idea that humanity is fundamentally, inherently and significantly divided by race, "genderism" instantly sounds like it describes the idea that humanity is fundamentally, inherently and significantly divided by gender, which is an idea that's easier to reject off hand than it is to change one's preconceived notions about feminists and admit to being one. The sentence "Then you ARE a feminist." has been spoken by feminists far too many times to ignore. There's clearly a marketing problem here, and Joss is not the first feminist to notice it.

Also, the argument "If equality is something that is natural, if it's a thing that everyone understands innately, if it is the default, then it isn't something you have to learn from anyone." is utterly nonsensical. People are taught the gender divide. It starts in early childhood. Parents choose clothes, toys, et.c., based on gender, and treat children differently. Girls get praise for being pretty and hugged for crying and boys get praised for various "masculine" behaviors and mocked or scolded for failing to fit the stereotype. Toy commercials continue this pattern of separating the genders. Religious teachings do it too. It's just this constant bombardment of gender divide. Has Berlatsky never heard of nature vs nurture? No, the observation that equality is natural does not imply that everyone inherently understands it. People are taught not to by the genderist society, and that's hard to de-program. That's why feminism as a movement is needed, to counteract the imbalance, and that's why a word like genderism is needed, to contextualize the problem as a whole rather than point to specific sub-issues like misogyny, misandry, pay inequality, gender role/stereotype enforcement, et.c., as if they're not all parts of the same thing.
I can see why someone would be uncomfortable that the only woman Joss references in his speech is criticized. But I understood that as a simple example to demonstrate his reasoning in a speech that was about present feminism, not feminist history.

Now that I've had more time to reflect, I like the idea of the term 'genderist' but I still think 'feminist' is as relevant as ever. His point about shifting the perceived neutral ground seemed more aspirational to me than a dismissal of history. So maybe 'not genderist' could mean 'belief in equality' while 'feminist' could mean 'recognition of the need for change in order to achieve equality'.

And I agree with GreatMuppetyOdin. One of the limitations in 'sexism' is that it's often taken to mean something that only oppresses women. But actually, most often it's the feminine that's oppressed and regarded as weak, regardless of where it appears. Genderism could cover that.
I got some great bookmarks from this article and its links, especially the takedown of Xander. I was turned off by the Equality Now speech in which Joss no longer seems like a shy geek; he seems to have just adopted this as his schtick.

In years past, Joss has called himself a second-wave feminist, but he seems clearly in the third-wave camp now, albeit a bit slow in discussing the negative connotations of the word "feminist" and the trivializing of "sexism." A gazillion feminists have discussed this before, and it's insulting that he acts like he just discovered the problem.

He's naive to think that changing the wording is going to change the way men and women think about gender discrimination.
@GreatMuppetyOdin my thoughts exactly.

I have problems with the word feminist because a lot of people think of it as a movement to put down men in order to bring up women (I know this is not the case but a lot of people distance themselves from the word because of this). Unfortunately, it has an anti male connotation to it. I say this as a female and a proud feminist. I'm not agreeing with "feminist"'s negative conotation but most people have to admit it is there. That's why a lot of young women don't want to use it (they don't want the opposite gender to feel that they don't like them). I've always used humanist but I like genderist better, if it can catch on.

Slightly off topic. The part of Joss's speech which resonated with me the most was the "people don't have to be hateful to destroy someone, they just have to not get it." I think that is such a huge problem with how we raise our girls and boys and a lot of messages they get as they grow up. I think we don't realize the damage we are doing sometimes.
A gazillion feminists have discussed this before, and it's insulting that he acts like he just discovered the problem.

I'm pretty sure he said exactly the opposite of this during the speech, but whatever.
I've posted this video interview before but in light of this topic what he says about people who find it necessary to use the word feminist, shows his consistency.
My issue with Joss's speech was whenever he said "we're past that." I think one of the biggest racial problems in the US today is the inability to see racism because of the assumption that it's a thing of the past...

Also, I've seen people try to fix problems with new words before, and it rarely works. *shrug*
I agree with Simon about 'sexist'. It sounds like a petty accusation coming from a person you wouldn't want to know. No idea if the young folk use the word differently. And 'feminist' doesn't sound like a good thing; it sounds marginal and angry. The good guys are free from isms, unafraid to connect openly with the world and each other. It was a great speech by Joss.
Is Joss a scholar or a word-smith? Is he supposed to be both? Would his work better if he was both? I don't know.
My issue with Joss's speech was whenever he said "we're past that." I think one of the biggest racial problems in the US today is the inability to see racism because of the assumption that it's a thing of the past...

I think he phrased that part poorly (or, I hope he did). I don't think it's so much that racism and its effects are a thing of the past, but rather that people fairly universally agree that "racism" as a term is a bad thing, a thing of the past. Even actual racists will avoid describing themselves as such, for that reason. The word has become associated with outdated and shameful opinions, even if those opinions still exist and affect our society significantly.

Because indeed, we're very far from being "past" racism.
@Dana: Well, Joss IS a feminist; doesn't mean all his work has to proclaim that and only that. Art is a mirror of reality, and sexism, genderism etc. are, unfortunately, part of our reality right now. I've gotten into an awful lot of discussions of Joss' feminism and arguments like "his characters are raped a lot," the dollhouse one... It's kind of like accusing Nabokov of being a pedophile. Or Suskind of being a maniacal killer. I believe Joss himself said once that while he is a feminist, it doesn't mean all of his characters have to be feminist too, that's just not how the world is.
All this I know, katysha. Again, what makes Joss a feminist? His writings? Or something else he does? I would like to think it is the latter. But if the former, then what he writes has to be judged by the fact that people claim he is a feminist. Buffy et al is certainly open to non-feminist readings. DH is surely open to readings that position it on the far side of feminism.
(Edit: I just realized that a lot of my following rant is undermined by Fox marketing, which emphasized the sexy and salacious nature of "Dollhouse", but I am going to focus on the show itself.)

I can understand some of the "Dollhouse" criticism, but then again I wanted the show to set up things differently. But I'm going to defend it anyways.

If someone thinks that merely depicting bad things on TV is wrong, without considering the context, then so be it. But I think context is key. "Dollhouse" does not condone what is being depicted.

It is the difference between showing a massive gun fight, and afterwards choosing to have the protagonists high five (and make quips), or to have them be sickened by the bloodshed. Or take "24", which made torture brutal but otherwise found it acceptable. Does a particular show dwell on the act itself, or the emotional aftermath of the act?

Now think about "Dollhouse". Even though the show is centered on people in the Dollhouse, it is pretty obvious right from the start what the show's goal is: expose and destroy the Dollhouse. It is not treated as a wonderland or a good way to live, but as a disease.

Almost every character that uses the Dollhouse for sex is shown as deeply damaged, usually vile. Even for the more sympathetic characters (like Patton Oswalt or Olivia Williams), you can see that using the Dolls is unhealthy and the wrong thing for them, a symptom of deeper problems.

Better yet, consider Ballard. When he thought Mellie is a normal person, he is delighted at the idea of sexual relationship with her. But once he discovers she is a Doll, he is horrified, and we can see his soul being destroyed as he needs to keep the subterfuge going. Someone might interpret it as his character is willfully raping a lot, but I see Ballard being trapped in perhaps the most monstrous situation he could imagine, and that he tries to end it as soon as possible.

It is off-topic, but consider what "Arrow" is doing. The first season had the protagonist kill a lot of people. It would be easy to claim that the show is endorsing vigilantes and murder, but with the second season it is paying off the seeds scattered in the first season. We see how this person who has been damaged turned to that path (and why people in real life sometimes consider it), and why he is changing to a better way (and why it is a better way).

[ edited by OneTeV on 2013-11-09 16:39 ]
I was disappointed by Joss's speech. One of the great things about Dollhouse is that there were no 'heroes' in it early on; all the main characters at first were villains and deeply part of the problem (except for Echo who starts out a victim) --including Ballard is corrupted as of the episode he sleeps with Mellie if not before--and what was great about that was that it showed the depth of the problem; the depiction of evil in Dollhouse was meant to display the problem, the stuff many of the characters ended up fighting against in the end. I don't understand how his depiction of the evil of the problem gets read as though its an endorsement of the problem; well, guess I do-- it's because people don't seem to realize that the characters' rationalizations of their part in an evil system is itself a depiction of part of the problem. Even the stuff in 'Man on the Street' that suggested that people could/would look at the Dollhouse in various ways--with some not seeing the evil of it--was a depiction of part of the problem--how easy it is to rationalize evil. And you can tell DH is a feminist show in that the evil really is shown to be evil and we get a depiction over the run of the show of characters growing strong and self-aware enough to oppose it and vanquish it. But having said all that, that is why Joss's speech surprised and depressed me; while it is laudable that he wants to live in a world in which equality is the natural no-brainer way to see the world, and in which we recognize that to think anything else is a result of brainwashing, indoctrination, whatever you want to call it, the way he said it in the speech really does come off as insisting too much upon how easy its supposed to be--it does end up (in spite of Joss's intentions no doubt) to end up minimizing the extent of the problem --how subtly we are implicated in it. Joss does come off as being a bit condescending in the speech, I think, a little bit 'mansplaining' --IMHO; he does come off as being a bit minimizing. People should be asked to get over their issues about the word 'feminist' --it grants way too much power to traditional sexist backlash thinking to let it define the word as something negative. At least that's how it seems to me. I think the article complaining about Joss's speech made some valid points, and I think Joss would be well-advised to learn something from it. But although I felt compelled to say this, I should qualify it by saying that I know Joss has done more for the cause than I could dream of. Still, he's not infallible. I hope he's not too proud to think about it. (And I do recognize that there is the contrary danger of making sexism seem so 'subtle' and 'insidious' that people fight over nuances rather than doing something about the obvious and most horrible stuff like rape statistics and pay inequality--the stuff that should be a no-brainer. But if you're going to focus on the subtle effects of having or not having the right word, then you should be open to people criticizing the subtle effects of your tone or rhetorical strategy, or attitude, or omissions, or however one wants to classify the various issues with his speech. I agree also that he seem to be wrong on the 'racism' comparison too--again, his speech seemed too minimizing of that problem. I'm sure that wasn't his intention--but that is the point. The issues are so deep that we don't always see that in spite of our intentions we are mired in them; not that I would want to use that as an excuse. We should take it as an encouragement to do better, and sometimes it is only the criticism of others that helps. (Ready to be blasted now).
@barzai: As others have pointed out, Joss says during the speech that the fight will not end in his lifetime, and may never end. He does not claim it is easy. (He also points out that he hasn't solved anything or come up with anything new, as his Internet search revealed.)

I think he is saying that this one tiny step on the path of a 1000 miles is easy, not the journey itself.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2013-11-09 16:44 ]
@Dana, Buffy and Dollhouse are "open to non-feminist readings" only as much as anything is "open to misinterpretation". One is a story about a girl empowered with unique abilities to kick monster ass - many of whom over the life of the show metaphorically embody different forms of misogynism. She also defies a council of men seeking to use her for their own purpose. Dollhouse is about a girl claiming both her power and identity from a place that attempted to strip both away. Were you under the impression that the Dollhouse was portrayed as a positive example of how we should all live? Did it or did it not plunge the whole world into mindless chaos before it fell?

In my mind, the intent of both shows is clearly consistent with feminism. If you want to pick at the details until you form your own narrative, that's your choice. As far as Joss' actions outside of his shows, what are we talking about? A speech he gave for Equality Now - an organization he has supported time and time again. Regardless of what you think of how he expresses it, this is clearly a man with good intent toward the subject. If you can't recognize that, I have to wonder why - what motive is in play here. I think we've seen both in the article and in this thread a certain possessiveness over the discussion of gender equality itself. A certain one-upsmanship as to who fancies themselves a better feminist. It's obviously a deeply personal issue for many people, but to claim ownership of it is a step too far. Maybe there are other axes to grind. But none of those things are actually about feminism itself. Joss presented his personal train of thoughts here and his personal road to discovery. He didn't claim it was ground breaking (see urban dictionary). He didn't claim it was a cure-all, clearly stating that the struggle is ongoing and will never end. He didn't claim his speech or ideas would change the world - quite the opposite, but he's more than entitled to his contribution.
I've worshipped Joss and used to joke that he was my bucket list. (I left out "on" on purpose -- for those who don't get the joke.) But I've become disillusioned in the last year. I find SHIELD unwatchable.

In this speech, Joss jokes that he stayed away from the Internet for a few days, for fear that others had come up with "genderist." He briefly acknowledges that others have noted the bad connotations of "feminist," but what he doesn't say is that people who are opposed to feminism are responsible for those bad connotations and for trivializing the word "sexism." Why should we believe that they won't do the same with new terms, such as "genderist"?

People can call themselves egalitarians if they want. But the meaning of "humanism" differs from that of "feminism." There are plenty of humanists who aren't feminists.

(Humanists put their faith in the rational over the spiritual, and believe that humans can and will bring about improvements in the world. This differs from theists who believe that a god or gods are responsible for the good in the world, and that people will be better if they do what god(s) want.)
Barzai: "But if you're going to focus on the subtle effects of having or not having the right word, then you should be open to people criticizing the subtle effects of your tone or rhetorical strategy, or attitude, or omissions, or however one wants to classify the various issues with his speech."

I think I'm gonna come over and stand with the people who would like to reclaim "feminist." If we can reclaim "queer," which started out with even worse connotations, we can reclaim "feminist." Because Suzie is absolutely right: the only reason we look at "feminist" or "feminism" negatively is because of a concerted effort by misogynists and traditionalists, who don't like what feminists do, trying cut off support for the movement by attacking the label. And it's working.

Besides -- speaking of humanism -- if Joss doesn't like "-ist," he needs to come up with an alternative to humanist, too, since he has cheerfully called himself that.

There are some valid critiques of BtVS for lacking feminism -- Buffy's love life, mostly, plus the infamous Spike/Buffy bathroom scene and the consent issue in "Chosen." There are many counterexamples within the show, however, and the "Chosen consent debate" becomes a lot more clear when you compare empowering the Potentials to giving women the right to vote. (The bathroom scene is pretty inexcusable, since it's so poorly written.)

As for Dollhouse, I agree with Dana that the Dolls were not consenting and that blanket consent is meaningless. So those defending the show should really stop using that argument. The show is far more defensible on the grounds that OneTeV raises: the show does not approve of its content. The fact that the Dollhouse is shown to be luxurious, shown in soft, elegant lighting (and even occasionally doing good), is actually an added critique. There are many things in this world that are sensuous, luxurious, aesthetically appealing, and deeply, deeply wrong.

After all, the Dollhouse is all about using people... and the Dollhouse thereby destroys western civilization. I think Joss's message there is pretty clear.
@Suzie: "...what he doesn't say is that people who are opposed to feminism are responsible for those bad connotations..."

They are part of the problem. Even the majority of the problem. But there are those who support feminism who take a part of the responsibility. Like BringItOn5x5 said, even for this particular speech we are seeing "a certain one-upsmanship as to who fancies themselves a better feminist."

I realized that I've been arguing the wrong topic. Joss's speech is not about how to solve the issues being fought by feminists. Joss's speech is about how to encourage those who would support feminist ideals, but are frightened of being called a feminist (the Katy Perry comment).

It is ironic that he is being attacked by people from the feminist side (not the opposing side) for a speech about trying to make feminism more approachable.

He opened the speech by pointing out he is a wordsmith and entertainer. His speech was from that perspective. He found a humorous and interesting way to get people interested in a very serious problem, that people often try to avoid listening to. That does not trivialize it. He is not a scholar or politician or lawyer. It is unreasonable to demand that he give a lecture on feminist history or the political ramifications of some gender law, and unreasonable to say that he is not a feminist for failing to do so.
@ManEnoughToAdmitIt: A bit off topic, but consent is also a component of "Cabin in the Woods." The ritual sacrifice is disturbing on some level to those in the control room, but quite often they reassure themselves by saying the protagonists had a choice. Except they didn't. They were being manipulated and drugged before the trip started, and obstacles were arranged to prevent them from deviating from the script. (Not too many electromagnetic walls in the deep woods.) The control room operators try to ease their guilt by unfairly shifting some (most) of the responsibility to those who could not give informed consent.

I'm guessing the same is true for "Dollhouse". The Dolls may not have had informed consent, but it makes sense that the people directly running the Dollhouse would tell themselves that they did, to avoid recognizing what was really going on.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2013-11-09 17:58 ]
Dana, I read the Dollhouse situation in the same way as you. The Dollhouse is a form a extraordinary violence, human trafficking and rape, but I also thought that the point of the show was a critique of that?

Maybe I misread the show. I definitely watched it as a commentary on rape, but maybe the writers were not thinking about that. There is absolutely no doubt that the dolls (men and women) were raped, anybody who disagrees probably doesn't understand what rape is. You can't sign a "legal" form of consent for slavery or rape. (Dana - I know you are not advancing this, I am addressing others in the thread at this point.) The law is an invention, a fabrication and a construct. Human violence goes far deeper than the superficiality of the law, but of course, the law is also one of the primary designs of human violence.

I think the problematic character of Dollhouse (the show) does depend on whether we understand the show itself to be a critique, or if the writers were not cognizant of the rape that they were clearly representing. But how could they not be I suppose is my question. If it is not starkly evident that the dolls were the victims of repeated, institutionalized and legitimized rape then that in itself is a huge problem.

That's ultimately also my source of disappointment with the show. It was never able to go far enough. The premise was fascinating and horrifying, but the degrees of exploitation were never really emphasized enough or in an appropriate way I don't think. It's a fine line, and I don't think it was executed as well as it could or should have been.

I don't read Joss as a feminist, but that's okay. I don't think Deleuze or Derrida are feminists either, but that doesn't meant their ideas are incompatible with feminism or not open to feminist reading and interpretation.
I'm surprised the biggest problem with Joss' speech hasn't been aired: he rightly has problems with the word 'feminist' because the 'ist' has pejorative tones but his solution is ANOTHER 'ist' word replacing 'sexist' which already, to me at any rate, and in his Katy Perry example, is clearly pejorative. I was so excited, I thought he was going to rebrand feminism into something that conveyed in a dead simple way what it ACTUALLY means. Instead, I feel like he did the most amazing, brilliant, exciting, intoxifying speech identifying a brilliant linguistic problem... and then somewhere in the middle diverted off to a non-problem and solve that.
I should add some clarity to what I am saying re: Dollhouse. Clearly, the DH is presented as evil and the show does critique that; this is not in question. That does not excuse the rest of how it is presented. Roger Ebert famously said that, of war movies, it was not really possible to show a movie of war that in some way did not make it look exciting and valorize it. In the case of DH, even though it is evil, it was not always presented that way. The fact that it was open to criticism is not the issue. What is, is that the questions it raised were never answered or were elided. Instead, we got to see Echo in bondage gear, as sex slave, as many things. All dolls were pretty; some were stunning.

I could not let this go when I watched the show. It pervaded every instant of my watching. I read the show in ways most people did not, but it lessened my viewing pleasure, to be sure.

I also believe that Joss lost a bit of oversight here. The writers were basically interested in simply telling a story; they were less aware of the potential readings of the show. What bothers me is that Joss famously said "bring your own subtext," and the subtext here was troubling, and it was a reasoned reading that led to that troubling subtext. It has made me rethink whether it is appropriate to call Joss a feminist, because I am not exactly sure what we mean by that any more. And is it really up to a privileged, wealthy white male to try to define or position the term for others, and for women in general?
Lots of excellent points on both sides of this debate, and it's interesting to see that both sides are working from the same key point of language having such an impact on the topic at hand. And I honestly don't think either side is really working at cross-purposes to each other exactly but working as two or more entities that are fighting the same opponent but interfering with each other's actions...trying to use the same resources and ending up focusing more on who gets make use of said resources rather than sharing to better combat the mutual opponent.

I mean, to me as someone who has thought of himself as feminist but now wonders if it's now a variation of humanism, there's several "schools" of thought relating to the matter of equality for women and they profess to have the same end goal but their presented plan for achieving it seem to cover a spectrum. And honestly? Only certain elements of that spectrum seem to get any kind of consistent or serious attention, and I wonder if they SHOULD be the ones getting the focus; I know that combating old guard misogynists and traditionalists who've had millennia to sell their snake oil takes a concerted effort, especially in their more recent efforts to have "feminism" tarnished with a brush of extremism and disdain, but occasionally I've felt that the message being presented by the element(s) of the movement that gets IDed or IDs themselves as feminism is just as extreme.

For me, equality is about both genders having equal opportunity to succeed and/or fail based on a shared and unbiased metric. To borrow an example used in a comment above, to have a character like Buffy be the norm rather than an outlier for being both a target of praise and criticism without one perspective cancelling the other out (i.e. Buffy can be equally a role model for all the good she does in keeping people safe and striving to be more than just The Slayer as she is someone who people could criticize for her behaviour when it came to starting, maintaining and ending relationships, without having the former protecting her from criticism due the latter matter or the latter cause automatic distrust of her judgment regardless of her experience and hard-learned lessons).
I wrote an article, "Dollhouse and Consensual Slavery," a couple of years ago that addresses a lot of the issues brought up here. I'd be happy to share it (free of charge! :) with anyone who is interested - just drop me an email ( kreider204 at gmail dot com) and I'll email you the PDF of a draft.
"Feminist" started out as "feministe" in France, and I find the French word quite melodious. ("ees - tay" is much better than "ist.") It was used to describe women who wanted their rights.

I can understand why someone would be uncomfortable with feminism if they think that men and women are equally hurt by gender rules and that men and women are equally to blame for these rules.

Re: Dollhouse. A lot of guys have loved the sexy scenes in Dollhouse without being disgusted, even after they realize they were watching someone being raped. This is a common issue whenever rape is portrayed on the screen. We know lots of men get off on it, and these clips get passed around the Internet. Thus, whenever a young sexy woman is shown being raped, how many men think, "Rape is so horrible," as compared with those who are secretly turned on? Once you present a scene as sexy, how do you unring that (Pavlovian) bell?

The problem was compounded by the way Fox advertised the show. Has Joss ever said point-blank that the Dolls didn't give legal, informed consent and thus, they were raped? Of course, he shouldn't have to say that, but even a lot of fans on this forum who have watched everything he's done, caught every word he's uttered, etc., will still argue that at least some of the Dolls consented.

I said before that Joss has become more of a third-wave feminist in that he uses "choice" so that he can justify using beautiful, young, thin women in sexy clothes to lure male viewers. For Cabin, he talks about being able to find a young actress willing to be oversexualized and appear half-naked before she's brutally killed. He has also suggested that he identifies with the guys in the control room who explain that they aren't showing bare breasts just for their own enjoyment -- they must satisfy the people who are watching.

Joss brushes aside any serious criticism from feminists. Either he lets his fans see them as crazy man-haters, or he explains that the actresses in his shows want to wear revealing clothes and run in spike heels. It seems to escape him that that's what most young actresses have to do to get ahead in the business, and so, of course, that's what they and their agents want. It's not like he's casting strong, independent actresses who rebel against the mainstream, as have Ellen Page, Lily Taylor and others.

Many of us have loved Joss because we perceived him as an intellectual who engaged with the issues of the day. He has given many interviews in which he talks about ideas, such as existentialism and feminist theory. He has never sold himself as just an entertainer.

He has brought attention to sex trafficking, women being stoned to death under Sharia, and the inclusion of "strong female characters" in TV and movies. That attention is welcome, but there aren't many Americans who want sex trafficking or stoning women to be legal. And you'll find few Americans who are opposed to female characters, especially when they are surrounded by ensembles that include men in important roles.

How much time does he spend on gender issues that are controversial? I've seen people on Whedonesque and other sites get angry at Joss for various reasons, but I can't recall anyone ever saying they were going to stop watching because they hate feminism.

He married a very private woman who has her own career but increasingly supports his. It's not like men who are married to women who have the same star power or earning potential. We know he is friends with many of the people who have worked with him. Does he hang out with any women who are his equal who might challenge him?

I'm truly grateful for what Joss has done on behalf of feminism, including helping to raise tons of money for Equality Now. I have supported him in comments, in blog writing and with my money. I even defended Season 8! But that doesn't mean I can't critique his work, including his speeches. And I no longer want to hold him up as a role model.
I believe Joss's heart is always in the right place, and I think he's done more for feminism than most people working in Hollywood. However, one thing I do find in his work is that he does sometimes fetishize women by putting them up on pedestals. There are times when you can tell it's feminism as told through the eyes of a man as opposed to that of a woman who's been in the trenches. He tends to idealize women in his attempts to show them as powerful. We're all grateful to have portrayals of strong women in a landscape often devoid of them, but there are uncomfortable moments where I watch his work and think, "this is what Joss wants his ideal woman to be, not what a woman should be." And what a woman should be is herself, whether strong or weak. I guess what I want to say is that we shouldn't be telling women what to be and what constitutes a strong woman. We should be encouraging women to be whatever they want to be whether that's a vampire slayer or a housewife or anything else she chooses for herself.

Joss tries hard, but it often feels like an idealized version of feminism wherein if a woman isn't strong enough by some imaginary measure then she is somehow lesser than. Hope that makes sense. It's hard to put into words what you feel as a gut instinct as a viewer.
I don't think anyone should be free from being critiqued, Suzie, and I would like to think Joss would agree with that concept as well.

I do have to wonder with honest curiosity about the benchmark for "controversial" topics you're using, though. Is Joss' not walking "the walk" as well as he's "talking the talk" when it comes to Very Big Things that you feel get ignored or trivialized, Suzie? I personally don't know, though I'd argue that he and his writing teams has been more than willing to plumb the depths of a deep dark well of questions about identity as it relates to gender, human sexuality, consent and the lack there of, sex as a type of therapy, institutionalized courtesanship, responsibility for one's actions and several other concepts which I struggle to summarize succinctly. Then again, plumbing the depths doesn't mean successfully bringing water to the surface or not ending up with a bucket of sludge or an infant eldritch horror...Joss could want to explore something unarguably controversial, put pen to paper or fingers to computer keyboard and create something that he and those he trusts think will stir up the pot but others think is either too much or not good enough. That shouldn't stop him or anyone with a similar pressing need from trying IMO...I think it's the nominal failures that show more than the successes when it comes to getting change implemented, though success is always the goal...and that's why Joss is still chugging along, doing and saying things about what he thinks about the world around him.

Then again, you ask about whether or not Joss spends any of his free time with women who are his equal and who could challenge him, which I can merely presume is a question about who could face him down and rationally argue about how and why he does the things he does in his writing that he would spend any kind of notable time with. Once again, I have to invoke honest curiosity as to who you think might be Joss's female equal that could keep him honest, since it seems there's a frisson of doubt that someone like Kai could talk him down if he's decided to take a certain tack that others would disagree. Which I can acknowledge as fair, since she's been behind the scenes until very recently and what stuff we have from her relates to Joss or Bellwether. Or, to look farther afield, are we dismissing women like Jane Espenson or Elizabeth Craft & Sarah Fain or Marti Noxon or Rebecca (Rand Kirschner) Sinclair because they all worked as writers that answered to Joss or could be subjected to Joss changing their stuff when they all wrote at various time for Mutant Enemy productions?

[ edited by BlueEyedBrigadier on 2013-11-10 08:02 ]
I think calling sex with dolls 'rape' to make some philosophical point diminishes actual violent, traumatic rape. The mindwiping was the terribly abusive thing happening to them.
Joss brushes aside any serious criticism from feminists. Either he lets his fans see them as crazy man-haters

He does? That would seemed to have passed me by.

But that doesn't mean I can't critique his work, including his speeches.

True but your comment reads like you are critiquing him as a person and not for what he said. And I would prefer we'd play the ball here and not the man.
Pretty sure Joss Whedon is still friends with his Wesleyan professor Jeanine Basinger, and that she is not answerable to him :)
Well, that helps with my curiosity, Shapenew but does it work as an acceptable answer to Suzie's concern about Joss needing female opposites of similar power/influence levels to help him steer his course? He's good friends with Dr. Basinger...but does he hang out with her in person with any kind of frequency, so she may keep her former student from getting too far away from The Path?


In all seriousness, Jeanine Basinger is an excellent example of someone outside his cadre of thespian and scribe friends who could respectively call Joss on any possible BS he could theoretically try selling to us and audiences in general. I kinda wish I had developed the same kind of relationship with a couple of my History professors the same way.
Overall I would say that Joss has far more hits than misses. The Whedonverse has been very good to most of its female characters and BtVS in particular does some ground-breaking things with gender roles. You also have to commend Joss for at least trying his best to address these issues and showing an interest in them. Thatís more than you can say for most male writers working in Hollywood and the result isnít just creating great TV shows but also all the fundraising and charity work funnelled into organisations like Equality Now.

But there have been misses. I mean, weíve all heard about the Firefly story that Joss pitched to Minear right?

ďShe had this magic syringe. She would take this drug. And if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death. The story was that she gets kidnapped by Reavers and when Mal finally got to the ship to save her from the Reavers, he gets on the Reaver ship and all the Reavers are dead. Which would suggest a kind of really bad assault. At the end of the episode, he comes in after she's been horribly brutalized, and he comes in and he gets down on his knee, and he takes her hand. And he treats her like a lady. And that's the kind of stuff that we wanted to do. It was very dark. And this was actually the first story that Joss pitched to me when he asked me to come work on the show. He said, 'These are the kind of stories we're going to do.íĒ

Itís not only anti-feminist but really quite offensive too and I donít know if itís a case of Whedon & Minear being unaware of their privilege but it surprises me they could actually think this was a good idea. Itís bad enough that they were going to have their female character brutally gang-raped just to teach their male character a lesson but itís even more repugnant that it would take Inara being violated to get some respect from Mal instead of his endless slut-shaming. I mean, what, are we really supposed to find the moment when he kisses her hand and ďtreats her like a ladyĒ as moving or poignant? Itís gross. And, as I said, itís really problematic that the story of Inara being brutalised was going to focus more on what it meant for Mal than *Inara*, the actual victim. Thatís an all too familiar trope that is very sexist and sadly all too common and I find it really unfortunate that Whedon would ever pitch such an idea.

And unfortunately there similar shades of this with Buffy/Spike where the aftermath of the AR focused far more on what it meant for him rather than Buffy who, again, was the actual victim.

What happened to Cordelia's character was also really problematic, especially when you take into account AtS' fetish for "demonic pregnancies" and having Cordy impregnated against her will on three separate occasions (including the demons who implanted their spawn into the back of her head) not to mention the Darla storyline.

And whilst I'm a great defender of S8 I sadly do have to agree that until they address how Angel undermined Buffy's leadership, manipulated her, "tortured" her for a year and "put her through f***ing hell" for her 'own good', it's always going to be really problematic that Buffy remains silent on the subject and a supposedly feminist text isnít addressing this.

On the other hand, whilst not a feminist issue, as a gay male I always think back fondly to the Smashed DVD commentary and how Joss nixed Petrieís idea to have Willow and Amy punish the two guys at The Bronze by making them kiss. Joss explained how that would send a very ugly message that homosexuality is humiliating or a punishment and I really admired his awareness of that issue as well as Petrieís humbleness is admitting his mistake.

So to sum up; Joss isn't perfect and I do think his privilege may get the better of him sometimes but overall I would say his work is pretty good.
Suzie: He married a very private woman who has her own career but increasingly supports his. It's not like men who are married to women who have the same star power or earning potential. We know he is friends with many of the people who have worked with him. Does he hang out with any women who are his equal who might challenge him?

Not going to get into this whole thread bigtime, but did want to just mention one thing - I have a problem with the implication that Joss' female intimates, including his wife Kai, could not be considered his "equals" , or would be unable to call him on his shit (if shit they considered it) because they don't have the same "star" or earning power.

Betcha Kai and a few other people would be disagreeably surprised to hear that... and I don't believe it for a minute. I find it insulting to suggest or imply it without knowing the people involved. Earning power and celebrity are just two of the many features that make up a person's personal power or gravitas or influence in the world at large, and especially in loving relationships.

Personally, Kai has sounded pretty kick-ass influential to me.
I think we need to face reality. No matter how much Joss subverts tropes, writes strong women characters, and so on, he still has to put them on TV. And to do so he still has to play by TV rules. Thus, women must be pretty. They must be there for male gaze. It is what you need to do to put a show on TV.

I should also note that even if I no longer can buy Joss as a feminist, that does not mean I disrespect him as a person. He has done marvelous things in speaking out on numerous issues. He is to be commended for this, for it speaks to him as a human.
Dana, in your judgement of Joss as feminist or not-feminist, what are your criteria for a person to be a feminist?

Also, I want to thank you, and really everyone here for providing what has, at least for me, been a civil and thought provoking dialogue.
Sorry, Simon. I got up this morning thinking that I had gone too far. To others: I did acknowledge what Joss has done for feminism. But those statements generally get ignored when someone goes on to criticize Joss for other things.

JP, I don't think Joss idealizes women more than his male heroes. Buffy, for example, is quite insecure and still ambivalent about her power.

Brigadier, I'm grateful that he deals with issues in his work. But he doesn't speak out on controversial feminist issues. Take prostitution, for example. We know that he's against men using violence or the threat of it to force women into prostitution. But that will continue as long as there's a strong market for women and children. I think it would have been terrific if he had used his platform at Equality Now to address the men who "buy" women. From Firefly, it seems like he's OK with prostitution as long as it's the woman's choice and regulated by the government (even though the Alliance seems to be run mostly by men). But our hero, Mal, still sees what Inara does as wrong, and it's still clearly a dangerous profession with some stigma attached. Prostitutes are shown loving to have sex with the men we like, and unhappy only with the men we dislike.

Yes, I have no doubt that Kai is kick-ass and influential, just as Michelle Obama is with Barack. But it is a different partnership when the man is the one way out front, and the woman is helping him on decisions in which he will get most of the credit. I'm not saying that Joss has stifled Kai in any way. But people do benefit when they have a partner who is very helpful but chooses to let them get all the credit. And that model has overwhelmingly been the woman behind the throne.

Bunnies, if a woman is asleep or is incapable of giving informed consent due to intoxication or mental illness, juries still occasionally find the man guilty of rape, and I guarantee many of the women will feel traumatized. Of course, I can't speak for you, and perhaps you're a woman who wouldn't mind if you passed out and later found out that the whole frat house had had sex with your body after you had fallen asleep "for a little while." If you're a woman who experienced a violent rape, please have some sympathy for women who were traumatized by nonviolent rapes.

Vampmogs, thanks. I would add: I've never understood why Xander could try to rape Buffy while under the influence of demon hyenas, but the attack could be laughed off so as not to embarrass him -- even though this is early in her slaying career, when you might think that it might be traumatic to know that one of your close friends would try to rape you while under the influence (of demons).

What about the guy who wants to trick his ex into break-up sex so that he can rape her for eternity? Why isn't he in prison? Why are the three men treated as fools while they are experimenting with ways to get women to have sex without informed consent? I'm perfectly fine with Warren being flayed alive for being a murderer and a rapist.

One thing that has long bothered me about BtVS is the lack of recognition that slayers, ensouled vampires and their patrolling friends could do a great deal to prevent male human violence against women, not just demon violence. BtVS resonated with me and some other women because of the thrilling idea that we could defend ourselves successfully from male violence. But it never seems to occur to slayers and their friends that, in addition to fighting demons, they could also take off the street a lot of men intent on doing harm.

Joss doesn't have to play by the rules. He only has to play by the rules if he wants to be successful as a mainstream writer, director and producer. When he did Dr. Horrible, Cabin and Much Ado -- and had great freedom -- he still chose very thin, small, young, beautiful women, even in parts that didn't have to be sexual. But hey, he did cast gorgeous, voluptuous women of normal weight for the parts of Tara and Mellie, although he hasn't used those actresses again.

We've spent much time loathing Fox and other bosses who have stifled Joss's ability to be as freely feminist as he would like to be. But Joss does acquiesce, and he has become rich.

Despite my disillusionment, I'm still buying the Serenity comics and will probably re-up for Season 10.
PaperSpock- it is in both talking the talk and walking the walk. I would judge him as feminist if he stood up to the networks and made only and ever the decisions he wanted, without ever acquiescing to the reality of putting a show on TV (yes, I understand this is not how it works in tv land). And if in doing so, he gave equal weight to men and women, of all types, sizes and races, without any thought as to what a TV audience might find appealing, according to (likely) focus-grouped to death considerations. Joss has spoken out, but he has also put on TV some material that can be read as non-feminist. He cannot have it both ways (not that I am saying he wants to; it is, after all, us who are discussing this).
Suzie: "Yes, I have no doubt that Kai is kick-ass and influential, just as Michelle Obama is with Barack. But it is a different partnership when the man is the one way out front, and the woman is helping him on decisions in which he will get most of the credit. I'm not saying that Joss has stifled Kai in any way. But people do benefit when they have a partner who is very helpful but chooses to let them get all the credit. And that model has overwhelmingly been the woman behind the throne."

Yes, possibly, in terms of how much of the world views her/them, but this simply has nothing to do with whether or not she (or other of his female intimates) could call him on his shit personally. You implied that she (and others of his personal circle) could *not* be his "equals" in terms of being able to cry shenanigans if they thought he crossed the line on feminist or other issues, since they don't have equal earning power or celebrity ("star power"), and I don't believe that. I don't think you've made a case for it, either.
suzie and quotergal- truth is, none of us know anything at all about the relationship between Joss and Kai, so we are not in a position to pass any judgements for or against that relationship. I think the (valid) points you both make can be made without reference to that relation.

To pick up a point about the term "feminist." I think all too often the term is used to support binary viewpoints: for example, it is "feminist" to decry the growth of porn in the US, and it is "feminist" to support a woman making a choice to become a porn star. Can it be both? It is feminist to kill Tara, a lesbian, or would it be "feminist" to not kill her because she is a lesbian? I became suspect about Joss as feminist at the time he and Marti Noxon engaged in discussions about whether or not to keep Willow gay after Tara's death. They ultimately decided to do so, "not because it was the right thing (if it is, and I think it is), but because they did not want any further blowback from people already upset at what had happened. Is that feminist? To make that decision simply to prevent further uproar? Since the uproar that had happened had actually hurt people far more than anyone ever anticipated? This is the issue in microcosm- Joss saying that it was simply part of the story, of Willow's story, that to kill or not kill Tara was simply part of the story and not related to her being a lesbian (yes, it could have been Oz). But is that feminist or just an excuse to try to manage the outcry? Was it feminist to hurt so many lesbians who had invested in the story? Or was it not, since it was really about the story? I know I am not making my point well. But what makes Joss feminist? The story? The reason behind the story? His support of feminist causes, despite the story?

ETA: Let me expand my dilemma. I, a 60-yr-old white male, would consider myself a feminist. But what makes me feminist? I am an administrator in a college, where every other top administrator, save one, is a white male. I believe in equality of the sexes, have fought for it in the past, but still make a living in an environment where I can only go so far and do so much to effect change. Can I appropriate this title to myself, just because I say that I am feminist? Can I make or suggest my own definition of what it means to be a feminist? Can I do so if I am a millionaire film maker and TV director/creator? How do we define what it means to be a feminist, when the leaders in the field cannot even agree?

[ edited by Dana5140 on 2013-11-10 23:27 ]
We're back to author's intent vs. the eye of the beholder again. Which means that all sides have really valid perspectives and this probably isn't gonna get settled. Not that it should be -- these are the kinds of questions we need to discuss.
There's walking the walk, there's talking the talk, then there's who gets to define the walk and the talk, then there's the matter of consensus on that, and there's context. For example, Malala Yousefzai, a hero who has walked the walk more profoundly than most people ever will (and more than anyone should have to), may not subscribe to all Western consensus-agreed definitions of feminism. Does this make her less a feminist? Joss Whedon works in the medium of television. If you're going against the tide, you're not going to get as far in the direction you're going than someone who is going with the tide. Does this mean he gets no points because there's only so far you can go right now against that tide if you're interested in genre storytelling? If you're a feminist, are you required to have everything you say and do be about that, or can you do other things? "Firefly" doesn't strike me as non-feminist; Zoe and River are both women who are powerful in traditional ways without having to defend or deny or in any way worry about their femaleness while exercising that power.
Dana5140: suzie and quotergal- truth is, none of us know anything at all about the relationship between Joss and Kai, so we are not in a position to pass any judgements for or against that relationship. I think the (valid) points you both make can be made without reference to that relation.

That was really (and I would have thought obviously) my point, Dana5140 - that we cannot decide that Joss' female intimates are not his equals because we don't know them - that we can't make judgments about or assessments of their "equality" simply on the basis of their earning potential or their "star power".

ETF: yet another in a long series of typos. #MyLifeWork

[ edited by QuoterGal on 2013-11-11 00:51 ]
As with all ideas, your personal definition of feminism will most likely derive from what you ultimately seek to accomplish with it. If you want a version of feminism that invites and influences others to engage and share in the broader notion that empowering women is inherently a good thing, you'll approach the subject one way. If you want an exclusive club that caters only to members who practice your specific orthodoxy, you'll approach things very differently. Who's a feminist? Ultimately, whoever and whatever you want a feminist to be. The more interesting question is "why?" What do you hope to gain by including or excluding someone? Because looking at the bigger picture, I don't see the benefits of exclusion, particularly when you have an individual who has expended a lot of time and thought trying to get things right. I think there's more than enough room for disagreement without excommunication.
Well, BringItOn, and then there is Katherine McKinnon and the late Andrea Dworkin, just saying. Clearly feminists, except to a lot of feminists. In this case, definitions might be useful, if there were one people could agree on. Otherwise, the term is meaningless, meaning what it means to each and everyone differently. And I say this as your main reader response guy. :-) But words do have to have some sort of agreed-upon meaning, right? And they have implications. If words mean what they mean (said Alice), then we cannot simply allow someone to appropriate a word to his or her advantage just because they can. Joss is called a feminist. All I am asking is what this means. I am not sure that question has been answered in all the above erudite, passionate and courteous posts.

Shapenew, Firefly strikes me as both feminist and not feminist. All strong women, but. Inara is a prostitute. Mal defines her that way, even in a world where to be one is valorized. Sex to Inara is mainly a commodity. Kayleigh is cute and enjoys sex. Zoe is a warrior woman. River is beyond comprehension. All are gorgeous. The men are, sort of, weak- Simon is effeminate, Jane is pure brawn with no brain, Wash is "weak" compared to his companion, and we know nothing about Book save for hints he has a dark past. Only Mal is a man of action, but he is the hero.
I never said Joss wasn't a feminist. In general, I never suggest that someone can't call themselves a feminist, if they like. I'm fine with Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist, for example. Feminists have many different views on what feminism should be.

In my own family, for example, my oldest sister is a lesbian separatist while the second is a married Christian professor of English lit and gender studies who loves BDSM and thinks Joss is vanilla and anti-sex.

Dana, there are plenty of feminists, especially in the third wave, who are fine with porn. But those who oppose it can still think a woman has the right to choose what she does. Then there are feminists like me who think the majority of porn hurts women, and we don't think any choice that a woman makes is fine.

I don't think killing Tara was anti-feminist or anti-lesbian. But I wish he hadn't done it, and I can understand how lesbians must have been greatly disappointed. I don't think it would have been inherently anti-feminist to make Willow straight again because some people do change their minds about which sex they prefer. But it would have sent a bad message in a world where many people want gay people to change. It also would reinforce the nihilism that Joss seems to feel about coupledom.

I understand that it would be easier if there were agreement on what it means to be feminist or what it means to oppose racism.

Shapenew, the idea of "Western feminism" has been used to silence women in Third World countries who work for their rights. Men accuse them of being corrupted by Western women, even though women around the world have struggled for more rights. You might be interested in Uma Narayan's "Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Women."

I think Malala Yousafzai is great, and I don't know any Western feminists who disparage her. There is no Western consensus on feminism.

I've given Joss plenty of points for years. I've idolized him. Now I'm saying that I'm becoming disillusioned and don't think he's as much of an advocate for women's rights as I did before. I'm not saying he is an evil anti-feminist who deserves to be flayed alive.
The problem with idolizing people - especially people whose creative output is the focus of adoration yet is itself actively evolving - is that they can never live up to the expectations placed on them. No one can, because they're unreal.

My feelings are summed up best by what vampmogs said earlier:
Joss isn't perfect and I do think his privilege may get the better of him sometimes but overall I would say his work is pretty good.

Also, now that I've read this thread more carefully, I feel we are once again in a discussion that is far too personal. Stick to discussing Joss's work rather than speculating about his relationships with other people, please.
I'm thoroughly agreeing with most of what Suzie and vampmogs have said in this thread.
Suzie, my point about Malala Yousefzai is that, at least as I understand the words, she is a feminist hero. She wears a hijab, which some feminists feel is anti-feminist. I was trying to express the concept that one doesn't have to go against all of the cultural norms wherever one is, or wherever one comes from, to be a feminist. Dana5140, all of the men on "Firefly" are capable of being leading men types (they have been in other projects), except Ron Glass, who is older than a standard TV leading man, and even he is much more fit than, well, practically anybody, really. Simon, Kaylee, Wash and Inara are not fighter types, so the non-fighter status crosses gender lines. Mal, Zoe, Jayne, River and presumably Book are fighters. Everybody is aesthetically pleasing, 'cause it's TV :)
I think Joss is more of a feminist than most people I know. And this is despite the set of increasingly smaller hoops that the fandom expects him to jump through to prove himself.
@vampmogs, one point of correction: Greenberg, not Petrie, wrote Smashed. This is especially worth noting, since Greenberg himself is openly gay (and I don't think Petrie is) -- and the potentially homophobic connotations of the Willow/Amy making the guys make out thing didn't occur to him until Whedon pointed it out. Which I think is pretty interesting, because it goes to show that even someone who is part of the oppressed group can miss out on some of the inadvertent messages they are sending.
WilliamThe B, I think Petrie is gay. I think we recently had a post on his comments regarding this.

shapenew, my comment about the men of Firefly was not about their ability to take leading roles in other people's work; it is about the fact that in Firefly, and Joss a feminist, his men are weak (except for Mal) and his woman are strong. I would think we would be a time where both could be strong, rather than playing on subverting the standard trope yet again (i.e. men strong, women weak).

Simon, this is a great comment: "The problem with idolizing people - especially people whose creative output is the focus of adoration yet is itself actively evolving - is that they can never live up to the expectations placed on them. No one can, because they're unreal." Can I add to it? Because we idolize people, we often forgive them very real "things" that we would not forgive in others. We cannot believe they can do wrong, even when they do. We excuse it away.

Suzie, I am saying that Joss' decision about Willow was made as a response to what happened. It was not a reasoned response to a consideration as to whether or not they should make Willow straight as means to support fluid sexuality. Let us not commend him for his bravery here. Much as I agree with the decision. But it was way too little way too late.
There's realistic expectations and then there's expectations like

I would judge him as feminist if he stood up to the networks and made only and ever the decisions he wanted, without ever acquiescing to the reality of putting a show on TV (yes, I understand this is not how it works in tv land). And if in doing so, he gave equal weight to men and women, of all types, sizes and races, without any thought as to what a TV audience might find appealing, according to (likely) focus-grouped to death considerations.

This is never going to happen. No one is ever going to get this happen in the next twenty years. Joss does his best in a institutional misogynist machine. Sometimes he wins, some he doesn't. But setting impossible goals for him to achieve, is not the best way forward.

Fandom, in general,doesn't understand how tv works. There is an element of the ivory tower here.
Suzie, I don't think Joss is nihilistic about couples. He just knows what makes good drama.
Simon, but I, at least, do understand how TV works. My uncle was a producer for much of his career (Mike Douglas Show, Partridge Family year 1, Dick Clark Enterprises) and is married to the former associate coordinating producer for NYPD Blue. I also understand the constraints Joss works under. I am not convinced that makes him feminist in not doing more or different. You are not feminist (or anything else, to be sure) just because others judge you to be so. It is in what you do.
Impossible standards are impossible for everyone. I guess the boys in college mansplaining to me that I wasn't a "real feminist" were right. Hah!
It is in what you do.

And Joss is a feminist. For some reason, it's now fashionable to say that Joss isn't. I would deem this to be patronising and insulting to the man. He has done more for the feminist movement than most. For some reason, his critics can't accept that. I say to them, get over it.

This thread went to the dogs because people decided to attack him as a person instead of what he was saying. If I see this happen again, those people will reap the whirlwind.

And this is now closed.

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