We at Snark and Mayhem are definitely fans of the works of Joss Whedon. But there has always been one nagging thing about him that seems odd.
The title of “feminist writer.”
Is Whedon’s work feminist in nature? Not Whedon himself, but the work he puts out.
It started with Buffy, a superhero with serious daddy issues who can get almost nothing done without the steady hand of her doting surrogate father, Giles. Buffy is full of strong women who are still, ultimately, subordinate to men. Usually Giles, that oft disarming and ostensibly effete father figure. Even Willow, the girl who once bitchslapped a God, defers to the wisdom of Rupert Giles.
Beyond that, there’s a common theme in Buffy, Firefly and Dollhouse where the strong female leads (assuming you count River Tam as a lead) were created by men to be used as tools. Weapons, in fact, in two and a half instances. Do they ever really rise above this? Arguable.
This seems like the Kevin Smith effect to me: Smith is a LGBT icon because he made a movie that grossly misrepresents homosexuality. Worse, the idea that sexuality is something one chooses appears to be what Kevin Smith actually believes, if interviews with him are to be believed. So what makes Chasing Amy gay-friendly? What it demonstrated to me was that sexuality is a choice (at least, if you’re a woman), and if you choose wrong, you’ll lose your supposedly open-minded gay friends. This strikes me less as gay-friendly than it does a validation of virtually every straw-claim used by people to marginalise the LGBT community.
In the same sense, I could practically picture MRAs looking at Black Widow from The Avengers and screaming “SEE? SEE? I TOLD YOU!”
Buffy is a character with very little agency despite her awesome superpowers. Even Buffy’s “gift” is to die, which is more or less the planned fate of any Slayer. When she’s not dependent on men, or turning men evil with her vagina, she’s fulfilling their prophecies.
River Tam is a nutjob who was made into a weapon by some monolithic agency. She only really pulls herself together to protect Simon, the big brother who’s been taking care of her for the entirety of Firefly/Serenity.
Echo was created by a dude, empowered by a dude, effectively freed by a dude, and a dude was her greatest downfall in at least two of the big encounters in the show. Granted, I love seeing Eliza Dushku get work, but this does not strike me as a feminist character. And let’s not forget the purpose of the “dolls” in the first place.
This seems a reflection of Whedon’s own beliefs, as Chasing Amy was a reflection of his beliefs. Joss seems to believe a woman’s power is in the ability to endure harm, to be reactive instead of proactive. Granted, ‘proactive’ has a negative connotation due to people abusing it as an empty buzzword, but the point remains. His beliefs seem to revolve around the fact that things happen to women and women endure them. He even cites forced parenthood in some cases. You know…Overcoming rape.
Because that’s certainly feminist in nature.
What I’m saying here is not that you can’t enjoy Joss Whedon’s body of work. What I’m saying here is, however, that maybe we shouldn’t be hoisting him on our shoulders as a feminist icon.
Then again, maybe we really are that starved for some sort of feminist representation.On a final note, I’ll just note that if Joss had managed to do that Wonder Woman, it would have been an interesting contrast. Wonder Woman became a feminist icon despite the really screwed up views of her creator. I almost want to see Whedon’s take, just to see how he managed to disempower one of the 20th century’s strongest female characters.