I, Whedon

by Dan H

Dan on Joss Whedon, Nice Guy Syndrome, and the Man!Feminist
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So what with the release of Dollhouse, Joss Whedon's new series about how men treat women there's been a certain number of people on this site talking about good old JW's much vaunted feminist credentials. While none of us would go so far as actually calling him a rapist a lot of us get a little bit uncomfortable with the way he tries to pass off scenes of hot women wearing skimpy costumes as empowering.

A few of us have spent a while trying to put our fingers on exactly what we find so frustrating about Joss Whedon, and now our esteemed editor and I have started to rewatch Firefly, I think I've worked out exactly what it is:

Joss Whedon thinks exactly like me.

Or, to put it another way, Joss Whedon thinks exactly the way I used to before I grew up, got a girlfriend, and became less of an insecure douchebag.

Basically, Joss Whedon's portrayal of women tallies almost perfectly with the phenomenon known generally on the internet as Nice Guy Syndrome.

Just to clarify, the term “Nice Guy Syndrome” has two essentially contrary meanings (check out the Urban Dictionary Entry. Its first use is the perceived phenomenon whereby women date “jerks” because they're stupid/insecure/oppressed by the patriarchy/have Stockholm Syndrome when they should really be dating “nice guys” like – well – whichever guy is using the phrase. The second meaning of the phrase is the phenomenon of creepy, insecure guys who can't get a date because of the messed up way they treat women (usually by pretending they want to be “friends” with women they actually want to sleep with) who ascribe their lack of sexual conquests to their being “too nice”.

It's this second definition that I'm talking about here. I know exactly what these guys are like, because I used to be one and, to be honest, part of me probably still is.

To lay it all on the line, both for the women in the audience who are wondering why the fuck these creepy guys are following them around, and for the men in the audience who are wondering why women find them so creepy, the key points of Nice Guy thinking are these:

  1. Respect For Women is Paramount: The basis of Nice Guy thinking is the idea that Women must be Respected. It is the duty of men who Respect women to protect women from men who No Not Respect them. A woman is, of course, powerless before a man who Does Not Respect her, she can be saved only by the intervention of a Nice Guy.

  2. Women Do Not Enjoy Sex: This is the central, axiomatic tenet of Nice Guy thinking. Sex is a service a woman performs for a man. Ideally she will perform it willingly for a Good man (i.e. me) who cares about her and Respects her, but frequently women are tricked or forced into providing sex for Bad Men because women are Stupid.

  3. Men Are Evil, Male Sexuality is Evil: To be sexually attracted to a woman is fundamentally disrespectful. After all, women don't like sex, they only provide it out of a sense of social obligation. Therefore a man who respects women will do his utmost to suppress any sexual desires he has, and he will certainly not tell a woman he is attracted to her (a really Respectful relationship has to grow out of friendship remember). Nice Guys tend to idealise lesbianism as the perfect non-exploitative relationship for women, they tend to do this to give them an excuse to fantasise about hot chicks doing it.

  4. Women Are Weak and Stupid: The reason it is so important to Respect women is because you, and only you, are capable of protecting them from the undeserving men who would demean them. Women are not capable of protecting themselves, or making their own decisions. A woman who has sex with another man is effectively being abused. A woman who has sex with you is wilfully degrading herself for your benefit.



In short, this all adds up to one fucker of a Madonna/Whore complex, and a totally sexist worldview which is inextricably bound up with the belief that you Truly Understand Women.

Enter the Man!Feminist

I'm not going to get into the “can men be feminists” argument here. What I am going to say is that in my experience guys who pride themselves on their ability to understand women are guys women want to stay the fuck away from them. Men who self-define as feminists should, at the very least, take a long hard look at the way they think about women.

Anyway, this was supposed to be an article about Joss Whedon. Where to begin.

Joss Whedon is a feminist. And how. His shows are packed full of “strong women” and feminist themes and sisters doing it for themselves. Unfortunately they're also packed full of examples of fucked up Nice Guy logic.

I'm going to start with the big issue here, which is Whedon's portrayal of male and female sexuality. It isn't universal, but there is a strong tendency in Joss Whedon's works to view male sexuality as evil (see point three above) and female sexuality as play-acting (see point two).

I'm not going to count Angel and his Curse, that was a specific plot-event, and it was supposed to mirror a classic teen issue (“I had sex with this guy and he totally changed!”) but after the Angel drama, Buffy's next sexual encounter is with Parker who, while manipulative, is direct and honest about the fact that he's after sex. Of course the way he treats Buffy is horrible, but that's sort of my point – he's the Nice Guy's classic idea of the “jerk” who extracts sex from women by trickery. And of course corn-fed Iowa boy Riley only realises his own attraction to Buffy when it manifests in his punching Parker in the face (thus allowing the worthy Nice Guy to overcome the unworthy Jerk and claim his reward in the shape of hot Buffysex). Then of course Riley gets written out for being too boring, and Buffy gets with Spike.

The Buffy/Spike arc is telling, particularly when taken over the course of seasons 5-7. Like Parker, Spike is quite upfront about the fact that his attraction to Buffy is sexual and it's this as much as the fact that he's a soulless killing machine that makes their relationship so destructive. Buffy clearly doesn't actually enjoy having sex with him (see point two) she's just reacting badly to her traumatic resurrection experience. And of course Spike's Evil Male Sexuality finally culminates in an attempt to rape Buffy (because remember folks, all men are potential rapists). Then between series six and seven, Spike gets his soul back, effectively redeeming him, and his redemption, of course, manifests as his no longer being overtly sexually attracted to Buffy. His redemption arc culminates, in fact, when Buffy gives Spike the “best night of his life” by lying platonically with him while the world burns.

There's a bunch of similar examples in Buffy, Oz isn't allowed to have sex with Willow until he has first proven himself worthy by refusing to have sex with her, and of course when Willow gets together with Tara, Oz is effectively retconned out, with Joss insisting that Willow is definitely gay because, as per point three, lesbianism is inherently empowering. Faith's promiscuity is deeply intertwined with her psychological scars, and Anya's love of sex is presented, along with her literal-mindedness and love of money, as a mark of her ex-demon “otherness”.

Now I should stress here that I'm not saying that Joss Whedon has done anything wrong with his portrayal of the characters in Buffy. Like my earlier article on race in fantasy this is basically a call for people to be honest about their assumptions.

Anyway, that's Buffy. Next stop: Firefly.

Madonna, Whores, and Sacred Prostitution

The first thing I should say is that there actually are some reasonably sexually active women in Firefly. Wash and Zoe's relationship is clearly healthy and functional, and Kaylee has been heard to bemon the fact that she “ain't had nothing 'twixt her nethers don't run on batteries” (although that line was from the movie, and has been denounced by fans as out of character).

But if you're going to talk about sex in Firefly you really have to talk about Inara.

Inara, for those who haven't seen the series and couldn't work out what was going on in the film is a “Companion”. Companions are kind of space-Geishas, super-high-class prostitutes who are trained in – well – pretty much everything (possibly including espionage and martial arts, if we're to judge by Saffron, the evil Companion who appears in the episode Our Mrs Reynolds). Companions occupy a ludicrously exalted position in the society of the “'verse” (as Whedon cutely calls it) roughly equivalent to modern movie stars or corporate high-flyers. Whenever Inara walks into a room, people flock around her saying “oh my Lord, a real Companion, I've never seen one before! You're so amazing and empowered!” We are told at great length how the Companions are valued and respected, how a companion always chooses her clients, and how they basically have a free pass to go anywhere and do anything within the Alliance.

But every two episodes, somebody will smack Inara and call her a whore.

Not only does Mal (which means bad, in the Latin, by the way) constantly condemn her profession, but most of her clients treat her like property, or try to “take her away” from her fantastically prestigious career, or just generally treat her like shit. This is completely stupid. It's like having a series set in the present day in which one of your characters is on the board of directors for GSK, and having every third person they meet treat them like a street drug dealer. It's also a classic example of the way that Whedon will try to have his cake and eat it when it comes to these sorts of issues.

Inara is a classic male fantasy, but more than that, she's a classic Nice Guy fantasy. She's a woman you can have sex with without feeling bad about it. Indeed the whole Companion ethos is constructed around the assumptions of the Nice Guy worldview. Respect is paramount, and the whole thing is sublimated in ritual to ensure that respect is maximised at all times. The companions do not enjoy sex (you never once see Inara have an orgasm). The role of the companion is to select men who she considers worthy and allow them to have sex with her. It's “empowering” only in the sense that the Companion is always detached from the whole proceedings, the perfect untouchable being who briefly lowers herself to be with her client

Put simply, it's a very male idea of what female sexuality is and should be, and viewed as an ideal of female sexual behaviour, it's actually kinda creepy. Inara doesn't choose clients who she's attracted to, or people she thinks will satisfy her sexually (a number of her clients in the series are virgins she's been hired to make a man out of). Her decision to service somebody or not is almost entirely a judgement of their moral character which, yet again, is a pillar of the Nice Guy ethos, where sex is a reward for good behaviour.

And needless to say, Inara is always underneath.

Dirty Girls

The final element of the Nice Guy ethos is the most controversial and the most destructive. Deep down, all Nice Guys believe that women are weak, stupid bitches who don't know what's good for them.

This is the bit I'm going to get most flak for trying to pin on ol' Joss, but bear with me.

The really dangerous thing about the Nice Guy ethos is that it leads you down circular lines of argument like “I'm a nice guy, so there's nothing wrong with the way I'm acting towards this girl” or – to relate this back to good old JW “Joss got an award from Equality Now! That means nothing he creates could ever be sexist in any way”.

To put it another way, Nice Guys like to believe that the world is divided into Nice Guys and Jerks, and that the only reason that there are any problems with sexism at all is because of the Jerks (and that incidentally part of the reason there are so many Jerks out there is because women keep having sex with them, so really the women are to blame).

To put it yet another way, Nice Guys believe that there are Good People and Bad People, and everything the Good People do is Good and everything the Bad People do is Bad.

Let's bring this back to Whedon.

In the Firefly episode Shindig, Inara hooks up with an evil man named Atherton Wing. Atherton Wing acts like the stereotypical Jerk. He takes Inara for granted, gloats about the fact that everybody wants to have sex with her but only he gets to, and keeps going on about how she's his because he bought and paid for her. He asks Inara to come and stay with him to be his Personal Companion, and she considers it even though he is patently evil. Finally Mal baits him into calling Inara a whore, at which point Mal punches him and they wind up in a duel.

This then leads to the following exchange
Inara: You have a strange sense of nobility Captain. You'll lay a man out for implying I'm a whore but you keep calling me one to my face.

Mal: I might not show respect to your job, but he didn't respect *you*. That's the difference. Inara, he doesn't even see you.

First off, see that word “respect” again. Remember guys, that's what it's all about. You respect women, other guys don't. How do you know? Well you know you respect women, don't you? And the other guy treats them differently to you, so the other guy must not respect women.

Secondly, look at what happened here for fuck's sake. Inara, a Companion, one of the most highly paid, high-status individuals in the entire 'verse, falls in with a Bad Man and she is completely incapable of extricating herself without Mal's help. She's supposed to be the goddamned poster child for female empowerment in the series but the moment she's faced with a man who (horror of horrors) “doesn't respect her” she becomes totally powerless and has to be rescued by Mal. Mal who, let us not forget, calls her a whore, pays no attention to her wishes, and generally treats her very, very badly.

But it's okay, because he respects her. Just “her” of course. He doesn't respect her choices, her career, her wishes or her privacy, but he respects “her” as a kind of abstract entity. But in the Whedonverse that's the way it is, there are Bad Misogynists who Oppress Women and there are Good Guys who fight against them. The idea that an otherwise sympathetic character could have an attitude towards women that isn't appropriate (or even, shock horror, that Joss Whedon could have attitudes that are not appropriate) is simply unthinkable. He's a feminist, therefore he cannot be sexist. He respects her, therefore his actions are respectful.

A big part of Joss Whedon's problem is that he wants at one and the same time to have empowered female characters and also draw attention to the fundamentally disempowering situations women often face. As far as it goes, this is laudable, but he frequently lacks the subtlety to do these ideas justice. Worse, because he is so fond of presenting Good, Virtuous, Powerful Women versus Bad Oppressive Misogynists he frequently falls into the all-too-common trap of presenting abuse and oppression as being direct causes of virtue or, worse, empowerment.

To bring this up to date, with a final example the pilot episode of Dollhouse sees Eliza Dushku taking on the persona of a shit-hot hostage negotiator. Said shit-hot hostage negotiator became a shit-hot hostage negotiator because, as a child, she was abducted and sexually abused. By drawing a direct line between childhood abuse and adult success, Whedon confuses empowerment with obsession. The shit-hot hostage negotiator literally would not have become the woman she was without the man who abused her. She owed her success to him absolutely. By entangling his female protagonists' successes so intimately with the indignities they suffer at the hands of his male villains, he creates a world in which women are defined only by how men treat them, and the only choice he gives them is whether to accept or reject the roles men put them into, and that is anything but feminist.
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 11:28 on 2009-02-23
Its first use is the perceived phenomenon whereby women date “jerks” because they're stupid/insecure/oppressed by the patriarchy/have Stockholm Syndrome when they should really be dating “nice guys” like – well – whichever guy is using the phrase. The second meaning of the phrase is the phenomenon of creepy, insecure guys who can't get a date because of the messed up way they treat women (usually by pretending they want to be “friends” with women they actually want to sleep with) who ascribe their lack of sexual conquests to their being “too nice”.

I'm pretty sure the first definition was invented by guys who fit the second...
Rami at 15:23 on 2009-02-23
*agrees with Arthur*
Rami at 16:30 on 2009-02-23
I read part of a book once that argued that the "Nice Guy" effect goes beyond just sexual relationships -- that it's a kind of dysfunction that views *any* interpersonal interaction as an implicit contract of that nature. So you get thought patterns like: "I did well in school, therefore I deserve my parents' affection"; "I organize group activites and provide pizza, therefore I deserve Extra Regard and Love from my social circle"; "I Respect and Honor women, therefore I deserve for them to want to sleep with me".

There was lots of his argument that I'm not sure I agree with but it all seems to hit very close to the geek social fallacies, which is to say, very close to home...
Dan H at 19:08 on 2009-02-23
Interesting, you might have a point there. It ties in rather nicely with good old Joel from Surrey and "I worked hard at school so I deserve to get into Oxford."

On another point (and I know it's a bit gauche to be suggesting further reading for my own article - sorry folks) it strikes me that one of the few times I've seen the "empowered prostitute" thing working in fiction is in Jaqueline Carey's otherwise awful Kushiel series. It works there, I think, for all the reasons Inara doesn't work: people genuinely treat the high-status prostitutes with respect, the main character seems to actually enjoy what she does, and enjoy it in the "get off on it" sense as well as the "derive spiritual fulfillment" sense.

Clue: when you compare unfavorably to Jacqueline Carey, you are in trouble.
Nathalie H at 20:37 on 2009-02-23
Ooh, good article! I think I agree with everything you've had said (which is not as common as I'd like when it relates to feminism) - I think you've explained the things that bother me about Joss.

I'd like to follow up on this:

"The companions do not enjoy sex (you never once see Inara have an orgasm)." - that is true, but that may be because of US TV limitations. It's probably also worth considering Inara's one episode of sleeping with a woman, which according to your Nice Guy code appears to be the best thing for women...she appears to be enjoying herself, but then she always /appears/ to be enjoying herself. All we learn is that 'people are surprised' and 'people think two women is hot', which...yeah.
http://rudecyrus.livejournal.com/ at 20:58 on 2009-02-23
Don't you mean "hot-shit hostage negotiator"?
Nathalie H at 21:15 on 2009-02-23
(Follow up to previous comment fail - should be "you've said", and agreeing not being as common as I'd like relates to men's viewpoints rather than yours personally. Should not comment while I'm watching TV!)
Shimmin at 21:27 on 2009-02-23
Not only does Mal (which means bad, in the Latin, by the way) constantly condemn her profession, but most of her clients treat her like property, or try to “take her away” from her fantastically prestigious career, or just generally treat her like shit. This is completely stupid.

Agreed. Actually, if it were just Mal, I could sort of forgive it. You could construct some... thing... where Mal was meant to be unconsciously hypocritical about his sexism, being as he is a bit erratic anyway, and disliked the "Companions" bit as part of the culture he's rejected, so kept undermining it (which... isn't that difficult). Trouble is, as you said, Inara only gets respect at the plot-convenient moments. The rest of the crew barely notice her or are entirely blasé about her, even the posh kids (who you'd expect to be inclined towards the normal hierarchy) don't seem to show any deference. And the culture shows none of the etiquette rules you'd expect, or explanations for why Companions have special status, to help suspend disbelief.
http://descrime.livejournal.com/ at 23:24 on 2009-02-23
The problem with Companion -> Geisha -> female empowerment is that geisha weren't empowered. They had status, but that's hardly the same thing. The geisha were slaves. Their knowledge/skills and their behavior was all scripted around what men wanted and would pay for. They were taught to repress emotion and reflect only what men wanted to see. It was only the top geisha "stars" who got to be choosy about their clientele. I don't find any of that particularly empowering.
Dan H at 14:29 on 2009-02-24
Their knowledge/skills and their behavior was all scripted around what men wanted and would pay for.

The Companions, however, seem to live in this special magic world (or "post patriarchy society" as the "Whedon is totally feminist" crowd like to call it) where "what men want and will pay for" magically overlaps totally with "what the Companion wants to do" which also, weirdly, seems to overlap entirely with "her lying there looking motherly while the guy lies on top of her and thrusts like a sixteen year old."
Rami at 14:39 on 2009-02-24
@wormwood-pearl: Yay! Someone actually used the bookmarking feature! I knew I put it there for a reason...
Wardog at 15:06 on 2009-02-24
I think is a really interesting article, Dan, and I really want to say something about it ... but I'm not sure what to say. I think I'm still just traumatised by Nice Guy Syndrome... as A WOMAN I should know about this stuff, right?

Also I think it's slightly dodgy ground to try and establish what lies "behind" Whedon's presentation of women. After all, this has changed a lot over the years. Although Buffy was probably self-consciously constructed to be a "feminist" heroine, Early Season Buffy is "empowered" almost by chance. I mean, she's a bubbly 16 year old who worries about cheerleading and boys, and just happens to kill vampires competantly on the side. I suppose what I always liked about her is that being into cheerleading and worrying about boys (i.e. being a person) was never really presented as a hindrance to her being good at her job. Set that against someone like Starbuck who is "strong" only when she's pretending to be a man, and the rest of time is a nuclear-explosion sized mess. Or, for that matter, bloody Cameron in House - the fact she is a woman (and thus, inclined to be over-emotional when she should be professional) is always portrayed as some kind of hindrance to her doctoring.

Sorry, this is a heap of undigested thoughts.

Talking about Firefly is also awkward because there just isn't enough of it. I mean, we never really find out what is with the Companion Guild - if it is EVIL and OPPRESSIVE, or if they're secret ninja assassins or what. And we never really see what Whedon was trying to do with Inara - admittedly what he seems to be starting to do is rather depressing. I think there's also a lot of like in Inara, if not for the messy virgin/whore issue. None of the women in Firefly are standard hotties - Kaylee is adorable and girly, Inara is poised and graceful, Zoe is Amazonian, and all of them are clearly very good at their very different jobs. I love Kaylee's touchy-feely mechanical skills.

It's just there's so much that's awkward and unfortunate in Inara. She's gets all hot and flustered over Mal, which leads to her behaving like an idiot a lot of the time. *None* of her clients ever seem to respect her (the first guy whinges that she's sped the clock up to cheat him of his cash, Atherton Wing is an arse, the guy in Canton has an overbearing father who keeps hustling her to just get on with the bonking), except the one woman to whom she gives a back masage while they talk about the softness of each other's skin (which is, of course, what lesbians spend all their time together doing...). Kaylee is all awestruck about how wonderful companions are but, again, she's a woman.

Anyway, I'm babbling now.

But, yes, v. interesting article.
Dan H at 17:18 on 2009-02-24
Also I think it's slightly dodgy ground to try and establish what lies "behind" Whedon's presentation of women.

Oh absolutely, but I thrive in slightly dodgy ground.

Much like the Rowling Calvinism article I don't actually mean to say that I know for certain that Joss Whedon thinks about women this way, just that I keep getting the *creepy impression* that he does, and I know from first hand experience that thinking about women this way is in no way incompatible with self-defining as a "feminist."

Which I suppose makes this sort of a meta-article really, the whole point of which winds up being "guys who self-define as feminists, Joss Whedon included, should take a good honest look at how they actually think about women because guys, there is a non zero chance you are a creepy asshole."
Wardog at 16:28 on 2009-02-26
Much like the Rowling Calvinism article I don't actually mean to say that I know for certain that Joss Whedon thinks about women this way, just that I keep getting the *creepy impression* that he does, and I know from first hand experience that thinking about women this way is in no way incompatible with self-defining as a "feminist."

To be fair to you, there is definitely something "off" with the Whedonverse.

I am more forcibly struck by it than ever since embarking upon the second series of Veronica Mars - of may be one of the most successful "empowered" women I have seen on television. Veronica has a lot of strengths and a lot of, quite interesting, weaknesses to balance them out. I think what I like best about it, actually, is that she is a *person* I can admire and, in some respects, aspire to be more like. The key word being "person" not "WOMAN".
Sonia Mitchell at 23:05 on 2009-02-27
I think what I like best about it, actually, is that she is a *person* I can admire and, in some respects, aspire to be more like. The key word being "person" not "WOMAN".

Reminds me of the comments beneath your article on Mesuline (I've been playing with the random button too) re. gay characters in fantasy. The OMG we're including empowered women/gay people/disabled people/etc! being a step up from invisible but still some way off Veronica Mars (as you describe her - not that I've seen VM). Not sure if I'm in total agreement as it applies to Firefly (not seen enough of Buffy to comment) but this is definitely an interesting article.
http://arkan2.livejournal.com/ at 15:30 on 2009-02-28
Just when I think your reviews can't get any more brilliant, you come out with something like this. Your insight and clarity are matched by few others of my acquaintance (and several of the rest are also on this site, I might add). I salute.

There are a lot of specifics to this article which I will address later, when I have more time and cognitive energy at my disposal to give this wonderful essay they intelligent response it deserves.

For now, I feel obligated to render Kyra a friendly warning re: Veronica Mars. Warning: the following material is heavily biased, and if you really want to continue watching with an open mind, I suggest you don't read it, I just thought I should give you the option of knowing what you're (probably) in for. (Like I said, very biased, you might find yourself disagreeing when you see it yourself.)

Veronica Mars starts out good, but somewhere by the beginning of the third season the main character devolves into (and this is my feminist cred taking one for the team, but some things have to be said) a real bitch. She treats the people who love her like crap, even when they go to heroic lengths for her benefit, and constantly plays the victim whenever they do not comply with her wishes (well, that last one may just be her boyfriend). Oh, and she keeps making the same mistakes about mistrusting people based on total hearsay (the way she dumped Logan at the end of season 1) over and over and over and over again.

On a show where at least half the cast are lovable jerks, you wouldn't think this would be a problem, and it probably wouldn't: except that the writers obviously intend us to ascribe to Veronica's view of reality. Logan and Dick and Vinnie and all the other jerks are lovable because they act like jerks, and the writers make it clear to the audience that they're supposed to be jerks. Veronica is vile because she's a jerk, and the writers make it clear to the audience that she's supposed to be heroic.

To invert your message, Kyra, and use Whedon to illustrate a point about Veronica Mars: the difference between Veronica and all the other jerks in the cast is like the difference between Mal and Jayne on Firefly. They're both jerks, but Jayne is an admitted jerk, whereas the writers keep trying to tell us, despite all the evidence, that Mal is a Nice Guy, who's maybe just a little rough around the edges.

Also, in season 3, Veronica goes off to college, and one of the overarching themes of the season is her interactions with campus feminazis. I wish I were making that up.

... Wow, I didn't expect that to turn into a rant. [insert chagrined smile emoticon here]
http://miss-morland.livejournal.com/ at 14:49 on 2009-03-02
I'll confess to not being very familiar with Whedon's shows, but I still found this article very interesting - the Nice Guy logic seems to be fairly common in popular culture (and society in general). Then again, the Whore/Madonna logic isn't exactly new...

One of the things that annoy me the most, is that Nice Guy logic gives women basically two options: you can be with a Jerk who may do things like beat or rape you, or you can be with a Nice Guy, who'll never do that sort of thing, but who is just as controlling as the Jerk. Either way, you can't win, because having a partner that treats you like an equal is out of the question. (Unless you're a lesbian, of course, and then you don't have to have any nasty sex, because women are totally sexless, you know.)

Also, when women choose macho Jerks, it's seen as a proof that 'we want men who treat us badly', because that's the way of nature, isn't it? [insert eyeroll here]
Dan H at 14:55 on 2009-03-02
Also, when women choose macho Jerks, it's seen as a proof that 'we want men who treat us badly', because that's the way of nature, isn't it? [insert eyeroll here]

It's *science*. You can't argue with *science*.
http://arkan2.livejournal.com/ at 00:30 on 2009-03-25
Reply to “I, Whedon”

For someone so obsessed with punctuality in person, I always seem to join these parties at about the time the music has gone on its fourth repeat, the refreshments are down to the crumbs, the organizers are beginning to put away the balloons and decorations, and even the diehards are beginning to think it's time to go home.

Still, now that I've finally put together the time to say what I have to say, I'm damn well going to say it.

So first, I'm linking Kyra's article Consuming Problems, which I just read last week. In Kyra's first comment she says:

Possibly it's the weird transaction to which popular culture tends to reduce relationships: the man gives the woman romance, in return she gives him sex. When both should surely be mutual activities =P
Which is an interesting perspective on the those Nice Guy assumptions. (Personally, I'm all in favor of romance, although “embarrassing and awkward”? Yeah, definitely.)

As for the main argument … well, that's about six hits to the self-esteem in rapid succession, especially that “Heartless Bitches” essay. As if I didn't have enough problems with insecurity. Oh well.

The really dangerous thing about the Nice Guy ethos is that it leads you down circular lines of argument like “I'm a nice guy, so there's nothing wrong with the way I'm acting towards this girl” or – to relate this back to good old JW “Joss got an award from Equality Now! That means nothing he creates could ever be sexist in any way”.
It's just a slightly modified version of the privilege self-defense mechanism “I'm not sexist/racist/heterosexist/classist/ableist/ageist/whatever, therefore I'm not part of the problem and I don't need to do anything differently.” The upgraded version is “I support women's rights/the NAACP/give money to charity/etc. therefore I'm doing my part for equality and I don't need to do anything differently.”

Whedon's portrayal of sexism as being the sole province of the Misogynist-of-the-Week makes him an enabler. The none batshit-crazy misogynists in his audience (i.e. more than 99.9% of them) can breathe a sigh of relief, suitably assured that they are not in any way a part of the problem.

To put it yet another way, Nice Guys believe that there are Good People and Bad People, and everything the Good People do is Good and everything the Bad People do is Bad.
I think that basically sums up what I just said in the last two paragraphs. And maybe that explains Mal and his behavior: sure he's objectively no better than Jayne, but because he's Good/a member of the Elect (yay for referencing my first ever ferretbrain essay!) everything he does—including insulting Inara and kicking helpless prisoners into engines—is automatically Good, too.

Nathalie H, notice also in that one scene where Inara is with another woman, they talk about how great it is to be “just us girls,” away from men where they can “be themselves.” (As my sister pointed out, apparently Inara really is that melodramatic when she's just being herself.)

Which I suppose makes this sort of a meta-article really, the whole point of which winds up being "guys who self-define as feminists, Joss Whedon included, should take a good honest look at how they actually think about women because guys, there is a non zero chance you are a creepy asshole."
Exactly.
http://arkan2.livejournal.com/ at 15:06 on 2009-03-26
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this. A while ago I read an essay by internet columnist Karen Healey about the portrayal of "strong women" in Buffy, Angel, and Firefly. As I recall, the comment thread also contained something about female sexuality in particular being depicted negatively.

From what I saw, it doesn't exactly fit the Nice Guy Syndrome model, but it's another way of looking at the portrayal of women and sexuality in Whedon's work that doesn't come from either the "Whedon can do no wrong" or the "Whedon is a rapist and everything he does is misogynistic" camps.
Wardog at 16:17 on 2009-03-26
Interesting post, thanks for the link.

There's also a link to to this in the article ... which makes me hit the wtf button.
Arthur B at 16:24 on 2009-03-26
Kyra, that link is incredible. Curse the day that Firefly was cancelled and we were denied this genius.

Inara: NOOOOOOOOOO DON'T LOOK AT ME I HAVE THE DEATH CUNT
Mal: I KISS YOUR DAINTY HAND FOR I AM YOUR PURE WHITE KNIGHT WHO RESPECTS YOU, EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE THE DEATH CUNT
Wardog at 16:28 on 2009-03-26
I *know*, I *know* - it's awful! Makes me actually relieved they stopped Firefly when they did - and that's heresy!

What gets me is:

Mal: INARA, YOU FILTHY WHORE ... oh, you've been gang-raped ... my mistake, you're not a filthy whore.
Arthur B at 16:39 on 2009-03-26
It reads more to me like:

MAL: Inara, I do not like you, because you are a slutty slut who sluts about the place.

INARA: Oh no, Reavers! I must turn myself into a chemical weapon so that none may touch my venomous DEATH CUNT.

MAL: Inara, I like you now, because you can't slut about the place thanks to the DEATH CUNT which beckons to me in my dreams but I can never ever have it because it is unattainable, unattainable like you are, sweet Inara, let me place you on this pedestal and kiss your sweet hand, yes, let Mal take care of it, let Joss Mal take care of it all...
Dan H at 23:27 on 2009-03-26
Tragically it's even worse than that. Comedy DEATH CUNT jokes aside it's basically

MAL: Inara, you may think you're a strong independent woman who is able to make her own choices, but really you just want a man to treat you like a woman.

INARA: No Mal, I really am a strong independent woman and I make my own choices and am totally empowered.

[ INARA gets GANG RAPED by REAVERS ]

MAL: See!

INARA: You're right! My horrific abuse experience has made me realize that your perception of me is more accurate than my own!
Dan H at 23:28 on 2009-03-26
(Of course, it's not Joss Whedon, it's Tim Minnear. I bet Joss Whedon was all like "no Tim, don't do that, it would be totally fucked up", but then the networks were all like "no, put it in, we want to mess your show up" - this being of course the only possible interpretation of any flaw in the works of the Great Man).
Arthur B at 23:42 on 2009-03-26
I think we're agreed that the story requires one or both of Inara and Mal being completely pathetic, just in different ways; given that it was never filmed, I suppose we'll never find out for sure...
Wardog at 09:29 on 2009-03-27
Of course, the other rather indicative thing about this idea is that it's an anti-rape weapon that only works *after* you've been raped. Flaw, much?

It seems to me rather illustrative of much of Whedon's thinking on this issue - i.e. that punishing people for committing rape is more important than preventing rape happening.

Sigh.
http://fintinobrien.livejournal.com/ at 10:02 on 2009-03-27
I like how its effectiveness as a deterrent is completely undercut by the fact that nobody knows she has the frackin' weapon. Way to prevent rape, jackass.
Dan H at 11:30 on 2009-03-27
It seems to me rather illustrative of much of Whedon's thinking on this issue - i.e. that punishing people for committing rape is more important than preventing rape happening.

This, again, is why I'm so iffy about Joss Whedon's attitude towards women. It's not that he hates women or is anti-woman, it's that he's the kind of guy (as are a great many of us, I think) who is really into the idea of protecting women or, better still, punishing men who don't treat women "right".

For a lot of guys "girl gets horribly abused, I beat up the abuser, she is eternally grateful and we have teh hot secks" is a fantasy and, as a fantasy, it's relatively harmless (in the sense that fantasies aren't real, and any guy with half a brain eventually works out that other people's abuse experiences aren't about you). The problem comes when you try to dress that fantasy up as feminism.
Arthur B at 12:54 on 2009-03-27
I like how its effectiveness as a deterrent is completely undercut by the fact that nobody knows she has the frackin' weapon. Way to prevent rape, jackass.

This is almost precisely like the anti-rape device in Snow Crash, which fails horribly for similar reasons. Supposedly, the idea is that if Mr Potential Rapist doesn't know whether any particular woman possesses a vagina dentata, or whatever the hell it is the weapon is meant to be, then he's going to play it safe and not rape anyone.

This doesn't really work in universes with insane space rapists (especially insane space rapists who are perfectly willing to continue gang-raping someone after the first few guys drop dead screaming OH GOD IT'S A TRAP SAVE YOURSELF). The whole point of a deterrent (other than you don't keep it secret - vhy didn't you tell the world, eh?) is that the person it's deterring needs to have some kind of self-preservation instinct and the capacity to understand the threat, and as I understand it it's debatable as to whether the Reavers possess either.
Arthur B at 12:56 on 2009-03-27
(I should add that it doesn't work in our world either, because a potential rapist never knows whether a woman is carrying a gun, or a knife, or whether he'll be caught for his crimes and shanked in a grimy jail cell.)
Viorica at 16:05 on 2009-03-27
I . . . I . . .

. . . I have no words. So after Inara has learned her place and understands that Mal will only respect her if she's had her sexual freedom taken away, what? They have sex?
Dan H at 16:47 on 2009-03-27
I don't think that the implication is that they have sex (can't blow that good ol' will-they-won't-they now can you), but it's still clearly supposed to be a touching, romantic scene and not as creepy as all fuck.
Viorica at 22:19 on 2009-03-27
I . . . okay, I'm not at all averse to hurt/comfort, but the idea of people being drawn together due to the girl being sexually abused is just . . . EW. EW. EW.

(Incidentally, this far from the only instance of this sort of thing in Joss's work- last week's episode of Dollhouse had a women sobbing on the floor as her boyfriend cradled her after a fairly sexualised attack. It wasn't nearly as bad as this, but it was still kind of creepy.)
Dan H at 22:29 on 2009-03-27
As ever it's all about context and awareness. Ultimately there's nothing intrinsically wrong with hurt/comfort (as I understand it is called in fandom), there's not even anything *specifically* wrong with a guy who likes the idea of "comforting" vulnerable women (with his PENIS).

It's when he lies to himself about the "with his PENIS" bit and pretends that his attraction to hurt and abused women comes from his EMPATHY with the FEMALE CONDITION that it gets skeevy.

Incidentally I'm really loving typing "with his PENIS".
Viorica at 23:24 on 2009-03-27
Well in the Dollhouse example there had quite a bit of comforting done (with his PENIS) before the attack or the cuddling, so as I said- not nearly on the same level.
Wardog at 21:53 on 2009-03-28
I really really badly want to participate in this discussion because I want an excuse to say 'with his PENIS' ... but I can't think of anything ...
http://fintinobrien.livejournal.com/ at 09:35 on 2009-03-29
I'm just enjoying mentally removing the quotation marks.

Incidentally I'm really loving typing with his PENIS.

Heehee, I'm a child. :D
Morgus at 18:33 on 2009-12-06
I think the problems that you have with sexuality in the Whedonverse stem from the fact that the sensibility portrayed is essentially traditional. Everybody's monogamous, the only lesbian couple is an outlier in every way, and the protagonist wants nothing more than to be normal. The symptoms of "nice guy syndrome" overlap with "traditional, 'safe' relationship syndrome."
Morgus at 18:34 on 2009-12-06
Now that I think of it, I have never seen a genuine polyamorous group potrayed in media outside of porn. Whedon's "problem" may not be that he's a "nice guy," but that he's a product of Western society.
Morgus at 19:00 on 2009-12-06
This gave me a great thought about liberalism in general. It's not really about accepting people who are marginal, it's about creating an ideal of normalcy that everyone, presumably, can agree with and conform to. Or at least that's the goal of "mainstream" liberalism.
Wardog at 09:25 on 2009-12-07
I'm not sure more polyamory in the Whedonverse would help with his portrayal of sexuality.

Also maybe I'm being down on pornography here, and admittedly my knowledge of it is perhaps less than yours, but I can't really recall many genuine, functional and loving polyamorous groups portrayed in porn either. Unless you are counting the device that everyone fucks everyone else as polyamory (something, I suspect, most practising polyamorists would take issue with).

And finally saying the problems with somebody's atttiude to / portrayal of something springs from the fact they are "a product of Western society" is about as helpful as pointing out they wrote their text a certain way because they had two arms. We are all products of the ideologies that shape us - that's, uh, kind of the way it is.
Morgus at 00:10 on 2009-12-09
>Also maybe I'm being down on pornography here, and admittedly my knowledge of it is perhaps less than yours, but I can't really recall many genuine, functional and loving polyamorous groups portrayed in porn either.

That kind of strengthens my point about truly alternative relationships being completely foreign to society as a whole. And no, I have never seen any such relationship in porn.

>And finally saying the problems with somebody's atttiude to / portrayal of something springs from the fact they are "a product of Western society" is about as helpful as pointing out they wrote their text a certain way because they had two arms. We are all products of the ideologies that shape us - that's, uh, kind of the way it is.

I guess I really should have been more clear about my "thesis." Marriage exists more or less to inhibit sexual competition, and that, I think, is also the core of "nice guy" syndrome.
Arthur B at 00:18 on 2009-12-09
Woah! That's an awfully simple explanation you're offer for an awfully big concept. Is marriage really that simple?
Morgus at 07:13 on 2009-12-09
Anything on top of what I said is purely subjective, IMO. Kind of like Marx's "false consciousness." Economic motives are everything, questions of race and religion are distractions.
Arthur B at 11:23 on 2009-12-09
Yes, but even if you restrict yourself to the material benefits of marriage it's still more complex than reducing competition. What about children? Obligating people to look after their own kids through a powerful social expectation that people should only have children within a marriage has historically been a big deal, for example.
Rami at 19:36 on 2009-12-09
Economic motives are everything, questions of race and religion are distractions.

There's a lot more to the 'economic' motives of marriage, IMO (including financial motives) than sexual competition. And inhibition of sexual competition is just as subjective as other motives (like those Arthur mentions).

That kind of strengthens my point about truly alternative relationships being completely foreign to society as a whole. And no, I have never seen any such relationship in porn.

Surely by definition an 'alternative' relationship is one that is foreign to society as a whole ;-)?
Morgus at 02:52 on 2009-12-12
>What about children? Obligating people to look after their own kids through a powerful social expectation that people should only have children within a marriage has historically been a big deal, for example.

I view the desire to increase the size of one's herd the ultimate manifestation of material greed.

>There's a lot more to the 'economic' motives of marriage, IMO (including financial motives) than sexual competition.

By "economic" I mean "materialistic." Status within society, building up of one's social group, etc.

>Surely by definition an 'alternative' relationship is one that is foreign to society as a whole ;-)?

My point (which you are distracting yourself from perhaps on purpose) is that relationships are essentially homogeneous. That is also the great lie of our "consumer choice." Yes, there is, on the surface, great variety, but our place as a consumer and the seller's place as a seller is essentially the same regardless of one's choice of product or venue. One's desire does not make one an individual, especially if it's for what everyone else wants. Vast resources are wasted to hide this fact.
Guy at 03:39 on 2009-12-12
@Morgus: I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the Marxist/Materialist worldview, but I also think there's a problem with evaluating it as an ideology if you don't have some sense of what it would take to demonstrate it to be incorrect. I mean, OK, we can start by looking at various social phenomena and saying, "Yep, that's part of the economic base, that's only part of the social superstructure, that thing over there is base..." &c &c. But if somebody picks out some example and wants to argue that it shows that not all relationships are fundamentally driven by economic motives or structures, how are you going to respond? By what criteria are you going to judge the validity of their counter-example? If you say it's "self-evident" that it's invalid, or the criteria of validity boils down to "proper materialist interpretation = valid, other = not valid", then you end up stuck in the bubble of a self-validating ideology. I know it's a big ask, but, can you say anything about what your criteria of falsification would be?
Morgus at 07:27 on 2009-12-12
>I know it's a big ask, but, can you say anything about what your criteria of falsification would be?

Self-sacrifice of one sort or another. Priesthood doesn't count, that brings great status. (and wealth) Kind of like Yukio Mishima, he said that he did not believe in the sincerity of Westerners, since they kept their sincerity locked within their torsos. He was referring, of course, to seppuku, which he ended up committing quite publicly.

Another less gruesome criteria would be the degree to which a person is individuated. If he/she pursued goals or had a way of thinking that had nothing to do with the world of the "people" or any established group or immediate, simple-minded self-interest. In short, I would accept a person who had displayed an ability to transcend the linearity that arbitrarily limits the human condition.
Wardog at 15:51 on 2009-12-12
Lol!Rand.
Morgus at 19:59 on 2009-12-12
Nope, Ayn Rand only acknowledged "rational" self-interest, IOW simplistic money-grubbing. Even if there were rules governing this idealized quest for money, the basic motive was inherently banal.
Rami at 22:44 on 2009-12-12
Still don't quite follow. But...
By "economic" I mean "materialistic." Status within society, building up of one's social group, etc.

given the above and your implication that "rational" self-interest != self-interest, I'm thinking our basic definitions of key terms differ too much for me to understand your point unless you expand further.
Morgus at 22:55 on 2009-12-12
I really don't know where your confusion's coming from. I'm not a proponent of simple-minded self-interest, and I've said so repeatedly. "Rational" self-interest is another form of simple-minded self-interest dressed up as logical positivism. Long story short, I dislike banal motivations veiled as heroic, transcendent things.
Arthur B at 23:02 on 2009-12-12
But given your views on the purpose of marriage, it sounds like you don't believe that people by and large have any non-banal motives...
Rami at 23:47 on 2009-12-12
I really don't know where your confusion's coming from.

Well, for instance, you said "economic interest", and seemed to mean by it something different from what I mean when I say "economic interest". You also seem to understand "rational" self-interest differently. Extrapolating from that, I would expect that your definition of "simple-minded self-interest" would differ from mine too, so I have no definite idea of what you mean when you say it. How are you defining "simple-minded"?

I dislike banal motivations veiled as heroic, transcendent things

I don't know which culture you grew up in, but in mine marriage is always understood as a useful thing that serves certain functions. Not heroic or transcendent.
Morgus at 01:14 on 2009-12-13
>But given your views on the purpose of marriage, it sounds like you don't believe that people by and large have any non-banal motives...

Yes, that is precisely my point. Those who conceive of better things are great people.

>How are you defining "simple-minded"?

Linear, unimaginative, gotten from some other, still more mundane source like your church, your parents, or corporate America.

>I don't know which culture you grew up in, but in mine marriage is always understood as a useful thing that serves certain functions. Not heroic or transcendent.

"But marriage is about love! And sanctity and shit!"
Morgus at 06:34 on 2009-12-13
And back to the point. Nobody's disputed that Whedon's sensibility is traditional, they've disputed only my wording of my criticisms.
Rami at 07:01 on 2009-12-13
Nobody's disputed that Whedon's sensibility is traditional

Well, I'd not call it traditional per se1, but I don't think anyone was arguing about that to begin with -- I think we're mostly agreed that it's problematic.

they've disputed only my wording of my criticisms.

Well you did make a few other assertions beyond "the sensibility Whedon portrays is traditional" ;-)

[1]: Assuming Anglo-American 'tradition', yes, there's a good deal of overlap with Nice Guy but I really don't think either is a pure superset of the other...
Wardog at 19:33 on 2009-12-13
I also rather think this discussion that wandered rather far from the original article. Shall we rein it in?
Morgus at 23:12 on 2009-12-13
yeah okay mom

And btw all the 4 bulletpoints at the beginning of the article could easily describe the Victorian view of human sexuality. Just sayin'.
Melissa G. at 00:19 on 2009-12-14
yeah okay mom


Um, that was rather rude. And Kyra makes a valid point. This has nothing to do with the original article anymore. And the discussion doesn't seem to be going anywhere so why not just put an end to it?
Morgus at 00:58 on 2009-12-14
Strange how the Internet both disinhibits people and makes them more overly sensitive. That was really my way of jokingly backing out of this while reiterating my point.

If you don't want to move us off track any more, then don't respond to this. I am done.
Rami at 02:36 on 2009-12-14
That was really my way of jokingly backing out of this while reiterating my point.

Try appending a ;-) to indicate humorous intent, it works better on the Internets :-)
Morgus at 03:06 on 2009-12-14
noooo you are off track

oh shit so am i

edit: I just looked at my first post. It comes like 9 months after the one before. It appears that digression is healthy.
Rami at 03:29 on 2009-12-14
noooo you are off track

oh shit so am i

WTF???
Arthur B at 03:41 on 2009-12-14
I just looked at my first post. It comes like 9 months after the one before. It appears that digression is healthy.

Here on FB, we don't mind if the conversation on an article peters out. We're not against someone resurrecting a discussion if they have a new point to make, but we also recognise that there are times when nobody has anything useful to say and it's best if people stop posting for a while.

This is one of those times.
Arthur B at 20:36 on 2012-11-30
Super-special three year necro because I finally started watching Firefly and uuuuuuh...

I mean, maybe I'm not being fair and I'm judging it in the light of the article but the Inara/Companion stuff is just toe-curling and I 100% see Dan's point about it being a kind of Nice Guy fantasy (right down to several of her clients apparently being Nice Guys).

On top of that I'm having trouble sussing how she even fits into this culture. Most people think Companions are awesome, but they only seem to mention their existence when Inara happens to be in the room - so far I've yet to see an Alliance officer griping about his long tour of duty and daydreaming about hooking up with a Companion he'd employed back home or anything like that. On top of Mal being unceasingly unpleasant about her profession, Shepherd seems to disapprove when he first meets her, so even though Shepherd comes around fairly quickly it still seems as though there's some social stigma attached to it (because where else did Mal learn that "whore" was a word you could use to insult people with?) but this only seems to come up when Whedon needs Mal to be unpleasant to Inara. Unless there's an episode which unpacks all this late in the series (or a diversion revolving around it in the movie) it doesn't seem we ever get any insight into the history of the institution and how it came into being and got to the level of social acceptance it has, which would seem to be an obvious and necessary thing to work out considering the amount of work which has clearly gone into figuring out other aspects of the future history here. On top of that, I don't feel that I'm getting enough indications as to whether Mal and Shepherd's disapproval of the concept pegs them as conservative but in line with a substantial body of feeling in the general population, or markedly old-fashioned in a way which makes their view of the subject eccentric or extreme, or so far out of step with public opinion that they're being kind of nuts about it - in other words, I haven't the slightest idea what level of social acceptance the Companions are meant to have.

It feels, in fact, like something Whedon ham-fistedly patched in because he wanted prostitutes in his space Western without the consequences of having prostitutes, in the same way that the Reavers are his way of having a culture of people living out in the wasteland with a reputation for brutal atrocities against settlers without having Native Americans portrayed in the way they were often portrayed in the nastier sort of golden age Westerns, and how the Browncoats were a way to have a Confederacy analogue without the slavery angle.

I dunno how I feel about all that. On the one hand it's obviously a step up from having an unreconstructed Western with all the nastier setting elements intact. On the other hand, seeing the main character giving the old "We [the South] Will Rise Again!" line and having his belief that the war was about freedom from central government meddling be actually justified gives me shivers.
Arthur B at 20:43 on 2012-11-30
Ew, I'm watching the "I don't respect your job but he doesn't respect you" episode.

Between this and the fact I have seen literally nothing so far to make me imagine that the Alliance as a whole are evil aside from the River thing (and nothing to suggest that that isn't the responsibility of a small conspiracy within an otherwise benign society rather than evidence of all-pervasive corruption) and I'm beginning to think that the only way I'm going to enjoy this show is if I regard Mal as an unutterable prick who deserves whatever horrible stuff happens to him.
Michal at 00:24 on 2012-12-01
Well Arthur, there's a certain a "major" plot twist in Serenity that bears a striking resemblance to a short story by Michael Moorcock. Which means you'll just have to watch it to the end now to find out what that resemblance is.
Arthur B at 01:25 on 2012-12-01
Unless it involves Simon and Inara merging to become an androgynous Antichrist who consumes the world, or Mal having a breakdown where he almost but not quite accepts the fact that he murdered the whole crew and dumped the bodies in the cryo-berths, or Vera the assault rifle killing Jayne, turning into a humanoid form and declaring "Farewell, friend, I was a thousand times more evil than thou", I think I'm going to be disappointed. ;)
James D at 06:39 on 2012-12-01
On top of that I'm having trouble sussing how she even fits into this culture.

Well first of all it's important to note that there are regular ol' prostitutes in Firefly too (as you'll see in one of the later episodes), and the Companions look down on them just as much as Mal does. I get the idea that Companions are basically just like highly-trained, high-priced prostitutes controlled by a central body who requires them to undergo regular health checkups and pass various tests before 'licensing' them (these details are mentioned). Regular prostitutes can't get these licenses, thus they're looked down upon. Because of how beautiful/smart/good in bed the Companions are, they're in absurdly high demand and can basically pick and choose from a large pool of potential clients. More cultured types give them a moral pass, more conservative, old-fashioned types like Mal and Shepherd Book (who have presumably had little exposure to Companions due to living out in the boonies) tend to be less approving. It seems like the whole "Companion" thing is Whedon's ideal for legal prostitution, rather than a separate thing altogether.

In principle I don't really see anything wrong with it, but the whole Nice Guy angle is definitely creepy. Also, I think Mal taking issue with Inara's profession was set up as a conflict that would initially keep them from getting romantically involved despite obvious chemistry, but would eventually resolve - Mal would later loosen the stick up his butt, come to terms with Inara's profession, and they'd finally hook up. Of course, it ended after only one season, so who knows what would have happened otherwise.
http://jmkmagnum.blogspot.com/ at 07:20 on 2012-12-01
I could see that working, but they went WAY overboard on making Mal disgustingly judgmental and disrespectful toward Inara. It doesn't feel like they have great chemistry that if Mal could just get over his superficial hangups they would be great together; it feels like Mal is sexually attracted to her and has an attitude of "If all your life choices and personality were different, I wouldn't have to look down at you." And so more than rooting for him to modernize his views, I root for him to get the hell away from Inara and let her live her life.
Dan H at 13:44 on 2012-12-01
@Arthur

On top of Mal being unceasingly unpleasant about her profession, Shepherd seems to disapprove when he first meets her, so even though Shepherd comes around fairly quickly it still seems as though there's some social stigma attached to it (because where else did Mal learn that "whore" was a word you could use to insult people with?) but this only seems to come up when Whedon needs Mal to be unpleasant to Inara.


It should come as no surprise to those who know anything about Whedon fandom that I've heard people cite this very issue as evidence that the way Mal treats Inara is *one hundred percent okay*.

Because, you see, Firefly is set in a post-patriarchy society, and so when Mal calls Inara a whore, he isn't using a misogynistic, gendered insult in order to assert his superiority over her, he's just expressing his entirely rational, entirely well-founded disregard for her profession - just as you might call Jane "mercenary" or Book "preacher" or for that matter call Simon a "quack".

This, after all, is the ideal of all social justice movements - to get to the point where we can be as racist and misogynistic as we like but it will be okay because everybody will be equal anyway.

@James D

Regular prostitutes can't get these licenses, thus they're looked down upon.


I agree that that's how it seems to work in the setting (and I'm aware that all you're doing here is pointing out how things work in-universe, not arguing for any particular interpretation of it), it's just that this makes things *even more* fucked up, because it means that Mal's attitude problem goes from being "looks down Inara because she is a prostitute, which is wrong because it is none of his damned business whether she is a prostitute or not" to "looks down on Inara because he *mistakenly believes* her to be a prostitute, when in fact she is a Companion, which is okay because Companions are special."

Kyra and I have just watched Easy A, which suffers from exactly this problem. It's about a girl who gets a reputation for being a slut because she lies about losing her virginity. She spends the entire movie being horrendously slut-shamed, which the movie seems to feel is wrong *only* because it is based on a factual error - as in the reason it's wrong to slut-shame this girl is because she isn't a slut, not because slut-shaming is wrong *in general*. It's full of horrible scenes where she pontificates whether maybe pretending to be a slut is as bad as really being a slut, and people say things like "I know you're not really a whore, because a real whore doesn't know she's a whore".

It seems like the whole "Companion" thing is Whedon's ideal for legal prostitution, rather than a separate thing altogether.


Pretty much this, but once again that just creeps me out even more. Ironically, Whedon here is arguing for exactly the kind of ridiculous straw man "legalized prostitution" that Chester Brown was arguing against in Paying For It, where legalization isn't about providing prostitutes with better working conditions, or proper legal protection, or any level of social acceptability *as a whole* - it's just about making sure that the only people who are allowed to be prostitutes are really hot.
Fishing in the Mud at 14:33 on 2012-12-01
the reason it's wrong to slut-shame this girl is because she isn't a slut, not because slut-shaming is wrong *in general*.

It's been years since I saw Easy A, but I still get slightly sick thinking about it. What a disgusting piece of filth. It's strange the way it seemed to completely miss what's actually wrong with slut-shaming, as you outlined, but to clearly understand how gross slut-shaming is and how pathetic and hypocritical slut-shamers are. It's all the worse for almost managing to be decent.
Dan H at 15:04 on 2012-12-01
It kept coming *so close* to redeeming itself. There's the bit towards the end when she talks to her mother, and she's like "oh yeah, I was a total slut in high school" and you believe for about ten seconds that it's going to point out that there would have been *nothing wrong with that*. Then she follow up with "I had a very low sense of self-worth."

The very last line is, in fact "it's none of your damned business" but in the context of the wider film it seems a lot like she's saying "it's none of your business whether I have sex with my current boyfriend, because what goes on in a conventional monogamous relationship is understood to be private, in a way that the broader details of my sexual behaviour are not."

Gah.
Arthur B at 15:59 on 2012-12-01
Watched Our Mrs Reynolds last night and yeeeeeeeeeah I think I'm done.

Note to Firefly fans about to write in with "but it gets so good in episode 7/10/14/the movie!" - I'm not interested and I'm not going to read what you have to say. The series is just too much of a slog and too prone to fall over its own incoherent setting and Minority Warring for me to devote any more time to it.
James D at 17:49 on 2012-12-01
Pretty much this, but once again that just creeps me out even more. Ironically, Whedon here is arguing for exactly the kind of ridiculous straw man "legalized prostitution" that Chester Brown was arguing against in Paying For It, where legalization isn't about providing prostitutes with better working conditions, or proper legal protection, or any level of social acceptability *as a whole* - it's just about making sure that the only people who are allowed to be prostitutes are really hot.

Yeah, it also would have been nice to see, say, a male Companion, or a Companion that isn't traditionally attractive. To be honest the whole thing just doesn't seem terribly thought-out; it seems like he just wanted one of the crew members to be a prostitute, since it's unusual/shocking/challenging/etc. at least for the basic cable crowd.

You have to remember who his initial audience was here; I don't know how much you non-American types know about regular Fox programming, but it's generally "edgy" in certain specific ways (see: the Simpsons, Family Guy) and very conservative in others. You might even say they're edgy in a reactionary way, what with Family Guy often pushing the line in terms of what racist/sexist/homophobic jokes it can get away with (despite its superficial white guy liberal leanings in general).

So Whedon decided he didn't want to make her just a regular prostitute, that would be too gritty and/or unsympathetic (either for his taste or for Fox's), instead making her a "special" prostitute, and attached some half-assed ideas about the sex trade in general. But really he never does anything with those ideas - Mal never has to explain his fundamental assumptions about prostitution being immoral, because I think his attitude was meant to be a stand-in for the average Fox viewer's. Not that that excuses Whedon or anything - just that I think he bit off way more than he could chew given his medium, and probably should have scrapped the whole idea.
Fishing in the Mud at 18:04 on 2012-12-01
it's generally "edgy" in certain specific ways (see: the Simpsons, Family Guy) and very conservative in others.

Not to mention Glee, created especially for the mainstream America that most certainly is not homophobic, racist, sexist, or bigoted in any way, but does think it's a bit unfair that minorities get treated better than everyone else and should really stop whining.

"I had a very low sense of self-worth."

There's nothing wrong with being a slut as long as you hate yourself for it. That way the Nice Guy you decide to settle down with when you get tired of sex with Alpha Jerks can reassure you that you're a good person after all for seeing the light and deciding to devote yourself to him. He will be in charge of your virtue from then on, you'll have his permission to feel good about yourself.
Jules V.O. at 02:20 on 2012-12-02
Of course, it ended after only one season, so who knows what would have happened otherwise.


Actually, we *do* know what would have happened otherwise: gang rape by reavers.
Daniel F at 11:23 on 2012-12-02
Watched Our Mrs Reynolds last night and yeeeeeeeeeah I think I'm done.


But you didn't even get to Heart of Gold or Objects in Space!

It got worse, I'm afraid.

Quite early on while watching Buffy, I reached the conclusion that Joss Whedon is at his best when he's not consciously trying to be feminist, and when he's not thinking about gender issues at all. The more he tries, the worse the end result. In the context of Firefly, I found that the show is at its best when Inara is not in the plot. I don't know about the best, but Ariel is still the episode I enjoyed the most, and it starts by inventing an excuse to exclude Inara for the duration of the episode.
Dan H at 11:35 on 2012-12-02

Actually, we *do* know what would have happened otherwise: gang rape by reavers.


Worse: Gang rape by Reavers, the primary narrative purpose of which was to allow Mal to demonstrate *how good he would be for Inara* by *not being disgusted by the fact that she had been raped*.

This little titbit made me particularly uncomfortable because I suspect that "girl I fancy gets raped, I am totally supportive about it, she totally has sex with me" is a far more common fantasy than any of us would like to admit.
Michal at 13:49 on 2012-12-02
What is up with anti-rape devices in science fiction that only work while you're being raped? First the dentata in Snowcrash, then this thing.
http://wrongquestions.blogspot.com/ at 14:51 on 2012-12-02
Well, I don't know if this is what Stephenson or Minear had in mind, but what occurs to me in the face of both of these stories is that if you're in a situation where you're going to get raped, there's no reason to believe that that's where it will end, and a device that doesn't protect you from rape but does incapacitate or kill your attacker might save your life. In theory, anyway. In practice, that kind of thinking assumes that there's only one attacker and that you're going to be in a position (and in a state) to escape once they're taken care of, neither of which strike me as reasonable assumptions for the sort of situation where such a device might conceivably be of use. I suspect the actual appeal for writers is the ironic reversal - the attribute that supposedly makes women vulnerable makes them dangerous - hence the popularity of the vagina dentata trope in general.
Arthur B at 15:27 on 2012-12-02
I seem to remember that in Snow Crash the dentata is mentioned as being there for deterrent purposes - because rapists never know who's got a dentata, they don't know whether they're going to lose a dick in a rape attempt.

In practice, as I mentioned upthread, rapists these days never know whether someone they're targeting is carrying a gun or a knife or mace or whatever. Doesn't stop 'em!

Also the discussion of the device in Snow Crash seems to assume that rape always consists of complete strangers attacking you and humping you briefly in an alleyway.
Fishing in the Mud at 16:12 on 2012-12-02
Knowing that a potential victim might be armed probably fails to move them because they can't actually imagine a weak, helpless woman knowing how to use a gun or knife properly. I would guess the image of vagina dentata working effectively is exponentially more vivid.
James D at 20:12 on 2012-12-02
Also you have to be in a position to use a knife/gun/mace/whatever effectively, which if the rapist gets the jump on you might not be an option. From what I understand, the dentata just works without you having to do anything except insert it beforehand.
Dan H at 23:30 on 2012-12-02
Also you have to be in a position to use a knife/gun/mace/whatever effectively, which if the rapist gets the jump on you might not be an option. From what I understand, the dentata just works without you having to do anything except insert it beforehand.


Of course the flip side of that is that the dentata only works in the case of actual vaginal penetration. If it's meant to be used as a way of incapacitating a rapist so that they can't harm you *after* they've raped you, it's still in practice far less reliable than pretty much every other kind of cybernetic weapon implant you might want to get. If it's meant to be a deterrent, it's one that is - without wanting to think too deeply about the details - easily circumvented.
James D at 23:39 on 2012-12-02
If it's meant to be a deterrent, it's one that is - without wanting to think too deeply about the details - easily circumvented.

The obvious solution is to have dentata in every part of your body. FOOL PROOF
Arthur B at 01:23 on 2012-12-03
Uh, is it just me or is this getting kind of unnecessary?
Wardog at 10:06 on 2012-12-03
Well, it's slightly more entertaining that thinking too hard about the doomed hypothetical future of Firefly. I mean, I know there's lots to dislike about the show, and the gender politics are all Whedony and unpleasant, but ... uh ... I quite liked it.

That doesn't mean it's not wildly problematic in very many ways, and perhaps the only reason I like it so much is because it didn't have a chance to go horribly wrong, but I thought it was fun and witty, and actually I was pretty passionate about it when it first aired. Or rather after it was aired and cancelled.

I think it's harder to watch in retrospect because The Whedon Problems have sort of developed over time. It's easy to downplay how fucking awesome Buffy, and some of Angel, was in the light of, well, Dollhouse and Whedon deciding he was god's gift to feminism. Before he basically decided that liking to watch hot women run around in tight fitting clothing was morally equivalent to raping them and that sent him off on a Nice Guy Minority Warrior spin ... he did good stuff.

I miss that guy.
Arthur B at 10:40 on 2012-12-03
Eh, I find Whedon's wit to be kind of grating personally. (In particular, I find that the more it comes out in his writing the more the characters end up sounding like the stock Whedon characters he's been using since the early days rather than distinct individuals.)

Possibly this is a "you had to be there at the time" thing because I came onboard Buffy fairly late (mainly catching episodes when I happened to be in Dan's presence and the show happened to be on) and I don't recall having a reaction more positive than "eh, this is OK". I guess maybe I'd be more appreciative of his stuff if I'd got on the Whedon train earlier (say, during the early Buffy period or something) but as it is my first exposure to him involved more mediocre stuff so even his better material just ends up reminding me of the mediocre stuff, if you see what I mean.
Robinson L at 15:30 on 2012-12-03
Arthur: as it is my first exposure to him involved more mediocre stuff so even his better material just ends up reminding me of the mediocre stuff, if you see what I mean.

Yeah, that makes sense. Ptolemaeus and I recently re-watched the first three seasons of Buffy, and even that wasn't as great as we remembered. (Even in his early years, Whedon had an inflated sense of his own profundity.)

I also am quite fond of Firefly, despite its more deplorable elements (e.g. the protagonist), but I can see how you'd come to the conclusion that it's not worth your while, and it really doesn't get significantly better. As Dan has already mentioned, in some places it gets even worse.

Kyra: Before he basically decided that liking to watch hot women run around in tight fitting clothing was morally equivalent to raping them and that sent him off on a Nice Guy Minority Warrior spin ... he did good stuff.

I miss that guy.

Me too. Still, there's always the Avengers movie/Avengers Assemble.

Dan: Because, you see, Firefly is set in a post-patriarchy society, and so when Mal calls Inara a whore, he isn't using a misogynistic, gendered insult in order to assert his superiority over her, he's just expressing his entirely rational, entirely well-founded disregard for her profession - just as you might call Jane "mercenary" or Book "preacher" or for that matter call Simon a "quack".

Apart from not really being an at all accurate picture of what social justice movements struggle for (as you point out), this argument is also ludicrous just on the face of it, considering how many villainous cartoon misogynists Whedon populates the Firefly 'Verse with to make his hamfisted gender commentaries.

This little titbit made me particularly uncomfortable because I suspect that "girl I fancy gets raped, I am totally supportive about it, she totally has sex with me" is a far more common fantasy than any of us would like to admit.

Well, there's nothing wrong with fantasies, even about stuff that would be highly messed up in the real world, so long as you don't try projecting those fantasies onto the real world ... like by portraying such a fantasy as series drama, for instance.
Fishing in the Mud at 18:04 on 2012-12-03
Buffy worked for me when I first watched it because I'd never seen anything like it before, and I often had no idea where it was going. There was a brightness and innocence to it that made it genuinely fun. Buffy's pathos felt warm and real and unavoidable, not hard and dry and bloodless like it did in the later seasons. I don't think this is all hindsight on my part, even though I haven't seen the show in at least five or six years.
Bookwyrm at 04:54 on 2013-01-27
Hi! This is my first time commenting here. I came across this short story after reading this article. Its probably unintentional but it kind of reads like a cautionary tale against this sort of behavior.
http://www.halloweenghoststories.com/featured/index.html
I will use Buffy for most examples as I am more familiar with this, his longest running project. . .


Rape is all about power. The rape scenes in Buffy are no different. Buffy was the one with the power. The chosen. The heavenly, loved, good one. She trained Spike to be sexually violent with the rapes she performed on him. Pushing and degrading him; beating him and demanding he perform sexual acts. She was the one in control, with all power. When Spike broke emotionally and reciprocated, he was judged to have shown how evil he had been, was, and always would be. A double standard that is dangerous to encourage.

Wheton's simplistic view that Buffy is justified in her treatment of Spike because he is all evil, encourages the viewer to subconsciously believe that anything they do to a person they define as "evil" is justified. The slayer and the vampire are on fairly equal footing physically. They should both have been judged as rapist or neither should have been judged as such. It doesn't matter that Spike was an evil vampire without a soul, for the character arch had already surpassed that basic premise.

The positive message of equality and forgiveness, even atonement for past acts, are given lip service in the series but they become superimposed with the concept that one evil act makes us, and everything we do, always and forever evil. The second message is even more simplistic, juvenile, and dangerous, for it demonstrates that certain chosen few are not to be judged by the same criteria as everyone else. It stereotypically enhances the fact that, in Whedon's world, the privileged, regardless of their sex, is all-powerful. Evil men show it, good men keep it hidden, and those with power don't even have to acknowledge it. Huge fallacies.

A good man can perform acts of evil, and an evil man can perform acts of good. It is the nature of the beast. Therefore man, being defined in this context to include both sexes, is neither good nor evil. There is just man, in all his imperfections. If you attempt to judge a man's entire moral compass by one single act, or even a lot of acts during one period of his growth and development, then you do not judge the man. A man should be judged on the total sum of his parts for the development he has achieved to date, with the understanding that new experiences will have an effect and will alter and change him. Man is not a stagnate creature. He is not the man he was; nor is he the man he will become.

Though Whedon had ample time, in Spike's character arch, this level of development was never achieved and any time the journey was begun, the Spike character was reset to ground zero. Almost like James Marsters brought more depth to the role than was intended and so the character was punished for the transgression. The same hold's true in all Whedon's excellently casted series.

I wasn't sold on the rape concept and couldn't even suspend my disbelief long enough to see the scene as anything more than an end of season rating ploy. I viewed Inara's rape episode in Firefly with similar trepidation, and there are numerous instances in Whedon's work from which to extrapolate.

I won't even get into the glaring inequality that appears when you view that both Angel and Spike were working to become “champions”, a telling word that. Whereas, if she hadn't been chosen by outside forces, Buffy would have been an airhead. Other than to say the men were the “earners” while the woman was “the little girl to bestow gifts upon but not capable of walking the path on her own.” Which is further demonstrated by the fact that the slayers had watchers and the champions choose their own path.

As for empowering women, the all powerful slayer, does not even have the strength of character to live her life in the open and instead hides in the shadows to obtain the sexual relief that Wheton's male characters flaunt and mostly take for granted. The message being that women should be ashamed of their sexual appetites and must work to suppress and hide them, least they be found out and the woman subsequently fall from grace. Inara is allowed to have sex, but not to enjoy it, and has to be paid to perform it. Faith, being Buffy's foil, is showed as the unstable and nasty, common, girl, who repeatedly falls outside of the norms and morays society demands. Thus, is she to be despised, because she openly pursues such sexual liaisons. Faith is also written as crude and unacceptable because she isn't diplomatic and she repeatedly shows human qualities that keep her from being chosen one material.

Even employment is harangued. Their are many women in food service who are intelligent, warm, and friendly. That are working to better themselves because they were not born into privileged circumstances. Many are working for their families survival, and if that isn't a noble act, I don't know what is! Joss portrays them as end of the line, throw away characters. Social services is also not immune to his prosaic view of woman. He had an opportunity to show that we all fall on hard times and can struggle and overcome. He failed to do so.

True empowerment comes from knowing if we do what is necessary, with dignity and decency, even if we never climb any higher on society's perceived social ladder, we are worthy and have overcome, regardless of the outer trappings of our souls.

His views are too cut and dry, to one-sided and are mired too much in the upper crust motif of his life. Good actors of both sexes, who journey outside Whedon's work morality, appear to be left behind because they manage to raise questions, to shine the light of inquiry into the character they portray in ways that Joss Whedon will grudgingly capitalize upon, while he reins in the character to assure that those questions remain out of focus and unexamined. Then, those actors seem to be condemned and dropped by the wayside as quickly as feasibly possible. I would question his level of devotion to his supporters who constantly ask for, but never see, the actors they have grown to love receive any roles with substance. The individual talent pool that is not being taped seems to grow exponentially.

So, is this all evil/all good concept he repeatedly embodies in his work, Joss Whedon's internal beliefs manifested? Scary thought. I watch Joss Whedon's projects for enjoyable escapism. His works are not my answer to the feminine mystique. Nor is he my guru.
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