Infidelity is not a feminist issue, but being treated like a doormat is…
The interweb has exploded with opinions about Joss Whedon’s extramarital activities, and how it’s destroying his reputation as a feminist. I’ve fallen into an internet hole reading every point of view, break down and dissertation - including the original article written by his ex-wife, and come to several conclusions:
There are a lot of angry nerds out there. The mob is armed and ready to fight, just because you claim to be something doesn’t mean you practice what you preach.
Or even that you are able to.
The question isn’t can you be a cheater and a feminist? It’s can you be a cis-male, a powerful Hollywood producer and a good man in a world set up for you to participate and get away with bad behaviour and take advantage of the patriarchy for your benefit while stepping on the neck of the women in your life.
Stay with me. I know a lot about this stuff. I wrote a TV show about it.
No one likes to see their hero as human. No one likes to find out that Gandhi - widely considered a feminist by preaching that women should have access to the same educational systems as men - denied his wife, Kasturb, the white man’s penicillin to save her life, claiming that if God wanted her to survive he would save her. She died. His team issued a statement that (I paraphrase) “it wouldn’t have saved her life anyway.” Suspect, is it not? A feminist, a husband, an icon — and a man who let his wife DIE when it intervened with his principals. But oh, did he ever take the white man’s penicillin three weeks later when he had malaria. He lived.
This puts the Whedon camp’s statement about his wife’s article: “While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.”- in all its gaslighting glory - in a bit of perspective.
Exposing an icon, warts and all, is hard on anyone who put him on that pedestal. But remember, nerds, you did that. He was happy that you did, he wanted you to. But you put him there and now you should know he’s just a shitty human like the rest of us.
So, put down your dumb pitchfork because it can’t be so hard to comprehend. Please tell me you didn’t get tricked that easily? A narcissistic show runner, who worked on three of his own shows at once, who cast skinny actresses with big eyes to run around sexually grunting as they fought vampires might not be the feminist icon he reported himself to be? Whaaaa? Sounds like a male fantasy to me.
So, this “nice guy” taps into an underserved market dripping in undersexed women. Remember this — he TOLD us he was a feminist. Buffy is full of feminist imagery because he told us it was a feminist show. A lot of people have spent years interpreting the work and writing in favour of the feminist elements of him and his shows.
And now, those same people are dismantling the imagery that they once gave power to, proving that Joss was never a feminist to begin with…
"Just because I gave you something to look at, doesn’t mean I told you what to see.” — Ana Lily Amirpour
I don’t believe that he didn’t have an altruistic feminist mission in mind when he did it. Honey, he can be a feminist and want to get his dick wet, you’re not too innocent not to realize that. Maybe it’s because he’s not what “A Player” look like in our heads. He can be a player and want to promote what he thinks are “Strong Women” (haha — Dollhouse, if you still thought he was a feminist after that, you’re the sucker). And just because he stepped out on his wife doesn’t mean his shows aren’t the glass of water that the lady-nerds needed in the desert of sci-fi and fantasy misogyny.
So, the accusation is Joss manipulated his fans by portraying himself as a happily married feminist, but if we are going to accuse him of manipulations, we have to admit to being manipulated by him. We have to take responsibility for some pretty obvious cons:
- Can anyone in Hollywood really be trusted? and
- Calling himself a feminist doesn’t mean he - or anyone is able to be a good feminist, all of the time.
- We looked to another heterosexual white man to lead the feminist cause.
I get why we feel betrayed. He was supposed to be one of the good guys. But if Beyoncé can get cheated ON, then Joss can cheat. Infidelity isn’t a feminist issue — men aren’t the only people who cheat, women aren't the only innocents who suffer from deception — and it takes away the very specific and personal issues that a couple deal with that leads to cheating.
We’re not talking about Joss using his power to manipulate his way into the hotel rooms of his underage starlets. We don’t know what it was like in that marriage, we don’t know how he found himself with other women. We only know that his ex-wife told us in her scathing and pained letter that she published publicly, that he felt like he was “powerless” to the siren’s call. Joss is not the nice guy feminist nerd icon he told us he was. This scandal exposes the frail white man that is his true self. He could never be the feminist icon he so desperately wanted to be. It’s quite sad really…
Want to know what I think is un-feminist? Compounding the stereotype that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. That article is none of our business. Kai’s not wrong, Joss is a cad and he manipulated her by withholding information that compromised her health and safety and the sense of security that the sanctuary of marriage should bring to her. She’s angry and has every right to be. But she is using his power and influence to air her dirty laundry to get back at the man who humiliated her. She feels used and that their marriage was dedicated to his life’s work and destroyed her trajectory.
There’s another feminist issue.
No woman should feel like she’s the second sex, that her life is less important than her husband’s or that her life should be in service of him. What struck me in her article is that she cites the first sign of his Wimpsterdom on their honeymoon but is then surprised to find out that the 20 years they spent together was going to be all about him. If you want to talk about feminism, let’s talk about a world where she wasn’t raised to see signs of narcissism in her relationships. Or signs that she was groomed to serve him by supporting him and raising his children and being the smiling public face of his brand. She’s been manipulated and gaslit by the system that made Joss feel like he was the so-called victim of the beautiful, aggressive and needy women who play up to men in power.
If I can’t make excuses for him, then I’m not going to make excuses for her. They are adults who entered into a marriage in the land of money and power and show business. The public doesn’t need to know this stuff.
Besides, if you’re a real Buffy fan you know that the real feminist icon on that show was Jane Espenson.