Since I don't check my site stats every day I was very surprised by the hits I got from Whedonesque.
Then I followed the comments back and it turns out I got ripped into for "not being original" and for saying Xander was "feminised". Let me quote some of the comments and then address the points the commentors raised.
Re: my lack of originality. This one galls because I wasn't really trying to be original so much as charting out some feminist responses to Buffy from my own perspective. If I was trying to be an original groundbreaking blogger I'd probably have packed up and gone home by now in recognition of my fairly meagre bloggerly talents. Anyway:
"Glancing down further, and I'm just scanning now, this writer admits s/he hasn't even seen ANGEL, and therefore I'm a better authority on this topic than s/he. So are you, probably.
...why are we reading this again?"
Ouch! I dunno, why are you reading this if it's so boring and I know nothing? *sobs*
I was just looking at the reasons why feminists love Joss Whedon's work, FROM A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE, and in part two I am going to look at why we're also hard on him. I wasn't intending to write a full-on academic exploration of every single feminist theme in Buffy and Firefly and Angel. I'm a fan, this was a fan writing from a personally feminist perspective as to why I love Buffy and Firefly and may well love Angel if I ever get the four solid months to watch it. If I did write an academic treatise on the subject, it would significantly longer. And I certainly wouldn't put it on my blog because no-one would ever read it because it would use lots of words like "hegemony". I love the word hegemony.
But I digress. As for the Angel comment -- well, again, I never set myself up as The Joss Whedon Authority, I was talking about a feminist response to his work from my own perspective. I have been meaning to watch Angel, and it's not out of any disrespect for Whedon or his work that I haven't seen it -- it's more out of time, and accessibility, and just having lots of stuff to do.
It does frustrate me to be taken to task for not discussing certain things, which happens quite a bit in the blogosphere. "Why didn't you talk about xyz!" seems like such a lazy way of making a point. I can't address every single point of every single topic I write about: it's impossible. And the joy of the Internets is that we can all share and share alike our opinions and beliefs. Yes, I should watch Angel, no, not having seen Angel doesn't invalidate my views on Whedon and feminism, it just means I have more to find out.
I also suspect that these readers may have misjudged my post from its title, which was a joking reference to comments by certain people hassling me to post it -- and it was certainly not meant to indicate my status as An Authority. It was also a peculiarly Australian reference that was meant to convey the fact that this was not, in fact, a Joss Whedon post that anyone particularly wanted or needed. My bad for being a little bit too clever -- or not clever enough -- for my own good.
But enough about me.
Re Inara and my views on her being negative:
"If she is (including Inara in the negative bit), the author has missed one of the strongest feminists comments that Joss has made - that women in control of their bodies are not victims; that prostitution has become a form of victimisation since men started running brothels and pimping women."
Well, in the part duex of the post I have written about the schism between sex positive and radical feminism and how it can be mapped out in the character of Inara, and I was going to link to a couple of awesome posts about this issue which say it all more much intelligently than I can.
I also find Inara troubling because she doesn't actually do much and for this I blame the writers, not Inara as character or Morena Baccarin as actress. I don't have the answers when it comes to the whole sex positive vs the radicals thing -- some days I see myself as a sex positive feminist, other days a radical feminist, and some days I don't even see myself as a feminist. Anyhoo...
"I also have to say that this article has one of my pet hates about some feminist criticism where she mentions that Xander is 'feminised'. This sort of hijacking of decency and niceness into solely female qualities strikes me as kind of cliched, basically inaccurate and as a bloke somewhat annoying (if she'd mentioned his ineffectiveness in combat or the way he often plays the victim role as being typically female qualities as depicted in film and TV I could have given her the benefit of the doubt but to say that not being 'a jerk' makes him feminised gives me the grrs)."
I really think this commentor misunderstood my point about Xander reading as feminised. I don't think being feminised as a bad thing, but in the world of the show (initially, his character grew significantly over the seven series) Xander is portrayed as having stereotypically feminine attributes -- kindness, gentleness, often being afraid, etc. And he is tormented AT SCHOOL for these character traits which is what I meant by being 'punished'. He doesn't fit in, he's an outsider, and I read his outsider status as coming at least partially from his refusal or inability to enact stereotypical masculine behaviours.
One of the points of feminism is to actually suggest that certain characteristics are not in fact anything to do with gender and that anyone, male or female, can be kind, gentle, and a bit of a scaredy cat at times. In fact, feminism is pretty down on the whole concept of gender to begin with, but more about that later.
Also, if you compare Xander to many of the other young male characters in the show, you will find that most of them are indeed jerks. It's not that being a jerk is a male quality; it's that Xander is shown to possess 'feminine' qualities that assist him in not being a jerk and set him out from the pack of young men. Which turn out to make him more of a man than any of the pathetic little boys that pop up on the show as date-rapists, jerks and jocks. I think Whedon very deliberately undermines the stereotypical masculinity of all of his male characters in numerous ways and I think this is a good thing.
Anyway, I should have watched my language more carefully here and made it more obvious that I see Xander as a feminist character because he transcends stereotypically male roles, just as Buffy transcends stereotypically female roles. Now does that mean that a character who is stereotypically feminine/masculine can't be feminist? Which leads me to this comment:
I dislike the notion that making female characters more masculine somehow instantly makes them feminist. That's one of the things about feminism that always bothered me. It always seemed that in their moral outrage of the treatment of women they stripping women of their femine aspects. They weren't becoming empowered women, they were becoming men.
As this article points out, Ripley is pretty much just a dude. Aside from the scene with the bikini (which would be been incredibly creepy if it had been a dude) that character could have been a dude. Not really my idea of a feminist icon.
The thing about Buffy that made her a feminist wasn't that she was a chick that kicked ass, but that she kicked ass without needing to become a man to do it.
I completely agree with Saje here on the Xander issue; Xander not being a jerk doesn't make him feminised. I always though Xander was one of the most real guys on television. He's not an ass on the level of Snydley Wiplash but that doesn't make him a chick. Hell even Spike had feelings and shared them quite often and he's bad-assed mean old vampire that was without soul for most of the show, but this author doesn't chacterize him as being "feminised.""
As a radical(ish) feminist, I believe most of our ideas about gender -- as distinct from biological sex, don't confuse sex with gender folks -- are in fact culturally and socially constructed, and that we are, as a species, hampered by our insistence that men are men and women are women and that certain behaviours are in fact innate in either gender. I see no reason why a man can't be 'pretty' and a woman 'tough', yet these characteristics are typically deemed to belong to the opposite gender in both instances. Also, the penalties in most societies and cultures for transcending gender boundaries are quite heavy.
I'd also argue that popular culture actively works, in many instances, to reinforce ideas about gender and how men and women should look/behave/appear.
So for me, in a textual analysis, talking about characters transcending gender roles is important because it not only indicates a feminist sensibility on the part of Joss Whedon, but because of the way pop culture works as a reinforcer/reinscriber of gendered values.
Buffy is so cool precisely because she bends gender in an interesting and still quite unique way, and the characters in the series don't conform to gender expectations. Women can be strong, tough, angry, promiscuous, torturers etc; men can be the same things but also sensitive, caring, kind, fearful etc. Whedon doesn't just cast his characters along "female = weak and must be rescued" lines and "male = tough and strong and always being the rescuer". It's not that either masculine or feminine is better, it's just that as ways of looking at human behaviour, gender is ridiculously narrow.
As the commentors at Whedonesque pointed out, there ain't nothing new in this idea, at all. And in the decade since Buffy began, there's been a helluva a lot of writing, academic and otherwise, on this topic. There's no way I could begin to cover every inch of ground, and I suppose that's why I didn't publish this post in the first place. Until I made the mistake of admitting I'd written it and then certain people asked me to put it up. I blame Fyodor.
The comments weren't all depressing for me. I also really liked this statement, which made a really good point that I didn't in my original post:
One thing I love about Joss shows is women aren't paragons of virtue. They're also pillocks sometimes. And when they make mistakes, they aren't 'punished' necessarily in the ways you might see elsewhere. They are allowed to make mistakes and still be strong, intelligent, desirable - not forever the femme fatale or damsel in distress.
Excellent addition and one that I think is really important: women aren't saints. Women aren't 'better' than men or 'worse' than men. We're all fully human people.
And I love BtVS precisely because the characters were, for me, as close to people as any fictional characters could be. They became almost real. I wept copiously when I watched the finale, even though I hated series 7, and after I watched it I felt a real sadness that the characters weren't going to be with me any more.
Anyway, I've survived the wrath of the Whedon-lovers -- which is kinda like being lashed by feminists, in that it always surprises me to be attacked, no matter how gently, by my own team. I expect much worse when I tackle possible feminist critiques of Whedon's work.