Feminism and Joss Whedon: Setting Some Boundaries

I am dipping my toe back into this series, but before I do that, I would like to take a moment to be blunt with you, gentle readers. I know this post is long, but please read it all.

I am a Joss Whedon fan. I love Buffy, Angel, and Firefly, and although I feel much more ambiguous about Dollhouse, I think that there’s a lot to explore in it and some things about it really intrigue me. I love his work, I watch it over and over, I recommend it to a lot of people, I present it as an example of what feminism on television can be, and I eagerly look forward to Joss’ next project, whatever it may be. I think that Joss is a great creator and he does a super job of assembling an excellent crew of writers, actors, and other creative professionals to make amazing television. I love Joss Whedon. Mere feet away from me are a stack of series boxed sets along with books exploring Whedon’s work.

I love him so much that I also like to critique his work, and talk about the problems which I identify in it, and delve into it. I like looking at his body of work and how it fits in with Hollywood in general, and I like pushing the envelope in terms of analysis and trying to get people to think outside the box a bit. I’m a feminist. I analyze things through a feminist lens. But I wouldn’t bother critiquing Joss’ work if I thought it was bad or boring or irredeemable or I didn’t care about it. I critique because I care. I love viewing pop culture through a feminist lens, I love exploring themes surrounding women, disability, race, sexuality, and gender, and it’s something that I want to keep doing and something which I would like to make a larger part of my professional life, actually; I had a lot of fun, for example, guest blogging at Bitch Magazine as part of the Transcontinental Disability Choir.

I have received a lot of emails asking why this series stopped, when I was starting up again, and when I would be talking about X, Y, and Z. The reason that I stopped writing this series, the reason that I did not respond to those emails, the reason that I stopped writing about Dollhouse is, pure and simple, the sheer level of vitriol and personal attacks it aroused. Nothing I have written has incited this level of hatred. Nothing. So, I stopped because I was tired of it, because I was dreading writing these posts and publishing them. Because the contents of my inbox were failing to amuse me.

And this made me extremely angry. Because I do not like being silenced. And this is a routine problem I notice when I cover pop culture issues in general. My most viewed posts here and at FWD/Forward are on pop culture, and those posts are also the ones which attract the highest level of truly horrific comments. There’s a larger issue there to explore, and perhaps I will do that at some point, but right now, I have a polite request: I would greatly appreciate it if people would not link these posts at antifeminist or hostile communities (and I am including fan sites which believe that Joss can do no wrong in ‘hostile communities’), because every time you do, even if you think it’s for a good cause and you think people would benefit from reading them, it results in a lot of stress and unhappiness for me. I’m writing these posts because I think it’s an important conversation to have, but I think that certain people are not ready to have this conversation, and it is not my job to educate them or to be a punching bag for them.

I know that many readers of feminist sites like to  promote the things they read outside the feminist community. Because they like those things, and they think that they are important, and they want more people to see them and talk about them. And I note that many of the readers who do this participate in the feminist blog community primarily as readers and commenters, not as bloggers. This is not a problem and those people are a welcome and very necessary part of the community, but it does mean that they do not understand the repercussions of their actions when they do something like linking a post at Reddit, or MetaFilter, or Digg, or any number of other sites.

They do not understand that when that happens, the site they linked experiences a skyrocketing hit count of hostile people who do horrific things which they do not see because the site owner has no interest in posting comments threatening rape and other acts of violence, nor does the site owner want to publish emails received. What they do not see is the blog owner seriously considering taking the site down. What they do not see is the agony that this causes, the long private chats with fellow feminist bloggers who say ‘yes, I commiserate, it has happened to me too, what can I do to help.’ This act, which they think of as promotion and ally work, is actually an act of cruelty for many bloggers; voices go dark as a result of it and the content covered at some sites narrows because of it. When you produce unpaid work and you are rewarded for it with an explosion of hatred in your inbox, in your comments, and offsite, it tends to make you think twice about continuing this work.

This includes links at Whedonesque; I know that some of you read this site and Whedonesque, and I am politely asking that you not link this and subsequent posts in this series there1, or publicize them over Twitter, because I cannot deal with the hostility that results right now, and possibly ever. Honestly? I am not interested in having a conversation with people who do not experience my oppression about whether or not their actions are oppressive, no matter how many pageviews it gets me. I would appreciate it if you can respect that, even if you do not agree with it.

I don’t know Joss Whedon, and I am generally careful to avoid speculating about what people I don’t know might think, so I am going out on a limb here, but I suspect that Joss would be horrified to see some of the things people have said to me in regards to this series. I once thought about gathering up all the hatemail and unpublished comments I’ve received in response to this series and sending them to him, but I actually couldn’t bear to inflict that on another human being.

I suspect that Joss would disagree with a lot of my readings of his shows, but that he would agree that art is something which people are allowed to criticize, and that people should be able to talk about art and to critique media and pop culture without receiving threats of rape and violence. Without being so terrorized that they are afraid to write, and spend the night in the bathroom vomiting so much that eventually there is nothing left to vomit, not even bile. Without being put under so much stress that they wake up choking on their own blood from yet another nosebleed. I believe that Joss does care about women, women’s rights, women’s issues, and nonbinary trans* folks like myself, and that he would be troubled by the fact that many female fans of his who dare to criticize his work are viciously attacked; I think that these attacks play into a lot of the themes Joss explores in his shows. Joss has made a point of empowering women and centering their voices in his work, and I find it hard to believe that he would condone the silencing of his fans. I think that on the off chance that we ever meet, we will have a really interesting conversation.

I will be cracking down on comments on posts in this series from now on. This does not mean that I will not publish comments from people who disagree with my reading. It does mean that I will not be publishing comments from people who are being willfully obtuse, people who put words in my mouth, people who do not consider the context of these posts, people who violate Moff’s Law, and people who have nothing to add to the conversation.

One of the primary reasons that comments on this site went registration-only was because of this series. That’s something I would like you to think about.

So, those are my boundaries. I would really like to continue this series because I have a whole stack of things I’d like to talk about, including the silencing of Cordelia Chase, disability on Angel, the depiction of mental illness in Whedon’s work, and oodles of other things. Please make it possible to do that by respecting my boundaries.

Thank you.

  1. Whedonesque mods, I would really appreciate it if you could delete links to this post, should people decide to go ahead and link it anyway.

3 Comments on Feminism and Joss Whedon: Setting Some Boundaries

  1. xiomera // 3 April, 2010 at 8:20 pm //

    Sorry you are getting those comments. Sorry that our country has disintegrated to the point that it is considered appropriate to spew hate and spit on those one disagrees with. Looking forward to seeing more on Whedon.

  2. minuteye // 5 April, 2010 at 8:00 pm //

    I really enjoyed your posts on Whedon, so I’m very excited that you’re starting this series up again. May every troll and hostile voice be buried under a mountain of buffyverse dvds.

  3. almandite // 6 April, 2010 at 9:37 am //

    I just wanted to say that this post gave me a really useful framework for understanding dis/ability-related deconstruction, analysis, and criticism of various works. I’m the sort who needs a framework for understanding why things happen and what is intended by them, and this was really helpful in that. I think, maybe, I can see beneath the words to what’s going on when people on FWD/Forward talk about Glee, for example. Disagree still, maybe, but understand. It’s certainly given me a model to follow. So thank you.

    Perhaps this or something similar could be linked to as a sort of “deconstructing media 101” post? I wonder if other people might benefit from it as I have.

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