So I’m pretty late to be jumpin’ on the Joss Whedon bandwagon. It’s not like I ever disliked Buffy the Vampire-Slayer or Firefly, two of the TV shows that have canonized him in many circles. It’s just that I didn’t really pay attention until recently, a fact that might betray my youth. But now that I’ve started watching Firefly, and appreciating the genuinely strong, not-tokeny women I see on my TV screen, I’m starting to put the pieces together: Joss Whedon always writes strong female characters. It’s like he does it on purpose or something. But what male writer/director ever cares enough to specifically write women like they’re people? Joss Whedon does.
The more I read about him, the more I love him. According to everywhere on the internet, he created Buffy to be an “alternative feminist icon.” (I can’t find the original source of that quote, but it’s reported on many different sites.) During my research, I came across that quote and wondered about its accuracy. More important, the accuracy of Joss Whedon using the F-word in this context. Despite what I’ve seen of his work, my reaction is usually to be a little nervous when someone says they wrote a feminist character.
This is one example of a time I was wrong. Joss Whedon actually minored in feminist film theory at Wesleyan. In interviews, he says things like, “When people say to me, ‘Why are you so good at writing at women?’ I say, ‘Why isn’t everybody?’ Obviously there are differences between men and women – that’s what makes it all fun. But we’re all people. There’s a lot of good writers who are very humanist, but still manage to kind of skip 55 per cent of the race. And I just don’t get that. Not to be able to write an entire gender? To me, the question isn’t how do you do it? It’s how can you possibly avoid doing it?” Obviously the man understands two vital points: one, that women are people, and two, that feminism at its heart is merely the recognition of that seemingly obvious fact.
In the same article, he describes going from the home of his “radical feminist” mother, out into the bleak, anti-feminist world: “It was only when I got to college that I realised that the rest of the world didn’t run the way my world was run and that there was a need for feminism. I’d thought it was all solved. There are people like my mom, clearly everyone is equal and it’s all fine. Then I get into the world and I hear the things people are saying. Then I get to Hollywood and hear the very casual, almost insidious misogyny that just runs through so much of the fiction. It was just staggering to me.” It’s like he read my soul and repeated it back to me.
Armed with all this new knowledge about Mr. Whedon, I couldn’t be happier that he’s writing/directing The Avengers. When that was first announced, I was pretty indifferent. Now I’m pumped! Maybe Black Widow will be there for more than ass-shots and eye candy.
While we’re on the subject of comics, here’s what Joss Whedon thinks of modern comics: Nowadays I’m really cranky about comics. Because most of them are just really, really poorly written soft-core. And I miss good old storytelling. And you know what else I miss? Super powers. Why is it now that everybody’s like “I can reverse the polarity of your ions!” Like in one big flash everybody’s Doctor Strange. I like the guys that can stick to walls and change into sand and stuff. I don’t understand anything anymore. And all the girls are wearing nothing, and they all look like they have implants. Well, I sound like a very old man, and a cranky one, but it’s true.
I don’t mean to keep filling this post with great quotes, but I just want to make absolutely 100% sure that everyone gets how gosh-darn cool Joss Whedon is. I can’t help but gush about these quotes, because he’s a man involved with comics, sci-fi, shows with supernatural elements, etc who actually, really believes women should be written as people because they are people, and is really outspoken about it. Whedon doesn’t seem to give a damn what anyone might think about his attempts to empower women and girls. He doesn’t care if people reject him and his work because they hate feminism and feminists, because he knows feminism is relevant and more important than playing nice with sexist Hollywood.
And, I mean, look at him.
How could he not be a nice guy?
Interestingly, Joss Whedon’s outspoken feminism hasn’t hurt his career too much. It seems like everything he does develops a cult following, including many people who would never actually admit to being feminists themselves. I think this proves, among other things, that today’s culture has corrupted the meaning of feminism so deeply that people who actually at heart are feminists don’t realize that they are.
I wish I’d been watching Joss Whedon shows and movies all along, instead of now having to retrace his filmography. Still, better late than never, right? As for Joss Whedon himself, I wish him and his genuinely empowered female characters (and his not-sexist-pig male characters) the best of luck. I hope they continue to make the worlds of sci-fi, comics, TV, and film a much, much better place.