Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Joss Whedon and feminism - part 1

I've reading Allecto's analysis of Firefly, latest installment here, and find myself reluctantly agreeing with a lot of what she has to say. I say reluctantly because I love Buffy and Firefly and am rather gutted that there is so much wrong with it.
When I read the first installment of Allecto's analysis I was rather taken aback. I didn't understand where she was coming from and as the piece was not intended as a radical feminist 101 it took me a while to understand it. Although I don't agree with everything she writes she makes a damn good argument for all of it.

I do believe that men can be feminists. I do not think that they are well placed to pick up on and recognise internalised misogyny and societal sexism because by and large it doesn't affect them. But men can identify as feminists. They cannot however preach to women about how the bets way forward to advance women's rights. They will never know what it is like to be a woman and to be treated as a second class citizen. When I went to get my mortgage with my boyfriend the mortgage advisor directed 90% of his spiel to my boyfriend. Despite the fact I was asking the questions, despite the fact that I earned the most. The boyfriend did not notice this, because he has never had to, because he's never been in that position. However, he fully supports feminism. This is fine. He, and all the other men out there, just don't notice 95% of the crap women deal with.

Anyway, I'm slowly going through all my Buffy videos, (I know, videos, get me not with the technology), and am currently on season 2. Bearing in mind what I'd just read from Allecto certain things, say, problems, were occurring to me whilst watching it.
During Innocence, where Angel loses his soul after he's slept with Buffy. The blame for this is put squarely on Buffy's shoulders. By Giles, by her other and by Buffy. By the time Willow tells her it's not her fault in I only have eyes for you, several episodes later, Buffy is thoroughly convinced it's all down to her. She's completely internalized the guilt and won't give any of it to anyone else.

She had been in a relationship with Angel for a pretty long time now. 6, 8 months, a year? She's 17 years old. In the UK, it's legal to have sex when you're 16. I'm not sure about the law in America. She knew she couldn't get pregnant, he couldn't give her STDs cos he's dead, they loved each other. She knew nothing about the curse. Jenny knew something, but couldn't tell anyone. What exactly was wrong with them having sex?

Giles later said to her "Do you want me to say you acted rashly and wag my finger at you? You did and I can." Buffy then looks destroyed. This is her one trusted and knowledgeable authority figure in her life, her stability, and he tells her that? She did not act rashly. Having sex is not a crime. Later on her mother finds out about it and is unimpressed. But that makes more sense, mother's don't like to hear about their daughter's having sex. But then in Passion Joyce puts the blame on Buffy again for Angel changing. How is this Buffy's fault? How is it ever the woman's fault? Angel's behaviour reads like a stalker. Yet this isn't picked up on, Joyce doesn't help Buffy stop it, just blames her. The two people Buffy cares most about have told her it's her fault that her boyfriend changed after sex. If she hadn't had sex with him everything would be still be all honey and roses.

Why is Joyce not showing her it's Angel's fault he's changed? Did he not have anything to do with it? Why is Giles not placing the blame squarely on the Romany tribe who put the curse on Angel? Everyone hates Ms Calendar but I get the impression that's because she wasn't open with them about spying on Buffy and Angel. Not because it's her tribes fault he's changed. Jenny calls her uncle out about the curse, but that's the only time it's mentioned.

This whole storyline makes a pretty shit morality tale - it removes all culpability from the man. I understand that maybe Whedon wanted to show how teenage girls feel after sex when their boyfriend turns into a jerk, but it could have been down without everyone blaming Buffy. She didn't know. How could she have known? And as such, how is it her fault? Angel wasn't raped, it was fully consensual.

Maybe there's other reasons the story was written this way. Maybe instead of intending to show how it's always the woman's fault and that sex for teenagers is bad, Joss wanted to show the difference between teenagers and authority figures (Buffy and Joyce/Giles) as opposed to peer to peer relationships(Buffy/Willow). Maybe.

Still, it's not all bad. Although in Firefly's Our Mrs Reynolds, Mal is obviously taking advantage of and abusing Saffron, in the Buffy episode Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Xander cast a love spell and inadvertently makes every woman in Sunnydale want him. Including Buffy. He doesn't however take advantage, and he clearly states that it would be wrong and he does the right thing. So, I am thinking that Mal's behaviour in Our Mrs Reynolds is not symptomatic of Joss being a misogynist.
Mal is a bit of a grey area when it comes to morals. He happily kills people, he steals and he beats people up, and he enjoys it. His behaviour with Saffron then indicates further that he is a jerk. Contrast this with Xander, who is most definitely a good guy, though a bit of a sleaze, he generally does the right thing. Ergo, Joss can write good feminist texts. Except that the Buffy episode in question was written by Marti Noxon, and Our Mrs Reynolds was written by Joss. Damn.


Ami Angelwings said...
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Ami Angelwings said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ami Angelwings said...

They cannot however preach to women about how the best way forward to advance women's rights

Yus. :\ Also b/c ultimately it wouldn't affect them directly, in that they wouldn't be the ones who have to deal with any negative consequences, who have to deal with being further marginalized.. they can support and help :)... but they can't say "okay I'm going to tell you girls what's best for you".. that's not what feminism is. :\

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post.

I agreed with some of what Allecto said, within the firefly universe, but I did not agree with how she connected it to Joss and his feelings. Firefly was set in a dystopia, and although Mal is the protagonist, he is by no means the "hero" of the show, and I think the show was written so that people would recognize this fact.

I agree with your analysis of the situation between Angel and Buffy, although, through my own experiences, my mother was not very pleased when she found out my boyfriend and I had been having sex, and when things went sour she pretty much said that it was because I slept with him that he turned into an asshole.

I'm glad that, although you are critiquing Buffy, you are not taking the comments and situations at face value and then adding your own background/ reading into the situation what you would like it to be saying. This is something I found Allecto's post littered with, and although she reads into certain situations one way, I can take the same situation and read into it in a completely opposite direction.

Thank you for making a nice critiquing post, instead of making it sound hateful and brash.

I'll be sure to watch for more posts.

Devin said...

What an interesting way to look at Buffy. I never saw the whole season, just the meat of it, so I'll have to back and re-watch (or in some cases, "watch). Thanks for giving me a reason to re-watch Buffy!

Saranga said...

Glad you enjoyed it! I plan to write a fuller response to Allecto's posts when i get a chance.

Hey I'm always happy to get more people watching Buffy! It's still my favourite show, and will remain so. However I don't think that means we can't call out problems with it.

Devin said...

I concur.

By the way, I love your take on allecto's posts! What frustrates me so much is that she doesn't allow for dissenting opinions to even exist on her page, so it makes everyone look like they agree with her.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Joss (or Marti, in this case) is glorifying the blaming behavior. I don't get the impression that we're supposed to think, "That's right, you tell her, Giles! W00!" I get the impression that not only are teenage girls spurned by their boyfriends after they sleep with them, but often, the people they are closest to turn against them. This is a societal problem, not "correct behavior."

This is the same thing I find with Allecto's posts. I don't think Joss is actively trying to make misogynistic behavior out to be correct behavior. He and the rest of his writing staff are just acknowledging it as a problem, as it is in this sans-vampires world.

Sometimes it slips by, yes. Sometimes Joss treats things in a more misogynistic way than he should, and I agree that he should be held accountable. But no one's perfect. And he does put forth the effort, which is more than we can say for a lot of people

Joshua said...

Interesting entry. I'm still deciding what I think about Allecto's posts on Firefly, but I did want to say some things in response to this one on two points.

First - Giles' talk with Buffy in the car in Innocence. I agree in that I can't see the harm in Buffy sleeping with Angel. But I don't think Giles is blaming her, exactly. I took that to be just an automatic adult response to any teenager they're responsible for (and Giles is a kind of father figure for Buffy) having sex. Most parents dislike their "daughters" (metaphorical in the case of Giles and Buffy of course) having sex, as you point out about Joyce in the original post, actually. The rest of the speech is quite supportive. He tells her that if she's looking for blame, he's not her man, and that all she will get from him is support and respect, and he says that he knows she loves Angel, and that Angel has shown on more than one occasion that he loved her back. So it doesn't really seem to me like he disapproves of what she did, and the first part of that speech is just him saying what his role (or what he perceives his role to be) requires.

As for the curse and why no one is blaming Jenny Calendar - in fact Giles spurns her in support of Buffy! He essentially stops talking to her until she's properly apologized ("I'm not the one you need to make it up to."). It's also important to keep in mind that if the tribe hadn't cursed Angel in the first place, Buffy's relationship with him would never have been possible. He would've just been Angellus, and she would've slayed him as she does every other evil vamp. So it's a true moral grey area.

This is the first post of yours I've read on Joss and feminism. Look forward to reading the others over the next couple of days.

Anonymous said...

This is probably going to be kind of a long response, but I will do my best to keep it concise. You see, I must respectfully disagree with some of your argument on the issue of Buffy having sex with Angel.
You mention that it is legal to have sex at the age of 16 in the UK. Here in the US, it varies by state; depending on where you live, the age of legal consent is anywhere from 16 to 18, with the exception of one state, which allows consent at 14 (interestingly, that state, among several others, has different ages for males and females; judging by our generally puritanical attitudes towards sex, you’d think that it would be the boys that are legal first, but in every single one of them, girls are able to decide first. So, in the aforementioned state, the legal age for girls is 14, while the legal age for boys is 16). In California, where Buffy lives, the legal age of consent for both girls and boys is 18. However, regardless of legal status, many people (me not necessarily included) still hold that sex is something that should be reserved for marriage, or at the very least for a much longer-term relationship at a greater age. Many people (including psychologists) are of the opinion that children (legally speaking again, under the age of 18-21, dependent upon location) are not mature enough to accept the consequences of sex, which can be true in many cases, hence the instances of dumpster babies here in the States.
My other disagreement stems from the utter lack of context for the statement you say Giles made about Buffy acting rashly. Please, I implore you, watch the episode again, particularly his initial reaction to figuring out that Buffy has had sex with Angel, and his mini-monologue at the end. Giles, bear in mind, is Buffy’s father figure, and she his daughter figure (remember, her parents are divorced and he has never married or had children). It therefore makes sense that he reacts in a stunned manner and looks, in my opinion, hurt; he, like most parents, isn’t ready to see his pseudo-child hit this milestone.
And now, for a complete transcript of the conversation between Buffy and Giles which ends the episode “Innocence”:
Buffy: “You must be so disappointed in me.”
Giles: “No. No, no, I’m not.”
B: “This is all my fault.”
G: “I don’t believe it is. Do you want me to wag my finger at you and say you acted rashly? You did, and I can. But I know that you loved him, and he has proven more than once that he loved you. You couldn’t have known what would happen. …[I]f it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is my support and my respect.”
Giles not only did not blame her for Angel’s change, he explicitly told her it wasn’t her fault. I have to go back again to watch Joyce’s reaction in the later episode, but I think I do tend to agree with you there; again, I think this is a “typical” mother’s reaction to her daughter having sex for the first time.
Anyway. Now that I’m over 500 words, I’m thinking all this blogging makes me feel like maybe starting a blog of my own…. Thanks, Saranga, for an interesting blog. I too want to watch “Firely” and see what all the fuss is about, I have read Allecto’s posts on how Joss Whedon is a rapist (which, by the way, is pure slander; no offense to anyone who enjoys her, but I do not) and I’d like to see whether I agree with her on anything she says.
So much for concise...

Saranga said...

Joshua and Anonymous:
I understand that Giles is a father figure, and I understand that he is acting as a typical father figure, e.g. not wanting his 'daughter' to have sex.
My apologies, I did not mean to take Buffy and Giles talk out of context or misrepresent it. As both of you point out, the rest of the dialogue is really supportive. However, I think that may be why the particular part I quote jumped out at me so much. (Possibly so much I forgot about the rest of the conversation...).
And I still think Giles' comment was out of order and gives a cofnlicted message.

Anonymous: Re the matter of the legal age of consent in American states. As you can probably tell I know bugger all about this! Maybe I should have looked this up before writing the post, but as I have written this from my point of view and my experience I still stand by my argument.
What the appropriate age of consent should be is another matter entirely...

Thanks for your input and respectfully disagree all you want!

Juanita's Journal said...

She had been in a relationship with Angel for a pretty long time now. 6, 8 months, a year? She's 17 years old. In the UK, it's legal to have sex when you're 16. I'm not sure about the law in America. She knew she couldn't get pregnant, he couldn't give her STDs cos he's dead, they loved each other. She knew nothing about the curse. Jenny knew something, but couldn't tell anyone. What exactly was wrong with them having sex?

In the U.S. Angel would be guilty of statutory rape. And adult can have sex with someone else 18 years or older in most states - including California. Two, Angel tends to exert his will upon Buffy . . . especially when he thinks it's for "the greater good". And for me, both tend to view the other in a rather ideal and immature way.