Thursday, May 08, 2008

Joss whedon and feminsim part 2

I've been re-reading Allecto's posts on Joss Whedon here, here and here. As I said previously when I first read what she had to say I was taken aback by the forcefulness of her feeling. I didn't understand what position she was coming from and the amount of hate in Allecto's text shocked me, nonetheless on first reading I was left feeling uneasy because some of what she was saying seemed to make sense. Now, I like having my views challenged, I like reading new things, but it does take me a long time to mull things over and get my thoughts in order. Anyway, the end result was my previous post.

Now I've had time to think I've decided I want to go through Allecto's posts and respond to them. This will not be an attack on her, as I've said I think a lot of what she's written is valid. I mostly want to get my thoughts in order and exchange ideas. Like Allecto, I think Joss as producer and in charge of concept development of both Firefly and Buffy he should be held accountable to the content of each show. Fine. Let's get some general points down first:

  • I do not think that Joss is a misogynist, neither do I think him sexist. I think he is trying to overcome sexism and misogyny, however being male he is always coming from a vantage point of male privilege and so will always always overlook some issues and representations etc. Lacking the lived experience of being female he will also not be able to fully understand what it means to be female in patriarchal society.
  • Buffy and Firefly are two very different shows, with different characters and different moral standpoints. Both demonstrate different world views and I don't think either should be used as an indicator of the writer/producers mindset and worldview. what goes for Buffy may apply for Firefly.
  • No matter how much I love this show or others I think we should always call out those responsible when we see errors and offensive material included in the show. Both programmes were written by a man in a patriarchal society and will undoubtedly reflect that society.

Ok, let's go:
Post number one: A Rapist's View of the World: Joss Whedon and Firefly
Allecto stated in the first line that this a rant. To me this means it is angry and not necessarily well planned out. Don't give her grief over the presentation of her arguments ok? (Quotes from Allecto are in italics).

"Zoe runs around calling Mal ‘sir’ and taking orders off him....a white man tells a black woman to ‘shut up’ for no apparent reason. And she does shut up. And she continues to call him sir. And takes his orders... for the rest of the series."
I don't see this as an issue of race. I think it is clearly set up in the episode that they are in the army together and Mal is the Captain. In an army setting you take orders from your boss or you risk getting killed. You trust that your orders are good ones because if you start arguing and breaking the cohesiveness of the unit you put your squadron/unit/whatever in danger. Although we could ask why not have a black female captain and a white male subordinate.

I don't think Firefly is very good on issues of race, not because of scenarios like the one above, but because for a show set in the future where there's a huge Chinese/Asian influence on the culture there are remarkably few people of Asian descent included. This has been rectified slightly in the comics, but really should have been recognised and rectified when casting the show. Also, I suspect that a lot of the Asian cultural references, e.g., furniture, dresses, background stuff etc, are based on stereotypes and may not actually reflect the true diversity of Asian culture in existence today. I say suspect because I'm cynical - I know next to nothing about Asian culture.

"Jayne asks Mal to get Kaylee to stop being so cheerful. Mal replies, “Sometimes you just wanna duct tape her mouth and dump her in the hold for a month.” Kaylee responds by grinning and giving Mal a kiss on the cheek and saying, “I love my Captain.”
What the fuck is this feminist man trying to say about women here? A white male captain who abuses and silences his female crew, with no consequences. The women are HAPPY to be abused."

I read Mal's quote as Mal showing up Jayne's inherent ridiculousness. Jayne probably would see no problem with duct taping Kaylee and shoving her in the hold for a month. Kaylee recognises this, hence her response. Jayne is the counterfoil in a lot of Firefly - he's a real selfish git who doesn't give a stuff about anyone else and is something of a sociopath (I think that's the correct phrase). He's out for number one and he truly doesn't understand why duct tape and imprisonment are bad things. Mal is also flawed, he's got a dubious morality (more on that later) but he's not as much a low life as Jayne.

Now Mal and Inara. Mal behaves awfully towards her. He consistently calls her a whore because he's uncomfortable with her job. He says he respects her not the job and does stand up for her when another guy gets too possessive, yet he calls her a whore and ignores her requests to give her privacy. I'm totally with Allecto on her views on Companions and Mal and Inara's relationship. I diverge a bit regarding Inara servicing the entire crew.

I think there are implied differences between Inara with a client and Inara talking to the crew. I think Inara is a thoughtful, diplomatic person and that she talks to the crew and supports them because it's in her nature to do so, she also argues with them when disagreements arise. I don’t think she’s being exploited here, I think Inara and the crew are having natural normal relationships and I don’t read it as a problem. However you could argue Inara’s training has shoehorned her into being this way and as such she is being exploited, but on a more subtle level.

Regarding Allecto’s points about the series being action centred and homoerotic, personally I like action. I like gunfights, I like fist fights and I like explosions. Whether it is homoerotic I think is debatable. Mind you I have issues with the term homoerotic anyway – yet again it places sexuality with men not women. There’s a picture of a hot topless male – it must be homoerotic, because of course only men have sex drives! Women could never be turned on by pictures of naked or near naked men. ‘Homoerotic’ takes away women’s sexual legitimacy and engagement. It implies that we are passive. And that’s bollocks.

“Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour. I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and possession.”

I’m sad to hear that. Allecto’s experiences are terrible ones. Without meaning to denigrate Allecto’s experiences I would argue that it is possible for white men and WoC to have healthy relationships. Obviously not all relationships go well, most end badly (for partnerships of all colours), but in mixed race relationships problems and failure within the relationship may not be down to race. I don’t think race has an impact on Wash and Zoe’s relationship. However, I am white and I am coming at this from a position of white privilege and I am fully aware that this affect my readings of any text. As such, I will not pick up on all or any issues, particularly not subtle or hidden ones.

All thoughts and criticism welcomed.


Lord Runolfr said...

Maybe you can tell me if I'm crazy or not. I wrote some responses to Allecto on my own blog. I even sent her links in her comments area, but she didn't publish them.

I've kind of counter-ranted. I realize that I don't have the experience to have her point of view; I'm a guy, and I know that carries advantages. As you said, there are women's issues that I probably won't ever really understand simply because I won't be subjected to them.

Still, I think jumping from "Joss Whedon is a lousy excuse for a feminist" to "Joss Whedon is a wife-beating rapist" is just... I don't know if there's a good word for it.

Anyway, here are the posts...

Serenity counter-rant
Our Mrs Reynolds (part 1) counter-rant
Our Mrs Reynolds (part 1) counter-rant

I've had friends of both sexes tell me it all makes sense, but that's kind of like having the choir tell you the sermon was great. I'm wondering what an impartial, feminist reader would think.

Anonymous said...

One thing that I found really off about the original text is Allecto's description of Inara.
Companionship is not like prostitution (as we know it) in this Universe. It is a high class social function, which Allecto briefly mentions, but then dismisses.
Also, the fact that she makes the general assumption (or at least it seemed to me that she did) that prostitutes in our 'world' are not intelligent, or educated.
There were just some things that stuck out when she was talking about prostitution that didn't feel right to me. I am not an advocate of prostitution (although I feel that the women and men in prostitution should be protected, not arrested so that they can safely get health checks and condoms without having to worry about the laws etc - I think the Johns are the ones who should get arrested).
Also, when she was talking about Inara "servicing" the rest of the crew it didn't sit right because what she was simply being a friend in most cases.
Then she makes another one of her leaps to Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Joss uses his own wife in this way. Expects her to clean up his emotional messes. Expects her to be there, eternally supportive, eternally subservient and grateful to him in all his manly glory. I hope the money is worth it, Mrs. Whedon. But somehow I doubt that it is. No amount of money can buy back wasted emotional resources. is it just me, or was there some sexism slipped in there? I hope the money is worth it, Mrs. Whedon. ? I don't care if this IS a rant, this is disrespected a whole lot of people, without any useful criticism. This is just her lashing out, which would be fine, if it wasn't so offensive.

Although I feel she made some good points, I feel a lot of it was just unhelpful hate coming out of her mouth. And although I do feel she does have a right to be angry, I don't think she has a right to pass judgment on someones home life of which she knows nothing about.

Saranga said...

Lord Runolfr - I will read and comment on your posts when i get a chance! Thanks for asking for my input, I'm very flattered. :)

Alimaemia: I'll be talking more about Inara and Companionship in my next post.

Lord Runolfr said...


While a Companion in the Firefly setting may be a very prestigious prostitute like a courtesan or geisha, the bottom line remains that she still takes money for sex. There's just no way around that.

Ultimately, though, I don't think Joss is trying to glorify that. More than once, most obviously in "Shindig", we see that the respect Inara receives as a Companion is a sham. The men who hire her still think of her as an ornament to make them look good, as well as satisfy their sexual desires. She gives them the illusion of having "scored" with an attractive woman, thereby boosting their egos. Underneath the veneer of civility, though, they think of her as a possession, albeit a rented possession.

I also think that Inara repeatedly shows signs of dissatisfaction with her profession, that she knows her "respectability" is a lie.

Joss actually showed a willingness to address prostitution as a social issue that few writers would have attempted. Unfortunately, he didn't get the time to address it the way I think he intended.

Saranga said...

Lord R, you said:
"I also think that Inara repeatedly shows signs of dissatisfaction with her profession, that she knows her "respectability" is a lie."

I don't remember seeing these indicators in any episodes, can you point me in the right direction?

Unfortauntely I can't remember the episode, but this sscene I ahev in mind takes place in Inara's shuttle, both Inara and Kaylee are sat together, talking and Kaylee certainly thinks that Companionship is a glamourous profession. She gushes about the clothes and wants to know stories of Inara's romantic suitors. I think Kaylee views it more as a high class social life or dating than as business.
Whether we are intended to take Kaylee's view of it as the correct one or not is debatable, maybe these exchanges are meant to show Kaylee's Naivetie?
I like to think that if the series had progressed Joss may have looked more in depth at Companionship as a profession, but I have my doubts as to whether this was his intention or not. I did hear an internet rumour where in one of the unaired episodes Inara was to be violently raped, possibly by Reavers. I have no idea if this is actually true or not.

Lord Runolfr said...

I don't remember seeing these indicators in any episodes, can you point me in the right direction?

Well, there's her first appearance in "Serenity", where she's in bed with a client. *I* get the impression that she's "faking" in that scene, because her expression changes when the client moves to where he can see her face.

There's the disrespect from the planetary governor in "Jaynestown", who has hired her to "break in" his son.

There's "Shindig", in which she is obviously not ethusiastic about becoming Atherton's "full-time Companion" even before Mal shows up at the party.

And there's "Heart of Gold", which shows the flip side of the sex trade in Firefly. Inara openly calls the girls on the planet "whores", and I think she understands that there's something demeaning about the sex trade in general.

I think it's all sub-text, but I do think she has some real issues with her job. Not nearly enough to make her quit in one season, but seeds planted for later development.

Saranga said...

Doh, I'd forgotten about those scenes, thanks for the reminders.

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