Joss Whedon is not a feminist. Joss is, in fact, a brilliant and manipulative writer who knows his audience. Joss does not progressively cast strong female actresses in so-called strong female roles. Joss uses the power of the female – in all its forms – as an incredible plot device. There is nothing about what Joss does in his work that is not about advancing the plot and motivating characters. We know this of him killing favourite characters, but boy how he’s fooled us into not realizing that this is the same thing he does with his strong female characters. He’s tricked the feminists into believing he is one of them. He’s tricked the sexists into questioning their thinking.
The Avenger‘s Black Widow and her “skill sets” are the epitome of this trickery. The scene with Loki and Black Widow is a prime example, and before that, her scene with Bruce Banner. In both cases, she is called upon because of her “skill sets.” Let us not be naive. The assumption with that line is that her skill sets are based on her sex. Of course we know she’s far more than that, especially if we’ve seen her in Iron Man 2 where she already proved herself to be more than a pretty face, but let’s not be stupid enough to believe that an international spy and assassin does not use everything in her arsenal, as necessary, including her gender and the prejudices associated with it.
|Black Widow, Avengers|
Those scenes are as much about her playing Loki and Banner as they are about Joss playing the audience. Because Joss takes our prejudices and hypocrisy and uses them against us. Which is all well and good for plot development, but I’m tired of the “strong female character” and the “feminist” label when it comes to Joss. Joss is just a smart writer who knows how to play on our biases by writing interesting characters. I think he has a preference for female characters specifically because he can use these prejudices to bring more drama, but I don’t think the majority of his characters can be considered “strong” in comparison to women from other films and TV shows. Those women are are also interesting and flawed, but tend to overcome their flaws far better than Joss’ women do. And they aren’t necessarily interesting and flawed because of their relationship with males, or require males to rescue them for their plights.
River? Neglected by her parents, mindfucked and requires her brother for support. Buffy? Requires the support of her friends and boyfriends and remains a petulant, self-centred girl who isn’t all that happy about the responsibilities thrust on her and often accepts escape from them (sometimes in the form of lots of boyfriend sex), until guilt makes her return. Faith? Fucked up gal with daddy issues, currently seeking redemption through Angel. Cordelia? No clue what Joss did with her. Fred? Love interest for two male characters. Killed just when she was coming into her own. Tara, Penny, Darla and Jenny? Refrigerated. Darla and Dru? Girlfriends. Harmony? lol. Willow? Continues to define herself by her skills and conforms to whomever she befriends. Echo? Selfish bitch who turned her back on a friend and sought to erase her past with the Dollhouse where she now is “strong” because of all the imprints – after she’s beaten and fucked by all the men who rent her. Stalked by Alpha. Kaylee? Introduced on her back and fulfills the fantasies of men who like cars and a woman (with a childlike personality) who can fix them. Inara? A glorified prostitute, constantly reminded by Mal of her whoring ways.
Of the women in Joss’ collection that I can truly consider worthy of that role, I can name only one: Zoe.
Believe it or not, I don’t hate him for this any more than I would hate him for his grim reaping. His manipulations mean I get to see more women (and now people of colour) in his works. Hopefully, because of this, the less crafty directors and writers will be tricked into casting more women and people of colour in prominent roles like these, but not as plot and media devices as they are with Joss.
What I dislike is the label that has been planted on him as if he was the first and is the only male writing good female characters. Men like Greg Rucka and Ridley Scott have been around for a while, and I can truly consider their characters “strong” and written without manipulating stereotypes or requiring their victimization (by males) to give them something to overcome.