I THOUGHT I HAD TILL 21:000 OHIO STATE TIME!!! IWORKED ON THIS DAMN PAPER MOST OF MY WORK DAY INSTEAD OF WORK WHICH IS REALLY IRONIC SINCE I WORK FOR OHIO STATE!! FUCK!!q CAN I HAVE AN EXTENSION?! MY FRIEND DIED YESTERDAY BUT I STILL MADE SURE I GOT IT DONE. EVEN THOUGH SHE WOULD HAVE TOLD ME TO GO GET DRUNK. I CAn't use this as the skip because i messed up on a previous one.
In the sci-fi fandom sub-culture, Joss Whedon is worshipped by many as minor god. He is considered one of the (if not THE) most creative writers/directors/producers in the world today. He is also well-known as a feminist and has laid claim to the title on many occasion. Indeed it is part of his appeal that he writes very strong, smart female characters. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast he said the reason for his strong advocacy of women, “I was raised by a hardcore feminist. I was also much smaller than my brothers and bullied a lot, so I identify with the feeling of helplessnessi.”
However, when one searches via Google on the terms Joss+Whedon+feminism over 194,000 results are received and not all agree with Mr. Whedon’s self-appellation. What is the source of the arguments? Some complain about tropism they claim envelopes his heroines. Others say his women are mere caricatures of what true women are. There is a strong contingent of fans who complain his women characters are abused and harmed in ways beyond what is necessary for good story-telling. I find that even though I am one of the fans who calls Joss my “creative god,” I have a problem with his continual use of rape as a plot device. If he indeed “(identifies) with the feeling of helplessness,” how can he inflict this level of violence upon his women? And what happens to the women after this heinous act occurred? How are they changed or do they change?
In Buffy the Vampire Slayerii, Spike the vampire attacked Buffy after she rebuffed him from any future sexual encounters. She had been using him as a sexual toy to make her “feel” something after being returned from the dead. In the attempted rape, Buffy is able to fight off Spike and he recoils in horror at what he has done. He then travels to a magical source and regains, at great pains, his soul. When he returns to Buffy, she accepts him with reservations. However, she eventually she take him into her heart and back into her bed.
Outside of old romance novels, I have never heard of a rape victim willingly taking back her rapist. I'm sure it has happened because the world is large place and relationships between men and women are complicated. However Buffy is a super-hero and there is no need for her to accept the man who assaulted her. I am sure there are many who would argue that Spike having his soul upon his return makes a difference. I would argue that no woman forgets that easily an attack on her person. For many women (most women?), it is the ultimate violation against them as people.
Rape is essentially a constant core factor in Dollhouse, Whedon’s Fox series which ran two seasons in 2009 and 2010. The story concerns a corporation, Rossum, that uses people called ‘Actives,’ or more casually ‘dolls,’ for what is really an elaborate prostitution ring. The dolls are people who for whatever reason have signed a contract to have their personalities erased. They then have new personalities downloaded or imprinted, so they can be whomever the client wishes them to be. These new personalities may have a variety of talents and skills not known by the original. Most often the client is paying for some elaborate sexual fantasy. Since the doll under the new personality is consenting it is not construed as rape. However, what of the original personality? Would that person have consented?
The question becomes particularly tricky in case of the active called Sierraiii. Her original personality was named Priya Tsetsang and had attracted the obsessive notice of a Rossum doctor, Nolan Kinnerd. She refused him so he had her kidnapped and imprisoned in a mental health hospital. There he used his drug knowledge to dope her until she gave the appearance of being a paranoid schizophrenic patient. Because of this, he convinced the Dollhouse to make her an active and he becomes her number one client. Her imprinted personality adores Kinnerd and she becomes a willing love slave.
I doubt anyone argue that Priya would have agreed to this arrangement had the doctor not taken away her ability to make a choice. A core idea of feminism is about women being able to make choices of their own. Priya was something of a bohemian and loved her life. She was a free spirit with a healthy sex drive as she proves in one of the flashback scenes. She refused Kinnerd’s advances because he came on too strong and seemed a person who wanted control. Ultimately (SPOILER ALERT), she kills him in defense of her right to choose the life she wanted. Because she is love with another doll, she allows her mind erased and remains with the Dollhouse as an active. She essentially, because she’s lost so much, chooses to have choices taken from her. This is not a very feminist attitude. It is a surrender, not truly a choice.
Fireflyiv is arguably the fan favorite of Joss Whedon’s vita. In the world Joss created for the show, China and America have merged and created a corporation, the Alliance, that runs the universe in place of any governments. There was a war, a rebellion against the Alliance, but the rebels, called the Browncoats, lost. Those that survived fled to the outer edges of settled space where the world resembles America’s Wild West with outlaws, black markets, and relaxed morale codes. Firefly refers to the class of ship which transports the main cast. The ship is called the Serenity and it is captained by a former Browncoat named Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. Among the passengers and crew is a woman named Inara Serra who rents one of the shuttles. She travels with the ship working as a Companion, effectively a very high class, high moneyed prostitute. In this culture, a Companion has a certain élan and deferred to by many in the governments.
In an interview with the website Fanboy Confidentialv, Tim Minear, one of the writers and directors of Firefly, shared one of the potential episodes he and Whedon had planned if the show had not been cancelled so quickly. The plan was to have her kidnapped by the Reavers, a group of insane outcasts that through a bio-chemical error have lost all humanity and fly through space committing extreme acts of violence. In Mr. Minear’s words, "(The episode) opens with Mal and Inara fighting [as they do]. Mal tells her she pretends to be a lady and wants everyone to bow before her and kiss her hand but she’s just a whore. Then the Reavers attack and take Inara. While trying to get her back (the Serenity team) learn that she had something that would make anyone who had sex with her die. When they finally track down and board the ship they find all of the Reavers dead and Inara shaking and traumatized. They take her back to the ship and Zoe guards her room. Mal tries to get in to see her and Zoe tells him he’s the last person Inara needs to see. He pushes past her, kneels before Inara and kisses her hand."
With feminism precepts as a guide, this would have been an atrocious episode. The blogger Prozacparkvi sums it up best saying, “A woman having consensual sex that she enjoys and/or profits from is a whore, but a woman being raped can be a lady. It's the taking away of her CHOICE that elevates her to the status of a lady because it's okay as long as she didn't want it. … this whole attitude that Inara somehow owes Mal something and all her sexing is actually cheating on him and how he doesn't deserve her? Gah. He calls her a whore repeatedly, slut shames her, and ENJOYS it. When she has asked him not to, and this is our hero. The one who learns an Important Lesson from her rape.” Inara’s character should be one of the strongest women in the Whedon Universe. Instead she was almost reduced to one of the fanboy defined virgin/whore tropes. Also, from Minear’s discussion of this plotline, the rape was not supposed to have any long term repercussions to Inara nor any of her relationships beyond the immediate reactions. This would have been completely unfair to the character and storyline. It also is not a concept acceptable to the world of feminism.
Feminism wants to love Joss Whedon. He does write strong, complex women we can believe in. However, his plotlines often put these strong women into situations that are less than liberated. He is on the right track and obviously has the best intentions. But until he takes rape as seriously as women do, Joss Whedon's feminism will be flawed.