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What's with the name?

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Essay

Reconsidering the Feminism of Joss Whedon


The facts are these: Joss Whedon is lauded as being one of the most forward-thinking show creators and writers currently wielding his craft today. The famous exchange between Whedon and a reporter – Why do you write these strong female characters? Because you’re still asking me that question – is bandied around the internet on a frequent basis. (Although this exchange was of his own imagining.) He’s praised for his interesting and multiform characters. Why, in these very pages, I’ve given him a share of credit myself.

He’s earned the moniker of feminist seemingly through just the creation of strong female characters alone. But, as friend and scholar Jake says, “Having a girl beat up guys is not equivalent to a strong female character when they ALWAYS, CONSTANTLY depend on men.” So true! Let’s consider some of his body of work as we undertake the Topic that Made the Fanboys Cry: Joss Whedon’s feminism.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The infamous Season 5 Buffybot was Whedon’s winking homage to The Stepford Wives, an automaton that existed literally to please men. While the Buffybot was an over-the-top mockery of Buffy Proper’s insecure need to please, a story gimmick ultimately discarded in favor of the real thing (in the reasonably well done episode “Intervention”), the under girders of the Buffyverse were deftly exposed.

Buffy, for all her killing vamps and breaking stuff, is rather a weak character. Let’s consider that she, as a Slayer, descends from a line that was literally created by men – a formation that stems directly from the male anxiety over an inability to create life the way that women do. And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control.

And Buffy is textually weak in all her relationships. She falls apart not only when Angel leaves her, but when Parker (yeah, you don’t remember him, either) doesn’t want to pursue more than a one-night stand with her, too. And Riley, well. Riley. Despite being an almost universally despised character, Whedon sends Riley out in a flurry of pique at Buffy, after being caught having his blood sucked by a vampiress in a modern-day opium den. Let’s get that one sorted: Riley sexually undermines his girlfriend of over a year with a vampire, then delivers her an ultimatum that she must essentially get over it, or he’s leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when he’ll be back again (never come back, Riley). She reacts with the appropriate level of scorn, before Xander, the Chronicler of Buffy’s Failures, lectures her on her failure as a girlfriend to Riley, her lack of adequate emotional support, her once-in-a-lifetime chance with this hulking cornfed sad sack – and she goes running after the helicopter like a dog in heat! It’s truly infuriating. To top things off, Xander goes home to his loving, suitable girlfriend Anya – whom he near-constantly belittles, but who makes him feel “like a man.”

….WHEDONNNNN!

And this is how it goes, time and time again on the show. The strong female characters are sublimated to the weaker, childish males’ needs – and Xander is the worst perpetrator of them all. Aside from the whole ditching-a-1000-year-old-demon-at-the-altar thing, I’m sure you all remember Cordelia? Cordelia, of course, was one of the two most sexually aware and confident women on BtVS (I’ll get to the other in a minute). What this meant was that she needed to be punished, and shamed, before being sent packing to Angel. Xander, who was always so far beneath her that the show acknowledged it before daintily pushing that fact aside, made Cordelia into his girlfriend and then routinely degraded her in the way women have been so quickly depleted for centuries – sexual humiliation. Take this exchange:

CORDELIA: I can’t even believe you. You dragged me out of bed for a ride? What am I, mass transportation?

XANDER: That’s what a lot of the guys say, but it’s just locker room talk. I wouldn’t pay it any mind.

Of course, after she breaks up with him, he plans to take her by force – in “”Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Xander casts a spell to make Cordelia fall in love with him. The fact that it backfires doesn’t make this episode any less horrifying, since every woman in town begins to throw herself at Xander – which is the fantasy of every Nice Guy ™ that ever walked the planet. (See also.)

And then, once Cordelia and Xander are back together, he cheats on her with Willow, a romance that exists literally to shepherd her off the show. For good measure, Whedon writes in a plotline that leaves the intelligent Cordelia destitute and unable to go to USC, Duke or Columbia. Welp. Surely there are some intelligent and sexual women who are allowed to flourish on this show, right?

Hey, Faith!

As has been pointed out by the magnificent Buffy scholar Eleusis Walks (to whose blog you should go post haste following this article), Faith is essentially a foil for Buffy, her shadow self. Whereas Buffy has approved-by-Whedon sex with her steadfast boyfriends whom she loves, Faith is a sexual free agent. When Buffy has a one-night stand, it leaves her scarred and miserable; when Faith has one-night stands, she uses them for revelry around a table at the Bronze. She’s allowed to enjoy this privilege for about half a season before we find out the truth – she’s crazy! A hysterical womb on two legs. After this point (Season 3, “Bad Girls”), Faith is verbally and physically abused for her sexual agency. Willow regularly calls her a slut. Tara can smell something off about her when Faith is in Buffy’s body. Her inability to restrain her out-of-control desires leads her to pursue seduction of Angel, who resists, and delivers her into Buffy’s pure and inviolable waiting hands.

You’ll recall when Angel did take Buffy, he lost his soul and killed another charming brunette, Jenny Calendar – an act that several of the characters explicitly blame on Buffy’s sexual agency. The next time Buffy gets out of control in bed, she’s trapped in a vacuum of endless sex and nearly brings a house down around the Initiative’s ears (Season 4, “Where the Wild Things Are”). Again and again, we’re shown that a woman’s sexual actions are dangerous – unless, of course, they’re done by a robot. Then it’s all fun and games.

>>> Next Page: Firefly

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  • Anonymous

    On the topic of Dollhouse, I am a huge fan of his other work but I got through 2.3 episodes and couldn’t stomach anymore. It was very disappointing and I kept waiting for an explanation or to hear that direction of the show had turned around. Still waiting…

  • http://twitter.com/WanderinDreamr hbm

    Quick note, the second link on the first page tried to open up my email for some reason so you might want to check the coding on that!

  • http://twitter.com/WanderinDreamr hbm

    And the second link on the Dollhouse page has the same problem, BTW.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I’ve fixed them, thanks for pointing out!

  • http://twitter.com/KomiIsDrawing Kate Ashwin

    As to Angel, I’ll mention that all of the female characters of note end up dead, make of that what you will.

  • http://twitter.com/ryeisenberg Rebecca Eisenberg

    The more I think about Buffy and feminism, the more I realize she’s a strong female character in a similar way to how Uhura in TOS was a strong black role model. At the time that the shows were on, their two characters were unique and different from the female/black stereotypes usually seen on TV. Uhura represented progress for women and african americans in her time, but looking back on the show, she’s often portrayed as being as weak and easily duped by the men around her as any other female character on Star Trek was.

    Similarly, Buffy was a strong female role model largely because she was one of the only female role models on TV who could kick that much ass and who was physically stronger than the men around her. But if you think about her personality as an individual character as opposed to as an icon or a representative for her gender, Buffy was always kind of a girly girl who liked shopping and the mall and boys and cute shoes, and sometimes I think her dependence on the men in her life came from [the fact that her dad was gone and also] a desire to be normal and have someone take care of her for a change. That’s just human.

    I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said — it’s entirely true that she’s not necessarily the strong female character people often portray her to be and it is incredibly questionable that slayers were created by men and that their watchers are also men — but I do think that if you look specifically at Buffy and her decisions as they pertain to her individual character, some of the writing and plot points make a little more sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    I’m really not a huge fan of Joss Whedon to begin with as I find he tends to forget the huge talent of collaborators he has always had for all his most successful endeavours but I offer a few thoughts to the idea that his strong female characters tend to always still rely on men anyway.
    That may hold true but strength exhibits in different ways and personal growth in the case of characters such as Cordelia in Angel, where Angel depends just as much on her as she does him. Strength doesn’t always have to be an overriding force, or just physical in a relationship between 2 people or a “team” as the case maybe since we’re talking about television.

  • Greta

    I’ve only watched Firefox, but your arguments, based on good expositions of his narratives, are effective and support my own experience of watching Firefox. I actually found the show entertaining enough, but we have become so inured to these kind of dubious characterisations that it does tend to bounce off one unfortunately. What was impossible to ignore was the profoundly offensive nature of the prostitute character. Anyone who knows anything about archeology knows that there is a pernicious myth of the holy whore that is used to block evidence and arguments for goddess worship and a female priesthood in sites from Northern Europe to the Middle East. The idea of a female priesthood existing anywhere is such anathema to the male dominated field of archeology that their explanation for the evidence is explained by this wholely invented and ludicrous claim of sacred prostitutes. There is absolutely no evidence to even suggest that these institutions ever existed, yet it is still a pervasive view and that Whedon was supporting this insidious and diseased belief, I found particularly egregious.

  • Sare

    So, we’re going to fault Buffy for portraying women who are in sexual control of themselves as sluts, but then when women who have embraced that piece of themselves in Firefly, we’re going to be upset at that focus? You can take down anything if you discard every single nuance, and there are certainly bits of which I agree here and there, but this is ridiculously oversimplified analysis.

  • Erincb87

    I see less of a problem with women depending on others (men or women) and have more of an issue with the fact that women with any sort of sexual agency are routinely punished, humiliated, and degraded for owning their sexuality. It seems that the media and society at large think that sexual equality is a dangerous thing indeed. I think that, biologically speaking, the fact that men can’t have babies is in a large part responsible for this mentality. Kinda makes you want scientists to get cracking on making test tube babies work. That certainly seems more likely to happen than people growing up and getting over themselves and their stupid prejudices.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_YZFC5MTTDNXG64ZRXWZ5D4TF2Y Amanda

    I rather agree with Sare — this analysis confuses portrayal with approval, and assumes that bad things happening to women in these shows means the creator(s) believe these are the correct, right, or proper things that should be happening to women, or that the women deserve them. Which, frankly, is ludicrous. It’s worthwhile making note of the double standard that allows shows to use titillation to draw eyeballs while simultaneously disapproving of it. Beyond that, any analysis of drama which posits that anything portrayed in a creative work reflects the creator’s view of how the world *should* be is just silly on its face.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Prostitution is not sexual free agency. It’s kind of, you know, the opposite of free agency. And free.

  • Anonymous

    I love the smell of textual analysis in the morning! I enjoy reading posts like these, gives me something to ruminate over while I’m at work and to rebut or concur with later. While I appreciate (and enjoy) Whedon’s significant contributions to media, he is not to be held above scrutiny (or heralded as the Great White Hope for Lady Characters).

    I look forward to more analyses! (and in the long run, hopefully more women characters on TV and in films that don’t make me cringe in dismay.)

    OK, all together now: “UGH, RILEY”.

  • http://twitter.com/ryeisenberg Rebecca Eisenberg

    Do you mean Firefly? I don’t think Joss Whedon created any browsers LOL.

  • Belphoebe

    I love all of the Whedon shows (except Dollhouse-I won’t try to defend that) but I don’t know them well enough to use examples to fight my argument. However, picking individual plot points instead of overall character development to criticize Whedon’s feminism is weak. All of Whedon’s characters are flawed, that’s how drama works. Both male and female characters do a lot of self harm and shit happens that is just not fair. Zoe’s decision to keep fighting after Wash’s death however, was more an example of what shock looks like, not the dismissal of her feminine characteristics. Her love was gone and she was going to take as many bad guys out as she could on her way to join him. Male or female, any soldier is going to operate that way, especially as she loved the other members of the ship and they needed her to survive. Inara and the role of the companions was not a Whedon invention. It fit the melding of Western and sci-fi tropes as often the only place in those world’s for powerful women is tied to their sexuality. Companion type women have historically been the only role for women who wish to operate outside of the restrictions that society has placed on women. They were more educated, able to own more resources and move freely between male and female worlds. The mistresses of the Kings of France always held more political power than the queens, even though their position was considerably more vulnerable.

  • Abatha

    I think she was referring to the comments about Kaylee.

  • Arthursgames

    Cordelia Chase had an excellent arc in Angel. And then Charisma Carpenter got pregnant and Joss Whedon got angry about it and decided to punish her through her character in the fourth season.

    Winifred Burkle had potential to be a compelling character, but in the end she just played into Joss Whedon’s fetishes.

    While Lilah Morgan wasn’t a regular character, she and Cordelia Chase were easily the best ones on the show. Until Joss Whedon paid more attention to Angel due to Firefly’s cancellation.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Oh: I just think she’s constructed for a male fantasy version of sexiness. The giggling, the little-girl-voice, etc etc. She’s all right, though.

  • Ms.Hyde

    While I really enjoy the analysis of shows which people generally take for granted, I believe a lot of what’s said here is slanted. Can you honestly say that women were portrayed in ways which men weren’t? Sure, Dollhouse’s Echo got beat up every other week, but other weeks she beat the crap out of some guy. Buffy constantly physically assaults vampires, staking them and who knows, they could be reasonable demons! Searching for things to grip about isn’t what feminism is about…and you need to consider the impact of a show on both genders before you can generalize one way or another.

    Made me think though. :)

  • http://xlivvielockex.livejournal.com/ Kelly

    SPOILERS FOR ANGEL!

    I really wish you could have seen Angel to include it in your analysis. Here we have a show that Joss pretty much left alone for three seasons and because of that, we have one of the best cases of character development (Cordelia) that I have seen on any series. We also have Lilah, who is the way a female villain should be written always.

    Then Joss comes in and we get the fridging of three female characters over his last two seasons (Cordelia, Lilah, Fred) with two of them having their bodies violated and used by other entities (one male, one female).

    I would love to read an update to your article when you finally get to Angel. Your thoughts are so amazing and spot on, I really would love to see what you think of it.

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    Very interesting article, Natasha! I just wanted to thank you so much for your citation of my blog; I’m very flattered. If you’re interested in discussing the topic further, feel free to drop me a line in my inbox there or on Tumblr (@itsinthetrees). I also highly suggest you watch Angel, as it’s not only the better show but also the most damning evidence against Whedon’s supposed feminism (the last two seasons, in which he had more oversight, utterly destroy the female cast).

  • http://twitter.com/noizangel Nicole Winchester

    Thanks so much for this analysis – it speaks to a lot of things I’ve argued over the years. Those arguments have not been met with happiness and joy. ;)

    I also feel that, in Buffy in particular, men are portrayed as abandoning dicks, which really doesn’t help much in the empowerment category. Sure, be a strong, powerful female – but every man in your life will have issues with that and leave you alone in the end. I mean, Buffy’s dad couldn’t be bothered to parent his kids after Joyce died? Or just send along cash? Come on.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I will drop you a line! Your 30 Days of Buffy writing was fantastic, especially the Willow piece.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    To offer a bit of a rebuke on Winifred, her turn actually provided her with an opportunity as an actor to play to her strength, as a theatrically trained actor. With a lot of experience in Shakepeares plays. More regal and powerful. It also hugely dramatic and effecting for the entire show everything that insued storywise and her ongoing connections with everyone. I’ve actually heard Whedon say this in an interview and I’m inclined to side with him on this as she is absolutely amazing how she portrays her new incarnation.

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    Thank you!

    If you’re interested in other essays I’ve written — including 30 Days of Angel, where I think I probably did my best work — you may want to look at my ‘meta analysis’ tag (in fandom circles essays are called ‘meta’ even when they are in-text readings, for reasons that escape me).

    http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/tag/meta%20analysis

  • Senor Chang

    The direction of the show had turned around. You just have to make it to the end of the season.

    I gave up on Fringe after 2 episodes too… then went back and forced myself through it and am now addicted to it.

    I’m sure I don’t really have to explain my point there, do I?

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    Providing Amy Acker with an opportunity to play a more interesting character doesn’t mean Winifred Burkle wasn’t tortured to death so that men could mourn over her.

  • Lewisbenzie

    It does feminism no credit to present yourself as mortally wounded while other participants are in critical condition.

    Men in the Whedon universe are portrayed in equally cliched broad strokes. In Buffy Giles is an ineffectual, fuddy duddy despite having been a rebel in the 60-70′s, Xander is a wise cracking man child emotionally insecure and physically weak who gets knocked out so often theres two entire episodes devoted to his failure. Any male in the first few seasons of the Buffyverse with so much as a bump of muscle is a thug/monster or patsy. Angel is at best a cradle snatching obsessive having stalked Buffy for years before hanging his hopes of redemption on her. If we follow your chain of argument Buffy ‘penetrates’ him with a sword to save the world. Using a tenous link like that is strong female behaviour analogous with raping males ?

    Fireflys males are equally weak, Simon is physically weak constantly being berated for his physical and mental courage to survive in the universe, it could be argued Wash is depicted as the thematic ‘wife’ of Zoey badgering his wife for attention over her captain. Jayne is portrayed as a stereotypical angry vicious male predating any female sexually, Mals a self destructively stubborn, angry moralist.

    Of course anything can be read into anything. One might think you hate all men and feel ill done to by society and somehow you blame Joss Whedon. Purely as a intellectual exercise though you make some points that are common knowledge and fairly obvious but some are stretches beyond the inferred text.

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    yes enough of this silly talking about women, what we should do is talk about how MEN are oppressed

    i am saying this as a man: you are embarrassing our entire gender right now

  • Nicole Hazen

    I didn’t like Buffy at all. Not for any of the reasons stated here. It was just too…I don’t know, teen drama for me. I just couldn’t get into it. I heard it got better but I’m the type that if it doesn’t grab me pretty quickly, I’m out. I figure my time is valuable. If you can’t do a good enough job (to me) right off the bat, I have other shows I could be watching.

    I loved Firefly. Your comments do make me rethink how I saw the female characters, but I’m not entirely sure I agree. It’s been a while since I’ve watched it so I won’t try to argue my point when I can’t cite sources.

    Dollhouse. This show was so disappointing to me. I have trouble watching anything with sexual abuse in it. That’s my hang up, not anyone else’s. But to have a show that is pretty much all about women who are raped on a regular basis and that’s ok, really makes my skin crawl. I never understood how the show had female fans. I have friends who loved it and it still boggles my mind. To each their own and all that, of course. I just don’t get it. And yes, I did try and watch this, but I had to stop. It was painful.

    I guess it’s just like the fact that Twilight has so many female fans when it’s so not good for females. Don’t understand that either.

    Variety is the spice of life! =)

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    To play devils advocate, why just men? The series was marching towards the end of days. What happened to Winifred has to be taken with that in mind in my opinion.

  • Anonymous

    Good opinion piece. It was well laid out. Dollhouse was my least favorite of his series, and this could be the reason why. He may not be the “paragon of feminist virtue” but to his credit, his female characters are well rounded. They are also diverse. Not everyone is a strong character, but most of them are real and tangible. I think this is HUGE. Too many times in media, the female characters are tacked on sex objects.

    I do have some beef with your analysis of firefly, specifically Inara. She is less of a prostitute and more of an escort. You might think this is splitting hairs, but the difference is: one is a job, the other is slavery. The distinction is choice.

    I also disagree with this conclusion “the positioning of this profession as noble suggests is that women’s highest role in the new order – and any new order – is that of concubine.” I think you read into this the wrong way. Inara’s profession is equated with nobility, because of her typical clientele. The show deals mostly with people of a lower class. Hence, these ‘common folk’ treat her like a queen. They respect her status, not her profession.

    Whedon gives Inara a compassionate heart and good strength of character. She is a decent sort of human being. Take all that into account, and I believe the message is “don’t judge people on their profession, even prostitutes are human beings” not “that a women’s highest role… is that of a concubine.”

  • Nicole Hazen

    Oh hey, you’re on LJ! Mind if I friend you?

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    Because the only characters left were men, apart from Harmony who has no soul. Fred even lampshades this in “A Hole In The World”: “It’s my boys. All my boys.”

    The only human female (or even major female) character left on the show was devoured to further male character development.

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    Go right ahead! I don’t friend back until I get to know someone, because only personal posts are locked, but I don’t mind being friended. :)

  • Nicole Hazen

    Cool, thanks!

    Don’t blame ya on the personal thing, heh.

  • http://twitter.com/JBod Justin

    Was there really no mention of Willow and Tara? While both beautiful women in their own right, neither were characterized as “glamorous”. I’d say, above being great, gay, role models, they were fantastic role models for women in both their relationships and “power”.

    Also, I have a terrible attention span, which means sometimes I skip around when I read. I apologize if I missed this.

  • Robin

    So Faith can be seen as a sexually free agent and the fact that she is repressed is sexist, but Inara is one of the most free and empowering sexual characters throughout all the shows and what she does is sexist just because she is selling sex? It is shown many times that her job is empowering, under her control, something she loves and is very good at, and gives her huge monetary boost. She can save for retirement, luxuries, whatever she wants or needs, and enjoys her job. I see it as very parallel to our modern day stripper or escort. Most people see it as degrading and sexist across the spectrum because there is a monetary exchange for sexual goods, and not many people have a good look at what sexual jobs are really like and how they can vary hugely, not follow a few stereotypes. While I am not saying the stereotypes aren’t potentially true on a case to case basis, it is also VERY true that it is an empowering job for many women, and enable them to have control over their body and how they use it. It also provides potentially huge financial gain in situations where the women would not otherwise have it. My point is that it is ridiculous to assume that all sexually based jobs for women are sexist and wrong just because we are women. It’s a catch-22 we need to get out of.

  • Nicole Hazen

    It’s the reason people give me dirty looks when I tell them I work at a porn company.

    “But you’re female.” Uh, so? I have to go with the assumption that they don’t know that much about the industry.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I actually didn’t get into Willow for lack of space, but here’s what I would have said: Willow’s yet another character whose sexual agency is portrayed as dangerous. As her sexuality swings lesbian, her power grows exponentially (this correlation is referred to textually on the show a few times). Her descent into corruption is tied to her sexuality, and it is extremely well done over the course of five seasons (the sixth starts off great, as well), and then it kind of gives her the short shrift.

  • http://eleusis-walks.livejournal.com/ eleusis_walks

    I agree, my only real ish with this article is the Inara segment.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I may just be overloaded on MacKinnon in general, but I can’t see prostitution as a sexually empowered choice. I recognize that sex positive theorists generally do, however, and that is a valid counter-argument.

    It’s just telling to me that Kaylee and Zoe both have jobs, are women, could provide for themselves off-ship, and yet Inara’s the one that’s lauded by societal standards. I also take issue with the presentation as holy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    If you really want to split hairs, no one is left. It was an extremely small lead cast to begin with. You can read that interpretation into it if you like of the entire production wanting to only develop men on screen but from what I have watched and rewatched again I see no evidence of that whatsoever. Yes her character is “devoured” like you say but there is an interesting arc that takes place from that point with Illyria even after.

  • http://twitter.com/gilmourtaylor Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

    I’m kind of torn. On the one hand, I agree that Whedon usually points out that what’s happening is wrong: Buffy is supposed to have weaknesses of character (she’s only human), Inara’s freedom through approved sexuality is supposed to be dubious (it exists at the whim of the patriarchy), Echo’s treatment is supposed to be horrifying (can you consent to slavery?). On the other hand, there is a pattern of strong women getting punished, and the article brought some of my nagging discomfort over some elements of the shows into focus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    I will also just add Winifred’s passing just for men to mourn her? Oversimplification much? When I said why just men I thought you were just being snide talking about audience reaction. I didn’t think you actually ment just in terms of the series itself.

  • http://twitter.com/JBod Justin

    I see the correlation, but in my mind it’s more “she finds out who she truly is”, which makes her powerful. Then it gets all “absolute power corrupts…”-y. The point can also be made that her redemption doesn’t correlate to her sexuality, ultimately, and that she stays firm to who she is.

    My actual meaning, though, was about the, sadly, far too short lived construct of their relationship. There wasn’t any “sapphic” glamor. Once the initial moment passed —which, to me, was done more in the vein of Oz vs. Tara as opposed to gay vs. straight— their relationship was treated as a normal part of the show.

  • http://twitter.com/wulfmojo Wulfy

    Not a bad article but I feel its undermined by focusing entirely on the negative aspects of characters without looking at them in their entirety. In doing this it makes us think more about Whedon’s work more thoroughly which is cool, but I feel there are several points just off the top of my head that need to be made.

    Just because something is depicted a certain way does not mean that this is wish-fulfilment by the makers of the show, or saying that these activities or portrayals of women are positive. Bad things happen in drama and characters are flawed. There are many problems with certain methods of how negative events befall female characters (Refrigerator Women syndrome anyone?) but flawed or injured female characters are not automatically problematic.

    This is *especially* true of Dollhouse, where the whole thing is set in a decidedly immoral institution. The beauty of Dollhouse is that its a subtle horror show, and this article seems to miss that. Everything about the Dollhouse is at best morally grey and more often than not, profoundly disturbing. Therefore, the appalling treatment of Echo and others is not supporting sexual abuse or violence towards women, its a display of the most appalling human behaviour which is the stomach-turning theme of the show. Dollhouse shows us the horror of male desire if allowed to run unchecked, and that would be impossible to show without there being any victims. What’s important is that the female character rejects this abuse and fights back, even at a basic, unconscious level.

    This kind of brings me onto my next point, which is that whilst our Whedon heroines are often subject to male oppression (in the forms you mention of the all-male Watchers, the patriarchal Alliance and the sinister Dollhouse with it’s predominantly male clients) they are always fighting these men. They are patriarchal bastards who our heroines eventually rise up against and beat the crap out of.

    This is not to say that I don’t agree with some of your points. Faith as the cool, sexually liberated slayer was completely undermined by the fact that she became ‘evil’. This was somewhat redeemed later when she became a deliciously morally-grey character in Angel and late-Buffy, but the damage is there. Equally, I share your annoyance at how weak Buffy was in relationships, for even if it is a pretty standard superhero dilemma, she seemed much needier than when male heroes like Spiderman or Batman dealt with loneliness.

    Final question before I start to ramble (too late?): Where was River in your analysis of Firefly? Surely there’s a lot to say there? Personally I see her as a pretty strong character in that she goes from weak girl victim to unstoppable warrior woman over the course of the show + film.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SmokeyPSD Paul Down

    I completely understand and it does get to me in other series when prostitution is empowered in that way. However in terms of Firefly that actually didn’t register for once and I just thought ah, different culture for better or worse and enjoyed the character.

  • Anonymous

    Please. The whole “men do x because they can’t create life like women” is an outdated anthropological trope, and cissexist to boot.

  • R1ngx

    You are wrong. Illyria was so alive and kickin azz at the end.

  • perfect_cursive

    Some interesting thoughts here, but some half-baked ones as well. Particularly the condemnation of both the Watcher’s Council and the origins of the slayer. True, the Watcher’s Council is predominately male (key word is predominately) but to say they are an agent of male gaze doesn’t ring true. It’s been well over a decade since I read Mulvey’s essay, so I may be missing something, but the main thrust of her treatise is that male gaze renders women objects to be looked at, mostly sexually, and that in assuming that, by using the male gaze, creators of culture force the male perspective on the consumers. So, sure, “gazing” and “watching” are synonymous, but the comparison pretty much ends there.

    But the biggest omission in your argument is that Whedon was setting these men up to knock them down – or blow them up, as the case may be.

    The Watchers council was something Buffy and Giles rebelled against. If you want to work in a little Mulvey action, Giles was kicked out for *not* seeing of Buffy as an object (weapon against evil, not sexual toy.) He thought of her as a person with emotions.

    Same goes for the origins of the Slayer. The end of the (questionable) 7th season was about rejecting the authority of the male-created line. A change brought about by Willow, Buffy and the potentials. And Faith, who got to have a ton of sex with Robin Wood. (The hot principal, not the Hitchcock theorist.)

    So I get your initial readings, but you failed to take into account what Whedon did with the Council and Shadow Men.

  • https://openid.umn.edu/riggs Benjamin

    You’ve successfully shown that Whedon is still subject to misogynistic societal influences. While he certainly doesn’t belong on a pedestal of triumph for overturning years of subjugation of women, he’s still a hell of a lot better than the vast majority of Hollywood. He is far from perfect in his portrayals of women, but is actually trying to show female characters as something more than just an idealized body with the depth of a puddle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/raymond.strand Raymond Strand

    I don’t think that’s what he’s saying. Joss Whedon deals in stereotypes, all of his characters are stereotypes. The fact that the men are just as stereotypical as the women in Whedon’s shows doesn’t mean his portrayal of women is excused. If Whedon built well thought out complex male characters and left the women as stereotypical barbies waiting for a man to save it would be different. While Whedon portrays women in decidedly sexist ways his male characters aren’t much better.

  • Margiebear81

    Thank you very much for recognizing a lot of the truth behind what Joss Whedon tries to show in his work… I’ve read so many of these posts, and can’t help but think that the comments made are based on only a very basic understanding of the shows, without actually trying to delve deeper into the true meanings. I am grateful you pointed out that his characters are HUMAN, and will be prone to typical foils and failures that each and every one of us go thru. At no point was he trying to imply that women are in essence weaker creatures and are incapable of standing without a man, nor does he show pleasure at the way some of his characters are treated, physically and sexually. He writes to show his horror of it, to bring attention to it, to make everyone aware of it. His female characters are strong, complex, and deserve more than to be scorned by people who can’t fully understand the genius behind their creation.
    Side note on Dollhouse: I have seen both seasons, and while I can see how many would be uncomfortable with some of the themes, they forget some very important facts about the show. Whedon is trying to show the dangers of todays society, money, scary new technology, individuals that feel they are outside the law… He is saying this is what happens when you start to believe you can have anything…for a price. Money can buy you anything, and what is you want? Seeing as how prostitution in many forms is already a very profitable business in our society, it wasn’t a big leap for him to make, that people would pay for sex but without the risk. He isn’t condoning it, he is pointing out the weaknesses in ourselves, our own society! So how about we open our minds, just a little bit more please, and save our criticisms for those that are more deserving of it

  • mim

    this blog entry made me angry. not everything is about sex. the story of buffy has so much to offer. to dismiss it looking at it from one angle is just cheap imho maybe i’m not a feminist. i’m just a woman who wants to be treated equally to other people.

  • Fencer

    I think part of the point was that Faith was shamed for engaging in sex solely because *she* enjoyed it, and be damned what anyone else thought, whereas Inara treated sex as a way to please anyone (mostly men) but did not appear to revel in it herself. Maybe she does, but we’re certainly not given much indication of it.

  • http://twitter.com/silentpunk Jennifer Doveton

    I don’t think this article is being ‘meta’ enough. (is that what I mean?) Often I see an analysis resort to just recounting plot points: ‘here is a bad thing that happened to a woman, therefore this show likes it when bad things happen to women’. I would say Buffy is very clear about what is right and what is wrong in the ‘verse (apart from when it comes to Xander who we are meant to accept as a loveable fuckup). When men fuck with Buffy we are meant to hate them (this is good), Buffy shows weakness, patheticness, for sure, but she grows stronger as we all do. I liken Buffy’s relationships to Rory Gilmore’s (of the Gilmore Girls): we felt the teen lust and head-over-heels love and almost felt like it was ONETRULOVE, but at the same time always knew that boys come and go and she’s better off without them; I don’t think either of these shows want us to believe that these needy, cheating or possessive men are destined to be with our heroine, but we can still empathise with the temporary romance of it all while keeping in mind that Rory and Buffy both ended up single, independent and happy. I do agree about some of the very generic and lazy slut-shaming of Faith. A lot of people, I mean a LOT believe in that slut/femme fatale/destructive seductress trope and it resonates with them and this needs to be brought to light. All of Whedon’s other programmes are very grey-area, in that they don’t condone sexism but they don’t flat out smack it down either… which is a fail but compared to most other TV it stands up okay…

  • WindyGirl

    I’ve never cared much for Joss Whedon because of these very reasons. Bravo!

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Also remember that Inara has attained the “highest role” in what is portrayed as a corrupt, nigh evil new order. She is, for all intents and purposes, “working for the man.”

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I’m speaking to a pervasive textual anxiety of men, here. In media this anxiety often shows itself in the mad scientist type, but anything where men create women is suspect to me. Note: Metropolis.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I don’t find Xander lovable at all. He’s repulsive to me.

  • Anonymous

    With all due respect, I’m a little confused as to your argument here. You say that the Watcher’s Council is not an agent of male gaze, but then that Buffy and Giles were kicked out since Giles refused to objectify her, which means that Slayers are treated like objects by the Council. Also, your statement about the end of the 7th season (they reject the patriarchal nature of the Slayer origins) would also mean that the origins of the Slayer are patriarchal in nature. Are you making a trying to make a distinction between sexual objectification and just, er, objectification?

    I’m not trying to be a jerk here, I’m just trying to follow your train of thought, since the evidence you listed supports Mulvey’s thesis.

  • Anonymous

    I would also like to say, thanks for the link to Eleusis Walks. (Or no thanks, since now I won’t get anything done this weekend!)

  • http://capitalismbad.blogspot.com Maia

    They way I understood perfect_cursive comments is that of course the Watcher’s Council and the slayer origins were patriarchal. The whole point is that Buffy, together with her friends, overthrew them both.

    To me that’s what I want from feminist media to show women banding together to overthrow sexism. I don’t want to see television about a non-existent equal world, I want to see resistance.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, I saw her as the sexy-yet-approachable-girl-next door type. Like Betty from the Archie comics, if Betty was bringing lots of men home to her bunk.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a good point. I seem to recall that sometimes she indicates that she enjoys certain aspects of her job, but they are only brought up in the storyline as a way for her to shame or embarrass Mal.

  • Skemono

    What about Whedon’s comic works?

  • Swellsman

    First — Buffy. The entire premise of the Buffy character is that she started out a vapid, Valley-girl, girly-girl character. In the first two seasons, especially, she was constantly whining about how she wanted to have a normal life, she didn’t want to have to patrol every night, etc., etc., etc.

    That was the entire point of her character: that she started as a cute California girl stereotype, but learned over the seasons to embrace her destiny and her power. The tension between what she wanted and what she had to do actually drove the series. So I tend to read any criticism of her being dependent on her boyfriends, pining when she loses them, as really, really missing the entire point of her character. Of course that is what she is going to do, it is what her character was written to do until she discovered that she was the Chosen. (And by eliding over her role as the chief general, strategist, war-lord in the final Ultimate Battle against Evil that ended the series seems to me an easy — but rather cheap — way to bolster an fairly unsupported idea that Buffy was a “weak” character.

    As for Dollhouse . . . well, I loved the show (and yeah, I’m a dude). But I didn’t love it for the violence or the sexual nature of the “Dolls” that was portrayed. I loved it because I thought it was an extremely interesting rumination on the nature of Identity. John Locke posited that the only thing Identity is is a string of memories. Wipe out those memories and you wipe out Identity.

    I’ve read through the comments here, and I understand that I may very well be in the minority here in my apperciation for the show. (Certainly, there were not enough of us to keep it on for more than two seasons.) But a lot of the commenters mention that they only watched a few shows and then gave up on it.

    I think that is genuinely a shame. As I recall, the show started slow and took a couple episodes – maybe even half a season — to get going. And the focus on the nature of “Identity” as the show’s theme didn’t really emerge until the lasty few of the show’s episodes, but I stuck with it because I am a Whedon fan (especially, of course, for Firefly).

    And – again – I still do think Eliza Dushku’s character is a strong female, with very much a character arc similar to Buffy’s. In this case, of course, she doesn’t start off as a dippy Valley Girl, but as a victim, maybe the ultimate victim. But her initial victimization is not her defining characteristic. As she throws off this status, she actually becomes more than the people around her. In fact, her assimilation of the various personalities she had previously only been “programmed with” is – I contend – a neat metaphor for any person’s growing up, and how we all have to learn to meld our various parts into a functional whole. And, at the end and just like Buffy, it is Echo who is calling the shots and from whom everybody else is taking their orders.

    Look . . . I appreciate your analysis, and I readily admit it made me think. But, as you can tell, I disagree with you.

    Of course, as always . . . I could be completely wrong.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, as women, we are capable of enjoying and/or participating voluntarily in a lot of things that aren’t so good for us…I often wonder how much more productive and happy I and my friends would be if we weren’t constantly socialized to worry about physical appearance, for example.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Let me begin by saying; good points brought up for debate and you’ve tackled an awful lot in a very short space.

    And now let the argument commence!

    I always thought Faith lost the plot because she’d watched her Watcher and mentor get tortured to death and had then not been given adequate help in dealing with that and her power. She had lost a parent figure and never really found another until the Mayor came along, who was a big pile o’ corruption.

    As you say; she was Buffy’s foil. Buffy had a loving mother and a devoted father figure. Faith had neither. Again it comes down to love. Buffy had people she could rely on but Faith didn’t. Faith was pretty much there to show that we all need people who care about us, that getting through life alone is hard, but with friends and TLC (look at Robin Wood) anyone who is broken can be fixed.

    Buffy… bleh. I never actually liked Buffy, as a character. I thought her emotionally and mentally weak… but wasn’t that sort of the point? She survived as a Slayer for a very long time, longer than most. It wasn’t because of her strength though, it was because of her friends. Spike points this out on a number of occasions. Friendship and teamwork pulled her through an awful lot of crap.

    As others have said; just because something happens to a character in a show, it does not mean the people behind said show approve. Did Joss approve of Spike’s attempted rape of Buffy? No. He certainly did not. It was the catalyst for Spike’s finally phase of finding his redemption and also a way, as James Marsters has said, to show just how vile Spike was… not that it mattered to many fans. I think I’ve said before that girls have argued with me that Buffy wanted it *head… desk*

    I’ve never read Angel’s losing his soul when he had the sex with Buffy as a condemnation of sexual joy. There’re hints of the consequences of having sex before you’ve really thought it through (Joyce does ask if Buffy used protection after all) but not “sex is bad, m’kay.” That other characters blame Buffy isn’t the writers blaming Buffy, it’s the writers saying “look at these people condemning Buffy, and look at her pain, see how this was not her fault, can you see how wrong they are?”

    I also see it as a punishment for Angel. He’s waaaaay older than she is. She was young, in a vulnerable state of mind and really not prepared for the consequences of their actions. It was a punishment for him for basically taking advantage of a child.

    I’ll get to page two tomorrow… ’tis two hours past my bedtime!

  • Caitlin

    From my understanding, Angel losing his soul after having sex with Buffy was not being shown as a punishment for her sexuality, but as an allegory for those men who seem nice, then use women for sex and discard them (particularly since it was a high-school girl and a much older man). This whole show was mean to be an allegory for being a teenager and growing up, and those relationships are not at all uncommon. Buffy’s behaviour does, technically, make her weak, but that is human and in some cases it’s relatable (maybe even helpful to some younger viewers in a similar situation in giving them some perspective). If she was flawless and unflappable, she would be neither interesting nor realistic.

    I tend to avoid these blog posts (there are a lot of that debate Whedon’s feminism) since they’re usually biased and typically focus on the bad and brush over the good, and it’s hard to argue with people that have already made up their minds one way or the other, but that is one point that I can say was misinterpreted.

    Also, Firefly rocks.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your analysis of Inara, but don’t forget – even though her status is respected amongst the crew, Mal still does not let her forget that he has power over her.

    The role of highly-paid elite sex workers in society is an awkward position – they have access to the higher classes, but they are never one of them. Ostensibly, the lower orders respect them because of their access, but both high and low classes judge them because of their “base” profession. Inara IMHO juggles these expectations skillfully.

  • Duder

    This is retarded. You are trivializing true patriarchy with this whole critique.

  • perfect_cursive

    Male gaze does not mean “men watching women.” It’s a film criticism term used mainly when looking at how a scene is constructed visually. If there were overtly leering shots of Buffy from the POV of Quentin Travers, then you can say, in that instance, the Council is an agent of male gaze. It’s a misuse of the term – it is NOT synonymous with patriarchal.

    I was attempting to be cheeky using Natasha’s (IMO wrong) definition of male gaze in my example of Giles’ and Buffy’s rebellion. I should have been clearer.

    Mala’s correct on the rest.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    What I find a little bit silly about any kind of analysis, be it feminist, or otherwise, is the unfair filter it represents. I could just as easily analyze Whedon’s work through a filter of how unfair the show is to men, falling into “masculine” stereotypes such as crippling feelings of inadequacy, aggression, stupidity, sexual addiction, male pride and posturing as a punching bags, etc, and come up with far more varied and offensive list than what is listed above. The problem with any kind of filter is the bias it relies on to work. It requires you to bend truths to fit the worldview. Your feminist “critique” changes images of strong women fighting from a symbol of female strength into a male fantasy of females being endangered and abused. So are men that fight the same sorts of battles a female fantasy of males being endangered? Or is the only realisitc female fantasy of a man one that doesn’t involve aggression? I could apply a gender biased worldview to any piece of fiction, from “The L Word” to “The Color Purple” and find an argument why either one of them is a feminists nightmare or a feminists fondest dream. I also find it laughable that all fictional females can be rendered down into some sort of sexist stereotype box, no matter what. Which leaves us with what? Either the character is too wholesome, or too sexual, to masculine or too dainty. Everything equals some sort of sexist contraband, which leaves us with no real way of creating genuine characters at all. I read some feminist praise of Battlestar Galactica that the main male character Starbuck was filled with a female and no differences were necessary to make the character “real”. But is that the ideal? Should there be no defining qualities that separate a female from a male character? Do woemn have no characteristics that they feel are separate from the male experience they can be proud of? I hate to break it to you, that sounds boring, insulting, and unrealistic. Because… here it comes… some stereotypes, both male and female, are based in truth. Or if the character is somehow able to pass that particular gauntlet, and be a “strong” female character… the mistakes they make are considered to be demeaning. Because god forbid a “strong” female character react poorly to a bad break-up, or the death of their lover… because this again renders them down into a stereotype.

  • perfect_cursive

    Also, UGH, RILEY.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    I disagree. Obviously we live in a world where men have oppressed women. It doesn’t mean that it never happens the other way around. Making statements like “I’m saying this as a man” are inherently sexist in and of themselves. Do the words of a man somehow carry more weight than a woman’s in this case?

    Or maybe I’m just reading into things the same way Lewisbenzie just pointed out. As I mention above, its easy to apply any kind of filter to anything, and find it wanting in some way.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    IMO, it was insulting and simplistic to have Willow self-identify as anything other than bi-sexual. She wasn’t simply harboring little crushes or denying the truth about herself in her relationships with Xander or OZ, the way a woman who is truly a lesbian deep down knows that truth but may be denying it. To identify her as a lesbian and only a lesbian is to deny the truth of those relationships earlier in her life. It was presented as “Oh, I tried this and I like it better!” not “This is who I truly was all along, and I am only now just accepting that.” There’s a lot of condescension and bigotry towards bi-sexuality in both the straight and gay communities, and Willow being true to the fact that she had fulfillment in relationships would have garnered a lot more respect for her (again IMO). You can still be a bi-sexual woman and be committed to a relationship completely with another woman. It doesn’t make you a slut or wishy-washy. A great example of a young lesbian being portrayed (for the time being anyway) is shockingly on GLEE. The character Santana is portrayed throughout the first season as a mechanical slut who uses her sex as a weapon and just goes through the motions. She’s an aggresive uber-bitch and she likes causing other people pain. Then in the second season, it is revealed that she has been trying to “fix” herself with sex all along, and when that doesn’t work, she just goes through the motions. Then it comes out that she has genuine romantic feelings for another female character on the show, and she is able to express herself emotionally for literally the first time ever on the show, as she comes to terms with that truth. It was brilliant, and hard a hard to believe found gem in an often syrupy and overly-pat teenage drama set to top 40 karaoke. But still better than Willow’s “coming out”.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    Well, it could also be a case of history repeating itself, as the world of Firefly was a sort of a dichotomy of space-age meets dark-ages, resulting in wild west. I think the idea here being that the companions (many of whom were stated to also be men, though we never meet them directly, though frankly the sex of the prostitute doesn’t change the definition of prostitution, only its definition as an offense against feminism) are meant to almost be seen as a cross between bizarre, artisan tantric buddhist monks and the sacred temple prostitution of ancient Mesopotamia being brought back into vogue by the darkness of the area inhabited by humanity in the series.

  • http://accioyabooks.wordpress.com bookling

    Season one, episode six. That’s where the series turns around. Before that you had a lot of sexy engagements and things, because Fox was pushing Joss to go in that direction. After 1.6 he does his own thing more and that’s when the show gets great. You should also check out the original pilot if you have access to the DVD set, because it’s much better than the aired pilot.

  • http://accioyabooks.wordpress.com bookling

    It is when you choose to do it because you like it. Which is what Inara did. She got personal and spiritual fulfillment from it.

  • http://twitter.com/thenakedsamba Henrique Petroff

    Prostitution is not sexual free agency? Please read “A Vindication of the Rights of Whores” before you continue making such statements perpetuating the dehumanization of sex workers. Conflating sex trafficking with prostitution, those forced into prostitution with those who chose it (and other sex work), is damaging to sex workers on a very real systemic level. Read: http://cchronicle.com/2011/03/selling-sex-how-abolitionist-feminists-are-hurting-sex-workers/

  • Anonymous

    I’m not so sure I agree with you on this point. Read the Feminisnt blog, by FurryGirl, or The Naked Anthropologist blog, by Laura Agustin, for a different perspective on prostitutes and other sex workers.

  • http://twitter.com/wulfmojo Wulfy

    I’ve got say I’ve never picked up a hint of this in the male psyche. Men seek to control female sexuality and agency to secure their own desires. They don’t do it because they’re jealous of the female ability to create life. In fact (although I admit I’m massively generalising) I don’t believe many men actually *do* want to create life.

  • http://thusspakekate.tumblr.com thusspakekate

    I disagree very strongly with this reading. It was through her relationship with Tara that her powers grew and she became powerful, but her descent into corruption happened well after their relationship was established and stable. Willow’s addiction to magic is about power, not lesbianism. If anything, its a thinly veiled morality tale about drug abuse. By your logic, anything bad she does after self-identifying as gay would be negatively linked to her sexuality, which is so absurd because it would require a static character. And when she “goes Dark” its in response to the violence that misogyny (personified in Warren) perpetrates on women’s bodies (Tara’s death).

  • http://profiles.google.com/leahmarilla Leah Thomas

    I think you are confusing strong female who is a character with strong character who is female.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Ah, this is interesting, here: I don’t recall Inara herself ever saying she was fulfilled by it. Her mental interiority on the subject is noticeably absent, except when speaking to clients — during which she tailors her speech to their needs and can’t be taken at face value.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Ha, yes.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Ha, yes.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I agree: Willow’s falling for Tara and feelings for women were woefully underserved in season four. Buffy’s thing with Riley was far prioritized, and all of a sudden Willow went from hanging out with Tara as friends to her lover, with little by way of explanation.

    And yes, it’s clear Willow was bisexual. Her lines in later seasons professing herself as gay make me cringe. It’s a misunderstanding of her sexuality.

  • Clair

    Uh, what about Spike and Xander?

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    You’re right, it isn’t synonymous with just the patriarchy, though it is a tool. The gaze fixes women as mysterious (not just sexual) objects that must be regulated; that is the exact function of the Watchers council. I don’t read Mulvey wrong in that regard.

  • Rothepro71

    while a valid observation (fred does die even if acker continues as illyria) i think its more coincident to every HUMAN character on the show ending up dead.
    its not a statement about feminism. its a statement about angel’s tragic condition. as the mayor points out, as an immortal he is doomed to survive his friends, family and the loves of his many lifespans

  • http://twitter.com/wulfmojo Wulfy

    I agree. After the 1st season mid-point the show starts to evolve rapidly. By the time I reached the end of the 1st season I was seriously impressed, and then I saw the ‘epilogue’ episode and my mind was completely blown!

  • fuzzy22

    the ratio of males to females was undoubtedly skewed towards the former in angel.

    However, to argue that this renders the show chauvinistic (i realize this is probably too strong a term to characterize your argument and apologize for using it for lack of a weaker synonym), is to argue that the gender composition of a cast is sufficient to define its take on either gender.

    If a male-heavy cast is sufficient to define a show as chauvinistic, a female-heavy cast is sufficient to define one as feminist. as Ms. Simon’s points out however, Buffy was not an altogether feminist show.

  • Rothepro71

    I liked Riley =(

    I don’t think you’re entirely fair to him. Xander’s lecture was not about Buffy’s “lack of adequate emotional support”. It was about Buffy not letting Riley support her.

    If Buffy did not need supporting then sure, Riley would be a tool for asking her to be his damsel.

    But Buffy *did* need emotional support – she just finds it elsewhere (and in spike no less). When Riley points out that she hadn’t cried during the whole ordeal with her mother, he is stricken when Buffy admits that she has – so hard that she thought she wouldn’t stop or something along those lines. He is similarly stricken when he has to hear it from spike that Buffy’s mother is in the hospital. Its not merely that Buffy doesn’t tell Riley, its that she finds the time to tell Spike.

    Riley’s ‘opium’ was being needed – he found a substitute for it in the animalistic thirst of vampires. But what he truly desired was Buffy to need him. Further, this ‘addiction’ was not derived from wanting to be a white knight hounding after glory; it derived from Buffy fulfilling her needs with everyone but him – for if she was willing to turn to spike before him, how needed could he be

  • Rothepro71

    also i think buffy devolving into a weepy mess after the parker one-night-stand, wasn’t so much a result of her being weak in her “relationship” with him, but more to do with the lingering fallout of her breakup with angel.

    i vaguely recall her having a conversation with someone about her choice in men and their tendency to leave

  • Rothepro71

    “Xander, who was always so far beneath her that the show acknowledged it”

    ooouch really? using phrases like that is how you create william the bloodys!

  • Rupert Madden-Abbott

    Having grown up with Buffy, I believe the the show had an amazingly positive effect on my attitudes towards sex, gender and sexuality.

    I honestly don’t mean to be patronizing but I couldn’t help but feel saddened, as I read this article, that the show could be interpreted (and from my point of view twisted) in such a completely opposite and negative way to my own experiences.

    I think I just have to not care about whether or not Joss is a feminist. All I know is that he definitely made one out of me.

  • buffylove

    Only read the first page with the analysis of Buffy, but it is bordering on idiotic. A lot of the points you make are so ridiculous that they are laughable.

    1) Buffy being upset over relationships ending makes her weak. Really? what exactly about that makes her weak? If you wrote a male character and he was in love with a girl and she left him, would that make him weak? So seem to attack her for every one of her relationships. I can’t think of any male heroes who are considered weak for falling in love. And yet, under your brand of feminism, for a woman to care deeply about a man is a sign of weakness. You attack Buffy because she chases after Riley when he is leaving. In DIE HARD, McClane flies to California to try to fix things with his wife. No man called him weak because of that.

    By extension, is that really the way feminism views relationships? That being upset over losing someone you care about makes you weak? Not caring about people doesn’t make you strong — it just makes you alone.

    2) Riley — you seem to really not like the guy and then attack him for leaving Buffy (so I guess he really can’t win, huh?). What you might want to note is that Riley is a soldier who is trained to fight demons and yet he has no problem accepting that not only can Buffy fight too, but that she is far superior at it than he is. He has no problems accepting her strength and letting her take the lead. And they mention many times before Riley goes to the vamps that Buffy is pushing him away, that he doesn’t feel loved from her. You make the comparison of his allowing the vamps to feed to an affair, and isn’t the #1 reason for affairs — by men or women — feeling neglected?

    3) Cordelia — really? That’s the character you stick up for? You might want to notice that Cordelia, out of all the characters, is the one who probably doesn’t have any real friends. Not only that, while you seem to attack the idea that she is punished or shamed, you forget that she was also the character most often intentionally cruel. She was the one who would belittle characters first. In fact, the first inult on BtVS was her insult of Willow in ep 1. Maybe it is that cruel streak that gets turned around on her. And while she is sexually aware, she is also socially aware and constantly using her sexuality to gain social positions — dating guys on the football team, going after college guys, etc. Even with Xander — she only starts dating him after he starts hanging out with Buffy and helping her save the world. And then you turn around and attack the girl on Firefly for using her sexuality to get ahead with status and money.

    4) At the end of Cordy you complain that intelligent, sexual women aren’t allowed to flourish on the show. What you don’t mention is that no one flourishes on the show. Giles has his love killed off, Xander loses an eye. Oz has to flee the country because of his curse. It’s almost like there’s this constant darkness that keeps creeping into everyone’s life and ruinign everything. You know, like you would expect in the horror genre!!!

    I could go on, but it’s late and pretty pointless. If you want to take elements out of context and recharacterize them for your own purposes, of course you can do it, but it’s pretty meaningless. You take the show and the individual episodes, strip away the structure of the storytelling and then pick out the specific details that fit your thesis. As far as a real analysis of a work goes, that’s about as bad as you get.

    I’d like to think it is just because of the lack of space. What Whedon did was made characters who were human — not perfect, not paragons, but flawed people with wants and desires. They all struggle to find relationships, they all struggle insecurities, they all struggle with balance. It was a show about a girl who had great power, but was still a girl dealing with all the things girls deal with. It was about a girl who decides to lead instead of follow, to allow herself friends instead of being alone, and who decides to be a human being in addition to a super hero.

    I don’t know what sort of feminist that makes Buffy, but I think she’s a pretty good human being. (Well, fictional of course…)

  • ryospn

    I agree. He always really turned me off; he’s like the epitome of nerds who are so egotistical they think all women should fall at their feet and if they don’t, it’s because there’s something wrong with THEM, not him.

  • Nndaia

    It’s also not just Inara — it’s the cultural view of companions as a whole.

  • Anonymous

    Giving Whedon the benefit of the doubt, could we say that these elements that cause the nagging discomfort are attitudes which exist in the real world and Whedon is merely highlighting them? I’ve always felt that Whedon’s female characters are strong characters *because* they are imperfect. I read an essay recently at Overthinking It about how the female characters we need are not representations of “ideal” women, but women being real, flawed human beings. I think that Whedon’s female characters do this quite well: they exist within flawed cultures and carry those scars while still having three-dimensional personalities and being capable of throwing whatever horrors Whedon throws at them. I think the dig at Xander may be pretty valid, but Whedon also shows his crappy home life–Xander is as much a product of the culture he’s raised in as any other character. I feel that the flaws in the characters are *not* a mark of Whedon being sexist, but rather a mark of good writing–how many other TV shows have characters so fully fleshed (even after ONE season, in the case of Firefly) that they can handle this level of scrutiny?

  • http://profiles.google.com/kdbryan KD Bryan

    Fascinating and very well-put. While I don’t agree 100% on all points, you’ve certainly articulated many glaring problems with his works that absolutely need to be examined under a microscope. Despite the enjoyment I must admit at his shows, Whedon’s works are most certainly troublesome. Personally, I take the most umbrage at how any enjoyment of sex seems to be invariably punished by death or pain – this, from a man who supposedly created Buffy to rail against the idea that the fun, sexually promiscuous blond characters in horror movies should be punished with death.

    I dearly wish you had watched Angel, if only so you could have discussed the character arc of Cordelia Chase (alongside the unfortunate end of many female characters). Given your issues with Faith, you may be interested to know that she was only ever fully fleshed out into a real character on Angel, IMHO – a growth and maturity that was subsequently ignored in the frankly bizarre comic book “Season 8″. I’d ask you to comment on the comics but I’m not cruel enough to ask anyone to read that series.

    If I may respectfully nitpick one point, I take issue with your statement that “nor do we get any reaction, verbal or non-verbal” of Zoe’s grief. Zoe displays grief, just not in a traditional fashion. Her immediate frantic appeal to the dead Wash does segue into a seeming bloodlessness – right up until her grief-induced rage overwhelms her practicality and she leaves herself open to attack. Not to mention there being an entire funeral scene, unless I misremember the film. I would also say that her final lines that she shares with Mal – “She’s torn-up plenty but she’ll still fly true” – are obviously as sub-textually about herself as much as the ship. While the “Stoic Woman of Color” stereotype is hardly disproven, I would say that Zoe was rarely ever shown as being prone to excessive displays of public emotion, so her reactions within the film were keeping in with her character as a strong, reserved woman. She is still, arguably, Whedon’s most feminist character.

    Of course, in as regards Firefly, the most heinous anti-feminist part of it was thankfully never filmed – Tim Minear’s repugnant plan to have Inara raped by Reavers: http://www.fireflyfans.net/mthread.asp?b=2&t=14960&newsid=0

    Lastly, I do have to ask, given your icon (huge Rogue fan, btw, wish she could have a solo title besides X-Men: Legacy) – did you read Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men? If so, what were your thoughts on Emma Frost, Kitty Pryde, Armor and Agent Brand?

  • Anonymous

    Which is why, as Maia points out, we learn in the 7th season that the Watcher’s Council–along the magic that blocks more than one slayer at a time–is a form of patriarchal control.

    While Natasha gets a few things right, I have to wonder how closely she actually watched a show where the “First Evil” turns out to be misogyny, and some of the very things she complains about are critiques within the narrative of the show.

  • http://twitter.com/silentpunk Jennifer Doveton

    yeah I totally agree, but I still say we are ‘meant to like Xander’. we can all have different perspectives on the characters but what the writers think is the prevalent message of the program… and the writers think we should forgive him. I’m not gunna…
    I still don’t like him in the comics, SPOILER someone who he really likes gets killed and five seconds later he’s macking on Dawn while Buffy is jealous! yeuch!

  • mim

    i agree with you about buffy and dollhouse :)

  • Nicole Hazen

    Next time, try and make your point without using a derogatory term. Thanks.

  • mim

    i liked riley too :(

    and i agree with you about riley feeling left out and trying to find it somewhere else (self destructive – maybe it had also to do with him trying to understand buffy connection with vampires?) it’s been a couple of years that i watched season 5 and everytime i get emotionally overwhelmed so that i don’t know where to start analyzing it. the only thing i know is that the OP’s analyzes didn’t ring true to me and yours does.

  • mim

    wow!
    you put my feelings into words – thanks for that!

    i was so pissed of by this text that i didn’t read beyond the first page

  • Anonymous

    Right, I was trying to dig through what I hazily remember from my post-colonial art history classes in my head, and all I was coming up with was “Whaa?” Thanks for the clarification.

  • Asddsfsd
  • http://twitter.com/JBod Justin

    Hm… I guess I never really considered her bi-sexuality. I see it, (although, I disagree about Xander. The relationship was love, but not “in” love.) but it doesn’t change my original point. Willow’s power, good or bad, correlated with her self discovery. As far as Wilow’s “coming out”, I’m neither gay nor bi, so I’ve never experienced it personally, but I don’t think it needed to be a huge revealing moment. It seemed more to happen organically.

    BTW, it’s hard to take ANY character seriously in GLEE. They do such a terrible job of building characters that when the “big” moments happen, they seem thrown in for effect and lack any real depth. That’s a different story for a different day. :)

  • http://twitter.com/JBod Justin

    In retrospect, there’s really no reason for Xander to be the way he is other than to be a foil for relationships. Unfortunately, as we all know, Joss never leaves a relationship intact. Xander acts brilliantly towards this end. Pulled independently from the arc of the show, he comes across as a tool.

  • http://twitter.com/JBod Justin

    I made this point a little further up, but to re-iterate: Taking any single character out of context, or at a certain point in their arc, can prove misleading. Fact- None of them are perfect, but ALL of them are vital to the telling of Buffy’sEcho’sSerenity’s story. To truly understand, you MUST watch the entire story unfold. Stopping after 3 seasons, or 5 episodes, is a dis-service.

  • http://twitter.com/noizangel Nicole Winchester

    Well, Xander left Anya at the altar and his character development constantly backslid and Spike… was a rapist. Sorry. Won’t get any sympathy or leeway for Spike from me. Loved Spike initially, hated what he did to the show in the end.

  • http://twitter.com/noizangel Nicole Winchester

    I wanted to like Xander. It’s just he became the same dude over and over again even though his experiences should have changed him. It was hugely disappointing.

  • http://twitter.com/noizangel Nicole Winchester

    The thing is – the analysis can be correct and these in-character reasons can be correct. The IC reasons don’t change the message the text puts out there.

    In the case of Riley – who I liked too – there’s a message to young women. You can be strong, but not too strong, otherwise no one will love you. A man needs to be needed and if he’s not, he will cheat on you and leave you.

    Kind of messed up, right? This doesn’t change or take away from Riley’s IC reasoning. But the message remains.

  • Lewisbenzie

    Good and well thought out rebuttal … is not something your gonna hear. The article is about Joss Whedons Feminism. The article talking about a dialectic two sided analysis only discussing one side with a distinct bias. The article is flawed.

    Im saying this as a man: You are an embarrassment to both genders. Mindless kneejerk reactions against logical thought mark you as someone who is deeply insincere or too blind to think for themselves. I beleive the internet term is ‘White Knight’. The people who ‘liked’ you are similarly afflicted. Its a shame because it does your cause no good to be seen to be openly stupid.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    Ugh, I had no idea on the rape storyline. (Although Whedon has said the syringe was supposed to be because she was dying, had a medical issue — which I don’t think makes as much sense as for it be a weapon.)

    I need to read Whedon’s X-Men. It’s on my list — thanks for reminding me.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    The only thing I want to address here (the rest is even sillier than this point) is that Riley was by no means okay with her being stronger than he was. He said he was, once, and then brought it up to use against Buffy over and over again, including in the last fight they had.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    He hits on Dawn? Are you serious?? UGH, XANDER.

  • Lewisbenzie

    Theres bigotry from both straight & gay communities because bisexuality means having sex with both sexes. By definition that means promiscuity, from those of us in the AIDs generation & frankly every other STI its not a good posture. :waits for liberal kneejerk spasming to calm down:

    If you have no sex you are asexual, if you have sex with an opposite gender you are heterosexual, same sex homosexual …. bisexual means to have sex with both genders. The only way that is possible is to have multiple partners. If your current partner is your predicted partner for the next few years barring changes in circumstances then that is your sexuality. In the unlikely event your in a stable 3 way relationship with two partners of opposite gender (or one hermaphrodite) then you can actually call yourself a bi-sexual.

    Its not a badge of honour, its not something anyone cares about, frankly sexuality is as irrelevant to other people as your political beliefs. No one wants to hear it. Your sexuality is whatever your current relationship is. Just cause you think Mal/Inara is dreamy yet your dating Inara/Mal doesnt make you bi, it makes you someone with eyeballs. Get over yourselves.

  • Nicole Hazen

    I don’t agree. I’m Bi. I’m attracted sexually to men and women. I’m married to a man. That doesn’t mean I’m straight. It means I’m married to a man. I’m still sexually attracted to women. That didn’t stop just because I married a man.

  • Lewisbenzie

    Ummm … why isnt sex holy? Its the apex of human experience, it makes people, it bonds people, its the most intense thing your brain/body can do and its older and more important than religion.

    Priests assuage peoples fears/doubts, perceived sins, etc etc. Are you telling me a roll in the hay doesnt releive stress? Frankly a roll in the hay acheives a hell of a lot more than praying does :D

  • Abatha

    Are you insane? By your definition, having more than one partner over the course of your entire life= promiscuity? And all single people are asexual? This is certainly a…. unique view on sexuality.

  • Anonymous

    I completely disagree with your take on Firefly. Zoe, Kaylee, and especially Inara are all extremely strong female characters who make no apologies for their desires, accomplishments, and strengths.

    To say that Zoe should never struggle between her duty and her love is to say that she should be superhuman, not human. We don’t even begrudge men the struggle that they often face between their day-to-day jobs and their desires to prove their manhood, while at the same time remaining sensitive and attentive to the woman in their life. To hold Zoe to a higher standard would remove some of her humanity and relatability as a character. And to have her break down and blubber the moment her husband dies would be a complete disservice to her character – Zoe was at heart a fighter, and her reaction would and should have been to shut down and get the bastards who killed Wash. No other reaction would have made any sense for such a capable woman with so much battle-hardened experience.

    To say that Kaylee only exists to satisfy men’s desires for a sexual woman who likes machines is a great insult to her character. She was a woman who loved life, and made no apologies for being comfortable with her sexuality. Would you say the same thing about Sex in the City? Women talking about sex used to be taboo. Now that female characters like Carrie and Kaylee are able to regain their power by taking control of their sexuality once again, you claim that they’re only sexual to satisfy some male desire. It’s a clear regression.

    But most of all, the character you’ve probably misunderstood the most is Inara. I think Camille Paglia (who understands true gender equality better than almost anyone) put it best when she said: “The prostitute is not, as feminists claim, the victim of men but rather their conqueror, an outlaw who controls the sexual channel between nature and culture.” In Whedon’s world, one of the most honorable professions a woman can have is as a “companion,” NOT a “concubine.” Concubine implies a powerless role wherein the woman is forced to play a political game in order to get ahead, or fall under the feet of those who do. Companion implies, and is stated within the series, someone who can choose who she lies with – man or woman – when, where, and how. Through training, the use of arts, psychology, and sexual prowess, she is in COMPLETE control over her clients. I doubt you’re able to find a woman on television, past or present, who has more power without having to become a shadow of masculinity and give up her femininity entirely.

  • http://twitter.com/tweedstereo iain

    Good article overall, but I call horseshit on this line:

    “Echo is the ultimate male fantasy – she is a woman that literally anything can be done to for the right amount of money, with those actions then simply erased afterward.”

    Even with your later disclaimer regarding overt physical violence against women and how that doesn’t apply to ALL men (gee, thanks), the statement above is a grotesque generalization. Even IF that is a manifestation of the “ultimate male fantasy” in popular culture, how does that make it any more accurate or true to reality than the way female characters are portrayed?

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    I haven’t watched that many episodes with Riley very often (he bores my pants off me), so I could be wrong in my interpretation…

    As I said in my comment above; the main message of Buffy is friendship, that it’s okay and in fact important to let people help you. It wasn’t her strength that drove Riley away it was the fact that she sealed him out of everything important to her. Their relationship was not a partnership because she wouldn’t let him in, let him get as close as her older friends.

    The fact she cried after him as he left shows that she ISN’T strong and needs her friends (again; that’s okay, that’s allowed)… but time and again her superiority complex and possibly her fear of loss (after Angel and also her father leaving) gets in the way and she holds people out at arm’s length. It’s really, really not until the last few eps of S7 that she realises this and starts truly relying on her friends to help her through life and vampire slaying. It’s finally then that she actually lets go and lets a person get really close to her; Spike, when they simply sleep in each other’s arms. No lust or sex, not even any nudity, just mutual comfort in each other’s arms. It wasn’t love (on her part, anyway), but it WAS complete and total trust.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    The syringe was to give the Reavers what would essentially be a plague. She was planning to inject herself with it and let them do as they pleased so that she might have her revenge on them after death.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594048764 Andi Jean

    I had every intention of commenting on the disservice done to the female Firefly characters by this author, but I see you’ve already taken care of that. Thank you.

    The one thing I’d like to add is in response to the author’s assertion that Zoe did not allow herself to mourn Wash’s death. Because of that, I have to ask: were we watching the same film? Zoe does morun Wash’s death, very clearly. Her shock when he is first killed is devestating. She does break down and she is immediately placed in the denial stage of grieving (“Wash, baby, come on, we have to go!” as she is trying to pull his corpse out of the seat). She would have been killed as well, had Mal not pulled her away from Wash’s body.

    Futhermore, after Serenity has been fixed, Zoe’s line “She’s tore a-plenty, but she’ll fly true” is a rather obvious metaphore. She, like the ship, is broken in many places, but she has no choice but to carry on.

    Finally, the funeral. It is short, no words are exchanged, but Zoe’s face is absolutely heartbreaking when she looks down at her husband’s hologram. Gina Torres did an amazing job capturing the pain and resignation of not only losing a spouse, but the future you might have had (most notably the conversation between Zoe and Wash about having a baby in “Heart of Gold”).

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=594048764 Andi Jean

    His “repugnant plan?” It was a crappy storyline that made little sense, and it was scrapped. It might not have been true at all; Joss and his “people” love to screw with fans.

    As for the syringe…well, considering everyone else on the ship is looking at weapons, and given that Zoe mentions that they will be killed first only if they are “very, very lucky”….my guess would be that the crew would have a backup plan in the form of suicide. Frankly, if I had to choose between leathal injection and being eaten alive, I’ll take the needle.

  • Buhallin

    These comparisons disturbed me as well. Yes, formal Alliance society doesn’t seem to respect women except as Companions, but it’s also pretty much considered “the bad guys”. If you look at the outer planets there are a number of notably strong females, starting at the very beginning with Patience (although I’m sure she is equally objectionable because she’s conniving and cheating, and so a slam on women).

    I especially loved how Buffy breaking down when her various romantic interests leave is bad feminism because she’s weak, and Zoe not breaking down after Wash is killed is bad feminism because she’s too strong.

    But more than anything, the entire commentary seems to be trying to look at Whedon’s work through some “Did it craft this ideological message” lens. Of course it didn’t – he wasn’t trying to. He tries to write real worlds, with real people. That’s why people love his work, because they love his characters, and they love his characters because they feel real.

    If that means that he fails some feminist test because he doesn’t make his world a utopia of whatever-it-is-you-want (I honestly can’t tell, the author contradicts too much) then that failing is yours, not his.

  • http://fraggmented.blogspot.com John Seavey

    It’s interesting to me that a lot of the issues you bring up seem to come from later seasons of the series; I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that Whedon seems to be unhappy with any kind of consistent status quo in his series. Buffy explicitly rejects the patriarchal Watchers in Season Three…only to return to them in Season Five. All the romantic relationships mentioned in the column are from the later seasons, when it seemed like the writers felt like they needed to shake up every relationship (“Buffy’s single? Let’s roll on the next love interest!” “Buffy’s involved? Let’s break her up!” “Willow’s happy? Let’s break her up, let her get back together, then kill her love interest!” “Anya and Xander seem to be maturing as characters? Can’t have that happening, too predictable!”)

    Don’t get me wrong, I still love the show (and I think that you do too, Ms Simons.) But just because we love something doesn’t mean we can’t look at its flaws.

  • Rothepro71

    “What Whedon did was made characters who were human — not perfect, not paragons”

    unless you count jonathan, in which case he created a character who got his own intro theme =D

  • Lewisbenzie

    Hmmm except the Alliance military has no problems with promoting women, given theres a female officer on deck.

  • Lewisbenzie

    @Nicole So your married to a man but you want to have sex with women ? So your not happy in your marriage and you want to cheat on your partner ? Explain to me how thats admirable ?

    If you mean you can appreciate an other woman sexually that doesnt need a special name its basic pyschology your hardwired to find attractive people attractive.

    @Abatha Reductio Absurdum. If we want to follow your rationale then everyone is by definition bisexual. If your definition extends to sexual thoughts about sexual thoughts and not action then everyone has thought about having sex in every variation. Youd have to think about it to assess whether it would appeal to you therefore everyone has thought about every permutation. Or more sensibly we can define sexuality by who your having sex with instead of wearing a badge to make you feel ‘special’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=563223409 Vic Horsham

    Not a huge Joss Whedon fan, but I LOVED Dollhouse. The violence against women as portrayed in the show was squicky, but Every. Single. Woman. Got to get revenge or escape, and the reactions of the women to the trauma they faced seemed a lot more realistic than most portrayals in film etc.

    To me, the first few of the more sensationalist, racy “oooh sex slaves!” episodes were really just setting the scene to indicate that this is a shitty, nasty world these characters are caught up in.

    If nothing else, I love it of being a show that had a concrete beginning, plotline and an actual, conclusive ENDING. Left me wanting more instead of dragging the plot out to the point it became tiresome.

  • karmancop

    This article’s argument has two major flaws. First, it takes events out of context and presents caricaturized versions of characters to suit its purposes. Second, and more importantly, it assumes that feminist writers have to set their stories in perfectly feminist worlds, which is simply not the case.

    Buffy bot:
    Now, I’ll admit that, as a feminist myself, I have always felt a little uncomfortable with the Buffy bot, but it was just so funny, I couldn’t help but enjoy it for what it was. Comedic pay-off aside, is Whedon supposed to pretend that blow up dolls and degrading sex toys don’t exist? If the Whedonverse were free of misogyny, strong female characters like Buffy would lose some of their resonance. The juxtaposition of Buffy and the Buffy bot accentuates Buffy’s depth; it doesn’t take away from it.

    Watchers & the Gaze:
    First, let’s not forget that there are also female watchers. Second, the show never characterizes the Watchers Council as anything but a stuffy, out-dated cult that provokes Buffy’s rebellious side. One of the key plot developments is Buffy’s revolt against the Watchers Council. She stands up to convention. Again, the Watchers Council underlines the feminism in the show rather than detracting from it because it provides Buffy with “the man” against whom she must fight. Whedon’s intentions are clear here.

    “Buffy is textually weak in relationships”:
    On the contrary, Buffy is textually *feminine* in all her relationships. She acts like a girl with girl emotions, and there’s nothing wrong with that. What was she supposed to do? Take the break-ups “like a man”? There’s nothing feminist about that. In regard to Parker, her relationship with him is more about Buffy’s induction into college life and exposure to casual relationships than it is about her dependency on men. Buffy is a serious woman looking for serious relationships. The fact that Parker uses her speaks poorly about him, not her.

    Xander & Riley:
    Well, that is certainly taken out of context. Buffy has been with Riley for about a year at this point. Is she supposed to kick him out of her life permantly because he makes one mistake? Also, let’s remember that Xander’s speech comes after a serious heart-to-heart with Riley. He’s seen Riley’s side of the story, and he sympathizes. Feminism doesn’t require the man to take all the blame in relationship woes.

    Xander & Anya:
    Let’s back up for a second and remember that Anya was the one who initially pursued a relationship with Xander in the beginning, showing true empowerment as she said exactly what was on her mind and how she felt about him. Xander’s comments toward Anya as she learns how to survive in the human word may legitimately seem belittling, but why is Whedon required to write feminist male characters in order to be a feminist? Whedon writes a real character in Xander, not some ideal of what a man should be. He’s flawed. In addition, it’s worth noting that Xander resides in a world full of powerful women from Buffy the slayer to Willow and Tara the witches to Anya the ex-vengeance demon. He’s hardly the typical over-bearing man of the show.

    Faith:
    Faith gets called a slut because she inflicts pain on others through her “sexual agency.” She uses her sexuality in a destructive manner.

    Punished for sex:
    In the DVD commentary, Whedon addresses the motif of being punished for sexual acts. BtVS is a horror show, after all. The author of this article conveniently forgets all the trouble poor Xander has in finding a mate (Angel may have turned into Angelus after sex, but that’s still better than a praying mantiss). The fear of being punished for sex is something that girls (and boys too, for that matter) deal with. From the time we hit puberty we’re warned of pregnancy, STDS—everything short of spontaneous combustion upon orgasm. These are real, teenage fears that work to perfect effect on a horror show.

    Finally, I’d like to add that Buffy first aired over a decade ago at a time when there was nothing else on TV like it (maybe Xena as the one exception). I really believe that Whedon’s Buffy paved the way for characters like Kara “Starbuck” Thrace on Battlestar Galactica. Compare Starbuck and Buffy to Major Samantha Carter from the 1997 Stargate series. Carter is an embarrassment. Unfortunately, to this day, Buffy is still one of the few fantasy genre pieces to center around a strong female character.

    *deep breath* I’ll come back to Firefly & Dollhouse at a later date…

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    So by definition straights and gays are not promiscuous? I’m not sure I get the logic. By definition, most straight men don’t “appreciate each other sexually”. And they don’t have to be unhappy in their marriages to be able to imagine themselves having sex with women other than their wives.

    A bi-sexual is someone who is comfortable with the idea of having sex with either sex. They can equally desire males as well as females. It doesn’t mean they are unhappy with the person they are in love with. It means there is no gender boundary for them when deciding who to commit to a sexual relationship with.

    I am a man married very happily to my wife, and I am very comfortable with the idea of having a relationship with either sex… but in concept only. I can’t imagine being in a relationship with ANYONE, other than my wife, male OR female, regardless of how I self identify. I’m in love deeply with this woman. I’ve only ever had one sexual partner. I am not promiscuous. Doesn’t mean I’m not bi-sexual. My sexual preference doesn’t reflect the number of people I’ve slept with. But you’re right in one respect. Everyone can certainly have sexual fantasies. I guarantee whoever YOU are with, if anyone, fantasizes about other men. Although according to your definition of psychology, you probably both do. It doesn’t mean your partner is unhappy with you or vice versa. It just means you are human.

    Abatha wasn’t stating a rationale. Abatha was trying to follow yours to its illogical conclusion.

    Promiscuity, “by definition” has NOTHING to do with sexual preference. It is insulting and small-minded to suggest such a thing. Feeling “Special” has nothing to do with it. Exactly the opposite is true: Feeling like we belong does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RoamingSoul Chad Hooper

    Yay the gaze again… wait… no sensationalized complaints to start a conversation. I was told I sounded like the comic book store owner in the ‘Simpsons’ when I kept starting conversations like that…

  • Anonymous

    That’s a really good point – it’s not that Zoe doesn’t mourn Wash, it’s that she doesn’t mourn him as a woman is expected to, by becoming weak and helpless.

    That’s why, unlike the author, I loved the episode “War Stories” where she is forced to choose between Mal and Wash. She doesn’t even hesitate, or let Niska finish speaking, before she makes it clear that she does and will always choose her husband before her boss and captain. It made the whole argument about “who does Zoe really love” moot, and places her firmly in the category of a woman who would do anything for her husband. But does that stop her from saving Mal as well? Not at all – when taking matters into her own hands she saves Mal too by storming in as a soldier, guns blazing.

    The fact that anyone would argue that Zoe isn’t a real enough woman because she’s not conflicted or weak when a typical female character would be in any other fictional portrayal…it just makes me mad.

  • Anonymous

    True…I don’t remember any female officers, though I remember female soldiers. To me the alliance seemed to be your typical mostly-patriarchal hierarchy of power. I didn’t see that as good or bad, but I do find it interesting that, if they care so much about gender, why would they invest millions or billions into a super-soldier like River?

  • Becky

    Actually, the points buffylove made are pretty decent. And by ignoring most of his/her argument and focusing in on one little point, you’re basically making the same mistake as in your main analysis. You can’t just ignore the other side.

  • Vampirezombeh

    I understand everything you’ve pointed out (whether I fully agree or not doesn’t matter) except I would like to point with your mention of Zoe not being able to morn. She is a soldier. She lost her best friend and lover. She had nothing left but the fight in her, and she would take as many of those bastards out as she could, while she could, until death, if need be. That made it even more heart-wrenching.

  • Lewisbenzie

    Eloquently said. ‘Punished for sex’ was irking me and I didnt know why, thanks for pinning it down. Feminism is about equality not superiority, if Buffy was a Mary Sue she would be deeply uninteresting.

  • Lewisbenzie

    You know I’d love to see the next article on Dark Angel :)

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Plus, the whole point of Echo was her battle AGAINST the people using her, to become her own person.

  • Nicole Hazen

    @Lewisbenzie

    Really_rather_not_nice said it perfectly. Don’t try and build straw men from non existent content. Where did I say that I wanted to cheat? Being attracted to someone of both sexes means you’re bi. If you don’t like that term don’t use it. It’s just the easiest way to explain my preferences. I’m happily married, but neither of us are silly enough to think that we don’t find other people attractive. It’s biology. Hell, we even share notes. =)

  • Anonymous

    I find it interesting that Faith keeps being dismissed for being “evil.” Some of Whedon’s most interesting work on Buffy and Angel was in dealing with three dimensional evil characters. Spike, Drusilla, Angel, Darla, Illyria, Lilah, Faith, Jasmine, Warren, Andrew, etc…. All of these characters had their own motivations for embracing evil and their own ways of coping with it. Characters like Spike, Jonathan, Andrew, Faith, Angel, and Darla had to cope with the consequences of their actions and the possibility of redemption. Whedon never made redemption easy for them, either, and it was never guaranteed.

    I don’t see Faith’s arc as a punishment for her sexual agency. She remains a very sexual character after she sets out on the path of redemption–if evil were a punishment for being sexually free, we would expect her to be less sexual later as she becomes “good” again. Instead, Faith becomes a more thoughtful character. She still enjoys sex and she is still inclined to initiate it when she wants it, but she is more cautious about her own feelings and those of her partner.

    One of the things I’ve always loved about Whedon’s writing is its complexity and its realness. His characters may speak to a particular stereotype (the shy, nerdy girl; the cheerleader; the cool outsider), but they have backstory and motivation and flaws. They screw up frequently and they have to deal with harsh circumstances–but that’s what makes it interesting. Perfect characters in perfect settings who never have to deal with tension is the opposite of storytelling.

  • Nicole Hazen

    @Lewisbenzie

    Really_rather_not_nice said it perfectly. Don’t try and build straw men from non existent content. Where did I say that I wanted to cheat? Being attracted to someone of both sexes means you’re bi. If you don’t like that term don’t use it. It’s just the easiest way to explain my preferences. I’m happily married, but neither of us are silly enough to think that we don’t find other people attractive. It’s biology. Hell, we even share notes. =)

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Back again!

    The matter of Zoe being a woman or a warrior;

    I know a lot of people have mentioned this, but I wanted to put it in my own words… or more accurately the words of Kate the blacksmith from A Knight’s Tale.

    Kate: It is romantic though.
    Roland: Are you a woman or a blacksmith?
    Kate: Sometimes I’m both.

    That characters in Firefly sometimes question how Zoe can be a woman before a warrior I can actually only think of one, and that’s Saffron) is to illustrate the stupidity of such a sentiment. Zoe can be both at the same time. She doesn’t have to compartmentalise herself in different situations, her choices are made as a “warrior woman” not as either a warrior or a woman.

    How thouroughly boring would a show be if everyone were perfect and completely egalitarian? And how would anyone ever get any kind of message across through their fiction if all the characters felt and reacted in the same way? There’d be no bad guys for starters, or conflict. All fiction thrives on conflict; conflict of characters, conflict of inersts. Without conflict, there’s no drama.

    As for her reaction to Wash’s death; she mourned through violence and anger. That’s ignoring the fact that they were in a life or death situation. Should a warrior woman just break down into hysterics in the middle of the battle field at the loss of a friend, comradce and lover allowing everyone else in her life to die to?

    Kaylee being a male fantasy; so a woman can’t be sexy, adorable AND capable of fixing anything made of metal? If she were just sexy and adorable but a bit dim she’d be a sexist creation because she’s just there to look at. If she were fugly and obnoxious but a wonder with machines then she’d be a sexist creation because it wouldbe as if the men who created her didn’t want her being anything but a tool; can’t have a capable woman who is also attractive, that threatens the men and makes them feel inferior.

    Can’t win.

    Inara’s profession is called noble and prestigious mostly by Mal and with sarcastic intent. And it’s not romance. Mal can’t do romance, which is why their relationship kept smashing up on the rocks. His continued verbal abuse of her was a bad thing. It was one of the things about Mal we are supposed to dislike. The same can be said of Jayne’s reaction to the lesbians; Jayne is a bad, horrible man with no grace at all except when he has a gun in his hand. His comment is not there to say “you hae permission to look at these sexy lesbians and drool” it’s to say “if you’re looking at these sexy lesbians and drooling, you have more in common with Jayne than you might think.”

    Mal does not own Inara. She very much owns him. He is completely and utterly incapable of making her do anything that she does not want to, except perhaps in Out of Gas when he manages to get her to leave the ship. At every turn she defies him and riles him up so that the only defence he has left is to be offencive. Pure playground wooing tactics. Is this portrayed as a good thing? No, because Mal loses Inara.

    Let’s just ignore the reference to Sucker Punch and feminism until you’ve seen it, yah?

    To The Gaze then. Let’s not forget that Dollhouse was Eliza’s thing. She went to Joss with the idea. She was the main producer. And of course, most of the episodes were co-written by Maurissa Tanchareon, with notable additions by Tracy Bellomo and the ever wonderful Jane Espenson. Many Whedonites consider Dollhouse to be Joss’ poorest show and they blame it on the fact that he was not heavily involved.

    That the term “handler” is to suggest control of a very male and sexual kind… erm… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agent_handling I’ll just leave that one there.

    Every single scene of violence towards any woman in Dollhouse was to say “this is bad.” The violence, the rape, the mind wiping; it was all a bad thing. This message culminates in Aedele and Topher’s final few conversations in Epitach 2, where they both express their regret for what they had done and caused to happen.

    Again; fiction where everyone is nice and happy is boring. Even shows made for toddlers contain some form of bad person and conflict.

    Joss isn’t trying to dismiss mysoginy. Joss is trying to throw it at the world and make everyone see that it exists and that it is wrong. We hurt when Echo hurt. We cried along with Sierra and Priya. We joined Dr Saunders in her outrage. We realised the horror of what was being done to people and our own part in it as Adele and Topher did.

    Not sure if you’ve done it on purpose, but a lot of what you’ve pointed out is very much taken out of context and assumed that what is being said and done by characters is approved of by the creators. This is very much not so. It is not so of a lot of fiction. Take, for example, the first thing that comes to my head; A Clockwork Orange no, I don’t know why it came to mind either… I am in fact watching The Italian Job).

    Two points to consider; 1) the actions carried out by Alex and his droogs 2) the things done to Alex by the state.

    Are we meant to approve of Alex’s homeless bashing, his treatment of his family, his opinions and use of women and the attempted murder of the novelist and the rape and murder of his wife simply because it’s on paper/screen?

    Are the actions of the state in attempting to brainwash Alex supposed to be considered right and good because they are part of the story?

    Or is it all meant to make us step back and look at ourselves, the world we have created and the way we treat other people and their flaws?

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    SPOILORZZZZZ

    Angel; becomes human, the equivalent of becoming dead when LA gets sucked into Hell.
    Wesley; dead
    Gunn; vampire
    Fred; dead
    Lorne; broken
    Conner; not dead
    Harmony; not dead, but has given up on redemption
    Illyria; finds humanity
    Gwen; not dead
    Nina; not dead
    Spike; not dead

    Everybody’s dead Dave, Dave everybody is dead, dead everybody is Dave…

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Giles? While Giles did leave (only because Anthony Head wanted to return to his family) it wasn’t meant to be abandonment, but allowing Buffy to finish growing. She wouldn’t leave the nest, so he had to.

  • http://fraggmented.blogspot.com John Seavey

    Whoa, careful there Nicole. You’re being emotionally healthy _and_ sex-positive right in front of him. Trying to comprehend that could blow something out in his brain. :)

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    What did Spike do to the show? I wasn’t aware that he was a writer (don’t hit me!).

    I thought Spike’s overall arc was one of the most compelling character developments ever portrayed on television. His growth through S7 is pretty much what saves that season for me (that and, you know, Nathan playing the most vile piece of misogynist trash to ever grace Joss’ scripts). Spike’s path from free-wheeling thug poet to self sacrificing hero is one Hell of a journey, full of pits, falls, mistakes and revelations.

    For me, Spike epitomises “redemption” far more than Angel, and even Faith. He messed up bad, and he chose to go along the road of villain (Faith fell down it) but he also chose to hunt down his own redemption (while Angel had it handed to him). He also embodies the idea of forgiveness (more than Wesley, but he is another good example).

    Forgiveness is not something we like to think about when it comes to the really, epically horrid things that people do to each other. We’re just not wired for it. We want to hurt those who have hurt us, stop them from enacting violence on other people by enacting violence upon them.

    Right? Wrong?

    A lot of Joss’ work points towards forgiveness being best for both parties. With forgiveness comes a) a chance to put your pain behind you and move on and b) a chance for the wrong-doer to work towards becoming a better person, if they are capable of it. This is Spike’s story. He is given a chance to find humanity again (Buffy’s unwillingness to kill him once chipped, which I thought was insane… I’d have staked him, lots) and takes it, eventually becoming a good person who cares about others more than himself.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    “You keep using that word… I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    (sheesh, every other post/thread on this blog makes me think of a movie quote.. maybe I need to get out more)

    Sexuality relates to who (or what… if you’re oddly inclined) you are attracted to, not who you are currently shagging. Just because you’re in a relationship does not mean you can’t look. Just because you look doesn’t mean you want to touch…

    I’d call troll, but I seem to recall that you’ve made sense elsewhere. A well constructed troll perhaps? Goodies!

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    If they did, I’m pretty sure the artificial womb would have been perfected by now. Surely we have the technology?

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Not sure where that fits in with the above thread but; right on!

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Some people just can’t take their own advice. Time and again Xander is the one who ‘sees’ everything and puts it into words for those around him, forming excellent advice and often saving them (massively at the end of S6)… but he’s never able to look at his own life and mistakes in the same way.

    I don’t know if this is because it was a way to keep some sort of status quo in the show, a failing to let him grow or intentional…

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    You’re not alone in your appreciation of Dollhouse for it’s exploration of identity. The areas and ideas it touched on, especially concerning Mellie/November/Madeline (it’s explored with Victor/Tony, Sierra/Prya and Echo/Caroline too) were fascinating and, while sometimes mind boggling, were certainly food for thought.

    We were first introduced to Mellie and very much fell in love with her (well I know a lot of people did). Then we discover she is in fact a doll and Mellie is a construct… but does that change the fact that we see her as a real person who was, for all intents and purposes, killed so that Madeline could live? Ballard certainly struggles with this.

  • http://natface.tumblr.com natface

    I do love it! The musical episode is pure delight.

  • http://twitter.com/gtpodcast Geek Tragedy Podcast

    People will think I’m joking, but I’m serious as a heart attack when I say that I don’t think he’s a feminist so much as he’s a sub in search of a domme. I honestly think he just writes women who kick butt because he hopes that someday one will spank his. Or maybe he has one that does. Anyhow, my guess is that he’s not so much a feminist as a fetishist.

  • RPJ

    I find it puzzling that no one discusses The Sara Connor Chronicles in this long set of comments on Joss Whedon’s various TV productions. Certainly it had some very “strong” women in the two seasons that exhibited varying amounts of laudable and not-so-laudable behavior. Did I miss some earlier or later discussion of that series?

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.spahn Sam Spahn

    I love how out-of-context your examples are. A kind of hatred-of-men is even more rampant in BtVS. A woman’s death may be blamed on Buffy’s sexual behavior, but Buffy’s sex life in the show is hardly shown as something that needs to be punished. Xander is a foil. Or whatever the male version of a foil is. What show has done that before?

    It seems you can only be happy with a program if every female character is asexual, women can neither fight women, not men as both is somehow exploitative, and you also somehow manage to criticize Whedon for making his evil-organizations largely all-male. That’s what he was trying to comment on, that all groups in history rise to power by first taking control of the women and taking them out of the decision making.

  • Lewisbenzie

    Its far from a straw man. According to your argument that aesthetic attraction = sexuality then everyone is bi-sexual.

  • Nicole Hazen

    Ok, let’s try one more time.

    If single, you’d be fine with having sex with either a male or female, you are bi. Which is why I said “sexually” attracted to. I can find someone attractive, but not find them sexually attractive. There’s a difference. A male or female who finds the same sex attractive (meaning they just appreciate they look good) isn’t bi. My husband appreciates that Brad Pitt is a good looking guy, but he doesn’t want to sleep with him. He’s not “sexually” attracted to any male. Whereas me, if I was single, I’d date people of both sexes.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    That’ll be because TSCC isn’t made by Joss XD I don’t even think of the Whedon alumni aside from Glau are involved.

  • Stargirl2196

    Faith IS a slut though. I mean, look at her character–it would be one thing if she was a secure, happy, healthy woman. She uses sex to gain POWER over men, which is just as destructive as men using it the other way around. Everything Faith did was for power. And as far as Cordelia is concerned, let’s not forget she was a raging bitch to the characters and extremely self-centered. She went through a long journey that eventually ended in her getting Doyle’s power of sight when he died and she became a great role model.
    Buffy perfectly summed up her relationships in the final episode “I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming who ever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.” Joss Whedon shows that Buffy has come to the realization that she may never have guys figured out and that’s ok because she is still discovering how to be a strong woman herself. That’s the kind of woman I know I admire.

    As for Dollhouse, there is clearly not much research here. Let’s not forget that there are male dolls and female handlers–main dolls include Alpha, Victor and Pinett. In the dollhouse both male and female alike could be seen wandering around. I don’t think this show was about gender (except for Sierra, but I’ll get there in a moment) as it was about anyone getting desparate and wanting to forget/take solace in a doll.
    Topher, for example, treats not just women, but ALL people as if they are walking hard drives at the start of the show. We see in season one even that when he takes Sierra as his doll for his birthday he doesn’t want sex or some deep dark fantasy like most characters, he just wants some sort of human connection. A best friend. He feels so isolated as a “genius”. In Season 2, we really start to see him break down. I love his conversation with Whiskey as she tries to get him to have sex with her in her distress of finding out that she is not Dr. Saunders, but a doll.
    Whiskey: “Why shouldn’t I love you? Aren’t you lovable? Aren’t you Big Brother? Aren’t you the lord my god? Why should I fight your divine plan?”
    Topher: “Because you’re better than that… because you’re better than me. I needed you to be whole. If you agreed with anything I said, then we would miss something and someone would get hurt.”
    Whiskey: “You don’t care if people get hurt.”
    Topher: “You don’t know me! That’s the contract, you don’t know me and I don’t know you, not fully, not ever. I made you fight for your beliefs. I didn’t make you hate me. You chose to.”
    Topher evolves throughout season 2 so much, that by the end he is driven insane by the knowledge that he brought about the “thoughtpocolypse”. He feels completely responsible and sacrifices his life to make things right again. I’ve heard a lot of talk of people accusing him to be a misogynist, which upsets me because he’s one of the most powerful characters in the show by the end of his journey.
    Sierra’s journey had everything to do with being objectified by men, in her case Nolan. She is able to confront and overpower him. (thanks to who? Topher of course!) She feels extreme guilt over killing him (even though it was neccessary because he was going to kill her) and pleads with Topher as he puts her back to doll state, to let her forget that day. When Topher brings back Sierra to her real self, Prya, she yells at him for making her keep that memory. Topher replies he had to so that she would remember Victor.
    Now anyone who criticizes Joss for never writing happy couples HELLO: Victor and Sierra’s relationship overcame technology, even complete minde wipe.
    Joss shows that Sierra was able to overcome that negative relationship and transform it into a new, positive relationship: the mark of any strong woman.

  • Nancy

    Excellent analysis of the Spike character. And one more thing – he did it all because of Buffy. I’d say that Buffy would have to be a strong character indeed to inspire such changes in another (and male) character.

  • Ldoggette

    I haven’t had someone agree with me over this before. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, I don’t know him, but I’ve always thought he portayed women in not such a great way

  • Jo

    I completely agree with the point that you can’t single out Joss’ treatment of female characters independently of his treatment of male characters and then try to claim he’s treating them differently.

    Joss plays with cultural stereotypes. He does it exceedingly well. None of his characters are safe from their own humanity, or from the world in which they live, imperfect as both may be.

    As a woman old enough to have been around on the frontlines of the modern feminist movement, I can tell you that Joss gets it. He totally gets it.

  • Morda898

    The problem with this article, like most critiques of feminist fiction, is that it falls so heavily into the situation of one person’s feminism being another person’s sexism. I would declare myself a feminist. I’m a heterosexual man by the way, and I fully believe in the equality of the sexes (The equality of everyone really). For instance, you say that Echo being punched by men is a bad thing (which it is) but by outrightly conforming to this stereotype you publicly admit that men are stronger than women and that women are automatically victims. Echo may constantly be beaten up but let’s not forget that she almost always comes out the victor and deals out as much pain as is inflicted upon her. She does end up leading a resistance force during a global, technopocalypse and attempts to right the wrongs of a patriarchical system lest we forget.

    That’s another point. You say that all of these shadowy corporations are male-centric (which is perfectly true) yet you don’t confirm that that is indeed the point. All of Whedon’s shows portray, to some degree or another, the villainous nature of patriarchy and they all also contain small bands of equal, social outcasts (often headed by a women) who are able to overcome this masculine (sometimes misogynistic) force. By placing these patriarchies within the boundries of “villains” it assures that Whedon’s message follows through. Patriarchy = bad, equality = good. That’s simplified far more than it is on any of his shows but at the end of the day that is his prevailing message about gender.

    On another note, you fail to mention that there are also male dolls, one of whom is actively seen to be sexually exploited for the needs of a powerful woman – reversing the typical gender roles associated with sexual dominance. For all of Victor’s (Roger’s) perceived dominance, Adelle is well and truly in control and she only uses him as a means of emotional attachment and sexual relief in her terribly lonely world. Again, this could be seen as sexist since it portrays women as being as morally “low” as men and emotionally fraught enough to freely exploit the mind and body of one of her child like charges. However, this just recalls what I said at the start of this comment about one person’s feminism being another’s sexism. And it really does apply to everything. Inara’s sexual agency for instance. Exceptionally feminist on one angle – free female sexuality is seen as the pinnacle of evolved society and a companion has full control over whom she courts and how far the “damage” goes. However, on the other hand it is rather sexist – with female sexuality seen as a highly prized commodity in a world dominated by men and where only these patriarchical boundries are what retain a companion’s status (as seen in “Heart of Gold” where renegade companions are simply referred to as whores).

    This article, rather hypocritically, evaluates the show’s feminism based entirely off a male audience. For instance Kaylee. You say she’s a male sexual fantasy made flesh yet you fail to mention her incredible sexual veracity and indeed love for sex and also fail to mention the glory of her being the heart of Serenity – in many ways the centrepiece of which the lives of the crew revolve around.

    You also fail to mention the amount of times men are sexually hurt or maligned in the Whedonverse and instead focusly entirely on female sexuality. The thing with Joss, is that he really is an equal opportunist. There is also as much male sexual exploitation as female. Buffy season six was pretty much just Spike topless, and how often did Angel go without his shirt in his own show? Countless times, I’d say.

    In the end, Feminism/sexism – It’s an extraordinarily fine line to walk. The fact that Joss at least TRIES to show us true, no holds bar feminist fiction is something to be applauded. I mean, very few writers truly do.

  • Dgrey395

    Feminism is inherently hypocritical as Morda898 mentions. Some people might think a woman staying at home is anti-feminist, while another might see it as a woman choosing her path. On the flip side, is a woman getting bashed in the face feminist or just a subversion of genre tropes? Whedon himself mentioned that he created Buffy because he wanted to turn around the whole idea that woman are helpless in science fiction-fantasy. I think Buffy is so non-feminist it’s moot to even talk about it: just because she’s a girl who kicks ass doesn’t automatically place her in the role of feminist wunderkind. Would you say that a guy who kicks ass is suddenly a masculine hero? No, because the rules don’t apply for superheroes (in my opinion). The fact that she’s female only applies when it comes to her romantic relationships, but the villains never have any compunctions about beating her up.

  • elsewhere

    “… maybe i’m not a feminist. i’m just a woman who wants to be treated equally to other people. ”

    Congrats, you’re a feminist.

  • http://twitter.com/amphiko Addorable

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that Sara Michelle-Geller was portraying a teenager. Young women and men are often a little self-conscious, overly dependent, and in need of peer approval. If we look at her that way, I think she’s the most well-adjusted, intellectual teenage girl portrayed in the ’90s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=728460401 David Lascelles

    A well thought out and considered essay, certainly well balanced and providing plenty of evidence and examples. Although I do disagree with the comments about Dollhouse. One thing I have always considered about that series was that the situation the dolls were in was always portrayed as being evil. OK, De Witt and some of the staff of the LA Dollhouse the series was based around were seen as occasionally sympathetic but ultimately these characters seek redemption through rebellion against the Rossum corporation. Rossum itself was universally seen as evil, especially in the two epitaph episodes.

    So, the exploitaiton of women (and men) here is not glorifying the situation or even finding it titillating (though a surface examination of early episiodes may give this impression) but villifying it.

    It is true that often writers and producers can end up in a no win situation with femimism… portraying strong female characters without resorting to stereotypes is hard and something I have always been wary of in my own writing. I do have to say, however, that I agree that Zoe is one of the strongest female characters around currently and I know many women who consider her a strong rolemodel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501974203 Charles David Haggard

    This is an interesting article, but the fact is that every one of Joss Whedon’s characters is flawed. Buffy is the shining example of a hero who will not stop until she’s reached perfection whether that is within the battle for good over evil or finding a person to share wonderful experiences with. The women in this world are mostly strong-willed (trying to keep up with Buffy) but still immerse themselves in the world of other men. The men are very flawed as well, relenting to most battles of words with a strong woman. I think the premise of the show is to find love, happiness, and equality, but retaining a sense of morality in the chaotic world. It isn’t about the domination of women over men, but existing and matching them as human beings.

  • Morda898

    I think it’s been all but proven that Inara is dying and that’s why she’s on the ship – wanting to see the Universe and all that. The syringe is supposed to be a mislead, if I recall, in that you think it’s for suicide but in actual fact it’s just time for her to take her medicine.

    Another theory i’ve heard is that Inara takes anti ageing drugs or something and it’s killing her…I can’t quite recall but it’s something like that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnradclyffe John Radclyffe Lohan

    Great critique – I haven’t considered any of this before and it was really interesting. Certainly has changed my views on Whedon. Thanks for posting.

  • BrokenYellowCrayon

    Lot of careful editing here. Cough Willow cough. Interesting viewpoint, I disagree with it completely and could refute each argument you make, but interesting.

  • Kerryjim30

    Completely agree with this. I was waiting to see if anyone else would actually point out that the Dollhouse is not gender specific and there are as many male ‘dolls’ as female. Also in the case of the Handlers. They aren’t all male. there are also female handlers. Also for those that have only seen a few Dollhouse eps I’m afraid you can’t really comment unless you’ve seen the whole series. I thought it was a grest show.
    This is an interesting article and has certainly sparked debate but I think sometimes people look for things to criticise and if you look hard enough there are always negative things to find so I’m glad that other comments recognise that these shows are not solely written by men and that there is plenty of strong female input – Eliza Dushku being just one to mention.
    I have enjoyed all of Whedons creations and will continue to do so, I think it was a shame you missed Angel out as I actually preferrred this series to Buffy, it was much darker and as others have said it’s good to see how all the characters evolve Faith certainly redeems herself and Fred is a brilliantly complex character. I was so sad to see her demise but Illyria was a brilliant twist and watching her observe humanity and come to terms with her own situation was very moving.
    One last point I’d like to make is that from the actors point of view all the female characters that Whedon comes up with give the actresses such great opportunities to show their diversity, not least in Dollhouse!.
    I say Give Whedon a break and if you don’t like it, don’t watch it :)

  • Kaekaed

    Here’s what I don’t understand. In the past, when TV shows only showed women hitting women (“cause men don’t hit women”). Fight scenes were dictated such that men could only hit men and women could only hit women and there was always a hero ready to stop the villain from hitting the woman – or a heroine ready to beat the snot out of the evil woman because the hero can’t bring himself to hit a women.
    But that was called chauvinist – “let women fight their own battles”.
    Now, we have men hitting women and being hit by women – and now people are saying that is because men get a thrill out of seeing women hurt “men’s fist in women’s faces” so that it is chauvinist.
    I don’t think you have have it both ways.
    But the biggest thing that the article neglected to mention was women’s fist in men’s faces.
    Echo not only Hit Back – she sometimes hit first.

    If women are fighting their own battles, then they will get hit and more to the point Hit Back.
    Echo – fought back and beat the snot out of the men who put their fist in her face. (well, when she was in control and not programmed)

    I am a woman; and while I am not very strong physically. I will fight back – if someone punches me – I won’t punch them cause I have very small hands that won’t do any damage – but they will end up singing soprano.
    Of course, I think I preferred the old days when I believed there were men who if they saw a woman getting hit – they would step in (heroes) – but I don’t think that is true anymore (if it ever was) so I am going to be try my darnest that if anyone puts a finger on me – he/she/it won’t get it back.

  • http://twitter.com/soaringfiber293 Jordan Kolb

    So a show can’t have strong female characters unless they never depend on anyone, don’t do any fighting of any kind (look out, they’ll get punched in the face!), and only wear sweats. Oh and they world in which they live has to be completely run by females, and thus totally unlike the world we live in today.
    That show would get canceled faster than Cabin in the Woods.

  • http://twitter.com/soaringfiber293 Jordan Kolb

    I think the idea of the Alliance was to portray a patriarchal corporation/government similar to the ones we have today. You’re falling into the same fallacy that many of these organizations fall into: “We’re not sexist! Look, look, we hired a woman!”

  • Mark

    I am an ardent Whedonite, but there are some details that have always suggested to me that Joss’s feminism is part perversion:
    1) Reoccuring instances of bare women’s feet in Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly (esp opening credits of Serenity)
    2) Tara’s lesbian character in Buffy was originally supposed to be a waifish-type, according to a Season 4 DVD extra, but Marti Noxon strongly urged the casting of Amber Benson (which proved to be a great decision). Later in Season 7, Willow was paired with Kennedy, who I suspect was Joss’s original lesbian ideal.

    Of course these are just anecdotal examples. I am enjoying your more intellectual case much more and am sorry to see that the post linking to here from Whedonesque.com was taken down. There is nothing wrong with loyal dissent.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    “If women are fighting their own battles, then they will get hit”

    Exactly! You can’t have a show in which women fight, physically, without some physical contact in said fights.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    On point one; Joss has said himself that he likes filming Summer’s feet (because, he said, she acts with them, and I can see what he means, she is a dancer after all), which is why we get so many shots of them in Firefly and Serenity. I don’t recall many shots of feet in Dollhouse (aside from all the dolls roaming around in their jammies, but I don’t think that counts as they’re not specific shots of feet) or Angel though… but that’s probably because no one has pointed them out to me.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    Browncoats and their mad theories XD

  • http://profiles.google.com/joanna.moylan Joanna Moylan

    Hell yes! Thank you! Jeez I don’t know what the big deal is.
    With Buffy, Whedon didn’t just create a hard ass bitch. She’s a hard ass bitch with an unlucky love life. That’s what makes her more realistic, that she’s human in some aspect of her life. If she was 100% in control of everything the character would be rejected.
    Zoe chose to save Wash over the captain. So what? I’d chose my boyfriend over my boss any day. Prostitution is a noble profession in Firefly. I think what Whedon was trying to emphasis was that in that profession, the woman is in control. She decides what she wants to do with her body without society condemning it as shameful.
    And seriously, can’t a man hit a woman the same as he’d hit another man? I don’t condone violence against women as a form of male dominance or anything. Say she were a spy or enemy of the state that was captured and held for interrogation. I’m pretty sure her captors are not gonna say “How are we gonna get information out of her? We cant hit her cos she’s a woman.” Please! Get real people!
    Sexism is only sexism if people keep talking about it the way they do. Can’t Eliza Dushku wear spandex without her “feminine rights” being called into question?

  • Eric

    Wasn’t one of the over-arching plotlines about how Buffy grew beyond her need for Giles (surrogate father) and learned to live without him, as well as reject (by quitting) the watchers and the patriarchy they represented, as well as take ownership of her own slayer-abilities as well as give the “power” to girls everywhere by taking it away from the slayer-creators?

    To me that reads like a parable for feminism itself, not an anti-feminist aspect of the show.

  • Citizen Alan

    I hated that rationale so much. I understand that AH wanted out, but Giles’ stated reason for leaving town was ludicrous. He knew that Buffy was still deeply traumatized by the experience of being ripped out of Heaven (or whatever) and forced back into the world. He knew that Willow was exploring magical areas far beyond what was safe (and don’t get me started on that idiotic “magic = drug addiction” metaphor). And yet he still left them all to their own devices with the idea that in his absence they’d just “grow up”?!? And that plan went so swimmingly that if he’d gotten back into town an hour later, EvilWillow would have killed the rest of the cast!

  • Citizen Alan

    I disagree that it was a “thinly” disguised morality tale about drug abuse — I’ve seen “And knowing is have the battle!” tags on GI Joe episodes that tackled drug abuse with more nuance than the Dark Willow arc. She is literally the only magic wielder on either Buffy or Angel to ever become “addicted” to casting magic, and idea that makes no sense given the prevalence of magic on both shows. Honestly, I think the problem was that Joss Whedon has a fetishistic love for early 80′s X-Men comics, and EvilWillow was his chance to do a Dark Phoenix homage, continuity or internal logic be damned.

  • Citizen Alan

    I believe there was an unaired episode that showed a male companion. It was on the DVD.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    The whole magic = drugs thing was soooo heavy handed. It was done terribly. They could have been subtle and clever, and it makes me wonder exactly who came up with the idea and why it was done so badly.

    As for Gile’s reasoning; a bad choice, but was it out of character?

  • Citizen Alan

    My pet peeve about the Faith arc was that it was an Idiot Ball plot. The girl was obviously traumatized by what happened with her prior Watcher, yet none of the adult characters feels interested in doing anything to address the problem. She is left to her own devices in a fleabag motel to stew in her own self-loathing over her pre-Slayer life (with hints of an abusive childhood), her inability to save her own Watcher, and the subsequent betrayal by Gwendolyn Post and Buffy (in the episode where Post appears). The actual triggering event for her going bad is not anything related to her sexuality but rather the Watchers’ clumsy and idiotic decision to take her into custody and try her for accidentally killing a civilian in the line of duty. I’m not saying she was justified in joining the Mayor, but given how the “good guys” treated her, I don’t see it as coming out of left field.

  • Citizen Alan

    I liked the actor and thought he got a raw deal. I thought the character was incoherently written almost from the start, as was the awful Initiative arc which introduced him. I also thought that the real “bad guy” in the Buffy-Riley breakup was neither Buffy nor Riley, but Spike, who deliberately manipulated both of them for his own selfish purposes. When Buffy responded to the accusation that she’d been shutting him out with the fact that she’d been more concerned about her mother’s health, I really wanted him to respond with “yeah, I know, Spike told me,” since for some baffling reason, she’d spent more time discussing the issue with him than with her boyfriend at the time.

  • Really_rather_not_nice

    Ummm … Who said sex [i]wasn’t[/i] holy? The debate here has to do with whether or not a high-class prostitute can be viewed as a strong woman in the context of Whedon’s work.

    Sex as religion is nothing even remotely new or revelatory.

    Just as an increase in people turning to any form of religion in dark times is nothing new. Which may be the reason why the world/s of Firefly view companions in the light that they do.

  • http://amidstdancers.blogspot.com/ Shard Aerliss

    I don’t think the lack of help was an Idiot Ball in this particular circumstance because the lack of care was being pointed out, it was wrapped up in the telling of Faith’s story; here’s a girl with no friends.

    They didn’t need to spend a good chunk of a season knocking her down with no one there to help her get up (or having Faith bait away the few helping hands she was offered because they were usually offered too late) they could merely have had her meet the Mayor and find his personal brand of evil tasty. It would have still worked within the context of her initial character profile of “bad-girl Buffy Foil”, without the build-up.

    The lack of support was part of her Foil-ness though; Buffy had family and friends that weren’t always too wrapped up in their own issues, while Faith didn’t.

    I suppose it can be construed as an Idiot Ball (find me a plot that ISN’T described in some way by TVTropes)… but it wasn’t lazy writing that brought about Faith’s loneliness; that is her character concept.

  • Skytteflickan88

    I don’t know where to begin. A world of no doesn’t cover it.

    Buffy’s not weak because she grieved lost relationships. She loved Angel but stopped mopping about him within a few episodes. Then a guy she trusted used her for sex. Of course she’ll react to that.

    And Buffy didn’t depend on men more than she did women. And her friends, both male and female relied on her. She lead them, she supported them, but she was also guided and supported by them.

    Both she and Riley did wrong in their relationship. But they were always equals, even though Riley felt useless sometimes.

    Xander was never beneath Cordelia, and I doubt he called her a slut because he didn’t respect women who had sex, but because she had bullied him and his best friends, among others, for years and years. But yes, she had to be shamed before being sent to Angel. It’s called character development. She’d been a bitch for years and her being cheated on (which was wrong and portrayed that way), She suffered through some pain, lost all her money, so that she, instead of continuing being a spoiled bitch, went to LA, got to see how the other half lives and became a champion for good. How is that not good character development?

    I could go on, but I doubt I could change your mind, since we seem to have seen the show so differently. To call Xander beneath Cordelia and to say that show stated this? I only saw a bully being mean to people who would save her anyday, anytime, Sure, eventually Cordelia became a better person (because through, pain and humiliation she learned to respect other people and stop causing pain and humiliation herself) but in the first two and a half seasons, she was the bad guy. This changed, but she was never portrayed as better than Xander. Just as a bitch who thought she was.

  • http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/ Cat

    Illyria is repeatedly referred to as “the King” and by male terms–the entity is male even if the body is female.

  • Skytteflickan88

    When Illyria calls her/himself The King, it could be because she/he realizes that The Queen wouldn’t sound as threatening. She might just have picked King because Kings generally have more power and are more feared than Queens. Illyria’s gender is still up for debate.

  • Chocolate Covered Cotton

    I’d go further than saying she has a compassion and strength of character. She is actually the moral center of the ship’s family/crew. Whenever Mal faces a moral choice, it’s she who pushes him to do the right thing even when it goes against his own instincts of self-preservation. It’s not for nothing that in the pilot even the preacher turns to her for moral guidance and spiritual solace. I guess she’s the most extreme version of the “hooker with the heart of gold” western trope that Whedon could come up with.

  • Chocolate Covered Cotton

    Oh yes, she’s very much a creature of the establishment, her nobility and access to that level of society is stated explicitly as the reason Mal wants her aboard. They both say so often. When she first meets Mal, she tells him, “The Alliance has no quarrel with me. I supported unification.” His reply is to call her a whore for the first time of many. I think his denigration of her profession has less to do with the sexual aspect of it than with the dishonesty of it, selling out her clearly strong moral principles for wealth and status. “Working for the Man” indeed. He pretty much states this explicitly in the episode “Shindig.” So, he needs her respectability but resents her respectability as well.

    I’ve now watched that show all the way through at least half a dozen times and still am trying to figure them out. It’s a complex relationship, isn’t it? They clearly admire, respect, and love each other but cannot admit it even to themselves because to do so undermines their own carefully constructed self-images.

    He can’t accept the dishonesty of her profession and the contradiction it creates with her own true self as it goes against his ideal of morality as someone who doesn’t compromise on his ideals and fights for them even against impossible odds. She can’t commit to him as doing so would necessarily mean redefining her entire life and self, and a genuine one-to-one loving relationship is one without the strictly enforced social rules on which she relies to maintain control of her life. Her profession, which is central to her identity, simply does not permit her to give of herself completely to one man and requires that she be in charge always.

    It’s not really possible for them to commit completely to each other as both would have to relinquish some control of themselves to the other and both are defined by their insistence on total self-determination.

  • Chocolate Covered Cotton

    (Just finished watching the series, finally, for the first time.)

    In support of your point, as often as she self-identifies as “lesbian” she also describes herself as “kinda gay.” It implies some self-doubt about what she truly is, maybe just a level of denial but maybe an small acknowledgement that she’s not completely lesbian.

  • Chocolate Covered Cotton

    Chiming in to agree with both of the above about Dollhouse. Though misogynistic exploitation of women is the most obvious form, it’s exploitation itself that is the show’s real target. The corporation, beyond morality and above the law, exploits everyone and anyone including its own executives and scientists for the sake of wealth and power, for the sake of its top executives’ own personal greed.

    Sexual exploitation is a big part of that and the most obvious.

    It’s always wrong, the show makes no arguments that it isn’t, and the characters’ (Adelle, Topher) own rationalizations for what they are doing ring hollow from the beginning and are proven to be completely wrong. By the second season, even they have come to acknowlege the immorality of their exploitation of others but are moving between being paralyzed by guilt at their culpability and finding themselves as vulnerable to destruction by the more powerful in the corporation.

    My dislikes about the show: yes, the violence. It’s excessive. Though it’s true that the message is usually, “this is bad,” it isn’t always, as when Paul fights with Echo in her assassin mode. They’re both heroes, we want them both to live. He has to fight her to survive, she has to fight him to deliver her secret message to him.

    My biggest complaint about the fighting in the show is technical rather than ethical: it’s just too unrealistic. They fight in the most flashy, forceful, and aggressive manner, as if it were Buffy and the vampires. Now, that kind of choreography was acceptable in Buffy because she had supernatural powers, but Echo is completely human. See, Eliza Dushku is a small woman without a lot of physical strength, built like a model, and Tahmoh Pennikett is large man built like a heavyweight boxer.

    Now, I’m not saying that a 110 lb. woman without a bodybuilder’s muscles can’t defeat a 200 lb. man in a fight, given sufficient training, skill, and motivation. (In character, both of them are equally highly trained and skilled fighters.) But she’s not going to do it with straight-up kicks and punches, and no matter how much leaping and spinning she throws into it, she won’t knock him unconscious with a single punch. She just doesn’t have the physical mass. Nor could she avoid being knocked out herself for the same reason. They could have depicted her easily besting him (and other big dudes) in fights but just not in that way. It should have been a lot more judo or aikido style rather than taekwondo or muy thai stayle. Seeing her constantly overcoming basic physics in her all-too-common fight scenes was too much strain on my disbelief suspension.

    Other complaint: the costuming. Always, always, always, the show went for the sexxay-pinup girl look for all the female Dolls, no matter what role they were playing. When the dolls were deployed en masse to the campus to lock down the effects of a dangerous drug, Sierra was cast as a neurobiologist or something, but still had to wear a shortskirt and spike heels. In that same episode, Echo was similarly sexily dressed, which fit her character, but then she’s riding a motorcycle. In spike heels. The worst though was when Echo, programmed as a master thief to steal an art collection, actually makes a point of claiming one of her mottos was “always wear comfortable shoes” is in fact wearing spike-heeled boots.

    The sexy outfits were over-the-top and too often inconsistent to the show’s own internal logic. It looked to me like they were there at someone’s (Fox execs perhaps, sponsors?) insistence that everybody be sexy at all times for the sake of satisfying the male audience’s prurient interest- in wildly ironic contrast to the show’s explicit message that exploitation, especially sexual exploitation, is evil and degrading and destructive to the used, the users and all society.

    I wondered sometimes if it wasn’t deliberately subversive, intended to draw sexist male viewers with all the scantily dressed hotties, get them hooked on the smart sci-fi story, and then smack them upside the head with how wrong it all is. That the sexxayness of the outfits dropped off considerably by the second season may be evidence for this.

    I don’t know. I do know that the author of this critique has spectacularly missed the point of the show if she thinks the Dollhouse was presented as fantasy and not horror.

  • http://ladymercury-10.livejournal.com/ Maiasaura

    Totally agree.  

  • http://ladymercury-10.livejournal.com/ Maiasaura

    Haven’t seen Dollhouse, so I can’t comment on that.  But your points on Firefly are right on the mark.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1767685554 Jay Burel

    If I may intrude, we also must remember that Firefly was only on for 14 episodes. Could it be said that Inara despises her job? Definitely, but, who knows, if Firefly had lasted longer than it had, maybe she’d have admitted, sincerely, not in a way to piss Mal off, that she actually like her job. 

    Whenever discussing Firefly fans and critics have to remember that it hadn’t even gone through half of a season for a regular SciFi television show. For all we know in the second season backstories would have been given to explain everyones (and yes even Kaylee’s) personality, or even give more layers that made them all more human.

    Just an idea. 

  • http://twitter.com/Leluisme Aarie K

    I know I’m several months late finding this article, and just about all of my objections about the discussion regarding Cordy and Inara and especially Zoe are discussed above by people much more eloquent than me.  I didn’t read all of the comments, but I did want to add one of my own that was probably addressed by someone above, but I missed.

    You referenced “Dollhouse” and Echo and her fellow housemates’ treatment by male “handlers” and clients. To a certain extent, I’ll agree. But one thing you failed to mention is that while most of the clients of the Dollhouse looking for sex ARE male, there are also male actives. Just as Echo and Sierra are primarily used for bodily gratification, especially in the beginning of the show, so, undoubtedly, is Victor. You see bits of that in later episodes when it’s revealed that the woman in charge of the Dollhouse has been using Victor for her own sexual gratification, just as Echo is. You don’t see it more than that because, quite frankly, Echo is the main character. Yes, most of the clients who frequent the Dollhouse for sexual purposes are male, but let’s face it, in the U.S., something like 63% of millionaires are male, and the show makes it clear that the ”services” of an active are not cheap.

    Further, in the beginning of the show, Echo is not supposed to be a feminist character. She is supposed to be a blank slate, just like the other actives. She doesn’t remember much in the beginning, and I think the excessive spandex and sexual nature of her job reflects this. Then, as she starts to remember more, you begin to see her sent out on fewer of the jobs where she is just a mindless sex object. It would be unrealistic to write a television show set in a what-if world where people can be imprinted with other peoples’ memories where sex isn’t part of the mix, and while it might be nice to fantasize about, it isn’t Joss Whedon’s job to be I-am-feminist-hear-them-roar in every show he writes, and I don’t think it’s what he intended with Dollhouse. (I should mention here that I respectfully disagree with your assertion that he fails to dismiss the mysogyny. In fact, I think that’s what the whole show is about – showing a world where you can do anything you want to another person, and most of the males who can afford it, STILL use the technology for solely for sex, which says more about the show’s view of males than it does their view of females.) They can’t use unattractive male or female dolls, any more than Hollywood will ever have more than a handful of mainstream actresses who are more than a size 4 (being generous here) which is why “Whiskey” is put out to pasture after being disfigured. In a society as appearance-oriented as ours is, it would be ridiculous to write the show as if they could continue to use her as a traditional active. I believe after Victor was disfigured they refrained from using him until his wounds were healed. As the show goes on, Echo begins to remember her previous identities and yeah, she’s still sent out on sexual assignments, which after a while she continues to go on to keep from blowing her “cover”. And I’m sorry, but in the show’s final episode, “Epitaph 2″ (I’m referencing that one since you don’t see much of her in ”Epitaph 1″) she is one of the coolest female characters I’ve ever seen.

    Also, as much as the writers on that show tortured Echo and Sierra, there is no way you aren’t going to tell me there wasn’t some serious bad juju happening to Paul Ballard, Topher, and, of course, Victor by the end of the show. Joss Whedon tortures his characters. It’s what he does. If you’re a main character who hasn’t been in some way psychologically marred on a Joss Whedon show, it’s because you haven’t been around very long… or he’s planning something BIG down the line. In fact, while the main three female characters — Sierra, Adelle, and Echo — all come out of the final episode at least physically unscathed, with their sanity intact, Topher loses his mind and sacrifices himself in a bid to save the world, and Paul dies, only to survive as one of Echo’s imprints in her head. If a story that begins when the handsome prince sets out to save the sleeping princess and ends with him dying and only managing to survive in some form through HER own brain once she is awakened (and not even really by him), isn’t a metaphor for at least some form of feminism, I really don’t know what you are expecting.

    That said, is “Dollhouse” a great example of television feminism? No. In fact, HECK no. Then again, what show is? Especially at the beginning. The best female empowerment TV shows and movies AREN’T all that empowering at the beginning (for example, would we have liked “Terminator 2″ if Sarah Connor hadn’t been so damsel-in-distress in the first one? No.)

    Also, without making this even LONGER (sorry about that), I don’t agree with most of your classifications of feminism. I’m not sure I understand why Inara is less of a feminist than Faith, or why Cordelia (at least in the beginning of the show) is more of a feminist than Kaylee. It seems like you’re saying if a female chooses to have sex primarily with men she cares about, that makes her not a “free sexual agent” and she loses feminist credibility. And yes, Buffy lost points for her relationship with Riley, but then again, the SHOW lost points for her relationship with Riley (even as much as I love Marc Blucas in a non-BtVS world).

  • Anonymous

    yup.  there are so many working male directors with foot fetishes and they are easy to spot– and– that is a bit co-morbid with the whole sub seeking domme thing mentioned earlier.

  • Anonymous

    ugh.  whedon apologists.

    claiming the post takes things out of context has no merit.  the examples are cited in context with specific references to the character arcs. wtf is wrong with people’s reading comprehension on the damn internet?

    now if you want to sell your authority on defending whedon or anyone as a feminist, here’s what NOT to do:  claim slut shaming (cordelia) was okay because she “deserved it,” and follow that up with describing her as a “b!+c#”–  you seem loony and bigoted– just as bigoted as if you called willow a k!k3 or called robin a n!663r.  #protip

    the moment i see the b-word used in a post, i skip to the next reply.  it is a slap in the face to every woman on the planet, and if you can’t make your point without using that particular sexist, speciesist word, you should probably wait until you at least have a higher opinion of dogs to re-approach a keyboard.

  • Anonymous

    I just watched the first episode of Firefly. I was enjoying it until we were introduced to Inara. The first time we see her she is fucking. Then Mal calls her a whore. Then we watch as she “bathes” by slowly drizzling water across her unclothed body. When someone knocks at her door, she invites them in before dressing. I don’t care that she is a prostitute. It’s pretty obvious though, that she becomes a very good reason for the show to feature her unclothed and doing steamy things. Why not a male prostitute? It is the future, after all. Oh and then the nude teenaged girl in a box…wtf?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Dean-Henderson/1646046500 Jason Dean Henderson

    Wonderful essay! While I don’t agree on several points, I do respect the analysis and insight provided.

    A point of clarification regarding Zoe: “nor do we get any reaction, verbal or non-verbal, from her for the rest of the film”

    I don’t see it that way at all. Zoe clearly is in mourning at Wash’s grave site, and when she and Mal discuss the physical condition of the ship, Serenity:

    Capt. Malcolm Reynolds:
    You think she’ll hold together?

    Zoë:
    She’s torn up plenty, but she’ll fly true.

    Capt. Malcolm Reynolds:
    Could be bumpy.

    Zoë:
    Always is.

    it is a also a disclosure on Zoe’s part to her emotional status. It seems odd to me that the choice of Wash over Mal in War  Stories is somehow negated, by the stoicism displayed after Wash’s death in Serenity.

    Wash was dead. There was no longer a choice between her duty as wife and soldier, it could be said that the only choice in the matter was breakdown, or remain the warrior she was, and try to save the rest of her family. (Crew.)

  • Wendy McCutchen

    I’ve never really thought that his characters were particularly feminist, although (barring Dollhouse of course which I could not watch past ep4) his female characters are more well rounded than almost any other mainstream portrayal of women. Most of them have faults that are interesting and complex (qualities usually reserved exclusively for male characters) rather than usual alienating and stereotypical (see here Counselor Troi in the ‘progressive’ star trek TNG). This however does not a feminist narrative/character make.

    I strongly disagree with this particular point:
    “No matter how it’s dressed up in expensive clothes, no matter the nod to companions choosing their customers, what the positioning of this profession as noble suggests is that women’s highest role in the new order – and any new order – is that of concubine.”

    Yes, Inara and her profession’s portrayal on the show were at times quite problematic (as most certainly was the frankly abusive Mal/Inara “romance”) but sex work is NOT concubinage.This view of prostitution is incomplete and sex-negative. A sex worker can (and many DO) totally have power and agency. This article appears to be denying that wholesale. Also, IMO, whenever I watch Shindig I am certain that after all of her hemming and hawing Inara would never have submitted to the life that rich misogynist was offering her. She was just saving her “no” until the end of the service contract (which is a common cust. service practice). Inara worked in a service industry, which does not mean she lived or intended to live a servile life (in fact one might argue that part of her extreme attachment to Serenity was about the autonomy it allowed her to feel).

  • Anonymous

    While prostitution in our world is not sexual free agency and often a forced situation, in the Firefly universe Companions are the equivalent of college graduates or priestesses. Inara’s shuttle is a consecrated place of union. The Companions have a lot of agency and free will. They have complete say over their clientele and when the client steps out of line it is the client that is blacklisted. Vastly different situation to to real world prostitution.

    And Mal trying to assert his dominance over her ultimately leads to her leaving. The fact that he tries to assert it doesn’t diminish her character in any way, it speaks more negatively of him. Just as Mal and Wash squabbling in War Stories doesn’t diminish Zoe’s strength or agency. She is none too happy about it, but lets the boys have their pissing match. And ultimately she is the one with the power in the episode. While love or neediness may have made Buffy a weaker feminist icon, Zoe’s passion and love (both for Mal and wash) makes her stronger. The boys in this episode are the bumbling idiots who end up needing saving. Mansels in distress, if you will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000821551035 Helen Winston

    I hated how, in Buffy’s relationship with Spike, it was the only sexual relationship she had any control over. Joss completely botched that by making her use him as a walking punching bag/vibrator, in a completely destructive relationship. She came off as a terrible person, and I couldn’t help but absolutely hate her. And her redundant: “I hate you’s” and “You disgust me’s” got real old, real fast. I love Spuffy, but season six is unbearable. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hanna-Crooks/1327857952 Hanna Crooks

    I know I’m late to the party. Found this while researching for a paper. But I think War Stories says a lot more about men than it does about women. Men get insecure and feel the need to compete for a woman’s affection, even if that woman is someone like Zoe who is completely above that. Everybody watching the episode thought Wash was being kinda stupid, and I think Zoe would agree that he was “making a mockery of the intense trust she places in both of them.”
    And as for Serenity, it’s not that Zoe doesn’t care about Wash. It’s that she’s still a soldier, and there’s still a battle going on, and she needs to keep fighting. I’ve seen the same thing happen in plenty of movies. I didn’t think it diminished her decision in War Stories at all.

  • Anonymous

     I haven’t watched Stargate in quite a while, but I’m curious as to what’s wrong with Carter…

  • Going Rampant

     I think it’s more likely he’s a domme expressing his desires with dominant women with whom he identifies. People think he imagines himself as Xander and Topher, but he’s said he thinks of himself as Buffy and Adelle. He creates strong, sexy women who kick butt because he never can be one himself.

  • Going Rampant

     Joss Whedon believes it, though. He’s posted on Whedonesque about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/larissa.peixoto.73 Larissa Peixoto

    Something I find interesting is that when a show is a “regular” show, which means, not made or written by a self-proclaimed feminist, nobody gives a shit about representations of women and/or feminism in the show.

    When a show is made by a feminist, we demand perfection. And I don’t mean perfection like a perfect score on a test. We demand a perfect reality of feminism. But, in the case of Joss Whedon, what he does is develop a fantasy world that comments on our real world. Buffy isn’t set in another time or reality: it’s right here, right now. And for all my feminism, I’m flawed and have my spells of daintiness. So why can’t Buffy fawn over a boy? And do you really think any network would allow the lead to have one-night stands? A teenage lead?

    Dollhouse had some serious flaws all around, so I won’t get in to that. But Firefly is, especially a space-cowboys show. Outside of the Alliance there are no “respectful” jobs. Inara is intelligent, educated, heart-warming and, yes, beautiful. And a companion by choice. And, if watched carefully, you can see that her work is no more degrading than that of a sex therapist. Honestly, I’ve been having a stressful time in my life lately and would appreciate a male version of Inara. Mal has his issues and that’s his problem. Mal isn’t perfect, that’s the whole point.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve made a series of videos responding to this article:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRQ37VOoGYw
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q5UoM6PLrA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD8kDD55ROQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_O4CNRHmJPs
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPsvAeVvX04

    My assessment is that it’s intellectually dishonest and simultaneously both misandristic and misogynistic. It utterly fails as a feminist article.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-MacDowell-Blue/730264445 David MacDowell Blue

    I’m sorry but this article is profoundly flawed, ignoring context on virtually every single point. Someone else did a far better rebuttal in this series of videos on YouTube: http://youtu.be/fRQ37VOoGYw This videos go point by point. Frankly the premise that Joss Whedon is some kind of anti-feminist only works if one does ignore context as well as presume him guilty from the onset for simply being male.

  • Braidon

    Spoilers:

    I take issue with author’s interpretation of the Watcher’s council as something that weakens the feminism of the show. The Watcher’s council was intended to be a highly patriarchal institution, and one that Buffy challenges constantly. While Giles plays a father figure to Buffy, his knowledge and expertise are needed to guide the teenage characters on the show, not just Buffy. In season seven Buffy outgrew her need for Giles and led an army on her on accord.

    Kendra’s relationship with her watcher was a foil for how independent and autonomous Buffy is in her slaying duty. While Kendra was completely dependent on her Watcher, Buffy called the shots and made her own strategies and choices.

    In season three Buffy broke away from the Watcher’s council and became an independent agent, who maintained her relationship with Giles as friends and equals. In season five Buffy reasserted her dominance and understood the power that she holds over the patriarchal council. By Season Seven Buffy is fully aware of the origins of the slayer and how they were initially a means to assert control over female power. Buffy uses this knowledge to reclaim feminine power on a mass scale, thereby making thousands of strong, female slayers.

    I also have issues with calling Buffy a weak character. She is extremely complex. Watch Conversations with Dead People again!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=695552441 Megi Saunders

    Just a little thing in regards to Xander in Buffy: He left Anya at the
    altar because she slept with Spike before their wedding day. I’d be mad,
    too, if I was him. It just brought all of the problems they were having
    to a head. Don’t put that one all on the man, the woman was just as
    much at fault.

  • http://twitter.com/pkmccord Pokey McCord

    Agreed. As a longtime Buffy/Angel fan who just finished Firefly/Serenity today, I’m not quite ready to call Whedon a misogynist or assume conscious -
    and sinister – motivation behind his work. That said, as much as I ENJOYED F/S, one thing kept jumping out at me: the ubiquity of rape and sexual violence, whether as an actual plot point or an allusion/implication/etc.

    Maybe I wouldn’t have noticed it in a less “compressed” viewing
    period, but as it is, it jumped out at me enough to make me think back on the
    frequency with which sexual violence comes up in “the ‘verse”, as it
    were. I’m limiting the list to examples of explicit, NON-metaphorical, out-and-out sexual violence against a living, breathing (well,non-robotic, anyway) person. Plenty is already being said here – and eloquently so – about everyday sexual politics and less felonious forms of aggression. I’m not denying or dismissing those points, but what made me squirm and frown last night was purely the number of times RAPE came up – either as a plot point or an allusion – and the number of earlier instances that came rushing
    back, when it did.

    FIREFLY/SERENITY:

    Most obviously, there’s the constant threat of Reavers, ultimate monsters-under-the-bed who – as Zoe somberly warns in the first or second epi -
    will “rape us to death” if they manage to board. Not for nothing,
    that’s a near-verbatim copy of Angelus’s threat to Fred (Angel – Season 4) when he offers to add some charm to the proceedings by using his Irish brogue throughout.

    In “Objects in Space”, we have Early the apparently psychopathic bounty hunter who, we learn, “did things” to the neighbor’s dog before growing up to taunt poor little Kaylee with the threat of rape (notice the pleasure/relish he seems to take in forcing her to repeat “there’s no one can help me” before she ties HERSELF up under threat of force).

    In “Heart of Gold”, local pig Rance forcibly administers a DNA test to
    Petaline, then threatens to cut the baby from her stomach if she refuses to
    hand his progeny over. Add to that – just in case we’re not QUITE getting the point yet – his little “what a woman is to a man: ON YOUR KNEES!”
    speech.

    BUFFY:

    Start with the obvious: Spike’s attack near the end of Season 6.

    The Trio’s black-magic roofie assault on Katrina. Jonanthan and Andrew’s sickening “I get her next!” scuffle leaves a bad taste in the mouth, too..maybe more so when it comes across as the juvenile, laugh-track foil to the REAL bad guy.

    There’s the whole “how we made the first Slayer” mythology exposed in Season 7: tribal elders (all men) chained a girl to the dirt and let the demons have a go at her.

    In Season 2, the swim coach dumps Buffy into the holding tank with his
    steroid-gassed fishboys, taunting her lecherously that, besides just food,
    “boys have needs…”

    Hyena-Boy Xander telling Buff how good she smells when she’s afraid as he backs her up to the wall/desk/whatever’s handy.

    Both Spike AND Angelus allude repeatedly, throughout both series, to instances of rape/sexual torture during their vampire heydays. in particular, I remembered Spike’s whimpering lament in Season 7 about what he used to do to girls Dawn’s age, and how “you have to know just how much to hurt a girl so she’ll still cry when you…..”

    ANGEL:

    We could fill the whole page with Angelus’ relish for mixing breakfast with
    pleasure, so let’s just say the guy was a horny psycho and leave it at that.
    His appetite for Cordy in Season 4 is especially omnivorous.

    Wesley’s verbal AND physical menacing of Fred, after he gets schmeared with Billy’s “bad blood.”

    Am I leaving stuff out? Definitely. Again, point was just to illustrate the
    number of examples that popped instantly to mind once F/S pulled the
    trigger. And I’m not saying this means Joss is some kind of degenerate
    misogynistic creep, or that I WANT him to be (really, really don’t). I have
    thoughts/tendencies of my own that would get me chased out of any Freshman Gender Politics 101 with fire and pitchforks. In a society as humanly flawed – not to mention ass-over-elbows scrambled,
    bedeviled and confused about sexuality – as ours is, I’ve come to the
    conclusion that a “healthy” attitude isn’t the ABSENCE of baggage, just a
    fairly even weight distribution of same.

    Does any of this make Buffy less of a heroine or the end of Season 7 less
    tear-inspiring? No. Does it mean the Buffy/Angel DVD’s are going on the high
    shelf to gather dust? Not a chance. Guess it just confirms – once again – that
    great does not equal perfect, and it certainly doesn’t equal “above
    questioning/discussion.” I can’t go so far as to call Whedon names or
    label him a pig, especially because I DO believe that, on a conscious level at
    least, he’s painting these characters – your Warrens, your Rances – to reproach and lament their existence, not celebrate it. That said, what I saw last night – plus the little trip down memory lane it inspired – makes me wonder if some baggage needs to be readjusted.

  • KMC

    Buffy is a teen/young adult. She was very accurately portrayed. Their world DOES end when the current love interest is no longer interested. I am really surprised that you don’t remember how that feels, because I am 45, and I remember vividly how painful and all-encompassing relationships were at that age.
    And I remember, with quite a bit of embarrassment, the lengths I was willing to go to, the humiliations I was willing to suffer, if I could just make him stay.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    To be fair, I always felt both Angel and Buffy treated Watchers with derision. Nobody took them seriously with a few exceptions, and both demons and humans seemed to agree that a lot of them were douchey.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    “I think I just have to not care about whether or not Joss is a feminist. All I know is that he definitely made one out of me.” Yep. Well, Joss and Tamora Pierce. :)

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Also, the movie showed men studying at the Companion Training House.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    “Fireflys males are equally weak, Simon is physically weak constantly
    being berated for his physical and mental courage to survive in the
    universe”

    Actually, Simon has a lot of control over his emotions and physical strength as well. Several times he physically overwhelms a more difficult foe (Ariel, Objects in Space, Serenity). He’s got brains and brawn and (though we only it see it with River and rarely with Kaylee) sensitivity.

    ” it could be argued Wash is depicted as the thematic ‘wife’ of
    Zoey badgering his wife for attention over her captain.”

    Wash is a badass pilot who has a healthy and loving relationship with Zoe that they both find fulfilling.

    “Jayne is
    portrayed as a stereotypical angry vicious male predating any female
    sexually,”

    Jayne decries rape in “Serenity” when talking about the reavers and treats the women at the Heart of Gold even tenderly, brushing the hair of a woman he took up with. He is equally coarse with men and women, not filtering his thoughts for “delicate lady ears”. He expects the same from men and women. He’s also a jackass and a bit of a brah, but he actually does seem to respect women as people… or at least equally disrespect them and not find them inferior to men.

    “Mals a self destructively stubborn, angry moralist.”

    Can’t argue with you there. :)

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Yeah, not to mention, Joss kind of has a rep for killing everybody you love. I do wish Angel had more women in it to begin with, though. :)

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Why can’t he be both?

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I thought that it wasn’t that Riley needed to be needed so much as the need of (many) in relationships to be vulnerable and in turn have a partner be intimate. Buffy was sealed off… Riley wasn’t allowed in her own little world. And that’s not good or bad, it’s just the way things were. Riley wasn’t fulfilled, not because he needed to be needed so badly, but because he felt he couldn’t get close to Buffy. I would never want to date a Riley, but I thought his character had an interesting part to play in the story arc. I’m glad that he made a reappearance too. Same with Dawn. A lot of people hate Dawn. She was by far not my favorite character but I felt necessary to the show and the portrayal of their sisterhood was very honest, I thought, and reminded me of my relationship with my little sister more than a little.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I’m sure Fox loved the bathing scene for their audience, but it wasn’t put in there just to show off Morena. It was also to show how limited Serenity’s resources are (i.e. water). You can’t shower. It also had a ritual cleansing to it, underlining the portrayal of Inara as a spiritual figure and character on the show, and contrasting her Buddhist approach with Book’s more traditional Christian approach.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I think a person’s feet say a lot about them. And they are rarely shown in tv and movies. I have never seen Joss use his footage of feet in a sexual or sexy context. They are always telling a story, and it never seems to be about titillation.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Someone told me once that Dollhouse is all about a discussion of consent and what consent means. Someone referenced it earlier, but for example “Can someone consent to be a slave?” And “Once they have consented, can that consent be withdrawn at any time? ” This is about all forms of consent, sexual and otherwise.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Fair to say.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I do agree that he was referencing Dark Phoenix. An homage, I’d say. :)

  • Carmen Sandiego

    When Willow says, “Hello, gay now” I took it to mean that she now identified as a lesbian, not as bisexual. Though I think her romances with Oz and Xander were genuine, I don’t think that she sees herself ever being with a man again. This is unusual, and we really do need to see more positive bisexual characters on television, but I truly believe that Willow fully identified as straight and then fully identified as a lesbian later on. There are endless options on the spectrum of sexuality and this is definitely one of them.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Disagree. There are more options to sexuality than simply straight, gay, or bisexual. It would have been nice to see her portrayal as a self-identified bisexual woman though, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic for someone to identify fully and genuinely as straight earlier on and then to identify fully and genuinely as gay at a later point. I wouldn’t say it’s the norm,b ut it’s not out of the realm of reality.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    This. One can be celibate all their life and still be bisexual. Sexual preference isn’t about sexual actuality.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    Yep. This was referenced also when Nandi mentioned how young she looks “How do you do that out here?” and when Nandi tells her story it’s obvious that she’s supposed to be a lot younger a companion than Inara, yet Inara looks about ten years younger than Nandi.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    He also left her at the altar because he DIDN’T want to marry her. For various reasons. He should have told her but I don’t think it’s a huge mark against his character. As someone who never wants to get married, I totally sympathize.

  • invisible_hand

    re: dollhouse, from what i understand, the first “sexy” half of the first season was largely due to the stronghanded direction of the studio, whereas the second half represents more of whedon’s vision.

  • Wendy WB

    Thank you. I love Joss Whedon but I’m so tired of the praise of him as a “feminist.” I don’t fault him for not denying it though. I think he’s a as skilled at plot devices and promotion as he is at writing. http://nightxade.blogspot.ca/2012/05/greatest-trick-devil-ever-played-was.html

  • Nice_pits

    For every example in this there are a couple more to disprove your argument. Good article though, it might even have been enough to get someone who believes everything they read to get behind it. NEXT>

  • Toast

    On this one, I disagree. There certainly is some sexualization, and even sexism, but as a whole Buffy promotes feminism. She may have relationship issues, but she does not need Riley or Buffy to kill the vamps. And her boyfriends are just as emotionally upset–if not moreso than she is–about their eventual breakups.

    Also Cordelia starts as a Foil to Buffy but ends up becoming a strong character in her own way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=644462089 Victoria Fletcher

    I think Joss Whedon is not a paragon of feminism. Nor is he terrible. His shows do show a distinct desire to show women as strong characters…. and I should point out that he doesn’t write every episode of all these shows, so it is more than just Whedon here.
    But I think looking at the end of shows show the strong characters. It’s not about Buffy sleeping with men and being depressed when they leave. It’s the end of the show when she’s grown up, can make hard choices and find love without sex. I mean the scene where she just cuddles with Spike while everyone else screws?
    I just think the journey doesn’t show a strong female always, because women aren’t always strong. There’s truth in that. But it’s nice that in the end they win, they grow. That’s the nice feminist truth I take out of his work.

  • Anonymous

    “[Kaylee]’s a tad try-too-hardy, existing to fulfill a male fantasy of a woman wonderfully rapacious and pursuant of men, who can also fix the car in a pinch.” Oh, is that why she exists? Silly me, I thought she was a fleshed out character and a vital part of the team who, yes, is socially awkward and sexually liberated but is also a kick ass engineer. My bad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000035470616 Rhodri James ‘Llewelyn’ Gillha

    The point of Anya and Xander is that they aren’t going to work. It was always kind of obvious, since their relationship was primarily based on sex. As for Faith, Willow’s chief flaw is being judgemental and she fears Faith usurping her place in the group to an extent. Faith’s sexual habits make an easy target. And the thing that is wrong about Faith is less her sexuality, more her psychosis. The primary issue with Faith, as shown in that episode, is that she a) keeps imagining herself killing people and b) hates herself to a truly epic degree. Tara sees auras (or, like Xander, is merely pretty good at reading people, or both. Certainly she sees it when he doesn’t) and picks up the non-Buffiness of Faith.

    As for the Watchers, they are constantly put down as archaic and controlling, and Buffy gets one hell of a speech at them in series 5 (she’ll work with them, but it’s on her terms. They do). Giles is presented as different from the norm, but not without his many faults. He is also the closest thing to a father Buffy has after her own left. What child does not rely on their parents? She certainly relied on Joyce when the latter was shown. The Riley thing was basically to show how even the nicest (or nicest seeming. I, personally, never really liked him) person can have hidden flaws, and quite glaring ones. Riley’s epic insecurity about Buffy wearing the trousers in their relationship is one of these. Faith notes that underneath even the most ‘granola like guy’ there tends to be fetishes such as naughty cheerleaders and things involving bullwhips and whipped cream.

    Buffy does have it’s problems, but it still stands out as far better than most of the competition.

  • http://twitter.com/RrowdyBeast Fenrir the Rrowdy

    Angel was full of strong women characters holding up the men. Fred for both Gunn and Wesley, Cordy for Angel (Connor/”Cordelia” doesn’t count, since that wasn’t actually Cordelia). Lilah being a key player in the Wolfram and Hart aspect.

    We also forget that, while Buffy was supposed to be this strong character, she had a lot on her plate for somebody that started at 16, making her age the final season (on TV) what, 23? Taking care of her sister after her mother dies, not able to fit into society properly because she has to balance “real life” with fighting demons so that the world doesn’t constantly potentially end? Shit, I’d have my weak moments, too, she’s not exactly getting a cultured raising into young adulthood, she’s bound to be confused, as would be Faith.

    Dollhouse, what, because a woman is in a fight when she’s trained to actually fight doesn’t mean that she’s not gonna get ht? Not a fan of double-standards; if it were a man, you wouldn’t think twice, though it’s just as wrong since the Dolls were all mindwiped to do this, and many of the male Dolls got wiped the fuck out without second thought. Equality across the board, please.

    You can pick at nuances, but you have to keep an open mind to what’s going on. No, sexual, well, ‘any’thing is seen as an oddity in the US. It’s like, shamed. You even contradicted yourself here where you belittled characters for shaming Buffy and Faith for sexual conduct, while pointing out the Companions on Firefly were in bad practice, even though it’s established that it’s a way of life to them that they fully embraced, and, shit, get paid for what most do for free. No rape, no twisted minds, just choice. And it’s also a hearkening back to the 1800′s where prostitution and callgirls were a norm, thus the whole “Old West” theme of Firefly.

    If you write a mass-review of something, take a breather and remove emotion before you lay down your opinion. See it from all angles. I see what you’re saying, but being an actual fan of Buffy, Angel and Firefl-hell, Whedon’s work, I think I get what he means more than you do. But you have your opinion and hey, it’s valid to an extent if you simply glance at the works mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    Aaaand I’m writing a novel it would seem.

    Anyway!

    I think Joss is best known for writing people. Men and women I can believe. People I’ve met, so to speak.

    So his female characters sometimes have stereotypical flaws..they’re stereotypical for a reason. Because they exist. A lot.

    Buffy is emotionally bendy sometimes. But as a young woman with an intense secret and responsibility, I would expect her emotional strength to have it’s limits. And yet, when it’s important she makes the hard choices, she soldiers on. Perhaps during an impossible depression or sense of hopelessness (the loss of her mother, being dragged back from heaven), she isn’t happy but she does what she needs to do. How does this NOT show strength of character? Sure her sexuality isn’t blatant. Does it have to be? I’ve never in my life had a one night stand because it simply doesn’t appeal to me.

    Cordelia getting ragged on by Xander, was one of their points. Their entire relationship is love-hate. They tear each other down and find a remarkable attraction in it. I’d say they both need some therapy, not that Joss is being sexist. I know plenty of people who are like that with one another. It confuses the daylights out of me, but hey…not my relationship.

    As for the Faith and slut comments. Look, I’m super against slut shaming. You wanna sleep with a bunch of people, be my guests. But Faith used it as a weapon. She used it to hurt people, to try and create betrayals, to drive wedges. That’s a little messed up. And while I think calling her a manipulative sociopath would have been more accurate, I’m not thinking they’re wrong for looking at her sexuality as a bad thing. She wasn’t exactly just having a good time. Sexuality as a weapon is JUST AS BAD for feminism as ‘lack’ of sexuality.

    Anya and Xander…Once again. They constantly belittle EACH OTHER. Has no one else noticed how often Xander’s manhood get’s called into question by these girls? I think, once again, some very serious therapy is in order.

    As for Buffy’s out-of-control sexuality moments…I think that was more a play on what it means to have that type of responsibility and what losing control of one’s self could do when you have crazy power.

    (And I’m just gonna say this, cause I can…As for the men being the creators of the first Slayer…Sure, they gave her power, but why choose a women if you want power unless you believe women have massive power? There is proof of many ancient cultures revering women for their ability to give birth because of the power involved in such an action.)

    As for Firefly/Serenity…Once again. Women I can believe. Relationships I can believe.

    My mother is ex-military and I’ll tell you what, I believe Zoe to the core. I believe her training making her able to make choices and her love balancing that out. I believe her feminism is a powerful thing. She is an Amazon, a Valkyrie…a strong woman with a deep heart that she has learned to push aside when she needs to. She is the mother of the crew. Because my mom would do the same. I have seen her shut her heart down to do what needs to be done, mourning in private where no one can see her later.

    And Inara and the Companion thing..this bugs me. It really does. Some women find strength in sex. The pagans found god through sex, for the love of sanity. And she makes it VERY clear that she is in control of who she chooses and how she’s treated. SHE has the power to blacklist someone. SHE has the power.

    While Mal tries to flaunt some power over her, she cuts his legs out from under him ever single time. I’m suggesting (again) that perhaps therapy is needed, not that she is weak or that her sexuality is flawed or anything.

    Consider her a modern day Geisha who chose her life. She very obviously takes pride in her skills, her craft as she is protective of it. At the training house she shows a greatness of heart and compassion and I think that widens her character remarkably.

    As for Kaylee, I have met her a hundred times over. Girls from small towns, rural areas…where sexuality is just what there is. To quote someone ‘In a small place like this there ain’t a lot to do, so what you do…well, you do it a lot! Huntin’ and drinkin’ and sexin’.’

    It’s a common mindset in small areas, which Kaylee obviously comes from. She’s girly and sweet, unashamed of her sexuality with a massive crush on someone, who happens to love fixing things.

    I think if you’re looking for perfect feminism you’re not going to find it because he’s writing people first. And people aren’t perfect.

  • http://www.surlymuse.com Daniel Swensen

    Insightful stuff. I do think holding up Whedon as a “paragon of feminist virtue” is a mistake in the first place. He’s a writer who manages to do better than some at writing women fairly — some might say better than most, but he’s no paragon — and neither are any of the characters he writes. But he’s made some missteps (Inara being my least favorite by far).

    Personally, I feel Buffy as a character isn’t strong because she doesn’t need or depend on anyone (that would be dramatically boring and emotionally flat) but because she perseveres despite the hardships that are thrown at her.

    I think this article makes some great points, but it also cherry-picks its examples a bit.

  • Anonymous

    What? No, you didn’t watch the episodes in order. That Spike incident happened after he left her. He left her because a demon impersonated him from the future and told him that he needed to leave Anya because he’d become abusive like his father and hurt her, and it was that fear that made him back out even after he learned the demon was lying about knowing the future.

  • Lyon

    I mean….can I at least point out that these were all the BAD GUYS? They’re sort of supposed to do evil stuff, and if Whedon thinks that one of the worst possible things that an evil person can do is rape…is that really all that anti-feminist?

  • Lyon

    “In every generation, one slayer is born. Because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say, we change the rule. I say my power should be our power.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.nicoll.927 James Nicoll

    Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was fairly benign, though of course Felicia Day was a nigh non-entity.

    Unless for some reason one is not fond of Women in Refrigerators, of which Penny is a perfect example.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WomenInRefrigerators

  • Anonymous

    ” Inara’s profession is equated with nobility, because of her typical clientele. ”
    And so as a woman she is defined by her relationships to others. Not a strong endorsement for this character, her choices, or her situation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Russell-Borogove/1796934409 Russell Borogove

    Some of Whedon’s stuff is problematic, but you’re completely wrong about Zoe/Wash: “nor do we get any reaction, verbal or non-verbal, from her for the rest of the film” — we get at least three. One: her tight, pained response to Kaylee asking where Wash is. Two: Mal asking about Serenity: “You think she’ll hold together?” — Zoe’s answer is only half about the ship. Three: Look at what Zoe’s wearing in the funeral scene, then watch “Shindig” again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jess-Miller/656218463 Jess Miller

    Companions start training at twelve. How much of a choice it is is pretty highly debatable. The Mal/Inara relationship ruined Firefly for me, and there’s a lot I love about the show. Zoe is one of the greatest female characters ever written, i think-which is partly why she was doomed to be a supporting character-no one wants to watch a show about well adjusted people. They’re boring.

  • Kate

    Are you actually serious? This is the kind of “feminism” I highly dislike. I am a feminist. I agree with absolutely zero of the things said here. Really? Must we pick apart characters out of context? What the FUCK is wrong with having your own views on sexuality? So what if Buffy reacts to a one night stand a certain way? What is wrong with not mourning in battle so that you can continue to survive? Which, speaking plainly, is exactly what Wash would have wanted. Also? In case you’re wondering – Zoe mourns Wash. Watch the movie again. That scene breaks my heart every damn time. Joss Whedon has spoken multiple times about how awful it was to have to end the series so soon – and how grateful he was to be able to make a movie, even if it could never compare to actually writing the rest of the series.

    On the topic of how much this doesn’t feel relevant OR feminist – feminism means EQUALITY for WOMEN. Not “All women must fall under my specific view of how women can be.” Don’t you see that you’re imposing your views on women like all of the people you complain about? Of every single person on this planet you could call misogynist, you choose Joss Whedon, who is one of the few directors to put 1. female characters who are all unique, interesting, and believable into shows. 2. Men and women portrayed as equals. and 3. Many shows where female to male ratios of characters are similar, and sometimes higher. Not only are the women characters in his shows relevant,(interesting,) they’re usually main characters, main side characters, or appear often. They’re usually in strong roles, and he actually gives them personalities that make them their own people. Buffy is a teenage girl. She is allowed to be confused about her sexuality, and frankly, she’s allowed to view promiscuous sex however she pleases. Joss Whedon is not perfect. No one is perfect. But I don’t think you understand what you’re talking about.

    So, to just round up the rest of my thoughts before I throw something at the wall because of how idiotic this is, and how angry it makes me:

    1. Writers are not their characters

    2. Writers are not their shows

    3. Writers can write FLAWED characters

    4. And, guess what, it can be on purpose

    5. Writing a misogynist/evil/cruel/mean character does not automatically make you ANY of those things.

    6. Feminism is about treating women like people

    7. Women, real women, DO ACTUALLY fall under stereotypes, in the same way that everyone does. Girly does not somehow turn you into an oppressed pair of boobs who doesn’t even know she’s being oppressed.

    8. In the same way that some women are more emotional/girly/sensitive than others, there are tougher and less girly women as well.

    9. NOTHING IS WRONG WITH THAT. Because, if you’ll recall, being feminist means treating women equally. By being a feminist, you are not saying, “Men and women should be the same”. You are saying, “Men and women should be treated the same, regardless of gender.” Which means that if a woman wants to be girly, wants to be tough, wants to be neither, wants to have sex, doesn’t want to have sex, it shouldn’t matter.

    10. Your attempt to take specific events out of context to make a point has failed. Not only are many of your facts wrong, according to canon, (there ARE female watchers, Zoe DID mourn,) but you are reading many of these things the opposite way that they should be read. Mal doesn’t just want Inara to himself, or something. He’s not just a pointless character filling your idea of stereotypical he-man. He likes her, and like MANY PEOPLE OF MANY GENDERS, he has trouble expressing it. Not just that, he has trouble separating his feelings. He wants Inara, Inara is a companion, the reason he can’t have Inara is because she is a companion, therefore, like many people, he reacts badly. Companions = bad, because Inara being a companion is the reason he feels like he can’t be with her.

    11. If you actually thought of women as equals to men, you would not care that there was a sex joke made about Inara and her female client. The reason for that? Because you are so butthurt about ~women~ being at the expense here, that you don’t realize that the joke is about SEX, not women. It’s about Jayne thinking about SEX. Jayne is attracted to women. Him imagining them together is arousing. it is ~~funny~~ because it is a sex joke. Not because it is an “omfglol women/prostitutes do the darndest things” joke.

    I have to stop now because I am physically red in the face. As a women and a feminist, the entirety of this article offends me on a very basic level. I cannot be rational. Some of what I say probably doesn’t make sense because I am seeing fucking red, and can no longer edit this. There is more to be said but I have to stop or I will punch something.

  • LittleThestral

    “She is literally the only magic wielder on either Buffy or Angel to ever become “addicted” to casting magic…” While I’ve not watched much of Angel, this is incorrect so far as Buffy is concerned, at least in the most technical of senses. When Riley and his wife, Sam, show up, Sam compliments and encourages Willow by telling her about a couple of magic users the military had assigned to work with her and Riley in South America whose addictions to magic eventually destroyed them, and how she’d never seen anyone able to swear off magic the way that Willow did.

  • cadiajo

    I’m surprised River gets absolutely no mention. I always saw her as fetish fuel which bothered me considering her age and mental condition.

  • http://twitter.com/claudiagray Claudia Gray

    You’ve gotten two years worth of fan huffiness on this, but I’m just going to add: YES YES YES. Thank you. Whedon’s work has its feminist virtues, but so many fangirls willingly allow those to blind them to all the horrible stuff that’s in there too. And I could forgive the stuff as “being in an imperfect world” a little more easily if it weren’t being constantly held up by fangirls — and by Whedon himself — as some feminist ideal.

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    It should also be noted that Faith STILL kept her “Fuck it, I’m going to have fun on MY terms” attitude towards sex even after she reformed and was redeemed.

  • Penny Sautereau-Fife

    I can debunk this over-reactionary take-everything-out-of-context article with an observation of my own.

    After watching the entire series on Netflix something very interesting has occurred to me. It’s not a new theory that Buffy may be an allegory for rape. A lot of folks have posed that idea. But I think it’s a lot more complex than that. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an allegory for rape, rape culture, rape privilege, and how to fight back, stand up, be strong, and accept responsibility for rape culture being perpetuated. And it was a subtle allegory, and I never realized it until near the very end, and then I looked back over the series and it smacked me right in the face as if to say “Hello? I’ve been standing right here the whole time?” And part of real feminism is combating rape culture.

    It occurred to me when it reached near the end of Season 6. Spike has spent half the season in a mutually abusive sexual relationship with Buffy, and he becomes so miserable, so lost in feeling hurt that Buffy just uses him for angry sex, that he feels entitled to just do the same thing and tries to rape her, and she fights him off, and he leaves the country and no one tells Dawn, because they don’t want her to think less of her friend Spike.

    And that all makes a sad sort of sense, because that’s how rape culture works right? Rapists feel entitled to rape and people want to protect the rapist from the repercussions. We see examples in real life all the time. Such as a case in a rural Texas town where a dozen men ages 15 to 28 gang-raped an 11 year old girl, and the general reaction among the town was A) The child was “asking for it” by dressing past her age and acting older than she was, and B) to fret about how the charges could ruin the lives of the men who raped a child.

    Infuriating, sickening, sad fact of life. And of course TV shows frequently reinforce this stereotype. So I expected Buffy to do like most TV does in that regard.

    So after the almost rape, Spike goes off to Africa, (while everyone else goes on about their lives like nothing happened), to undergo a horribly painful ritual to regain his soul so Buffy will love him, and goes insane from the guilt he can now feel over everyone he’s ever hurt. At this point it seems like it’s going to end up being the cliche romantic happy ending ala Luke And Laura where Hey! He feels really really extra bad about almost raping her so now everything’s awesome again and she’ll fall madly in love with him because OMG UGUYZ he’s SOOO sensitive now! And they live happily ever after!

    Except that wasn’t what Joss Whedon was ACTUALLY doing. He clearly had other plans here.

    So season 7 begins and during the course of the episode, Buffy finds a disheveled Spike living in a high school boiler room, eating rats, self-harming and rambling incoherently. She leaves him alone.

    In season 7 episode 2, Spike has cleaned himself up and tries to help Buffy and friends deal with the Monster Of The Week. After a lot of conflict, near the end of the episode, Spike starts acting loopy and erratic again and runs away, into a church. Wanting answers for his confusing behavior, Buffy chases him and finds him wandering around in the darkness inside. He’s rambling and confused, and he misunderstands her thinking she wants to just use him for sex again, she pushes him away, he mumbles something about “No, right, she doesn’t want that, she shouldn’t be made to right right” and he starts wandering around again, rambling about his guilt. He talks as if there are other people in the room, ghosts of his past victims, and seeing death all around him. He talks about overwhelming guilt driving him insane.

    It’s at this point that Buffy remembers Angel, (another vampire with a soul who got a spin-off series and had left Buffy itself at the end of the 3rd season), describing to her how he had spent a lot of time immediately following his soul being restored feeling overwhelmingly consumed with guilt, remembering all the people he’d hurt or killed. With a look at shock and almost revulsion at the thought, Buffy realizes what Spike has done and asks him incredulously, almost horrified, why he would do that, subject himself to that kind of torment. Why do that to himself?

    Because of how TV reinforces Rape Culture, plus how Whedon’s played this story arc so far, you’d be justified in assuming as I did that Spike is going to say something like “So you could love me” right? That’s usually how these things work out on TV. On the soap opera General Hospital, the couple of Luke & Laura, (whom I previously alluded to) are still to this day hailed as being among the greatest TV romances of all time. Except no one ever wants to remember that their story arc on that soap began with Luke RAPING her. Rape Cultures teaches people that rape is just a really passionate forceful expression of true love in these situations. It’s ridiculously common in fiction for rape victims to fall in love with their rapists.

    But Spike didn’t say that. Whedon had other ideas. Whedon knows about Rape Culture, and he goes out of his way to write strong, 3-dimensional female characters who never just allow themselves to give up and be victimized, but are still flesh and blood human beings who fuck up. (That’s where the writer of this article proved she doesn’t understand what feminism is. In her mind it means women must be portrayed only as perfect, infallible and NEVER actually human it would seem).

    So then what DID Spike say to make me realize what Whedon was really doing?

    He said “To be the kind of man who would never…. to be a kind of man…”

    An unfinished sentence yes, but it was most telling in what he WASN’T saying out loud. The point where he paused. “To be the kind of man who would never….” tells you, yes, he loves Buffy, he wants her to love him. But he didn’t endure all that pain just so she would forget what he’d done and magically love him. He did it to punish himself for assuming he was entitled to her body, for hurting her, and to forge himself into someone who could never again do THAT to a woman. To be a man who DESERVED her love rather than just take it, to be a man who could EARN her love rather than just believe she owed it to him. And to be a man who was better than the behavior that Rape Culture teaches men is okay.

    And that was the moment it hit me, and I started going back over the whole series in my mind. Analyzing story arcs, themes, character evolutions, and realized that, yes, the underlying theme of Buffy is about rape, but not, as many believe, a straight up “Staking the vampires who maul her physically is a visual rape allegory” way. It’s more subtle than that. Whedon’s characters exist and survive in a world with creatures that want to hurt them in ways that would make them feel weak and powerless, just like a rapist wants to have power over his victim. But they survive by refusing to ever BE the victim, by standing up to the monsters and saying “No, this is NOT okay, you have no right to do this to me if I don’t want you to and I WILL defend myself”. And while dressed in anything ranging from “Borderline Hooker” to “Nun-In-Training”, from various walks of life.

    Buffy teaches it’s audience that it’s okay for a woman to decide for herself who my or may not touch her, no matter how she’s dressed or how she acts or where she comes from, and that she can be strong and independent but also be HUMAN.

    I wish more TV would follow that example.

  • Anonymous

    The vampire bites are supposed to be metaphors for oral sex. In one of the commentaries, a writer notes that there’s a reason you typically don’t see vampires biting members of the same sex whenever they have a choice. Riley gets “suck jobs” from female vampires. So, it follows that all vampires who bite unwilling victims are metaphorically rapists. The show is basically Buffy the Rapist Slayer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1064437317 Thalia Sutton

    Finally! *throws up hands* Thank you! I know someone who will be very happy with this. (She has also said of Whedon’s women, “She may be physically tough but if she relies on men to make her decisions for her, she’s not a strong woman.”)

    Another person I know pointed out that Whedon calls himself a feminist. But, “he is not. He has furthered some issues for women’s rights, but he does not understand what feminism is, nor is he a feminist.” Finally, someone has put down on paper (so to speak) a long list of critiques to back this up.

    Of course I do like what Whedon has done for TV and movies and expression of female characters in general. I wonder if these things are, in part, a lack of understanding of healthy relationships in his storytelling? Isn’t there a part in Buffy where a guy is about to get raped (by a woman) and a similar, “Oh I’m dominant it’ll be okay because I love you” (from the woman) theme comes up?

  • http://www.facebook.com/damien.fox.391 Damien Fox

    Late though this may be… he IS the Captain of the ship she is on, so yes, he DOES have power over her. Even if her captain was female, they would still have power over her.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anne.hockens Anne Hockens

    Thanks for writing this. I have been bitching about the Victorian depiction of female sexuality on “Buffy” for a number of years. So much so, that a friend posted this article on my FB wall when she saw it! I have heard all the rationalizations about why this is ok that you will undoubtedly see posted in the comments. Good job.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ryan-Alarie/100000589400441 Ryan Alarie

    What exactly is the alternative? If you have a strong lead, either that lead will be challenged or not. If the lead is unchallenged, how is that lead strong. This is for male or female leads. If the main character is never hurt, never challenged, never put in a bad place … how exactly are they strong?

    Is a female character being punched in the face by a male character worse than man on man, woman on man or woman on woman? Is that not, in itself, problematic. If the writer went out of their way to not have the strong female character fight men because she is weaker then men more of a problem than to have her fight men, and eventually triumph (if not necessarily easily).

    Now, there are definitely some problems with HOW strong female characters are punished. The sexual elements of the Dollhouse are pretty clear from the start, but again, given the premise of the show, it is an inevitable corollary of the concept.

    Ultimately though, a strong female character is one that would fight against a reality, real or imagined, that isn’t itself feminist. And if that world is patriarchal and misogynist, that female character is going to end up facing resistance from that world. How a character reacts to a hostile world is a big part of what defines their strength.

  • http://twitter.com/paperpenguin Alex

    Xander’s love spell, Angel, Spike in season six (with soul, ultimate series hero)? Uh, not so much all bad guys. Also, you know, you can make “bad guys” do all the “bad stuff” and still be exploitative.

  • http://twitter.com/paperpenguin Alex

    I dunno, man–turning Angel evil, having that weird incident in the frat house with Riley where their sex powered all kinds of badness, basically using Spike (and awkwardly destroying that house) for much of season six…even if it’s not always, it’s pretty hard to argue that Buffy’s sexuality is NEVER directly threatening.

  • http://twitter.com/paperpenguin Alex

    “Apex”? Really? There’s literally nothing better for people than screwing?

  • http://twitter.com/paperpenguin Alex

    It’s similar to saying there’s nothing racist in the casting where a more or less HALF CHINESE society only shows Chinese people in the backgrounds, and all the characters who were supposed to be Chinese ended up white.

  • http://twitter.com/gilmourtaylor Geoff Gilmour-Taylor

    Wow, a reply more than a year later, and it’s not spam!

    I haven’t watched Buffy or Dollhouse in more than 2 years, so I apologize for a lack of specifics. I think my nagging discomfort isn’t from seeing strong leads challenged. Rather, it feels just a little exploitative seeing female characters punished.

    I recently re-watched Firefly’s “Trash”, where we see Saffron nearly stranded in the middle of nowhere (and forced to beg for her life), stuffed in a crate, smacked in the face with a gun, and locked in a nasty, smelly dumpster. All these humiliations are just deserts for her disloyalty, but when I watch the episode it seems like there’s a touch too much celebration about this. I don’t notice this when, in the same episode, Jayne gets his comeuppance for disloyalty (a stern talking-to), or when Mal is forced to strip naked (not really humiliation because he’s won by that point). Maybe I’m just oversensitive when it’s women getting the punishment, but I can’t shake the feeling.

  • Annabella

    I always loved Kaylee and I liked how she embraced both her ultra-feminine/girly side and her intelligent, tomboy-mechanic side. It’s possible to be a girly tomboy, or feminine and a feminist, which is something that a lot of people don’t recognize. Kaylee’s not strong like Zoe, but she’s in many ways the heart of the crew and gives them strength in her own loving, carefree way while still being able to make Serenity fly like a boss and get things done.

  • Annabella

    Also, can we talk about River Tam? She’s been mentally disabled by the government and is often seen as a danger to the crew, but ultimately she is their savior. She defeats the sadistic, misogynistic, and sexist Jubal in “Objects from Space” who threatens the rape Kaylee and makes some arguable remarks to Inara. River heavily depends on her brother Simon to look over her as well as the rest of the crew because of her mental inability, which isn’t exactly yay-feminism, but it’s arguable that all the crew depends on each other in a way, for love, support, well-being, and to make them genuinely better people. Jayne would just be off, like, killing people or whatever, but when he’s with the crew of Serenity, he actually is forced to face his actions and use the value system of the crew: i.e., when he tries to notify the feds about River & Simon’s illegal presence for money, but Mal confronts him about it, or when Jayne finds Jaynestown and eventually comes to realize how wrong the situation is. Mal is a very broken man and I firmly believe that without Serenity and co. he would be pretty corrupt. And he’s the leader! Simon is forced to face his stereotypes and negligence of the socio-economic divide. And one more thing: Serenity is one of very few crews to have an equal number of female and male characters. The Avengers, the Justice League, and the Enterprise have all tried to please their female fanbases with women on the team, but have never actually admitted that hey: there’s an equal number of women and men in the world!

    I guess my point ultimately is that no character is perfect. Characters rely on each other, forgive when they shouldn’t forgive, let their emotions rule them, and often have stereotyped and harmful ideas of the world constructed by society. The only time this becomes a bad thing is when these harmful and stereotyped ideas of theirs construct society rather than reflect it. And Joss often does a very good job of this. He’s a feminist icon while still being a pop culture icon, and I love him for it.

  • Anonymous

    Xander’s quippy comebacks cannot be interpreted as a demonstration of superior position by anyone who was ever in his underdog position in high school. If anything, his obvious retreat behind verbal barbs and defensive cynicism is a clear display of his own perception of relative weakness. To translate his verbal exchanges with Cordelia, which were exactly in line with his verbal exchanges WITH EVERYONE ELSE who wasn’t BFF Willow (and sometimes even Willow) as Xander having “routinely degraded her (Cordelia) in the way women have been so quickly depleted for centuries – sexual humiliation”, is flat-out nonsense. He’s exhibiting his insecurity in a relationship with the cool/mean girl who ruled his school in exactly the way nerds do: nervous witticisms which hold all the bite of a geriatric Chihuahua. And does Cordy break down in tears, her heart rent, her soul laid bare to the mockery of the world? PLEASE. She dismisses them, exactly as she’d dismiss any similarly powerless sniping from envious underlings.

  • http://twitter.com/Kitsgeekychick Akemi Oyanedel

    Intresting point of view, but what about characters like Zoe of Firefly/Serenity?? even when she loose her husband does not fall apart, she’s really strong and independent she got married because she wanted no because she needed it..

  • http://twitter.com/Theyeballkid Laparus

    While there are some things in this article I would argue against, I have to agree that Xander is a sexist, ignorant douchebag.

  • http://twitter.com/Theyeballkid Laparus

    I disagree with Zoe’s going into full-battle-mode as not being a reaction to Wash’s death. Anger is a perfectly valid reaction to the death of a loved one, I always took her going into battle mode AS her reaction to his death. Not everybody tears up right away at these things. Also, from that moment on Zoe was a lot more stiff and uncommunicative, it was plain she was holding something back which is, again, a valid emotional response.

  • http://twitter.com/Lemikonkon Siobhan

    although this is late to the party:
    My rebuttal to this article can be summed up in one sentence:

    The point of Buffy getting punched in the face, is that she gets back-up again.

    There’s no point representing a character as strong if all she does is win. Its easy to be strong/brave/happy/smart when you win, but it’s a lot harder when you lose. That’s the strength of Buffy’s character. Sure her boyfriend goes evil after she sleeps with him, so what does she do? Stabs him in the goddamned chest to avert the apocalypse, she doesn’t cry in the corner or have anything magically work out for her, she doesn’t get rescued, she fights long and hard to do what she believes is right.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1117415813 Peter Welch

    This argument rests on the false assumption that the characters’ primary, show-to-show motivations are sexist mores living in Whedon’s head. It seems to me that Buffy’s need for a kind of classic, trust-driven, supportive relationship, as well as her inability to maintain one, makes a lot of sense for a girl (or a boy, for that matter) who was abandoned by her dad and spends most of her time doing a life-threatening job she doesn’t want. There are all types of relationships in Buffy, and many of them are confusingly ugly because that’s what high school and college are about, and the first six seasons are pretty explicitly metaphors for high school, college, and post-college. When he switches to doing straight up female empowerment in season 7, he doesn’t do an especially good job of it.

    Buffy relies on all of her friends at some point, because that’s what people with strong social support structures do. This isn’t constant dependence on men, this is dependence on people around her, and just because some of them are men doesn’t make it sexist. If Buffy never made a decision for herself and deferred to men because they systematically weakened her self-esteem by telling her she was irrational all the time, and the show implicitly approved of this behavior, it would be sexist. The characters who do that to Buffy are universally villains.

    Giles’s role isn’t shadowy-man-power, it’s “replacement father figure,” and he plays that role for Willow and Xander, too. Buffy did take Riley for granted, and the concept of him “sexually undermining” her is just weird, suggesting there’s some kind of sexual fortress Riley breached, instead of just cheating on her because he’s as bad at intimate communication as she is.

    When decent men say (or write), “you make me feel like a man,” it means, “you encourage me to be mature by expecting me to take responsibility for my life.” Granted, maybe the language hasn’t quite caught up to this concept in a gender neutral way, but cut some slack, yeah? And what on earth is “suitable” about Anya?

    It’s also unfair to build this sexual punishment and Whedon-approved sex argument, then brush off Kaylee as some flippant, unrealistic man-fantasy. Every time I hear Kaylee or others like her described like this, I wonder if I’m the only person in the world who has dated sexually liberated and occasionally shy women who can fix cars. I know proof by anecdote isn’t proof, but these people exist. There are realistic and unrealistic depictions of them, but Kaylee, if my memories of high school serve (full disclosure: my memories of last week rarely serve), is spot on.

    Anyway, I don’t think Whedon is a paragon of feminist virtue, I think he’s an excellent writer who writes strong, believable characters when he’s not trying too hard, and many of them are women. More disturbing to me are his casting choices, since the average body size for a Whedon girl is -5.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robert.bedenbaugh.39 Robert Bedenbaugh

    Honestly, the biggest flaw in this article is that almost all your examples of sexism were from the bad guys, or at least, not entirely good guys. Starting with Xander, Xander is flawed beyond belief, with an extreme prejudiced against vampires, likely brought on by the whole Jessie thing (let’s forget that Jessie doesn’t get mentioned, like, ever). Xander likes Riley because he’s human, and someone Xander admires. The number one thing I always see people forgetting is that just because a character says something doesn’t mean we’re supposed to support it. We’re supposed to see Xander Harris as a bit of an asshole, and sort of Crusades-type person regarding vampires. We are not supposed to blindly support Xander, and as for Buffy running off to try to catch Riley, let’s remember, we’re not supposed to see Buffy as the most healthy individual either. She isn’t supposed to always make the right choice. Feminism is not about women always being right, it’s about them being equals. In the Buffyverse, this pretty much means everyone is horribly screwed up.

    Moving on to the treatment of Faith, once again have to remind people that just because the “heroes”, whom we have already established are flawed and likely mentally traumatized due to their experiences. The way they treated Faith is supposed to be seen as wrong. In fact, I’d say that it is not that we are shown that they are right because Faith is crazy, but that they, with their stupid hypocritical actions have in fact pushed her there. This is backed up by Season 7 and her world-saving actions in Season 4 of Angel. She’s still promiscuous, but now, she is stable and sane. Basically, she’s only like that because she’s undergone more trauma than the Scoobies combined, with it happening in a short timespan, already coming from a screwed up background that makes Xander’s parents look sane in comparison, and then, the people she desperately wants to accept her treat her like shit.

    Moving on to Firefly, again (and seriously, at this point, people who write these kind of articles need this tattooed on their eyelids), just because a character says something doesn’t make it acceptable. Jayne is a douchebag. Sure, there’s some good buried deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down, but that doesn’t overshadow the fact that he is doucheier than the bastard child of Michelle Bachman and Trent Reznor. The “I’ll be in my bunk” scene is supposed to highlight, yet again, he’s a pig. Also, I don’t even get your complaints about Zoe. You seem to be anti-showing emotion, but anti-not-showing-emotion. Pick a side. As for the companions, it is repeatedly established that they can accept or decline any client as they please, are 100% autonomous outside of government regulated health checkups, a logical thing in their field, and do much more than sex. Again, you’re arguing that Faith in BTVS getting insulted for sleeping around is wrong, which I agree with, but then you argue that Inara sleeping around, choosing partners at her own discretion is also wrong. I’m not going to bother arguing the fact that Fox ORDERED Joss to put , and this was their words, a “space hooker” in the show.

    Finally, Dollhouse. I am going to have to get this taught in schools: just because characters do something does not mean we should support it! This is why society freaks out over Doom and Halo and Call of Duty and Marilyn Manson and KISS and, at one point, the Tango (yes, the dance). Because although we argue that people are not mentally retarded, we constantly return to the point of “People are too stupid to know who the bad guys are.” Because in Dollhouse, we are not supposed to root for the Dollhouse. We are supposed to be against it. The entire idea is supposed to be wrong. The characters in it, barring the Dolls, are Anti Villains. They are villains, but we sympathize with them because they are main characters, and have human qualities. Joss did this intentionally. It is meant to challenge you. You are meant to realize you are watching the bad guys. This is how reality is. Outside of World War 2, there are no clear-cut heroes and villains. The heroes do villainous things, and the villains can be sympathetic and tragic characters. Not every villain in fiction is Skeletor or Angelus or Cobra Commander. Villains are not twirling evil mustaches in real life and are not proudly evil. Real life villains believe THEY are the heroes. Dollhouse is about those people. The ones who history will remember as evil, but in their minds, they were doing the right thing. It’s about seeing their motivation and understanding that even the bad guys are human beings. The fact that you are revolted by the treatment of the Dolls and feel the “It’s okay because we can wipe it” mindset is wrong isn’t some backlash against the horrible morals of the show, it’s the intended reaction. You say “By the way, let’s recap: The Watcher’s Council? Predominantly male. The Alliance? Predominantly male. The handlers and Dollhouse’s client base? You got it. In each of these shows, the largely faceless entities determining the fates and roles of women are male.” The fatal flaw in your entire argument is highlighted right here. The Watches’ Council? Villains. The Alliance? Villains. The handlers and the Dollhouse’s client base? You got it. In each of these shows, the largely faceless entities determining the fates and roles of women are evil.

  • Akai Koru

    You know I’m a guy, and I appreciate the insight you bring. When I saw the title of the article I was sure I was going to head to the comments section and have numerous things to argue about. But you make some good points. I guess what I would ask as a follow up piece (and I apologize if you have written about this earlier I am new to your site), is a description of what a good strong female show would be? No good character can always be strong, and no good character can be devoid of character flaws. In at least some of your points it would seem other than replacing some of the male characters with female ones it would make little difference about who was who. You forgot Willow who moves from geeky almost invisible girl to someone powerful enough to destroy the world for the love of her girlfriend. Yes she is stopped by Xander but not through sexual or physical intimidation but by platonic almost childlike love.

    Would it have made a difference if the Alliance was run by women? Or the watchers council? It certainly would have changed the dynamic of women punishing or ruling women. But wasn’t the point that the watchers council a powerful body of men couldn’t control Buffy? That Echo was stronger than the process that made her a “Doll” (which you seem to have forgotten the woman running her dollhouse was a woman). Wasn’t it Inara’s right to use her body as a tool to make money? She wasn’t being subjugated by a man forcing her to do it. She chose that life (as far as I can remember from the episodes at least).

    Does a strong woman only appear strong when she has no reliance on or connection to a man? Or does a strong woman appear strong because of her ability to jump out of the dominance, find her way, and thrive regardless of the odds men stack against her?

    My wife (who unfortunately died at age 31 this year) drew enormous amounts of strength from Buffy. She loved the show and despite her cloistered life she felt power in Buffy’s strength. I can’t say Joss is the end of the evolution. But when my son’s favorite cartoon is Kim Possible (ya that cartoon should have had endless episodes) and more and more shows propel women to the equal footing they obviously deserve; I can’t say Joss isn’t helping build on the first floor and perhaps a staircase too.

  • Akai Koru

    It was impossible not to love Kaylee. I think Whedon’s shows are amazing for his ability to create an ensemble and have each person play a different part of a whole. The characters of Firefly were all extreme examples of states of mind/personalities most of us have through life. Crazy and brilliant (River), Brash and Chaotic (Jane), Stubborn yet caring (Mal), Kind and Honest (Inara), Shy and Hardworking (Kaylee) Duty-bound and Strong (Zoe), Faithful and playful (Wash), Scared and Tender (the Doc). He shoves them in a jar and shakes them up until they have to find ways to communicate, and to care about each other.

  • Akai Koru

    Just 1 more thing. Regardless of your views I think most of us will at least agree that any story about Buffyn and about breaking down it’s philosophical motivations is nice to see. Great entertainment should be looked at and critiqued more often. It’s nice to see someone think more about a show than the topical and tangible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marion.leblanc.756 Marion Leblanc

    (Well, to star with, I’m sorry for any mistakes or oddities I might do redacting this. English is not my native language. Thus said…)

    I enjoyed reding this article.

    I am from the lot who have always been a little unconfortable with Whedon’s feminine characters, and, as a woman, I have trouble to identify with them. This is a reccuring issue : most screenwriters are male, and I think that wedging into the psychology of the opposing gender is more challenging that most people would know.

    I agree that those characters are better written than many other on TV, and when Whedon say that he wants them to be strong, that he is a convinced feminist, I believe him. However I also agree with most of what’s in Simons article. Strong women in Whedon’s works – judging from what I have watched – suffer more abuse than their male counterpart, expecially in sex/love related plots.

    Of course, there must be hardships in order to establish that they are strong. But I think Simons is right when she is desappointed in the way the characters react to them. It often lets down that they are not, in fact, as strong as intended. The piece abonds in exemples, so i’ll drop remaking them. That does’nt mean it’s wrong for the audience – men or women – to enjoy them, even to identify with them. (Many people who responded to the article noted that the characted needed flaws to be interesting. They do.)

    But reality is often plural. It can be both true that Whedon’s character are intended to be strong rolemodels, and that they fail (at least, for a part of the audience). The whole point of the argument is knowing if they fail on the author’s purpose, or not. Simons implies the second, (though it is not, from my point of vue, the core of her paper), when some, if most, or her opponents stand for the first. Having a definitive answer to that question implies to be Whedon’s psychanalist, I’m afraid.

    Is he consioulsy feminist but has unconsious mommy issues that he seeks revenge to ? (No offence, I’m purposely caricatural.) Is he pretending to be feminist just to treatcherously air some sexist message ? Or his he so pessimist that he can’t imagine his beloved female character not being punched in the face by the mean phallic society ?

    I guess my ultimate opinion about Whedon’s work is that he means well, but he oversimplifies the gender issues in a way that make his position clumsy. I mostly enjoy his shows, but I don’t think, that he will ultimately, make the women cause take a big step forward.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Mal was actually my least favourite character.

  • Anonymous

    Although I liked the series to some extent, I was never fond of Buffy as a character. She always came across as too eager to please and overly mopey. I mean, I know a lot of awful crap happens to her, but you can’t survive that many disasters (emotional and potentially-world-ending) without developing a slightly thicker skin and a bit of a backbone! Why did her personal confidence not grow in proportion to her fighting capabilities?
    I also hated Angel in Buffy. It just made no sense to me that Buffy was constantly pining for him! What did he actually DO to make her fall in love with him exactly?

    Their relationship kind of looks like a predecessor to the infamous Bella and whats-his-name to me! The ‘Oh I love you even though you are a terrible danger to me, break my heart often, do awful things to other people and repeatedly tell me you long to drain my blood,’ trope? Or is that the ‘it’s okay if he’s a bastard half the time because you can fix him’ trope? :s

  • Anonymous

    really interesting article…Although at least according to Whedon himself the sex trade being respectable thing was intended to be kind of a satirical thing(its in commentaries and things) but wow interesting article!

  • Anonymous

    Mal got tortured, had his ear sliced off. Doubtless Jayne thought for certain he was going out the air lock, given Mal’s zero tolerance elsewhere (kicking the henchman into the engine). If you watch carefully, Jayne is a character with perfect luck; doesn’t get hurt or suffers like the rest. It’s just a storytelling method of tweaking the audience’s expectations, that the potential snake-in-the-grass jerk fares better than everyone else (since black and grey hats tend to be swiftly punished or made example of by fate, in fiction). Likely, Jayne would’ve been the last one standing, if the story was given enough time, which would served to be maddening to the audience. Provoking a reaction is better than pandering.

  • Anonymous

    That treatment of Firefly does seem a bit… overly belligerent. “War stories” doesn’t change Zoe’s role at all: She’s very much a capable warrior even though her husband throws a hissy fit. And there’s no indication that a concubine is “women’s highest role in the new order” – Inara is simply the person with thew highest status on the ship, which isn’t saying much. You know, being a strong person isn’t having power and being respected by everyone in-universe. It’s coping with adversity, which all the Firefly characters do in their own ways, both men and women. And that makes the viewers respect them, even though they are uneducated, outlaws, lunatics and prostitutes.

  • grrrimamonster

    I completely agree. And I hated Faith, even after her “reform”. She was untrustworthy throughout the show, gave off unpleasant vibes in general, and I personally thought she was kind of gross. (Not the actress at all, I like her; just the character.) Anyways, Buffy’s being “punished” for sex is all sort of realistic…people who are honest with themselves about what is truly good and pleasurable won’t really benefit from things like careless sex with anyone and everyone, and overindulgence, and all that. Faith is left to be “punished” in a less metaphorical way…her relationships, and arguably most of her life, is meaningless, and any relationships in the future will be very bumpy due to her past experience. (I suppose I speak here more or less from experience, but I digress.) And as far as Buffy and Angel, that wasn’t really punishment, in my opinion, but an unfortunate reality. I guess you could say it suggests teen girls should be more careful in choosing to have sex or whatever, but I think that’s unrealistic (to an extent). What happened with Angel was just a sad aspect of life. Buffy had plenty of healthy and unhealthy sexual experiences throughout the show. I never had a problem with the way Joss depicted them, even if I had a problem with the events themselves.

  • http://twitter.com/hattn mr bojangles

    check out the s8 & s9 comics! faith gets kind of a new role and some responsiblity and handles it quite well

  • http://twitter.com/Abhorsen327 Ana

    Actually, Spike in Season 6 did not have a soul (he got his soul back immediately after the assault in Season 6). Nor does having a soul imply that you are a truly good person, even in the Buffyverse.

  • K B

    The portrayal of Inara was problematic in that Companions were supposedly respected, revered even, but one of the strongest perspectives on the show — Mall — saw her as a prostitute. There was also only one episode that I can recall (planet of Jayne the Freedom Fighter) where her job had a positive outcome. So, I think Whedon has good intentions but his execution was flawed.

    I never got that Buffy was considered a slut. In fact, I never thought it was the sex that turned Angel into Angelus. It was the afterglow (comfort in another’s arms rather than coitus). Yeah, and I saw it as tragedy rather than punishment. Mostly, I saw sex on Buffy being portrayed as “it happens.” Neither a good nor a bad, necessarily, but a fact of life.

    I do think that Whedon finds fightin’ women sexy. So, is he acting out adolescent fantasies, or is he a feminist? Nothing to say it can’t be both.

  • K B

    It wasn’t only Mal that treated Inara like a prostitue. That view was also expressed by… oh, that guy on the planet of businessmen when Kayle wore the giant pink dress. And the link between prostitution and Companions was also made explicit on the planet of the Wild West with the brothel and the former companion.

    It was an interesting attempt on Whedon’s part, but for me, he failed in the execution.

  • K B

    I think Whedon did a decent job in many respects — the Frankenstein storyline, which was essentially a parable about domestic violence, for example.

    Also, all of Whedon’s storylines are very much informed by violence (physical and otherwise).

    Ultimately, I think of Buffy as a strong character, not a weak one, and it never occurred to me to think that any of his female characters were being punished for expressing their sexuality. That Whedon was offering titillation to the viewer, yes, both in the form of sex and violence as sex.

  • Moribund Cadaver

    One key thing about Firefly that many have overlooked is Whedon has explicitly stated: don’t read each character as his voice. The cast in Firefly was designed as the most varied and complex array of any of his work. Whedon has stated that Mal, for example, does not actually share his own politics. Even if Mal is the hero of the story. Likewise, there are many insinuations in the dialog of the show itself that nothing is black and white, and everything is morally relative. Mal embodies a certain kind of idealism that is powerful but simplistic. Inara and her position in society was, I believe, being set up for much more commentary later down the road.

    The Companions of Firefly’s universe are highly esteemed, and they were something more than “prostitutes”. But just as Mal’s politics are problematic, he was allowed to get his own dig in: that no matter how Alliance society tried to dress it up, women like Inara were being used as high priced prostitutes. Viewers should bear in mind Mal is a rough edged person, and not very eloquent. It seemed pretty obvious that all his interactions with Inara were far more nasty than they should have been, and Mal realized this, and was constantly frustrated by it. Because he knew he had a valid point, but was incapable of expressing it well. The Serenity film alluded to this, with the reference to Mal’s behavior finally having driven Inara off the ship.

    Given that we are only judging the construction of all this based on an aborted half season (!) my own feeling has been that in time, the real conflict with the Companions would be revealed to be something similar in construction to the Slayer line in Buffy: women had been empowered, given a position of sacredness and great personal agency, but cunningly placed within a framework of greater control by a patriarchal society. And in the end this would call for a revolution: mirroring that of Buffy’s realization that the Slayer line had to be broken out of the mold that had been set in place for it by males.

  • Moribund Cadaver

    One small observation: why is there no mention that, in the culmination of Buffy, it’s Buffy herself who realizes that the Slayer line has been placed within a system of control by males, and that the only way forward is to break free? And she (and Willow) succeed in exactly that: destroying the mystical control in place that prevents more than one woman from being empowered at a time. Essentially filling the Earth up with an army of slayers far beyond the control of the Watchers council or anyone else for that matter?

  • http://twitter.com/ClaireCaterer Claire Caterer

    Excellent reply to the post. Riley was perhaps the show’s most troublesome character for me. I didn’t like Buffy running after the helicopter, but karmancop is right: A good story isn’t a feminist tract; it’s about flawed people sometimes making bad decisions. The story arc of the show is Buffy’s growth and coming into her own strength. Riley had some legitimate complaints that Buffy was closed off from him, but his solution to the problem was gross. Good riddance, Riley. But I think Buffy realized too late that some of his complaints were valid. And let’s not forget, Buffy spends this whole show learning about things–she is a teenager, after all. And as karmancop says, she challenges everything–the Watchers, the Slayer-creators, the whole SYSTEM of slayerdom. She is strong, but she is complex. Go Buffy.

  • Anonymous

    (By the way, let’s recap: The Watcher’s Council? Predominantly male. The Alliance? Predominantly male. The handlers and Dollhouse’s client base? You got it. In each of these shows, the largely faceless entities determining the fates and roles of women are male.)

    Did you miss how male authority is portrayed in a villainous manner?

  • http://www.facebook.com/dianna.deem Dianna Deem

    I, too, have begun to question Whedon’s feminism, but for different reasons. I think Whedon is ultimately less concerned with feminist issues than he is with his own issues.
    When Spike is in full-on stalker mode (s5), it isn’t about the realities of dealing with a stalker. He’s chipped, and harmless, so he’s just a nuisance, rather than a threat. Buffy engages with him, takes her family to him for protection, and doesn’t revoke his invitation to her home until after he’s had her chained up to hold her against her will.
    Once his invitation’s been restored, it never does get revoked. Not after she finds out he can hurt her again, and not after the events of ‘Seeing Red.’ As a matter of record, after ‘Seeing Red,’ Dawn wants to go be with Spike, and Buffy’s willing go along with it.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m Spuffy to the core, and I think I understand why they made the choices they did, but the issues that come up again and again are addiction, abandonment, loss, and bad dads. I think that has more to do with Whedon’s own history. Mom dies and your dad doesn’t want you around? That’s gotta hurt. It’s also (IMO) why most of the adults in the show really don’t matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LucyM121 Lucy Merriman

    I feel like some things are being taken out of context. For instance, in ‘Dollhouse,’ there was a lot of violence against women, but it was always perpetrated by “bad guys.” You aren’t supposed to revel in the violence, you’re supposed to be appalled by it and root for Echo and the others to win.

    Also, I don’t think it’s sexist to portray most governing bodies as male or male-dominated; rather, it’s a reflection of the real world we’re in now. Most countries governments are entirely or mostly made up of men, as well as leaders of other powerful institutions: religions, Fortune 500 companies, even school boards. Pitting the young feminist rebel against the masculine Powers That Be is a metaphor for the struggles young women face today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/H.I.M.HorriblyInappropriateMan Taylor Guest

    Of note is also the ending of “War Stories”, with Zoe saying ‘This is his fight, he has to do this himself’, with a quick retort from Mal of ‘No, help me!’.

    As hysterical as the line is, it’s also one final bad ass moment for Zoe.

    And as for her treatment of Wash’s death, I just have one point to make: When else did you see Zoe in a dress?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708927181 Debbie Valenta

    For years, I’ve believed that Whedon was a closet misogynist. I thought I was the only one until a quick Google search disabused me of THAT notion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/battyward Heidi Anne Ward

    Also? He’s jealous. Simple.

  • Anonymous

    I was pretty disappointed with Avengers in that respect (and the Marvel lineup in general). Black Widow had some good moments, but doesn’t do a whole lot. Maria Hill was just kinda there, and that’s it. Thor is getting a 2nd movie, Cap is getting a 2nd movie (because the 1st one was soooo great :P), Hulk is getting his 3rd reboot (give it up already), and they’re planning Doctor Strange and Ant Man (Ant Man?! Really?!) movies to introduce them to the Avengers. They’re bringing Coulson back from the dead to star in the Shield tv series. But Widow and Hill? Nada. Spider Woman, Ms. Marvel, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Tigra – no mention of any of them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Belinda-Short/726896152 Belinda Short

    Except that they are using the fact that Mal is jealous to make this point. He doesn’t like what Inara is doing, but its purely selfish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Belinda-Short/726896152 Belinda Short

    Her job would never have a positive outcome because of Mal. He was showing his jealousy, and trying to ruin any relationship they could have by overstepping.

  • http://www.facebook.com/boris.greenland Boris Greenland

    your concept of feminism is so very shalow…a strong female is someone who has sex with everybody, and has no emotional attachments??? that´s being a woman version of the alpha male! and cordelia??? she was the typical Machist woman, you´re crazy?? she says things like “it´s not a date until the guy spends money”, she bullys other woman for what they wear, she only cares about beauty standards, there are many women like her out there, who are “sexually free” and ,nevertheless, machists. Buffy, the show was feminist, the characther itself wasnt really, she was just a regular girl finding its own power, it had to do with growing and learning and making mistakes, and by the way she defys the authority of the council many times, and quit working for them on season 3. on season 5 they meet again, but she stood up to them and afirms her power and put them in their place. there are a few valid points in your text, most notably the lame Parker story, but you´re way out of line mostly…

  • http://www.facebook.com/boris.greenland Boris Greenland

    some people shouldnt watch anything really, if someone portrays a rape in a show it means he is defending it??? that´s insane…All those acts of violence and rape are tottaly condemned by the show… spike was evil when he did it, and that was the bottom for him, when he decided to find a cure and regain his soul, the episode billy it´s a tottaly feminist episode, it shows how horrifying mysoginy is…camon people, let´s use our heads to interpret things

  • http://twitter.com/kelexyn Kelly Digh

    I think the gleefulness comes in from the fact that Saffron succeeded in screwing them over once before, and it’s only through Mal’s ingenuity and Jayne’s big gun (Vera, omg, I love Vera) that they didn’t all get fried. Mal even tells her that; Saffron points out she didn’t kill them, and Mal tells her that she left him and his to those that would kill them, and that buys her nothing. So by the time “Trash” rolls around, Mal is definitely gleeful over being able to put the screws to Saffron and anticipate not only her double-crossing them, but HIS NOT BEING ABLE TO STOP HER THIS TIME, EITHER. Which is where Inara came in. Even though Mal couldn’t “beat” Saffron, he could definitely out-think her, with the help of his crew, and THAT is why “Trash” is so “gleeful” (and I’m not even sure I’d use gleeful; I’d maybe use something more like “excited”) about Saffron’s “mistreatment” because she’s gotten the upper hand once before, and now the good guys do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alan.smithee.56 Alan Smithee

    Too bad, because “Dollhouse” was the only Whedon work I liked, until THE AVENGERS came out. Ah well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruth.leavitt.3 R Louis Hodges

    What I found most upsetting about the Saffron storyline was the lack of acknowledge that putting a woman in Mal’s position of being married without his knowledge and sexually harassed by an unwanted spouse is technically rape.
    So no, I don’t consider Saffron’s comeuppance unwarranted or severe. She’s simply placed back in a trap she’d planned to arrange for someone else without any extraneous punishment. It would be fair to do (and believable) to a male con-artist, and it’s fair for a female one.

  • http://eclectickle.wordpress.com/ Angelo Barovier

    Personally, I think the fact that we can have this discussion AT ALL is a wonderful thing.

    I’m a latchkey kid from the 80s and, quite frankly, Buffy TVS was one of the most refreshing things which ever happened in my television educat–, er, viewing. When held up to the original Dallas, or Falcon Crest, or Airwolf, or MacGyver or pretty much anything else I grew up watching, Buffy was a departure from the usual fare. I learned to look at the world differently even though I didn’t know it was happening. All the latent support I had for my own role models — my mother being the sole parental influence — was cast in a new light.

    Certainly, it wasn’t the only thing. However, it reached me through one of my most willing channels, my love of fantasy/scifi. I am unquestionably grateful for that. Not because it gave me all the right answers but because it caused me to start asking the right questions.

    And to address the question of this article, I reply with Eowyn (from LOTR) (both the source and the movies). Many argue that she is merely a token female warrior in a field of male warriors and heroes, and is thus unworthy of note. I argue that she is worthy of note precisely because she is a woman who battles heroically within a tale almost utterly dominated by men. As others have noted, Buffy and co are remarkable not because they are heroic women set in a world which accepts them as such. They are remarkable because they are heroic women who, despite their heroism, are still confronted by very real world attitudes and conventions.

    Anyway, lest I blather on for pages, suffice it to say that Joss Whedon’s feminism is certainly flawed (even when we set aside “the who wrote what and who was overseeing when” detail). However, even at its most flawed, what he put on screen was still miles ahead of his male contemporaries. There was a socially egalitarian underpinning which, for the life of me, I will always cherish.

  • VJ Lute

    I don’t understand why certain feminists get so angry when a sexual relationship leaves a woman hurt on television. Not everybody is interested in casual sex, and many people do get hurt in real life when they are manipulated in that way. I’m interested in seeing characters on television with emotions I can relate to, not some robot with the ability to have endless consequence-free sex.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.shirray Jeff Shirray

    Not sure what issue you have with Samantha Carter, but as a previous/contemporary example of powerful female characters, I would point towards Commander Ivanova, who in October 1997 said “Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova. Commander. Daughter of Andrei and Sophie
    Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance, and the boot that is going to
    kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart! I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RaSmassvv4w

    Delenn and Lita Alexander were pretty strong female characters as well.

  • http://twitter.com/carelessriver Caterina Maria

    Thank you. I had to hit the “more comments” button twice before anyone gave a flying frak about River — why was she not counted? Her interactions with men are pretty significant; it doesn’t matter that they’re not sexualised per se (though one could make arguments re: Badger and Early). She’s still a main female character and the driving force behind quite a lot of what happens in “Serenity”.

    Yes, I know, the article is two years old. It was on a sidebar today.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=708927181 Debbie Valenta

    ” the issues that come up again and again are addiction, abandonment, loss, and bad dads. I think that has more to do with Whedon’s own history.” Whedon is the SON of a woman who was, in his own words, a radical feminist. We want our parent’s approval yet at the same time need to rebel against them to affirm our own identities and/or get back at them for wrongs both percieved and actual. That, to me, explains Whedon in a nutshell.

  • Red VonMunster

    Having a character NEVER depend on men isn’t feminism either. Sounds like the articles writer was just trying to knock Whedon down a peg and they failed miserably.

  • colagirl

    Mal’s behavior did not drive Inara off the ship. She made the decision to leave at the end of Heart of Gold and it was strongly implied that she chose to leave because she was developing feelings for Mal and didn’t want to get too close.

    That being said, I disagree with almost everything in the article and agree with almost everything in the first reply. I have my issues with Joss as a feminist, but I agree that the article takes things massively out of context and oversimplifies them. The author is also missing the “deconstruction” aspect of a lot of Joss’s work too. For example, Xander’s fantasy of having all the women in town chase after him? Sure, that’s a hot nerd fantasy, so Joss took us and showed us what it would really be like if that really happened: disturbing rapidly escalating into actively frightening. It certainly wasn’t presented as any sort of dream come true.

  • Nat

    If you listen to the commentary on Objects In Space, Early approached each character differently in taking them out because he studied them. He locked Zoe and Jayne right quick, knocked out Mal, talked to Simon and confused the hell out of him, took out Book because Book is a secret badass, and intimidated Kaylee physically to cow her.

  • Amanda Cox

    If I had known 2 years ago that this article existed, it would have made my life much, much easier. THANK YOU. This is everything I’ve noticed about the Whedonverse, but I’ve never known anyone else to make the same observations. Whedon may go on about how he supports women and tries to write “strong female characters,” and praise himself up and down for how “progressive” he is, but characters who are strengthened either by carefully monitored or controlled sexuality, and perhaps a few kung-fu scenes, are NOT empowered. If anything, it provides an even smaller scope of what a female character should represent, and belittles the positions of women who try to engage with this media even further.

  • Geoff Stark

    I’d like to address each series separately but I want to start by agreeing with another poster- whether or not Joss Whedon is a feminist, he’s certainly affirmed my belief in the importance of feminism.

    Buffy:
    A horror soap for high schoolers, BTVS challenged a lot of norms and highlighted many important issues that teenagers weren’t much exposed to by mainstream media. Buffy is a strong woman in a male-dominated world, and we see her struggle constantly with the burden of demonslaying (which needs to be done and CAN be done by- well, just her) and her desire for self-determination. Her romantic relationships tend to be awful trainwrecks, which reminds us that physical strength and resilience do not equate with emotional strength- a lesson that should be heeded more, particularly by young men growing up in the macho-indoctrination pit that is public high school. We see Xander struggling to keep up with his superpowered ladies, only to realize at the culmination of the Dark Willow saga that his most helpful gift to give is one of nurturing and compassion- a distinct reversal of traditional gender roles. Willow deals with issues of powerlessness and more power than she can control, alternatively. She and Tara were one of the few lesbian couples on TV, and I found their relationship to be extremely moving, because of the realistic strengths and flaws it possessed. Buffy not only vanquished evil, she conquered her own feelings of doubt and low self-worth, she challenged the status quo, defied the power structure of the Watchers and brought them to their knees, and carved out a space in which she could shape her own destiny.

    Firefly/Serenity:
    Seriously, name a male character that is stronger than any other female character! I can’t do it! Zoe, Kaylee, Inara and River are the backbone of the family on board that little ship, and each of them are indispensable. While much is made of Mal’s war record, Zoe is the one that was most feared and respected for her part in the war (granted, some of this context comes from the comics, which shed light on her days as a “dust devil,” a ruthless commando). Kaylee effortlessly balances her femininity with her mechanical prowess, and is comfortable enough in her sexuality to make frustrated declarations about the unsatisfactory state of her sex life to the whole crew. River is perhaps the most broken individual in the show, yet she uses the very fact of her trauma, and the scars it gave her, to take revenge and ensure her freedom from her tormentors. Inara, now that’s a tricky one. Yes, she is a courtesan. One that is incredibly smart, wields her words like scalpels, chooses only the clients she wants, and goes where she pleases. In some ways she is the most powerful person on the show. It seems like a lot of the people bemoaning her relationship with Mal never heard Morena Baccarin’s reveal that Inara WAS DYING THE WHOLE TIME. Their interactions are extremely puzzling and incomplete until you know this important tidbit. As for the menfolk, Wash reveled in his wife’s strength and stoic competence, Mal freely admits that his own strength comes from his mother, and the example she set by creating a family for herself, Simon cares for his sister while also calmly accepting that she is far smarter than he is. Nor does he belittle Kaylee for being less educated (well, he tries once, and gets slapped down hard). Jayne has no close bonds with the women and we see how much his life suffers for it. The women of Firefly provide so many facets through which to view the strength of women, and that strength is celebrated and depended upon heavily by the men.

    Dollhouse:
    Unlike many of you, I loved this show- I thought it was a brilliant cautionary tale about the limits of control and the indomitability of the mind, the self. Caroline/Echo agrees to be obliterated, then slowly crawls back from the abyss, reassembling herself from the pieces of herself and other flawed/incomplete people, to take on the scariest evil corporation I’ve encountered in fiction to date. Tell Adele she’s not strong and watch how quickly you end up buried in a shallow grave with your balls floating out to sea. I don’t think it does women a disservice to show strong women deal with impossibly huge problems and encounter moments of weakness on their way to triumph. This post is already long and my brain is tired, I can’t really articulate all of the things that I love about this show. To me the most unpleasant example would be Mellie, a personality that exists solely to nurture (and deflect) Paul. Both Paul AND Mellie, when they realize this fact, are appalled and disgusted by it. Paul discovers that he doesn’t like what it says about him that Mellie was the perfect trap for him, and Mellie realizes just how incomplete and unimportant her own self is compared to the Dollhouse’s plans for Paul. Sierra overcomes the rape of both her body and her mind to exact vengeance, and comes through it able to actually trust and love someone again.

    Now, all three of these shows take place in a world where rape and sexual violence and patriarchy are not only commonplace but integral to the structure of society. If they didn’t, they would do a poor job of holding up a mirror to the real human condition, which to me has always been the point of good fiction. I would love to see the patriarchy disassembled and put away forever, and I believe someday it will be. However in the here and now, what can you do to make that begin to happen? And how will you survive while it’s happening? The path from here to Utopia will be longer than a single step, and I think Joss has done a great job of exploring potential routes with his characters.

  • Ruby Dynamite

    As a former sex worker myself, I have to agree — Inara was my favorite character on Firefly, with Zoe and Kaylee basically jockeying for the exact same spot, because that’s how much I loved all three of them.

    Something that I’m not sure the original writer might have considered is the other side of Inara’s profession. Even though she’s a courtesan and spends much of her time with men, sex doesn’t always enter into it — just like with real sex workers, I imagine many of Inara’s clients were simply lonely and desired her cultured companionship. She’s a very, very well-educated woman, very cultured and well-mannered, but she can teach Mal how to sword fight like a pro, put a misogynistic pig of a client in his place by getting him blacklisted from the Companion registry, and slyly helps Mal and Zoe out of hot water by pretending to be their mistress. I always looked at Inara as the other side of Zoe’s coin — Zoe is perfectly comfortable fighting like a man, with guns and fists, but Inara has the political clout and education that Zoe wouldn’t really know what to do with (or even have the patience for).

    Now, I have to say – again, as a former sex-worker – that I loved the way that they portrayed Inara as feeling absolutely *zero* internalized or externalized shame about her profession. Whenever Mal tries to belittle her or humiliate her for her choices, she never fails to smack him down for it. Because, if anything, feminism is supposed to be about women being allowed to choose for themselves — and Inara chose to continue as a Companion and probably would have gone on to become house priestess for House Madrassa, had it not been for her illness (something I never knew about — but now everything makes *so* much more sense). She’s a woman who went through years and years of training and education in order to get where she is — it’s a calling for her, deeply rooted in her nature. Companions aren’t trafficked women or at-risk women choosing to become Companions out of desperation — the Firefly wiki states that they come from good families, which, to my mind, implies that the students face no duress or pressure to become Companions (at least because of economic difficulty – considering their highly respected status, I could see families really wanting to have a daughter who wanted to be a Companion, though we don’t really get much of a sense of that from the series).

    Inara is one of my most favorite female characters on a show. Granted, yes, on the very surface, she does seem disempowered, but as someone else pointed out – with Inara’s years of training, her education, her ability to choose her own clients or blacklist the ones who cause trouble – in the context of the universe of the show, even as a woman of color, I daresay she is considerably more privileged than most of the other characters on the show.

  • Mark Neil

    Not that hard to believe. All of history has been interpreted and twisted in much the same way.

    It just goes to show… nothing will ever be good enough to satisfy some people. There will always be more needed, more demands heaped on, more offenses that need to be righted.

    I will say, it is refreshing to see some feminists standing up against this kind of distortion.

  • LANE

    I think the punishment of strong women in his show is meant to highlight the realities of being a strong woman in a patriarchal society. He’s not saying strong women should be punished, he’s pointing out that they are. I think this is an important message because women are often told that being strong means everyone likes them and finds them attractive, but usually being a strong woman means you are up against some major forces, and men and women alike may tear you down.

  • LANE

    True, but Buffy seems to learn that being looked at as a mystery the must be regulated means she is very powerful. The Watcher’s Council seems to be a depiction of the male attitude of fearfulness towards a strong woman in a patriarchal society.

  • LANE

    Why is it that we get angry at writers for depicting the world in such an honest way? Joss Whedon is a genius at portraying the world as it is (in a magnified lens of course). His summation of reality is particularly true for women. I find it refreshing and well done.

  • LANE

    I’d also like to mention that the female “doll” is the one who has the strength to foil the system.

  • LANE

    Why is Zoe expected to act “like a woman” instead of a soldier anyways? Why is she expected to mourn immediately? I am a woman, and I am usually disconnected from feeling. I would probably react in the same way. Grieving the loss of a loved one takes a lot of time and it is ridiculous to expect a character to show strong emotion right after it happens. Some people aren’t that way, they go numb instead. It is equally acceptable for someone to break down and show emotion. Neither makes you more or less of a woman.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, I have no love for the ending of the Anya/ Xander relationship. Or a lot of the middling. But I see it far less as chauvinism as useless spineless flaking on Xander’s part. He doesn’t collapse his future with Anya because he’s dismissing her dreams as womanly, or because he’s foreseeing a future of bouncy woman-parts he’ll miss if he’s married…he does it because marriage is complicating, and a commitment, and might require that he spend the rest of his life living and prioritizing someone he really first got involved with because she told him too and he was too spineless to say “no”. He’s fine with the risking-his-worthless-life bit, but the actual tough slog of day-in, day-out being the person a damaged, historically socio-misfit other can lean on? not in his moral make-up. The beginnings are pretty obvious, with all the slights and derisive put-downs, when he clearly wants to establish that he finds Anya’s malaproprisms tedious and irritating in order to distance himself from her.

    The final episode left me absolutely cold: this woman, whom at one point he claimed to wish to marry, who very clearly loved him, learned to trust despite hundreds of years seeing all the reasons men should be distrusted, and treated as her primary connection to the mortal world she had left, dies in battle, and he basically shrugs and says “Well, that’s my dope!” (yes, I know that’s not the line). No, you idiot. She was heroic. Because she learned to love humans again by loving you. And, even after it was clear your ‘love’ for her was mostly about poking genitals into a pretty girl, she didn’t turn against humans because she’d grown. But way to turn that into a punchline.

  • Anonymous

    So rumor has it that Nicolas Brendan was supposed to play Malcolm Reynolds.

    Can you imagine that portrayal? It’s funny, because I really despised Nathan Fillion’s bad guy in Buffy, and loved his Mal. I think Brendan played Xander in a perfectly believable, capable fashion….and yet I can’t begin to picture him pulling off a Mal that I could like.

  • Anonymous

    I have a hard time reading Faith’s sexual exploits as anything but a substitution of physical intimacy and control for emotional intimacy and trust, and of deliberate cultural deviation for the purpose of being ‘bad’, not purely because she was independent. If anything, her promiscuity illustrated weakness more than independence….like a teenager (which she was) saying “Oh yeah? Watch me do the taboo thing!” Of course, since she was flying under society’s radar, her reverse-psychology response was especially pointless…to whom was she trying to prove her point?

    Inara pretty much makes sex a job, and socialization a job. Her life seems very, very lonely…until her non-sexual interactions with a crew that doesn’t treat her as a possession, a goddess, or anything else but a person. I would, so very much, have loved to see where that storyline could have lead. Would she have reached a real relationship with Mal, and would this have led them to have to face the scenario where she no longer can separate out her sexuality-as-work from herself, and yet the crew relies upon her power as a Companion to cover their borderline-criminality?

  • Emily Rence

    I completely agree with regard to the series finale. I was left really upset with him, more so than usual. But also very impressed with the Anya arc…you are correct, her growth was incredible and really put Xander’s minimal growth into perspective in that her death was surprising to viewers when they considered how far she came, where Xander’s reaction was totally expected and typical.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, there’s a certain irony in that the non-mortals (Anya and Spike) showed so much growth in such a short time, compared to the humans who, while they did shoulder lots of adult duties, seemed to become less responsible in regards to their powers and interactions with others.

  • Ted Hendershot

    Not to, you know, mansplain. Just my opinion. But I think this comment is dead on. Gina Torres’ performance was amazing in that scene–I thought it was amazing to watch her grieve but also keep her shit together. Remember that she’s been a soldier for a long time, it’s not her first loss on the battlefield. Even then, she loses a little control and wanders out from cover to take on the reavers hand-to-hand, which I interpreted as grief and rage–appropriate emotions for anyone who’s just lost a partner.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    I agree, I think there is a double standard going on. Feminist critique is great, but there’s a pint of nit-picky that contradicts itself. The writer does this to herself here. I’ll echo (haha, get it, “Echo?”) karmancop by saying that some of the evidence against Whedon-as-feminist are taken out of context of the stories of the respective shows.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    My interpretation of prostitution as a dignified career in Firefly was meant to show that this is where society will go if it continues as it is: prostitution will be a desirable profession, women will have lost respect for themselves up to the point where disrespect for women is (literally) the universal norm.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    I’m glad to find that so many of these commenters realize how out of context this post is …
    And a great point you make, that by Whedon showing “anti-feminist” situations, he’s really giving us a dialogue about the role of women in a positive way. Clever fellow, he is.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    well, Mal is a selfish character. That’s his character, regardless of gender roles.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    agreed. just because the main character holds an opinion does not necessarily mean that the writer(s) do(es). We must consider all the characters, their relationships to each other, their portrayals in context, etc. Not to say the writer here isn’t right on some things. But the ones I’m familiar with, I saw some flaws.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    Let’s consider the world in which all these characters live and why it might have been constructed that way. not to say that Whedon wasn’t supporting the effects of prostitution as a dignified career, but he wasn’t necessarily supporting it simply by portraying it as such.

  • DarkLightAvenger

    agreed %100!

  • DarkLightAvenger

    i agree with you about the evolution of society. I feel that is what Whedon was trying to demonstrate. Unless this article’s writer can personally address Whedon and get his reasoning for creating the worlds/characters/situations he did, then it’s all just feminist theory (not necessarily bad theories, either, just somewhat flawed).

  • Michael Greco

    I know I’m a little late to this party (don’t know how I missed this article for two years) but I wanted to add my two cents for what it’s worth.

    I won’t rehash any of what karmancop said, because they nailed it.

    What I wanted to point out was your problem with Zoe after her husband Wash was killed. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say you’ve never served in the military, right? Because her reaction to Wash being killed is exactly how we’re trained to react in combat. You shelve your emotion until the fighting is done because to do anything else is to put your life, and the lives of your entire squad, in jeopardy. What use would Zoe have been when the Reavers attacked if she was curled in a ball crying? Absolutely zero. She did what she had to do, took charge and gave the crew a fighting chance. No matter how far removed she is from her military career, you never stop being a soldier. Ever.

    You also said we get no reaction from her, verbal or non verbal, the rest of the film and that just isn’t true. Her emotions did flare up; she got reckless while fighting the Reavers and got a nasty cut because of it. This is a woman who has been shown to have a tactical mind and be able to maintain a cool head when the bullets are flying and she just stands up and starts plugging Reavers while leaving herself totally exposed? I don’t think so, not unless she wasn’t thinking straight, which will happen to a person when they witness their spouse die. Also, you might remember this exchange from the final scenes of the movie:

    Mal: You think she’ll hold together?

    Zoë: She’s torn up plenty, but she’ll fly true.

    Mal: Could be bumpy.

    Zoë: Always is.

    They weren’t talking about the ship. They were talking about Zoe. But since Mal is never one to get sentimental, and Zoe is still recovering from the loss of the one thing that made her feel like a human instead of a soldier, they play it off like they’re talking about Serenity. But it is clear by their faces and body language that they both know what the other one means.

    Your final thought is that Zoe is depicted as “oblique, tough, and voiceless in the face of deep change” because she’s a woman of color. I’d argue that she’s that way because she was a combat veteran on the losing side of a brutal war. I have friends I’ve served with who are exactly the same.

  • Milty10

    Feminism’s kind of ambiguous. It can’t be about equality, there’s enough of that going around, and inequality, because again, there’s enough of that going around, and in both instances I mean for everyone. Race, gender, planet of origin; we’re almost all of us mistreated equally, though some more equally than others.

    So what I seem to miss is exactly what are we supposed to do. Can’t call em ladies, gals, or ma’am or eeven women as in “mailwoman” or “policewoman” because it’s somehow disrespectful (though calling women “guys” is appropriate for some reason), can’t make them register with selective services because it’s illegal, can’t make jokes about hurting them sexually, though nut-shots are mostly what make American’s Funniest Home Videos and YouTube big hits.

    Where’s that equality? There isn’t any, as I see it that’s fine. Men should not be emasculated by society, women not made masculine. So someone made a show and people are upset because of how women are depicted? I can think of bigger issues than that, but let’s not forget that men aren’t exactly getting treated like kings here. Being villainized, disparaged, regularly depicted as oafs and monsters, the “dumb dad” image married to trusty “supermom”.

    Or, and this is just another thought, it’s freakin’ TV. It doesn’t mean anything more than being TV. Want to talk equality, let me know how that looks once they’ve stopped demonizing men and making male life disposable and irrelevant bullet fodder.

  • Anonymous

    }}} descends from a line that was literally created by men – a formation that stems directly from the male anxiety over an inability to create life the way that women do. And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control.

    Oh, God, save us from PostModern feminist drivel masquerading as intelligent discussion.

    I just stopped reading this tripe with this sentence.

    Get out of the ghetto, girl. Stop parroting the crap you’ve been fed by your PostModernist idiot surroundings. “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”.

    You might have noticed that there were FEMALES on the Watcher’s Council, as well as FEMALE Watchers. But of course it’s ALL inherently “male” because that fits the agenda you started this garbage with. You can shoehorn anything into any shape box if you push violently enough.

  • RocketGrrl

    Here’s the thing. He may not be “a perfect feminist” but that doesn’t make him any less of a feminist. I bet if you talked to him now with how sexual politics have changed and exploded in a positive direction, he would probably rethink his stance on female sexuality in Buffy.

    You’ll notice this if you watch other series that Whedon writes such as Firefly. One of the main characters is a Companion. And one of the episodes revolves entirely around defending a brothel run by strong independent women who are fighting for their right to 1. Not only run their own business in a male dominated society, but 2. Ru a sexually explicit and proud of it business in that society.

    As he’s grown so has his ideas of feminism, like any reasonable human being. Perhaps you should take a look at Whedon outside of an isolated bubble and see how he has EVOLVED in his ideas of feminism as a person.

  • RocketGrrl

    Yeah Buffy often is collapsible by the men in her life, but frankly, for a young, stressed out woman, that happens in life…. what he always and consistently does, is show her overcoming these collapsing obstacles and coming through them stronger. I disagree that she is ever dependent on them. In fact she consistently chooses to push them away to pursue her higher calling.

    Here’s another thing…. I also think the author had some things just wrong in the article.

    Buffy sleeping with Angel wasn’t an attack on her purity, it was a celebration of the power of how strong love is. Love breaks the curse. Unfortunately the curse was something we wanted to stay in place. Everything having to break the curse and having sex to break the curse is directed and revolves around Angel and his mythology, not Buffy’s (This curse/sex stuff carries over into Angel without Buffy). That she could break it was meant that what happened between them was actually something real, something true, and not just a passing fling.

    Back to the not dependent on the men and ultimately collapsible by them? After Angel loses his soul, Buffy has to kill him. He regains his soul at the last minute, but it’s too late. She still makes the decision to kill him and do the right thing. She shows her strength. And in the end saves the damn world.

  • RocketGrrl

    Watchers Counsel: Yeah Giles is a man, but the Watchers Counsel is men and women. Don’t over blow this to bias towards your purpose. And, I’m sorry, control? From day one, Giles has had relatively little control over Buffy who has always been rebellious, especially when Faith entered the picture. Both Giles and Buffy stand up to and ignore the Counsels direct orders and times, and in the end Buffy fires the Watchers Counsel completely and utterly rejects their presence as unnecessary and ultimately harmful for her cause. You are picking points and not establishing them in context.

    Men Creating the Slayer: Men may have created the slayer but even they admitted that it took the strength and balance of a woman to do the job necessary to fight this kind of evil. It also does not mean they can control her. The slayer is still her own autonomous person capable of making her own decisions and fighting her fight. And in the end when Buffy is offered more power by them she rejects the power offered by these men.

    Buffy Bot: Yeah this was gross.

  • RocketGrrl

    Don’t worry, I think she has the whole thing completely wrong. I am a huge feminist, and am an obsessive Buffy fan. She’s cherry picking her arguments and ignoring how Whedon refutes them himself.

  • Anonymous

    While I consider Dollhouse an obvious male fantasy that basically uses the date rape defense of prostitution (Its OK- she won’t remember) – I think you go a bit far with the “woman in peril” argument.

    Action shows put the protagonist in peril- or they are boring. Was Die Hard misandric because John McClain runs around from pan to fire and back again? He also gets punched a lot- now make that role female- and the writer is a huge misogynist. No- not really.

  • http://www.silverpixiefly.com/ Silverpixiefly

    A good example, Cartman on South Park. The writers don’t usually agree with what he says and that is the point.

  • http://rocketboy1313.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    I imagine the retort would be, “She is too good at everything”. She is, by a wide margin the most competent and by the book character on the show and thus lacks the necessary flaws to be a great character. Ironically she lacks a lot of the problems that make Buffy a great character, and the majority of this article completely untrue.

  • Colbie

    If you’re looking for flaws, Sam’s would be falling in love with her commanding officer. As for her being ‘too good at everything’ – well, she’s a genius. A genius is always going to have the answer. Except, maybe, in combat. She didn’t have all the answers there and that’s because she was ‘by the book’, as you say. She lacked intuition – another flaw. Much like Tony Stark who has all the answers because he’s, guess what?, a genius!

  • http://rocketboy1313.blogspot.com/ Anonymous

    “Firefly” got canceled too early in its run to draw any real authorial intent from a supporting character like Inara. You could cut Inara from the show and not really lose anything, so saying that it has a definitive message is not very honest.

  • stella

    I know this is months after you made this comment, but thank you. As a fellow sex worker its wonderful to see this expressed so eloquently. Thank you.

  • CantStopTheSignal

    Yeah, this article completely lost me with the part on Zoe.

    “Placing Zoe firmly back in the category of ‘woman’ rather than ‘warrior,’…” Yeah, I’m going to flat-out say that I didn’t see that happen, since ‘woman’ and ‘warrior’ are not mutually exclusive and Zoe can be, and has been shown to be, both.

    “Though the fight is portrayed as childish…” Yes, it’s portrayed as childish. It makes Mal and Wash look bad, not Zoe.

    “Zoe permits herself not the slightest time to mourn, going into full battle mode…” Um, yeah. Because they were all about to die. Mourning is for later, when you’re not going to be eaten and flayed by Reavers. She was also clearly affected, as she definitely loses her cool during the fight.

    Oh wait, the author addressed the mourning-is-for-later-thing: “nor do we get any reaction, verbal or non-verbal, from her for the rest of the film.” At this point, I’m not sure we were watching the same movie. Everything about Zoe, from Wash’s death on, is a non-verbal reaction. In fact, not talking is actually how some people grieve. There are completely strong and feminine people who do not like to show their emotions. For them, grief is a private thing. If Zoe is one of these people, of course she’s not going to mourn publicly like this author seems to think she needs to in order to be a wife and then a widow.

    What I got from this article is that Zoe didn’t conform to what the writer of this article thought a woman, wife, and widow should be, and that those three are somehow incompatible with being a soldier. I know enough women, wives, widows, and soldiers to know that there is a lot of variety and this writer overlooks that.

  • Elokin Sremmus

    Xander and Anya. Where to begin, Anyanka was troubled from the get go. She spent 1000 years inflicting pain on men. She reveled in it. “Vengeance isn’t what I do, It’s who I am” She lost her Identity when she lost her powers. For her to be able to become close with Xander was HUGE. Xander was always insecure, he was a dork. If you watch Xander from Ep1 to the end he grew as a person. He was still a bit douchey But most people are. When xanya got together, it was so cute and fun. Anya was a great character, Xander tried to get her to understand social rights and wrongs. Sometimes he did that in a dick way. But He still loved her no matter what. He loved her to the end. When he left her at the altar, it wasn’t because he was scared of marriage, or solely because what he was shown. It’s that it was his BIGGEST fear to turn out like his Father. Do we all forget that Xander was the Child of two abusive alcoholics for parents? Remember early in the season, when the scoobies would be in the basement and you could hear xanders parents fighting upstairs. Throwing stuff and yelling. He grew up in an unstable abusive home. His father treated his mother like a doormat. To be Honest considering what he saw as a child for him to grow up and be as respectful as he was is great. Xander gets a lot of shit for not supporting buffy, for not coddling her. He did the best he could with what he was taught and grew up with. Xander was doing his best, but that fear of hurting her in the end is what kept him from going through with it.

    Buffy being weak is total crap, Buffy was Emotional. Plain and simple, I don’t get why ‘strong women’ must be cold. Like why can’t she kick ass and cry? She had a bad track record, it’s true. But to say that those relationships were her being weak is more bullshit.

    Angel – First of all CREEPY. Stalker. Unhealthy relationship that emotionally and mentally scarred Buffy for life. (plus if you get into the comics it gets worse) The relationship they had was like most people at 16. You fall hard and fast and NOBODY can tell you anything about that person. Buffy blamed herself for Angelus, they all did. But Angelus wasn’t Buffy’s fault it was Angels. She was HIS true moment of happiness. He should have never let the sex happen. She was vulnerable, and emotional. (also technically it was Statutory rape Considering he was 246 and she was 17) He should have never let it happen. He had been keeping it in his pants for like 100 years.

    Parker – We ALL have had that one guy who we thought was great and things were good until we have sex. Then they forget your name and act like they don’t know you. Say Hello to the stereotypical Douchebag. We cry over them, we feel like we are worthless. WE act like Buffy did.

    Riley – Granted I really dislike him while the show was on the air. But after a re-watch Riley was a good guy. He was the Dependable, strong man, who come to find out has flaws!!! *shock* He was abused by his government, lied to by his mentor, and almost killed because of them. He reacted like a person would he Fell into some dark stuff. On Buffy its vampires IRL it could be alcohol, or hard drugs. When he told buffy that she needed to deal or he was gone, that a normal reaction. You can’t accept what I’ve done and help me move forward? THen i’m out. Which in the end was best for both of them because Riley was headed down the path of character deaths for the sake of a story. Buffy chased him because she didn’t want him to go. She loved him.

    Spike – Oh this right here. So much to say not enough words. Spike and Buffy had the most destructive relationship ever. But in the end it was beautiful and amazing and great. Spike loved her more than he loved anything else in his life. But in the end he decided he could no longer be her whipping boy. (again comics people read them) Buffy had such power of spike and she exploited it. She used him and abused him for her own needs and reasons.

    Giles – First He was Stuffy watcher guy, Then she saw him as a father figure. That is what he was. Her father. He defied the council, for her. She needed him as all girls need a father. She loved him as her caregiver, mentor and family.

    To say that Buffy was a weak character is just insane. She isn’t weak She’s Freaking Human.

  • MRAAlternate

    There is a strong ideological undercurrent that some in the contemporary feminist establishment strongly wants to subvert in Joss’ work. Joss is the opposite of a ruthless totalitarian, some of contemporary feminism at its top levels is damn near Maoist. Articles like this are sociopathic feminists trying to justify their inability to feel anything compassionate. Buffy is a very feeling character – INFP in Myers-Briggs. Lilah Morgan is ESTJ – a villain. Maggie Walsh is ISTJ. The I/ESTJ’s will always hate the INFPs and vice versa in any real life or fictional context.

  • RocketGrrl

    Joss shows the range of humanity. Not just an “ideal” feminist. He shows actual humans. People and, women, and their flaws, but also, and most importantly, their strengths… and highlights them.

    You have to understand that he’s a man and inherently can’t completely understand women and their perspective but he does try. In that it is admirable. He presents strong female characters and they inevitably come out on top no matter what they face. All the while allowing them to also be human, which is not a flaw.

    I am an aerospace engineer, an actual rocket scientist, so your meyers-briggs bullshit doesn’t actually mean shit to me. I find it trite. We have an ally, while he may not be perfect, he is still an ally. Look at Zoe, Kaylee, River, Inara and Echo.

    Just because some feminists believe certain things, doesn’t mean you have to. Personally I believe in equality and thinking for myself.

  • MRAAlternate

    It’s arbitrary taxonomy, but put me in a room with anyone who comes out ESTJ by filling out the questionarre and I’ll fucking hate their guts. It’s not any sort of real diagnostic system for practical application. Joss doesn’t write every episode, there are men and women who work on the shows.

    The reality is that people see the world through different lenses. Some of these lenses are ideological, others are intellectual, others are emotional. The Myers Briggs is good enough and, like most psychological examination taxonomy, has full spectrum rather than 16 distinct personalities which behave in 16 distinct and unvarying ways.

    I’m not promoting Myers-Briggs so much as indicating that there some people who will want to suppress ideologies in Joss’ work. Some feminism is very opposed to self-sacrifice, Buffy is relentlessly self-sacrificial (especially culminating in her willingness to die for her sister). In S7 she’s willing to put herself at risk for Spike even after their troubled history both by telling Wood to back off and by having the chip removed. Echo is also extremely self-sacrificial.

    In Season 4, Willow criticizes the lack of concern and compassion shown by Walsh which comes to the forefront in her attempt to assassinate Buffy.

    Lilah Morgan in Angel is extremely demonized for being a cut-throat corporate superstar.

    Justine is criticized and ultimately locked in a closet for months by Wesley due to her persistent dedication to vengeance.

    Anya also is demonized for perpetual misandry as a vengence demon.

    There are themes that the real “power-broker” feminism will want to get rid of in Joss’ work. There’s some good reasons for this, as the world really is pretty cut throat and it requires a lot of stepping on people to get your way, but also some bad ones in the sense that a lot of people will always detest that morality.

    It comes down to the fact that Joss Whedon ultimately quite directly and intentionally shames both men and women for failing to exhibit altruism. There are large segments of the population who want to destroy the promulgation of such ideology and people who will attack things that legitimately do shame them out of a sense of frustration.