Thursday, 22 December 2011

Joss Whedon - Redefining Feminism

I wrote this for Syfy Online months ago and it was accepted by my editor but with some minor changes which I then completely forgot to make and as such it never made to the publishing stage. Going through some outstanding paperwork reminded me that it never saw the light of day due to my own chaotic mind and schedule. This seems a shame so, well, here it is...

Joss Whedon – Redefining Feminism

It’s a good thing we’re hot chicks with super powers – Faith to Buffy, Season 7

I have just finished reading Y the Last Man, a graphic novel that tells the story of the males of every mammalian species simultaneously becoming extinct. Well, all but one, the hapless Yorick Brown; for details on his journey to find the explanation for his survival in a world that has decided to favour the XX chromosome, you’ll have to go seek out copies of the graphics yourself. Relevant sidebar; the character of Yorick is enjoyably Whedonesque in his characterisation and has quiptastic, geek infused dialogue.

I thoroughly enjoyed Y the Last Man but the notion of a world populated solely by women scared the crap out of me! What could possibly be more dangerous? What one woman impassioned by an idea can accomplish can be formidable; when it’s a group of them organised around said idea, that has the potential to be truly apocalyptic.

Women are more likely to adapt, evolve and absorb more swiftly and more logically than men if left to do so (and I am moving on from the extinction of all men as an example here, just in case you are left thinking the birds and the bee’s flutterbuzzed their way past my house. And feel free to integrate flutterbuzzed into your lingo as a new way to refer to gettin’ it on!) I’m an advocate of the fact that women are just generally stronger and smarter than men but I have never, ever come anywhere close to using the word feminism to summarise any gender-philosophy attitudes I may have. In fact, I love men and often prefer their company to women; for some time I thought of feminism as a slightly dirty word (interpret that in any exciting way you choose).

Due to poorly formed stereotypes, I am not scared to confess that for a long time the word feminist, for me, conjured up images of a lot of angry, occasionally but not always hygiene challenged childhood traumas that spent more time screaming (or writing fisty poetry) about the shortfalls of man than they did doing anything about it. In short, I think rhat often people who call themselves "feminists" miss the point entirely and I don’t count myself as one of them.

But then Joss Whedon came into my life and I thought that he was a feminist that I could actually connect with, he redefined what that word meant to me. Joss loves women, and quite rightly so. And although he has been known, in certain episodes of his shows, to enjoy them in a girl on girl kind of way, he does so in a manner that is entirely acceptable and also a bit, if you’ll excuse the awful pun, a bit tongue in cheek.

Joss boiled down a fundamental truth about women and then channelled this into all his amazing female characters. That truth is that women are inherently the masters of everything, have a strength that men can’t even comprehend to the point that it terrifies them and because of all of that they can allow themselves to become isolated.

Women do a lot of amazing things alone, sometimes in silence and sometimes in loud brash hysteria which rails against this isolation in an attempt to gain recognition or perhaps some kind of understanding. But at the end of the race their strength exists in isolation.

The concept of the slayer is that she is the chosen one; the one girl in all the world with the strength and power to fight evil and save the world. It is true to say that Buffy Summers becomes the most powerful of all the Slayers in their history because she rejects the isolation forced upon her and shares her burden, allows herself a support network. She doesn’t just reject the isolation she all but eradicates it by rewriting doctrine and changing the potential in every girl who could be Slayer into a reality, “every girl who could stand up will stand up”.

Having said that, she is still the lynchpin that holds her support network in place, the celestial body around which the Scooby-verse orbits and this is a responsibility that she carries alone.

Feminism as a defining theme in Joss’ work comes into play with force once again with Dollhouse. It would take more than I am allowed in my word count to properly peel away the number of layers at work in this show so instead I will focus on the central characters

Echo and Adele Dewitt are two women at war over power. In a world dominated by very rich, morally questionable men Adele maintains her position of power by adopting a facade of masculinity, standard practise for the modern day business women. Being hard, cold and an uber-bitch is often the only way to survive (and dare I say it, to be taken seriously). Very few can play the virgin and the whore simultaneously and get away with it.

Whedon’s women are strong but flawed, vulnerable and impervious at the same time. In some ways they play into the cliché of women being the ultimate mystery but Whedon provides that concept with a positive spin – women are a mystery because of their complexity and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Firefly’s Zoe loves her husband Wash very much, she plays the traditional role of the wife but it is at odds with her career and loyalty to another man, her captain Mal Reynolds. The struggle emerges from her attempt to reconcile the two. Wash’s way of coping is, although perfectly justified, with jealousy and arguments but when it actually matters Zoe doesn’t hesitate, she stands by her husband, demonstrated in one episode when she rescues Wash over Mal. But like any woman, once she has ensured the safety of what is most precious to her, she starts taking fracking names and straightens everything else out.

Women are the masters of sacrifice and simultaneously will stop at nothing to get what they need, another thing that Whedon celebrates through his female characters.

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