Joss Whedon and the Third Wave and Whedon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Should a writer be held to a label?

Submitted: February 25, 2018

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Submitted: February 25, 2018



“Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my choices for my life and my body based on the truth,” (Cole). That is part of Kai Cole’s essay, writing about her ex-husband Joss Whedon to The Wrap. To her, Whedon who made Buffy the Vampire Slayer, claiming to be a great Feminist (capital for religion), is a hypocrite and liar—let him be done, ladies.

Well, maybe we can slow down for a second and analyze the life and words of a man without explaining it over your dainty heads--oh come now, let’s not get rid of our sense of humor. Aside from her assertion in the essay that she “urged him to figure out how to turn it into a TV show,” which seems to say that she saved Buffy, and the statement she put in Joss’ mouth that he was now a “’powerful producer and the world…laid out at my feet,” (Cole) which implies he may be in the same category as the Harvey Weinsteins, let me first address the Feminism claim.

Has Joss, the man who wrote Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods, Avengers and several other filmic projects, ever called himself a Feminist? Aside from his ex-wife’s claim that he said as much to her, the casts of his projects have never said that “yes, he claimed to be such to my face,” and unlike the writer Neil Gaiman, Joss has never called himself that word at any comic conventions, much to the consternation of 21st century--or Third Wave--Feminists.

On the DVD (oh DVD) or Blu-Ray extras for Buffy, supposedly the show written for Feminism and not theme, Joss says that he wrote her character because he always felt bad for the blond woman who gets attacked by the monster for no reason in horror movies. He does not say anything about writing her to pass the Bechdel Test with Willow Rosenberg—no, he wrote her to be the blond in a horror trope show that could handle herself with monsters. For people who are not Feminists—or me—I will not man-splain, but actually shed light on the term Bechdel Test--because who besides the Third Wave-- understands that concept?

Bechdel is the name of a comic book author who developed a test in the 1980’s for how she thought you could tell if women were empowered in literature: if two women are able to share a scene and talk in a story where they never talk about a man, then it is Feminist. If the person writes that one scene and then spends the rest of the show mutilating female bodies like Eli Roth, then that could still be Feminist by this model. Oh, and Third Wave Feminism refers to a period of Feminism from the 1990’s through the 2000’s that took place after the First Wave of the 1800’s and early 1900’s--voting and legal issue--and the Second Wave of the 1960’s through 1980’s (Brunell).

The Third Wave focuses more on those body issues, marriage issues--women are marrying themselves even, nice--employment issues, sex trade around the world, and in art the progression of representation (Brunell).

We are of course focusing on that last topic: representation of women in the arts. Should Joss Whedon have to be considered a proper Feminist--with a capital F-U--to be a good writer of female characters? This is not just a question for Whedon, but a topic for any writer of gay, black, female, or under-represented characters. Can Quentin Tarantino be a good writer of women or black men if he uses slurs in his writing, as a white man? Oh the humanity! To be a bit concise, let us focus on Joss.

In July of 2006, the National Organization for Women—NOW--paid tribute to Joss for his commitment to writing strong female characters and gave him an award for his fight towards equality for men and women. He started his speech by saying with a smile he is asked “500 times” in his life, “Why do you always write these strong female characters?” (Whedon). And his response was as follows:

Because equality is not a concept. It’s not something we should be striving for. It’s a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.

In the whole speech, given to the largest Feminist organization in America, and one of the largest in the world, he did not mention the word Feminism, and that alarmed some folks. At the time, most of the Feminist fans of his were still enamored by his work enough not to question him about the speech in a manner of resentment the way a small fraction of the Third Wave people did. But I come back to a question: should a writer like Joss have to be considered Feminist to write compelling male and female characters?

If we suppose that a man cannot write a female character, then would we not have to by equal measure presume that a woman could not write a man? Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion states: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Let us suppose that the Right of women to write men is an action; then, there must be an opposite reaction, the Right of men to write women, which is its equal. Is that Law written by the same scientist not like what Joss was saying in his speech? Natural laws on earth dictate diversity for equal pulls of force and that includes women and men.

“Well, because these stories give people strength, and I’ve heard it from a number of people, and I’ve felt it myself,” (Whedon) Joss said in that speech before adding that men have felt it too, in reading female and male characters. Perhaps the aim in writing should be to represent complex characters of all types, regardless of a political movement. In short, maybe the Third Law—not the Third Wave—encourages equal representation, and putting a religious label like Feminist on some authors but not others fuels the fires which burn creativity.

All authors need the freedom to write complex characters in compelling situations regardless of that author’s own background. If you do not like an author’s work, you do not have the right to threaten their livelihood or even their lives, regardless of your gender. You do not have the right to demand that that author change careers just because you loathe him or her. You have three rights: stop watching, talk about it, or both.




  • Brunell, Laura, “The Third Wave of Feminism.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Feb. 25,
    • 2018.
  • Cole, Kai, “Joss Whedon is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals,’ Ex-Wife Kai
    • Cole Says (Guest Blog).” Nov. 22, 2017.
  • Whedon, Joss, “Transcript of Joss Whedon’s Equality Now Speech.” July 12,
    • 2006.

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