Underimpressed

Mewling quim“, Mr. Whedon? Really? You’re proud of that?

Look, I like your work, and I even contributed to the Nothing But Red anthology. I was glad to, that post was awesome.

But I don’t think you’re the friend to feminism you’re seen as, and there’s only so far that post of yours will take me.

* Buffy sleeps with Angel…and he loses his soul. Sure, it’s because he’s “happy.” But as yet another instance of a teenage girl’s sexuality turning a boy into a monster, well, it’s narrative ground that’s been tread before.
* Just like the equation drawn in a few episodes of Faith’s aggressive sexuality (Xander, anyone?) being a component of her moral ambiguity and ease of shaking off murder.
* Mal calls Inara a whore, several times, in overt and covert ways…in a society where Companions are supposed to be so “respectable” that the ship wouldn’t be allowed to land without one on board.
* River Tam is so powerful…that her “neurons are stripped,” she’s “crazy” and uncontrollable, and her brother–and Mal–have to save her, over and over and over again.
* Zoe’s physically satisfactory (one presumes) relationship with Wash is cut short by his death, but her (second fiddle and faithful lieutenant) relationship with Mal is kept intact.

And don’t even get me started on the titillation factor of Willow and Tara. This is by no means an exhaustive list of questionable narrative choices when it comes to portraying women, and Whedon’s by no means the only one who does it. I suppose one could blame Hollywood at large–after all, it’s holy writ that any woman who possesses actual sexuality in a studio film must either be horribly disfigured/dead in some fashion (if unrepentant) or brought/remain under the control of a male figure by the end of the film (if properly repentant). (The one exception I’ve seen was The Last Seduction, and that wasn’t a box-office success despite being an incredible movie.) I understand that when one is soaking in a misogynist culture, it’s hard not to obey the tropes and assumptions coded into the very base of said culture.

All culminating in being “proud” of basically calling a woman a cunt. In a PG-13 film. Proud.

My ambivalence just ratcheted up a notch. Not to mention my disappointment.

  • martianmooncrab

    and he loses his soul

    and turns evil … somehow being truly happy kills your soul… *sigh*

    Havent seen Avengers yet, but have been following jimhines discussion of the same topic, and he is getting trashed for pointing it out.

    I am a Joss fan, but I passed on Dollhouse because it was too much male fantasy and not enough plot to interest me.

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  • Susan E

    I was pretty taken aback at the incongruity, let alone the anachronism of tone, in the insulting Inara as a “whore” when it is a supposedly highly honorable profession. There was one episode where it shows the violation of international laws that occurs when a rich guy on a backwater planet shares that attitude. Yeah, obviously it is unpacked how much Mal loved her, and how much he didn’t understand her making the responsible choices that led her away from him. But he thought she’d want him to make an honest woman of her? I think at root it just shows for all Whedon’s strengths as a story teller, imagination of the actual consequences and sequellae of having “Companion” being an honorable profession are beyond his limited scope. American heritage of puritanism perhaps just too strong of a construct. It’s like he could come up with a subversive, turn the tables concept, but couldn’t follow through with the logical playing out of the concept. Or didn’t see the need or bother to extrapolate. It’s not that there weren’t independent and powerful courtesans in France and other European countries, or precedents in ancient Greece that he could have considered. It leaves me thinking he has a gimmicky, superficial feminism.

    I think with River Tam it wasn’t her power that made her mad, but the being forcibly removed from their parents, tortured and driven to make her into a tool that shattered her and disconnected her from the natural child she was. That was unpacked in the movie. But haven’t watched them for a time, maybe I misremember.

    I was really ticked off when they pointlessly killed off Wash. I was glad to see that the actress who played Zoe went on to play a series of strong women in positions of power. I kinda figured he had no plan to make more firefly movies when he killed off that old guy prophet fella, and Wash. Many of the ideas of directions where spin offs would go would have had to include them.

    I wouldn’t watch the dollhouse show because of the male fantasy premise, yet it shows a consistency with Whedon’s interest in misogyny even when he uses it as a springboard to having a female protagonist subvert and butt kick her way out of her trapped situation. There still is kind of a sick voyeurism.

    I think he did better with Mal’s “wife” played by Christina Hendricks for effective feminist subversion, and I guess it was consistent with mal being a tarnished knight with old values of “chivalry” mixed with his honor.

  • Jenna Scarberry

    I am late to the party, but I wanted to offer a counterpoint. It struck me in The Avengers that Loki was there to represent an oppressive regime, which often includes a crackdown on “feminine behavior” as a way to limit the people and turn the genders against one another, rather than the government. In that light, his use of the offensive terms and the implication that he would force a brainwashed Hawkeye to rape her to death just for funsies paints Loki as a bad guy because he (supposedly unlike our hero squad) does not value Black Widow or view her as a true threat. I think that the film’s punishment of this behavior (I refer of course to the Hulk’s summary settling of Loki’s hash and his, “Some god.” comment) is meant to serve as an example to those who under value women. I would have preferred Black Widow to do unto Loki as she did unto the arms dealers at the beginning of the film, but since he higher on the supernatural scale than he, it makes a certain sense. That being said, Whedon is trying with some small success to write and direct pieces with strong women who still struggle against the antiquated notions of their unenlightened male peers. That is more than I can say for A LOT of the Hollywood elite. So how about we get She-Hulk to pound Loki into a fine red mist for the ladies in the sequel and we all call it a day?

  • Jenna Scarberry

    *but since he higher on the supernatural scale than he, it makes a certain sense. That should be: but since he IS higher on the supernatural scale than SHE, it makes a certain sense.
    Sorry about the typos.

  • Lili

    It’s not the subtext in the movie that concerns me most. It’s that Whedon makes a point of saying he’s “proud” of it. He doesn’t make a point of being “proud” of sneaking, frex, dick jokes past the censors.

  • Kathy Alexander

    1) The Mewling Quim line I didn’t like because it was ugly. But I wasn’t supposed to like it. Loki was being a horrible manipulative monster and his comment was design to denigrate and grind her in the dust. I was impressed because Joss didn’t have him say something cliche and main stream like “whiney b***h”, which you’d get in pretty much every other main stream action movie.

    2) Mal’s use of the whore is entirely consistent with his disgust over the hypocrisy and whitewashing of “society”-one in which he’s a rebel and dissenter to begin with. Inara is respected and powerful member of her society. Mal respects her. What he doesn’t respect is that society she’s a part of or the way she sells sex and herself and calls it something else. She is a whore by definition. She may be the one to choose her clients out of “bidders” but she sells her body and calls it “intimacy”.

    3) I don’t think its just Buffy’s sexuality that changed him (he could have had sex with any prostitute and it wouldn’t have made him lose his soul). it was that moment of intimacy, pleasure, and happiness being with someone he loved that triggered it. Just like in real life moments of unexpected happiness can have far reaching consequences (pregnancy, STD’s, etc) their spontaneous love making caused problems too. Plus, women’s sexuality is pretty powerful stuff. having someone go off the deep end because of it may have been already done. but i don’t think it ever gets old when done right and I think Joss nailed it (no pun intended please don’t shoot me).

    4) How in the world is Zoe losing her husband supposed to have some anti-feminism meaning behind it? I really think this is a stretch. You could just as easily say that its ultra feminism, since the traditional warrior woman isn’t killed (or my least favorite stereotype the self sacrificing ethnic woman) but her non warrior, pilot husband ends up being a casualty of battle-someone who should have been someone more protected from dangers of battle since he wasn’t usually on the front line (a role usually reserved for the “women folk”).

  • Lili

    1. The line itself may have been fine in context. What I disagreed with, quite clearly, was him saying he was proud of it.

    2. Mal isn’t reacting to the “whitewashing” of society. If, in that society, Inara is a respected and honored member for her work, has the choice of her clients, and is clearly not being coerced, then him calling her a whore is merely a gratuitous insult.

    3 & 4. Again, what I take issue with (and I stated it clearly) is the Hollywood trope that any woman whose sexuality is under her own control must be made to be punished in some manner/become disfigured/have said come under the control of a man by the end of the film/story arc.