Topic: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I'm not sure where he wants this to go, but Teague asked for it.

I guess that all I'm here to say is that Joss Whedon is not my feminist icon, and he probably shouldn't be yours.

Last edited by Allison (2012-11-25 06:07:51)

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Never considered myself a fan of his. However, as his body of work grows, and I hang around these circles, it does seem that as far as established male writers go, Joss has got the biggest place in his heart for a well-developed strong female character or two. Who is doing better for feminism?

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Many consider Joss Whedon to be strong supporter of equal rights for women whose work often features strong female characters.

But he likes to write strong female characters of a very particular type: quite young, pretty, filled with secrets, possessed of awesome powers of destruction, and—if possible—programmable.

Is this really feminism?

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Joss Whedon is by no means a feminist icon in anyone's eyes. At least, I certainly hope not. I admire his attitude on the subject, though, as well as his willingness to totally follow through on that attitude in his work. Joss is a great writer, a good director, and his feminist ideals shouldn't be prominent when discussing him.

"The Doctor is Submarining through our brains." --Teague

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Doctor Submarine wrote:

Joss Whedon is by no means a feminist icon in anyone's eyes. At least, I certainly hope not.

That was a pretty good round of applause he got from Equality Now....

I like or love a lot of his work, but I'm wary about admiring his female characters. It's especially odd that Meryl Streep introduced him in that Equality Now event, because he's never written a major part anywhere close to one she could play.

But you know who has? The writers of the last several James Bond movies.

Last edited by Zarban (2012-11-28 05:35:49)

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

And, a fair question raised in the previous thread: who better? It's a serious question. We can acknowledge that Joss' perspective on women is still problematic, but just because he's not the end of the path doesn't mean he's not a step along it -- and is anyone further along that can serve as a role model?

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

One of Joss' oft-repeated quips, addressing the question  "why do you keep writing strong female characters," is "because you're still asking me that question." Zarban linked to the source in that YouTube clip. It's a great line.

So.

I guess what I'd ask Allison is simply: what about Joss's position, with regards to female empowerment* in the geekworld understanding, alarms you?



*ugh

Teague Chrystie

I have a tendency to fix your typos.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I was gonna say Jim Cameron may be a "better" feminist, but he's sorta in the same camp as Joss in that he writes strong female characters of a certain type.  Although, Abyss is sorta the odd ball one in that regard.  I don't think many off us thought the Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio character in that was young.  I always thought of her in her mid thirties in that movie.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

As I pointed out half-joking and half-not in the AVATAR commentary, Cameron writes female characters who are strong... as long as there's a stronger man to motivate them.

Sarah Connor had Kyle Reese to teach her how to fight and then the T-800 to teach her how to love; Mary Elizabeth was a strong woman but her whole arc was basically realizing it meant nothing without her man beside her; Neytiri was strong but what she ultimately wanted from Jake was for him to be stronger so he could take care of her (and her people, but first and foremost her); Rose needed Jack, Helen Tasker needed Harry; even in STRANGE DAYS, Angela Bassett was just going to go along to get along until she realized she loved Ralph Fiennes and it drove her to revolution.

It's fair to say the upshot is that the men tend to wind up being saved by the women they have at some point empowered, but the fact remains that the men either hold the power initially and must choose to bestow it upon the women, or the women surrender a part of their power to the men in order to restore balance to their world.*

As with Joss, this is not to say that Cameron's treatment of women is not significantly better than the average, or that he's a bad sexist man and shame on him. It just goes to show how deep the roots are and how far we still have to go.

*ALIENS is the outlier -- Ripley is driven to action by her mommy-instinct, instead, which is I'm not sure is better.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I like the fact that Joss provides powerful female characters but he is certainly not a feminist by any means.
I always enjoy seeing strong women and their stories as evolving characters, but they certainly are not paragons of feminist virtue. I read a couple of other blogs and opinions of others, because the only female characters I know that Joss has written is in Firefly, in which a variety of female roles are portrayed. I think Zoe is probably the strongest, and battles that within herself between respecting her husband and her captain, plus the duty to both. However, despite her strong exterior, its obvious that she still relies on male figures, which was a point that I noted from another blog.

I honestly am looking forward to your paper, Allison, as well as your comments as to why you think Joss is not the feminist icon powerhouse smile

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Dorkman wrote:

Sarah Connor had Kyle Reese to teach her how to fight and then the T-800 to teach her how to love

In fairness, /someone/ had to teach her how to make bombs and fight. She was just a civilian when we meet her. I'd say the Terminator franchise gets away pretty clean. But I agree on everything else.

Everybody, get up. It's time to slam now. We got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance. Do your dance. At the Space Jam. Alright?

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Well, fully swap all the genders in a classic romance-y movie. The Princess Bride, for instance.

Princess Bride reverse-spoilers to follow.

A young boy prince hits on the chick who feeds the horses. She's really cute. They flirt, eventually kiss. She dies.  He says "I will never love again."

Years later, he is taken hostage by a crew of evil lady-pirates, who have the numbers to overpower him, but he has the wit and resolve.

Later, after a crazy lady piratelord has overcome the lady-pirates in challenges of steel, brawn, and reasoning, she at last meets our hero, who tells her to go pound sand, and punches her down a ravine. She says "as it is with our previously established pithy in-joke," and collapses to the base of the mountain. He says "oh shit, the girl I loved!" and rolls down to her.

She leads him through a terrible swamp, after which they are separated by the forces acting on the whims of his evil ex-slash-sort-of-kind-of-current girlfriend. He spends a lot of time trying to convince his ex-girlfriend to let him be with his true better half, and she spends that time conspiring with her torture-prone evil henchman to soul-suck her to death.



I would have sorted out where I was going with this after typing up a first draft of the post, but right now, that actually sounds awesome. So I don't know what my point was going to be and I don't know how the rest of The Prince Bride plays out, but it sounds cool to me. Carry on.

Teague Chrystie

I have a tendency to fix your typos.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Also, sort of related to the topic of male directors/writers writing "strong female" characters: When Tina Fey accepted the Mark Twain award she was introduced as the "first female recipient" of the award. To which she responded, "I look forward to the day when women's accomplishments don't have to be numbered."

I look forward to the day when semi-real females in fiction written by men aren't adjectived.

Last edited by iJim (2012-11-25 08:16:55)

Everybody, get up. It's time to slam now. We got a real jam going down. Welcome to the Space Jam. Here's your chance. Do your dance. At the Space Jam. Alright?

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I like the Prince Bride concept, especially the part where the prince says "I will never love again." It strikes me as a very powerful line that would drive the character through the film.

God loves you!

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

fireproof78 wrote:

I like the fact that Joss provides powerful female characters but he is certainly not a feminist by any means.

I don't know if we can get so definitive in our labeling. We don't know anything about his hiring practices on set or stuff like that. And the stories he gets to put on screen have to run an obstacle course of Hollywood studio executives and marketing gurus.

I think it's safe to say that Whedon's audience skews female a lot more than Cameron's does, but to me Cameron gets the nod in terms of presenting more and better women characters who are self-motivated and self-actualizing. You may want to dismiss Rose, but she breaks out of her assigned social role and follows her heart.

Of course, that's just genre. There are a bunch of male and female movie makers who write great roles for women of various ages and who are also self-motivated and self-actualized, AND I DON'T WATCH THEM because they aren't aimed at me. I've never seen Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias or Driving Miss Daisy or The Hours or that movie where Angelina Jolie wears a scarf on her head and doesn't kill people.

But just among directors who work in movies where people get shot and cars get blown up, Whedon and Cameron do pretty well, even if Whedon's idea of empowerment is going on a berserk killing spree and Cameron's idea of romance is a man showing a woman how to shoot a gun.

Warning: I'm probably rewriting this post as you read it.

Zarban's House of Commentaries

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I love, love Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and it's (mostly) totally irrelevant that the principal characters are female, because it's their friendship that's so heartwarming and wonderful to watch and everyone can relate to that.

So... anyway.. yes it's important not to ignore the genre. Otherwise we might as well complain that they're not enough Asian characters in films about the colonisation of America.

Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere. - Carl Sagan

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Dorkman wrote:

*ALIENS is the outlier -- Ripley is driven to action by her mommy-instinct, instead, which is I'm not sure is better.

To be fair, Cameron inherited Ripley as a character, and much of what she does isn't just to protect a child. Also, Aliens has Private Vasquez, who (on screen, at least) isn't taught how to be tough or honourable by any man.

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

fcw wrote:
Dorkman wrote:

*ALIENS is the outlier -- Ripley is driven to action by her mommy-instinct, instead, which is I'm not sure is better.

To be fair, Cameron inherited Ripley as a character, and much of what she does isn't just to protect a child. Also, Aliens has Private Vasquez, who (on screen, at least) isn't taught how to be tough or honourable by any man.

Don't forget Neytiri, who teaches the bumbling idiot Jake how to be as strong as she is.

"The Doctor is Submarining through our brains." --Teague

Twitter | Tumblr, for links to all my writing.

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

How do you think Paul Verhoeven went with his treatment of women in Starship Troopers?

Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Teague - I liked the Princess Bride take. Same question has been raised about Star Wars.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Dorkman wrote:

As I pointed out half-joking and half-not in the AVATAR commentary, Cameron writes female characters who are strong... as long as there's a stronger man to motivate them.

I'm reminded of coming back to Anne McCaffrey's Pern books a few years ago. Written by a woman, lots of strong female characters... but, damn it, it's a running theme that as soon as one of them gets a man they defer to them in all things. Every. Single. Time. It made me want to tear my hair out in the later books when it became obvious it wasn't an isolated character trait. That, and certain things like having everyone from certain Holds being evil just put the books in a very different light.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

Probably one of the best ones that comes to mind is Ellie in Contact, not an action heroine, just a really smart competent scientist dedicated to the scientific method. But ya, that's extroardinarily rare (actually come to think of it, Jodie Foster has played a lot of really strong roles like this, see something like Panic Room).

In the action hero mold, another one I like to throw out there I've always been fond of is Long Kiss Goodnight. Geena Davis is smart, competent, basically gets to do her version of a James Bond or Jason Bourne movie. Sam Jackson consistently gets his ass kicked and has to get rescued by her. Still might be my favorite Shane Black script.

I agree to an extent that Joss writes all his female characters the same way, although I'd say that's not in a vacuum. Hollywood in general has really shifted towards having mid-20s protagonists who are action heroes. There's sadly no longer really much room for a Clint Eastwood or a Charles Bronson, so naturally the female versions are going to be in their 20s and ass-kicking heroines.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I am so happy this thread is getting replies.

Teague wrote:

One of Joss' oft-repeated quips, addressing the question  "why do you keep writing strong female characters," is "because you're still asking me that question." Zarban linked to the source in that YouTube clip. It's a great line.

So.

I guess what I'd ask Allison is simply: what about Joss's position, with regards to female empowerment* in the geekworld understanding, alarms you?


*ugh

Zarban's link is a good start to my problems with Joss, but this quote also sums them up nicely.
Girls and women can be strong without being broken first, but Joss rarely writes them this way. Joss has a very specific brand of feminism that consists of thin little girls being broken down and then becoming badasses.  Usually the breaking of his women involves rape or something akin to it. The easiest examples of this are River's "training" by the Alliance and the first Slayer having powers put into her against her will by men.  Let's ignore the romanticized rape-fest that is Dollhouse for now.

I hate to make generalizations, but I think this trend is echoed in a lot of geek culture.  Female characters are thin and broken and falling apart before they start kicking ass.  You guys mention Jim Cameron for strong females*, and he does an alright job on this front. Sarah Connor can't make a bomb without learning how to first, but we see that she's still a pretty capable human before the T-800 comes to town.  Aliens also has some good ladies that didn't go through a trauma in order to be interesting.  But, oh man, do I love that line about writing strong women who need a stronger man.


Dorkman wrote:

And, a fair question raised in the previous thread: who better? It's a serious question. We can acknowledge that Joss' perspective on women is still problematic, but just because he's not the end of the path doesn't mean he's not a step along it -- and is anyone further along that can serve as a role model?

I would say George RR Martin, who is by no means perfect, is much further along in his portrayal of women. I hate having a male example, but he's the commercial one I can always go to.  In ASOIAF, the women are strong in a lot of different ways. You have Cersei using her sexuality to move up, Sansa using her courtesy as a political tool, Arya the warrior, Catelyn the protective mother, Brienne the soldier, Ygritte the liberated fighter, Daenerys the caretaker and leader, all of the Mormont women, and Ellaria Sand and all of the Sand Snakes. Those are just the big names at the top of a long list.  GRRM presents his female characters as strong in many different ways, and while some of them have gone through a lot to make them strong (Dany, Arya, and Cersei) some of them are using the strength they already had to respond to changing situations (Sansa, Cat, Ygritte, Ellaria).  And none of them are presented as better than the other within the text, despite their differences.

I guess this adds on to what Teague asked. People cite Joss as a great creator of "strong women"* and don't talk about what should come next. Joss wrote it, it's great, and that's the end of the discussion.  Where are my female creators? Why is Gail Simone our only big example in the comic book world?

Outside of the geekworld, Robert and Michelle King are doing great work on The Good Wife.  I actually wrote my Common App essay on the show. I write a lot of essays.





*I second the "ugh", Teague. There is a great article that I cannot currently find that talks about why we should discuss "strong characters, female" not "STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS".  I'll try and dig it up.

Last edited by Allison (2012-11-25 21:29:30)

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

On the topic of strong female characters...

Jodie Foster kinda owns this category as Clarice Starling in Silence of the lambs.

Does  Erin Brockovich count?

In TV land there are few that jump into mind...

I kinda like The Good Wife where they juxtapose three strong female characters, Alicia, Diane and Kalinda (although they have pretty much driven Kalinda's character off the cliffs in this last season).

Clare Danes is doing interesting things with her character in Homeland. Deeply flawed dealing with hosts of mental issues but still an intelligent and strong character.

I always liked Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights.

What do you think of Veronica Mars? It was a interesting take on Nancy Drew themed character.

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Re: Let's talk about Joss, baby

I think someone mentioned The Hunger Games in either the commentary or the other thread, or both, but I would argue Katniss is a strong character who happens to be female. That's speaking only from the perspective of the movie though, I haven't read the books.

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