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March 28 2006

The Joss Whedon post we had to have. It's all about the feminism.

A very nice read, but why isn't Inara mentioned in the listing of Firefly-women? Do feminists not like space-whores?
Everybody likes space whores! Especially Raymond! (Except devout religious people).
I don't know but I look forward to reading part 2. I like essays like this.
Interesting read, and I would agree that both BtVS and Firefly were highly feministic (is that a word). Had the writer watched Angel, I feel they might have had greater difficulty including it next to those two. In places the female characters are empowered. A few examples might be Cordelia learning to sword fight (& becoming pretty nifty at it by the time of "You're Welcome"), Lilah rising to the high ranks of W&H...

However some of AtS takes a more old fashioned view of gender. Much of Season 1 is about Angel saving women from alleyways, and or saving their souls (as if women's souls might need saving more than mens?). Even in later seasons, the male characters always feel responsible for the physically weaker females, and Fred and Cordy are more likely to be the ones who stay in the hotel whilst the men go out and do the fighting. And Fred becomes the ultimate damsel in distress in Angel Season 5 (although she's respectablly tough about it right up until the tragic end). One thing that did make me laugh was I watching "Awakening" a few days ago, Wesley has brought in a dark mystic in to remove Angel's soul, and Wes tells Fred to go and make the mystic some tea.

Even AtS though, generally included strong, capable and complex female characters (Gwen Raiden, Kate Lockley, Cordelia, Fred..) which is more than can be said for the vast majority of scripted TV. I have recently been watching 24 Seasons 1 & 2, which I'm really enjoy for the political drama, and explosions (I apologise), but the show leaves a lot to be desired in its treatment of female characters, the 'good' women (e.g. Kim Bauer..) in 24 are all less capable and less intelligent than the men to the point that it can get irritating. On that show only the 'bad' women have the same capabilities as their male counterparts. I'm guessing part of the problem is not enough women in the writing rooms.
Okay I got to where the writer mentions the tv episode "the Pack" before I was about to nod off to sleep. Is this revealing anything we don't already know? I mean yes. Absolutely. Buffy is the iconic 'girl next door in the horror films who walks down that alley or hallway and gets iced by the big bad in the first ten minutes.' Whedon gave that character the ability to become AS scary as her would-be tormenters, and Buffy was born. This has become a powerful modern statement for femininism, made by a man, for entertainment purposes that have expanded beyond their original intent to bring cultural and philosophical questions to light for years after its first-run broadcasts. Buffy has become a "household word" in today's society, and an icon as well known among younger generations as Superman, Willie Wonka, and Luke Skywalker. The only reason why Buffy the Vampire Slayer does not have her own Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon is because it might make her look fat.

Glancing down further, and I'm just scanning now, this writer admits s/he hasn't even seen ANGEL, and therefore I'm a better authority on this topic than s/he. So are you, probably.

...why are we reading this again?

[ edited by ZachsMind on 2006-03-28 02:00 ]
(Except devout religious people)


I dunno, Gossi, my favorite devout religious guy was roundly criticized by his contemporary guardians of religious orthodoxy and morality for his associations with whores and tax collectors. Just sayin'.
"my favorite devout religious guy..."

Yeah JC hung out with the very kindsa people that the pharisees were saying are gonna burn. JC was cool! Come to think of it, Buffy hung out with the vampires and witches and werewolves and all the baddy types too. The best way to combat enemies is to make them your friends. There's probably a lot of similarities between Buffy and JC... and pretty much any other myth Joseph Campbell ever investigated. ...and pretty much a lot of webpages have been written on this topic too.

Shame GWBushie doesn't watch Whedon programming. Maybe he could learn a thing or two about warfare.

[ edited by ZachsMind on 2006-03-28 04:28 ]
Same GWBushie doesn't watch Whedon programming. Maybe he could learn a thing or two about warfare.

I wouldn't wish a Buffy Season 7 war speech on anyone - not even Dubya!
I don't know about Angel not following the same themes. We see Angel continuing his trend of protecting the female characters whether or not they want it, and it's continually a bad idea. It causes problems with Buffy (but gets him his own show, so I'll allow it), Nina and others. He tries to do it to Cordelia and she tells him to stuff it.

I don't know, Fred is often-times a damsel in distress but she's often not; her encounters with her professor, or the decapitation machine.
I wouldn't wish a Buffy Season 7 war speech on anyone - not even Dubya!


At least Buffy never said that she'd go through the ubervamps like crap through a goose!

Maybe it's time to go watch Patton again, and see a war speech done right.
Dubya's definitely taken the little bus to battle.

/drift

...Sorry. What were we talking about?
I do find it curious that someone who so clearly likes Joss Whedon's work hasn't seen Angel. I would like to hear her take on it, becuase I do find there is less overt feminism in the show than in Buffy.
I wonder if Inara is going to be in the negative section. If so, I don't think the author will be looking very deeply if that is all he or she sees. It will be interesting to find out.
newcj - most likely she will be. One of the author's comments in the talkback goes:
...I'm coming to Inara. I find her a fairly troublesome character and so I wanted to deal with her separately.

Perhaps it will be interesting but like ZachsMind above, I am quite bored by this article and find it largely unoriginal.
I wonder if Inara is going to be in the negative section.

If she is, the author has missed one of the strongest feminists comments that Joss has made - that women in control of their bodies are not victims; that prostitution has become a form of victimisation since men started running brothels and pimping women.

I also find it troubling that there's an assumption that "Angel" is less feminist simply because the women in it aren't the superheroes of "Buffy". If there was a continual victimisation of women in the series I might agree, but there are as many strong female characters in the series as there are weak ones.
It is admittedly kinda hard to find new angles to rehash the Buffy franchise. What hasn't already been said that needs to be said? What frontier have we not explored? What rubicon have we not crossed? We have scoured the transcripts and program summaries. We've written more fanfic than one can spit at, and every variation of slash there can possibly be (Lorne/Jonathan is particularly creepy) and crossovers. We've exceeded the bandwidth on practically every screencap website on the Internet. We've listened to the soundtracks for backmasking. We have Annotated her, existentialized her, and goodness knows we spoiled her. There's the comics, the ringtones, and all kinds of merchandise. So many people have tried their hands at their own season eight, it's just not funny. We've personified their roles ourselves, perhaps at the risk of our own sanities. We have combed every word seeking meaning, or just an occasional snicker. We have quizzed one another with the most minute trivia. We've asked if Buffy is Above the Law. We've vagued it up. There are entire virtual encyclopedias that have analyzed and examined and delved and researched and scrutinized every pore of Buffy's being.

So when someone comes along and tries to write something new and original about Whedon's little bride of frankenstein, that person has to realize there's absolutely nothing new under the sun. It's awe-inspiring. It's breathtaking. It's perhaps just a wee bit o' overkill, which I find somehow fitting. In fact, quite frankly, I'm surprised we haven't run out of linkage.
Maybe someone should make a Buffy beer. Then we could get endless mileage out of the Tastes great/Less filling debate.

As Zachsmind says it's pretty tough to say something new about the Whedonverse but this is especially true of Buffy making it all the more surprising that the author hasn't watched Angel which, certainly from an academic analysis perspective, seems to be relatively unfurrowed ground. I also think that although feminism isn't the main agenda of Angel there are some great strong women in it (not necessarily in the physical sense but you don't need to be physically powerful to be empowered - though I guess it helps) and agree that if Inara ends up in the bad camp because she's a companion that'd be a very shallow reading of her character.

I also have to say that this article has one of my pet hates about some feminist criticism where she mentions that Xander is 'feminised'. This sort of hijacking of decency and niceness into solely female qualities strikes me as kind of cliched, basically inaccurate and as a bloke somewhat annoying (if she'd mentioned his ineffectiveness in combat or the way he often plays the victim role as being typically female qualities as depicted in film and TV I could have given her the benefit of the doubt but to say that not being 'a jerk' makes him feminised gives me the grrs).
I'm not sure that s/he/we could look at the feminism of Joss' shows by counting how many female characters fall fairly easily into 'strong and therefore pro-feminist' and 'weak and..etc'.
Where does Faith fit in? She uses her strength for good and bad. Anya? She's all about fighting in the corner of scorned women - but from a violent and not-so-good perspective.

The author mentions Xander but then no other mention of male characters (lack of Angel viewing excepted). I'd be interested to see the author explore Giles as a feminist character (males as watchers, females as slayers), or on the Angel side, Wesley, Gunn, heck even Lorne.

I hope we won't see these male characters show up in 'the Bad' section, as presumably Inara will. In this respect I stand firmly behing Keith G.
Saying that Xander is feminized is just similar, I think, to Joss saying that he is a girly man. And to be fair to the author, she goes in the other direction as well. Strong kick- butt people like Zoe are considered to have more masculine characteristics.
But I take your point, Saje.
I'm sure I'm going to screw this up, so before you get angry with me ask me to clarify something.

I dislike the notion that making female characters more masculine somehow instantly makes them feminist. That's one of the things about feminism that always bothered me. It always seemed that in their moral outrage of the treatment of women they stripping women of their femine aspects. They weren't becoming empowered women, they were becoming men.

As this article points out, Ripley is pretty much just a dude. Aside from the scene with the bikini (which would be been incredibly creepy if it had been a dude) that character could have been a dude. Not really my idea of a feminist icon.

The thing about Buffy that made her a feminist wasn't that she was a chick that kicked ass, but that she kicked ass without needing to become a man to do it.

I completely agree with Saje here on the Xander issue; Xander not being a jerk doesn't make him feminised. I always though Xander was one of the most real guys on television. He's not an ass on the level of Snydley Wiplash but that doesn't make him a chick. Hell even Spike had feelings and shared them quite often and he's bad-assed mean old vampire that was without soul for most of the show, but this author doesn't chacterize him as being "feminised."
I'm doing an essay on Buffy and the Post-Modern Heroine, so although I haven't read this as yet, I booked marked it. Love this subject.
Simon, thanks for the post! I thought the discussion of Xander and Willow as feminist symbols went beyond the typical exploration of Buffy as a feminist icon. Perhaps the word "feminised" was a little hard to read, but really - that's why Xander didn't fit in - a refusal to conform to restrictive male roles - a revolutionary and feminist statement in its own right. The Inara discussion should be good - prostitution/pornograpy is a divisive subject among feminists, with strong arguments for both camps. Too bad the author hasn't seen Angel, it was never as dear to me as Buffy if only b/c I longed for the strong female lead. Cordelia and Fred rocked - and contributed a ton to the group's successes - but they did require a lot of protection.

[ edited by bravegal on 2006-03-28 17:07 ]
"I dislike the notion that making female characters more masculine somehow instantly makes them feminist. That's one of the things about feminism that always bothered me."

war_machine, It always bothered me too, but I do not ascribe it to "feminism" only to some people who claim to be feminists. The differentiation is important and is not made often enough. Reverse gender stereotyping and calling it feminism makes me grind my teeth. Unfortunatly it is done often enough that, if I read all of it, I would have no teeth left.

Off hand this seems like a pretty superficial look at the shows in regards to feminism. It has really taken too large a subject to be able to be anything else in such a short essay. My comment about wondering if Inara was going to be in the "bad" section was a reflection of my feeling that I should hold off judgement until reading the entire thing while seeing this as being a rather unimaginative look at the charaters so far.

However, everyone has made good points about what is in the first part, especially about none of this being particularly new. I think new things are out there to be said, so far this person has just not said any that I can see.

Oh, and since when is Xander not a jerk? ;-)
Bravegal, I think maybe that's a false dichotomy. If someone isn't conforming to restrictive male roles that doesn't necessarily mean they are 'feminised' rather it may mean they are constructing a new male role (and in Xander's case I don't think it's even that new, as war_machine says he was about the most real guy on the show, to me also, since he's kind of like most of the blokes I know - including the nastier aspects of his character obviously, i'm certainly not setting the male sex up as paragons of virtue cos, y'know, war etc. kind of down to us, sorry about that ;). It's the attitude of 'if it's the bad parts of maleness it's definitely masculine, but any good character traits must be feminine' that i'm objecting to. No offence but men don't have the exclusive rights to jerkiness (well, except in the strictly etymological sense ;), nor women to decency and niceness.

I also think the whole 'weakness' of Cordelia/Fred is overstated. Physical power isn't the be-all end-all, especially these days when we have tools to perform most tasks requiring brute strength. Yeah, they needed a lot of physical protection but quite often they were the emotional and moral centre around which the group revolved (not to mention the brains of the bunch) which made them integral and more importantly equal parts of the team, IMO.

newcj, Xander is no longer a jerk (I could've sworn there was a memo). He's now a pillock apparently. Some union thing.
An excellent point, Saje *nods wisely, polishes glasses*.
Physical power does seem to be a simplistic way at looking at female 'weakness'. The endurance Cordelia showed in putting up with her visions, the cunning that Fred had to develop to survive Pylea...

Kate is an interesting character to look at from this perspective (says she having just watched 'Epiphany'). She has physical strength, emotionally she's had to fit in within a male-dominated workforce, but she can't cope when confronted with demons (metaphorically and the real kind).

One thing I love about Joss shows is women aren't paragons of virtue. They're also pillocks sometimes. And when they make mistakes, they aren't 'punished' necessarily in the ways you might see elsewhere. They are allowed to make mistakes and still be strong, intelligent, desirable - not forever the femme fatale or damsel in distress.
That's it exactly Saje, the good parts of Xander aren't feminine and the bad parts aren't masculine. If that was the case in the episode where he was split into two parts, one would have been this Evil Dead's Ash hardass and the other would have been some fopish sobbing mess but as we all know that was not the case.
Reverse gender stereotyping and calling it feminism makes me grind my teeth.


I can understand your point there Newcj but, I gotta disagree with you on a little. Toughness is often considered to be the opposite of femininity, and is percieved as feminism, but constricting women to femininity is just as patriarchal as chaining them to the kitchen sink.

Buffy was tough, but feminine. Does Ripley's toughness, really make her less female? Does a lack of femininity, make one less female then an abundence of it? Of course not.

The thing is society is still uncomfortable with women who donít conform to a certain stereotype. Tough women are often suspect of being lesbian, which is a label that has been used for years to discourage assertive behaviour in women.

Joss has been stated many times about Buffy, "[the idea was to]create someone who was a hero where she had always been a victim." Not so much about making Buffy tough but feminine (the new feminist), but about taking something that was considered weak, and in need of being saved by the male 'hero', and making her the hero, making her the strong one.

(On reading your post again, Newcj, I do realise, that you really just object to making a chick more manly, and then calling it feminist, which is kinda bogus too, and the manliness really has little to do with feminism)
For the benefit of future historians and to ensure umm fair and balanced coverage, the author rebutted some of the comments made in this thread in a follow up blog entry.

Follow-up piece

And I would like just to say that whilst some of us may have read everything there is to read about Buffy, the majority of us have not. So I hope that essays like this continue to be written.
So I hope that essays like this continue to be written.

Well said, Simon. The fact that these kind of articles continue to get written, continue to get linked to and continue inciting interesting discussion here makes them worthwhile.

Revisiting something in hindsight is also useful - contextualising a similar idea in a new way; looking back at a show and debating its strengths is much different than discussing it in the thick of watching the series.

And each time I read these kinds of articles or discussions my opinions can be altered - perhaps even slightly - to incorporate a new worldview or re-evaluate from other things I've considered in the meantime.
Just posted a response to her very reasonable response to our response to ... where was I ?

Well worth reading, thanks for the link Simon. Clears up a few of my misunderstandings and makes me much keener to read Part 2 than I was previously.

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