Friday, May 09, 2008

Joss Whedon and Feminism part 3

Ok onto part 3. Response to Allecto's second post here.
She's talking about the episode Our Mrs Reynolds. Synopsis nicked from her post:
Mal the captain of the ship finds out that he has married a woman when he finds a stowaway on his ship. The stowaway, whose name is Saffron, was traded to Mal as a gift because he helped the inhabitants of a planet to get rid of some bad guys.

First scene is Mal and Jayne driving a carriage. Mal's dressed as a woman. Allecto comments on the anti feminism of drag. I don't know anything about that myself, although it does seem to me that drag centres it's humour around caricatures of women and stereotypes of femininity. It seems the humour comes from contrasting the exaggerated portrayal of women with the tough natural manliness of men. I think this is what is happening in this episode. In which case, I do take issue with it because these portrayals of women are not real. Real women do not act like Mal-as-women does. And these caricatures piss me off, it's like a safe way to present a very one dimensional view of womanhood, and it presents this view as the truth. Plus yes, jokes about rape are not funny.

"A bit later Mal talks about how he likes to wear dresses with Inara. “Like woman, I am a mystery,” he says of his enjoyment of wearing dresses. Sorry, Joss, score zero for that one. Women aren’t a mystery, WE ARE FULLY CONSCIOUS HUMAN BEINGS."
Unfortunately I know lots of people who think the opposite sex are a mystery. Well they bloody well wouldn't be if people bothered to be honest with each other and quit playing games. Grumble grumble grumble.

"When Zoe is told that Saffron has been traded to Mal as a wife/slave she begins to laugh. She then calls the rest of the crew and invites them to join her in laughing at Mal’s newly acquired possession"
I think she's laughing at Mal, not Saffron. Laughing at Mal's predicament in acquiring himself a wife. (Not that's necessarily better). I also suspect that Zoe never thinks for one moment that Mal will treat her a slave. I think in this episode the mistake made is that the crew treat Saffron as if she has the knowledge, nous and experience to make her own decisions and choices when if she really were a slave, she wouldn't be able to do so. This storyline was not handled in a very sophisticated way.

I don't think that Mal shouting at his crew is indicative of misogyny or sexism, because I don't think he's shouting at them because they're female. I think he's shouting because he's the boss. I believe that the intent behind the action is important, but it does not always excuse the end result, if that makes sense. Of course, you can argue that the whole military set up is patriarchal and not women friendly, but to do that I think you'd have to argue that men and women are radically different beings. I don't think we are.

"And just a tip Joss....If you believe that women should kill men who try to kill them then, quite frankly, I agree with you. If you want to show your encouragement and support for women who defend themselves from men, then write a female character that kills a man who is trying to kill her AND GETS AWAY WITH IT. "
Agreed. Would not River Tam in Serenity count? She does kill all the Reavers. Something no one else has ever been able to do.

I don't understand why Allecto thinks Joss uses porn, and Hustler in particular, so I cannot comment on this point.

"White male husband wishing his black female wife was more submissive and cooked his dinner. Anyone else see a problem with this?"
I think it's possible to view this exchange without looking at race, that is, I don't think race is a motivating factor in Zoe and Wash's relationship, although I can see the symbolism of what Allecto is saying. And yes, this could have been written better, with more awareness.

Black female wife being jealous of a woman she terms a ‘slave girl’. Anyone else see a problem with this? "
I don't think Zoe is jealous of Saffron, I think she's pissed at Wash for acting like a dick and implying her cooking needs to be improved. Mind you, I can't see Zoe cooking anything for Wash. i reckon he does the cooking and household stuff.

"Given that Mal nobly believes in protecting the female members on board his ship from the ravages of ‘the world’ (read: men), I find it hard to credit that he allows Jayne to stay on board his ship. In this scene Jayne talks of women as sexual and domestic property, obviously unaware that women are human beings. Men who think like this about women ARE DANGEROUS. If Mal did care about the protection of women, he would have spaced Jayne immediately, or at least locked the fucker up."
Playing devil's advocate here, Mal does keep an eye on Jayne and watch what he's doing. But in a realistic setting yeah Jayne should be shot off asap. However, he's a good character to have on the show. From an outside, meta perspective, he's entertaining, his attitudes are ridiculous and we can laugh at him. And we know it's OK to laugh at him because we figure the rules of the show will keep him in line. He wouldn't seriously fuck up one of the female characters because that would be uncomfortable viewing.
From the view within the show we figure the women are safe because of this exchange:

JAYNE: Six men came to kill me one time, and the best of them carried this. It’s a Callahan fullbore autolock, customized trigger and double cartridge thourough-gage. He holds it out to Mal.
JAYNE (cont’d): It’s my very favorite gun.
MAL: The explosive diarrhea of an elephant, are you offering me a trade?
JAYNE: A trade? Hell, it’s theft! This is the best gun made by man, and its got extreme sentimental value! It’s miles more worthy’n what you got.
MAL: “What I got” - she has a name.
JAYNE:So does this! I call it Vera.…
MAL:She’s not to be bought. Nor bartered, nor borrowed or lent. She’s a human woman, doesn’t know a damn thing about the world and needs our protection.

Jayne is asking Mal for permission. He won't step out of line because he knows Mal will kick him to kingdom come if he tries anything. Plus, I think Jayne is a little scared of the female crew. He's definitely freaked out by River, he wouldn't dare lay a hand on Zoe cos he knows she'll kick his ass, Inara is out of his league and has the protection of Mal and the academy and I don't think he quite knows what to do with Kaylee. She's confident, clever and isn't intimidated by him.
Yes there are obviously issues with one man asking another for permission about a woman, but I believe that this used to highlight Jayne's sociopathic-ness (Is that the correct word?). The other characters do not treat women like objects so I don't believe the text as a whole can be read as endorsing Jayne's view.

OK one more to go. As usual, comments and criticisms welcomed. Especially as I'm not a literary critic and wouldn't know those methods of analysis if they bit me on the nose.


Lord Runolfr said...

It eases my mind a bit to have your responses to Allecto's rants paralleling my own in some ways.

I will say that I don't think Kaylee or any other female members of the crew are in danger of a sexual attack by Jayne. Despite his many faults, Jayne seems to at least want apparent willingness from women if he wants sex; he doesn't seem inclined to force himself on anyone.

I will say this about Inara and Companions in general: the "respectability" of the profession is a sham. We see that quite clearly in "Shindig".

Anonymous said...

One thing you didn't bring up is your views on male feminists. I think it's ridiculous to call them Unicorns because they "don't exist". I completely believe they do. No, a man cannot completely understand what a woman has to go through. No, a man does not have to deal with it on a daily basis. But a man can make sure he doesn't say/do anything offensive, he can go out and educate other men, he can take part in marches/demonstrations (unless he is barred from doing so, which in some cases I think makes sense). He can be non threatening etc etc etc, and I believe that a man who does this is a feminist.

I also wish that firefly fans would stop sending her hate mail, because really, that's just fueling the fire.

I like the part in your post I don't understand why Allecto thinks Joss uses porn, and Hustler in particular, so I cannot comment on this point. simply because I was so confused when she made one of her leaps to this conclusion. I actually found it kind of hilarious because it was SO out of nowhere.

I also don't believe Zoe was ever jealous of Saffron, even in the slightest. And I think that Allecto's views of their relationship are extremely off base.

Thank you again for these posts.