Saturday, March 10, 2012

Is Joss Whedon really a Genuine Feminist?

I am aware that this is my third post that refers to some sort of strong female character in a TV show, but I felt that this was a special case since it involves writer and director, Joss Whedon. A few years back in 2009, one of the most interesting shows I’ve ever come across premiered called The Dollhouse. It was written and directed by Joss Whedon and involves a woman named Caroline who, in hopes of exploiting a corrupt corporation, gets captured and forced to participate in future-day type of prostitution. Basically, these people, whether they consented or were captured like Caroline, get their minds wiped and have clients’ significant other personality preferences input in their brains. Then, for a set amount of time and money, these “Actives” become whomever the client desires.
However, Echo, Caroline’s Active name, becomes increasingly aware of the mind swipes and manages to retain bits and pieces of each personality she receives. As the show goes on, she succeeds to input her original personality and put into perspective her initial goal of taking down the corporation. The entire series was very short-lived so Echo was forced to mature incredible quick. There was no opportunity to see Echo grow at a gradual pace. Thus, the full effect of what The Dollhouse was supposed to bring upon the viewers was altered.
The point of bringing up this show and character was to analyze and classify Joss Whedon’s view on feminism through his portrayal of Caroline/Echo. He developed her as strong, independent, and someone capable of overcoming almost impossible feats, like being able to retain memory during mind wipes. However, the people programming her, watching over her, and using her for their own personal gains were all men. What does this say about Joss Whedon? He claims to be such a feminist but what feminist is he really? He is willing to create a female character that succumbs to many men several times over the course of the storyline. Yes, Caroline/Echo has a unique and powerful ability that sets her on the road of strength, but each episode became harder and harder to watch as a viewer due to her constant degradation to men. I know that Whedon was trying to create a show that every man and woman could enjoy but I feel that he unknowingly reiterated everything in Caroline/Echo that most feminists are against. He may be making an effort to move a step forward but if his way of pursing it “moves us two steps back,” then what good is he really doing? The show was cancelled, but consider: If the show was still going on today and Joss Whedon continued to make Caroline/Echo seem ultimately inferior to men, then could his show really be viewed as feminist? If not, what about the other shows is written for? Does Joss Whedon really seem like a true feminist?


  1. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but it sounds like you are unhappy with Whedon's portrayal of Echo. You believe that, despite his claim that he's a feminist, Echo embodies many undesirable traits that may even be offensive to women. And you believe that since she is so flawed, he can not truly be a feminist. Is this all true?

    Because I beg to differ. It seems to me that, based on your description, Whedon has created this futuristic world as a metaphor for modern day. Men control the women for their own fiscal or physical benefit, and the women are clueless. Though this may be an exaggerated view of modern day, I nevertheless believe it holds true. But in this world, there exist extraordinary women who can break this pattern and learn to think for themselves.

    It seems like Whedon is using this idea to draw attention to the evil nature of man, which would benefit woman (as well as man). And the audience, while watching this show, rooting for Echo to succeed in her quest to break the men's mind control and regain her identity, is subconsciously motivated to both think for and act like themselves.

    This teaches women to be aware of potentially degrading situations, as well as to be themselves and not try to change. I believe Whedon is certainly a feminist, as his work empowers the female audience.

  2. It is always a touchy subject when a man identifies himself as a feminist. As we discussed in class, there are groups of feminists that would argue that a man can never be a feminist because he represents patriarchy and male dominance. For these feminists, Whedon can never understand the oppression and discrimination that women go through on a daily basis, and therefore cannot represent the ideals of a movement meant to alleviate Whedon, and men of their status in society. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it is controversial for Whedon to represent women when he reaps the benefits of patriarchal hegemony, and is inherently coded with male privilege. Can men be considered feminists? To what extent should men be able to participate in the feminist movement?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.