Joss Whedon: A Feminist with a Long Way to Go

by Zoe Shaw
Feminist Snob Queen Dictator

With the upcoming release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, people are getting excited about Joss Whedon’s next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

He is famous for a wide range of witty sci-fi television series and films, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He is also well known for being a feminist ally, having written several female leads with depth and independence. While this is not a bad thing, a detailed look at his works have not shown him to be the educated feminist he is claimed to be.

Exhibit A: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. First off, Buffy herself, the strong female lead of the show, while three dimensional and realistic (apart from the part where she slays vampires), is regularly punished for having sex. When she loses her virginity to Angel, he loses his soul and kills a beloved character.

Her later relationship with Riley features an episode where the couple does nothing but have sex, and it ends up nearly destroying an entire building.

Worst of all, her relationship with Spike is clearly abusive and violent. This could be amounted to bad luck, but consider Faith, the other slayer on the show. She has a lot of sex, and there are rarely any consequences to her actions. Then again, she is presented as “crazy”, and her love for sex and parties can be seen as a symptom of this. Other criticisms of Buffy include the lack of regular characters of colour, the poor treatment of Cordy’s character in both Buffy and Angel: The Series, and Tara’s death, which some have described as nothing more than a plot device common to fictional lesbians.

Exhibit B: Firefly. On the surface, this show seemed like a diverse one: Nearly half of the space cowboy crew was made of women and characters of colour.

However, many nitpicky remarks have been made about the show’s diversity. Although the universe is one where Chinese culture has expanded across the universe, there might be one instance of a Chinese character speaking more than one sentence. Was it a sneaky way to appropriate Chinese culture without including any actual representation? Also, the character of Inara, while interesting, is regularly and unapologetically called a whore by the main character, who would most likely have become her love interest had the show continued. Not cool, Mal.

Joss Whedon hugging Summer Glau (Firefly’s River Tam) Source: Gage Skidmore
Joss Whedon hugging Summer Glau (Firefly’s River Tam)
Source: Gage Skidmore

Exhibit C: The Avengers. In the first movie, the lack of diversity was not necessarily Whedon’s fault. In fact, he did a good job of fleshing out the character of Natasha Romanoff from what she had been established as in Iron Man 2. Although I often criticise Joss Whedon’s love for slim, brainwashed killer dancers who have backstory issues, that is actually Natasha Romanoff’s character in the Marvel comics.

My issue with Whedon and The Avengers is with what we have seen so far of Age of Ultron, more particularly, with Scarlet Witch.

Wanda Maximoff is one of the strongest, most powerful characters in the Marvel universe, but Whedon’s take on her has shown her to be a young, waifish, unstable woman who has a protective brother. Oddly similar to River from Firefly. I will try to withhold further judgement until the movie is released, but I will be surprised if this not-Jewish version of Wanda is anything but a carbon copy of River.

If Joss Whedon would like to continue calling his works feminist, he should probably stop appealing to such a white male audience. I am not attacking Whedon, since this might not be entirely his fault. He could be pressured by higherups to keep this audience, or his privileged status might be getting in the way of the diversity he could easily show in his works.

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