A Watcher Watches: On Whedon, Feminism, and Being an Ally
Giles: “A Slayer slays; a Watcher—“
Hearing the recent news about Joss Whedon came as a shock to me—but it shouldn’t have. It came as a shock because, as a male ally to feminism, I could, I wanted to, accept the narrative that a man could be an untroubled pillar of the feminist community. As a male ally, my privilege allows me to ignore the reality of equality in favor of feminism as a highlight real. Privilege reduces our experience of feminism to a series of “historic” achievements and minimizes the constant assaults, catcalls, and jokes upon which this inequity is built. Joss Whedon, for me, was a living embodiment of “not all men” and a proxy for my own complacency.
It’s easy to see ourselves (allies) as part of the “good guys” in a way that minimizes our complacency in systems of oppression. We laugh at people who “not all men” in earnest, but behind that laughter is the implicit understanding that by laughing we are, “actually,” “not all men.” Whedon was a paragon for feminist allies. He embodied this pure, folksy allyship in nerd culture—a place notorious for its hostility to women. Slayage ran a few articles outlining Whedon’s failures in depicting PoC and there is coverage of his issues with bi-erasure, but barring that his reputation was stellar. It’s not my intention to drag Whedon, but rather use this recent revelation as an object lesson of sorts.
As allies, we should take Whedon’s statement on Kai Cole’s blog as the holding up of a very uncomfortable mirror. Whedon opens his statement by gas-lighting Cole; he claims that her experience is false. His statement goes on to elaborate that his relative silence protects not only their family, but Cole herself. The implication being that Cole speaking out is reckless or inappropriate. This is the behavior of abusers, not allies. As allies, we need to be better, to do better. One of the modalities of oppression is the privileging of one narrative over another. As men, our word is overvalued against women’s speech. This means that the simple act of listening is one of the most important and foundational acts for allies. Part of resisting oppression is understanding the ways systems teach us to perpetuate oppression. For this aspect of feminism, it means we need to Hush and value women’s speech.
Whedon’s statement should remind us that none of us are outside of the patriarchy. That, as men, and especially as allies, we still benefit from misogyny and oppression even as we fight to end it. Whedon’s response is a lesson in listening. Just like mocking men who seriously “actually” and “not all men,” it’s easy to listen when the problem is distant and not about us, individually. It’s easy for me to write this about Whedon and Kai Cole, but the real test comes when I’m confronted for my own shortcomings. Allyship isn’t a static identity, it’s a process. It is a recognition that one will fall short of their ideals. Do we chose to learn from our failings or do we fall back on our privilege as Whedon has done with his?
Ironically, Giles provides a good map for this. Over the course of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles goes from being a lazy, complacent ally to someone truly working to help dismantle systemic oppression. We are faced with a similar problem. Do we remain ineffectual allies or do we face our own complacency and live up to our rhetoric? As allies to feminism, we need to face the reality that we can chose to be Giles, imperfect but always learning to be better, or Reptile Boy.
There are some great articles on this issue out there, written by women. I want to highlight one in particular, the inaugural blog post of my amazing colleague Jennifer DeRoss.