It’s Not the Cheating That Puts Joss Whedon’s Feminism Into Question
…it’s everything else. Over the weekend Kai Cole, ex-wife to The Avengers writer/director Joss Whedon, aired out some pretty damning laundry about her former husband of 16 years. In an essay she wrote for The Wrap she revealed that Joss confessed that he had been cheating on her throughout the course of their marriage. He cheated on her repeatedly with “actresses, co-workers, fans and friends” while at the same time reassuring her that he only had eyes for his wife. Because he was a feminist. But he didn’t. Suddenly, a harsh reality seemed to have come down hard on fans from all over. What does that mean for Whedon’s standing with feminism?
There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.
The dictionary defines Feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The theory behind such an -ism casts a much broader net by examining the female point of view under the subjects of discrimination, objectification (i.e. sexual objectification), oppression, patriarchy, stereotyping, etc. I mention the latter because there are a lot of commenters out there asking what Whedon’s infidelity has anything to do with Feminism.
If Whedon was any other male director and writer, we probably would not have given two sh*ts about whether or not he cheated on his wife. We would shake our heads at him, yes, especiallyat the claim that he may have gaslighted Cole for over a decade. Whedon had found a powerful, pro-women/feminist niche in pop culture with Buffy and capitalized on it in various ways (according to Cole). All while simultaneously disrespecting Cole and putting her at risk of contracting STD’s he may have gotten from any one of his partners.
In a letter he wrote to Cole after their breakup, Whedon writes:
“When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.”
“But he did touch it,” Cole writes, “He said he understood, ‘I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,’ but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, ‘would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.’”
Then later, after he confessed everything, he told me, “I let myself love you. I stopped worrying about the contradiction. As a guilty man I knew the only way to hide was to act as though I were righteous. And as a husband, I wanted to be with you like we had been. I lived two lives.” When he walked out of our marriage, and was trying to make “things seem less bewildering” to help me understand how he could have lied to me for so long, he said, “In many ways I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture. We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both!”
To use the old adage: Joss Whedon wanted his cake and eat it too.
The whole essay is, as I said earlier, pretty damning. It depicts Whedon in such an inconceivable light. But…are his actions — the cheating, the lying, the using of his position to conduct inappropriate relations with his subordinates — really all that surprising?
Whedon has been criticized for years over the treatment of his female characters, for whom he claims to have deep affection. They’re dragged through the mud, they’re written into needless sexual assault/rape plots, and they are forced (sometimes unknowingly) into sexist situations by men close to them. In other words, the women tend to be treated much more harshly than the men.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Widow gets dragged into a damsel in distress situation. You could argue that her resourcefulness turned that trope around, but she still needed to be saved all the same. She is also subject to a subplot in which she demonized herself because of her infertility. Hell, in Avengers, she had to take being called a “mewling quim” from Loki. Why must women be the ones who are insulted in such a way? The guys humorously rib each other with insults, but the ladies get called out as whining c*nts.
And that’s not all…
Buffy found herself in two incredibly toxic relationships that fans back then interpreted as tragic sub plots for the men. Buffy’s punishment for her own sexuality either resulted in the guy turning evil or becoming a violent stalker. While we we’re talking about the latter, getting into a relationship with your rapist is SUPER uncool. And then making us okay with him because he went on a quest to get his soul back? Argh!!!
Remember Dollhouse? A TV show that introduces female characters in the most “male gaze-iest” way imaginable on a weekly basis? It was with this show I started to realize that Whedon has been introducing his female characters like this since Buffy. The woman’s sexiness is practically crammed down our throats through how the camera pans up and down her curves as she’s being observed by the male characters from a distance, waxing on poetically about how sexy and desirable she is.
The most perfect example of Whedon’s male gaze problem is how he introduces Diana in a script for his own Wonder Woman movie.
Joss Whedon may have been demonstrating exactly what type of guy he really is this whole time.
Admittedly, Whedon’s work shows a brilliance inside of him. However, a lot of what came out in the mid to late 2000s still smacks of early era feminism, circa the 1990s. It was alright at the time, we’re over that hurdle now, women are allowed to be bolder than the men. In other words, Whedon’s ideologies and narrative voice hasn’t aged well (assuming he truly had any to begin with).
In light of all this, we now have to ask ourselves: Did Joss Whedon genuinely want to tell stories about strong women, or did he just happen upon a gold mine that’ll also get him laid?
THIS is why so many people are upset. This question, the fact that Joss Whedon may have put his wife in such a terribly emotional and psychologically compromising position, and that he had the audacity to blame the sociological expectations of men instead of his shitty self.