Joss Whedon and the problem with male feminists
If you’re a feminist film fan, you’re likely familiar with screenwriter, director, and producer Joss Whedon. The self-proclaimed feminist most notably created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which many consider the ultimate feminist TV show, and has featured numerous strong female characters in his other work.
And yet, Whedon has never quite been able to escape claims that his feminism is problematic — claims that recently came to a head when Whedon’s ex-wife, Kai Cole, wrote a scathing blog post for The Wrap that all but proved just how problematic his feminism is. In the post, Cole accuses Whedon of numerous infidelities and of being a feminist hypocrite for the way he treated her during their marriage. “There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women,” Cole writes. “He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better … he said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them.”
Cole’s “entire reality changed overnight,” after Whedon confessed the truth of his affairs to her, she writes. She “went from being a strong, confident woman, to a confused, frightened mess.” But now Cole recognizes that her ex-husband used her “as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.”
These allegations of emotional abuse are distressing, but perhaps not all that shocking to those who have closely followed Whedon’s career. In 2003, he allegedly fired Charisma Carpenter, an actress in the Buffy spin-off, Angel, for being pregnant. The recently leaked Wonder Woman script Whedon drafted in 2005 was interpreted by many as including explicit sexism and a lack of respect for Wonder Woman as a feminist icon, causing plenty of feminist turmoil on the Internet.
And yet, Whedon’s behavior is not unlike many “feminist” men, which in turn points to a bigger problem: the way in which many male feminists use that identity to excuse themselves from wrongdoing. For example, The Harvard Crimson recently wrote an interesting article examining how men are happy to flaunt their ally credentials while simultaneously undermining the very movement they claim to support. As Cole put it, “this is the man who uses his feminist credentials as a shield to defend himself against women’s claims that he harassed or assaulted them — because how could he, a feminist, possibly participate in the oppression of women?”
Cole’s experience should remind us all that being a feminist ally involves far more than just calling yourself a feminist. Actions speak louder than words and, in Whedon’s case, Cole has rendered him silent. Perhaps Whedon does love women, but it seems he only loves them when it suits and serves his needs and desires. He apparently loves the women he can create and control, and the women who can make him money — as is the case for many feminist allies who claim that they “love” us.
Will this revelation negatively impact Whedon’s career, though? Only time will tell — and only his fans who truly are feminist, and stand up for their beliefs by boycotting his work, will make the difference.
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