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Joss Whedon hates “feminist”

“I hate ‘feminist.’ Is this a good time to bring that up?” Joss says as he begins his talk at an Equality Now benefit dinner.

And people got angry.

He explains that he doesn’t hate feminists. And then he goes on to say AMAZING things that made me want to hug him. Joss Whedon hates the word “feminist” but he is one.

It’s not perfect. It’s not a solution to all problems women face in society. It’s a 15 minute talk where he offers the, admittedly not novel idea, that being feminist shouldn’t be an extreme position. We shouldn’t have a spectrum where sexism and feminism exist as uncomfortable extremes with an acceptable gray area between them. You shouldn’t have to be or not be a “feminist”. That feminism should be the default stance. There should be no gray area.

It’s a nuanced discussion that obviously can’t be handled by a single white man standing in front of a room full of people who paid lots of money to hear him speak for 15 minutes, but it’s a discussion worth having for sure. The language we use when discussing things shapes the way we think about those things. I don’t think “genderist” is going to give the same punch as “sexist” or “racist” and I find a lot of neologisms to feel forced, pretentions and a bit academic. But it is a problem that the word we have for caring about women’s equality is one people don’t wish to identify with. And those problems come from within and without the feminist community itself.

I hate all the reasons that someone might say “I am not a feminist but [insert feminist value.]” And that it’s wielded in the same way someone might say “I am not a racist but [insert racist value.]” And everyone nods and understands. You’re not one of THOSE people, see… but you can see why some people might say and think things that THOSE people would.

So what do we do?

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Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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15 Comments

  1. As a feminist of color, I want to emphasize that we have to be careful to acknowledge, as Elyse did here, that there is indeed a legitimate gray area for women of color and women non-privileged in other ways as well. Historically, feminist values and concerns often are privileged women’s values and concerns. At the very least, those are the prioritized values and concerns. Intersectionality is making strides to rectify the matter, but many of the troubling underlying issues remain. Here’s hoping we can continue to recognize and work on them.

  2. Given the history of hegemonic feminism operating in a white supremacist fashion for more than a century, I have zero problems with women of color choosing other words to define and describe themselves. It’s not just a prioritizing of issues faces by middle and upper class white women (who, for example, in the 60s fought for the right to work, while poor white women and women of color had been given no choice BUT to work, often in appalling conditions) there’s the outright erasure of vital contributions by women of color to feminist thought. (We all love intersectionality, but now many of us know the word was coined by a Black woman and that she built on the work of Black queer women before her.) And I haven’t even touched on explicit and overt racist acts by white feminist heroes. (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, etc, etc.)

    That being said, I DO have issues with a guy telling any woman how to fight for her equality, let alone coining new terms to heroically solve feminism’s “PR problem.” That is NOT how to ally. It’s like the first rule of allyship. So I’m preeeeetty disappointed in Mr. Whedon.

    1. Just a little comment–actually, economic conditions in the 60’s were such that most white women had no choice but to work, either. I generally take issue with the idea that there was a time when women were NOT working, and then suddenly started to work. I believe that to be a myth. Perhaps during a short-lived economic boom in the mid 20th century, there was a trend where lots of women were staying home in suburbia. But considering that farming was still the job of the majority, women weren’t “staying home.” I look through my own family tree, and not only were many of my female ancestry farmers (not “farmers’ wives–that’s a myth as well. “Farmer’s Wife”=Farmer) a great many of them worked in shops, restaurants and offices.

      1. You are absolutely correct that the great majority of women (regardless of color) have had to work to ensure their families’ survival. But that doesn’t change the fact that feminism has historically been a movement for privileged white women.

        Think of it this way: the majority of women had to work to survive. But the small percentage of upper-middle or upper class women who did not have to was almost entirely made up of white women. The beginnings of most ideological movements generally start in privileged classes that have the luxury to be able to ruminate on such matters. The “lower” classes that would likely benefit the most from such movements are focused on more immediate and basic problems, like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.

        As a side note, the number of (Americans) working in agriculture absolutely plummeted through the 20th century, and didn’t even employ the majority of the workforce from the start. In 1900, 41% of the workforce was in agriculture; by 1930 it was down to 21.5%; 1945 – 16% and only 4% by 1970 (it’s around 1.9% today). Source: Economic Research Service, USDA – http://www.ers.usda.gov/ersDownloadHandler.ashx?file=/media/259572/eib3_1_.pdf

  3. I believe that Whedon hasn’t gotten too deep into gender politics. If a “genderist” is bad, then an “anti-genderist” should be good. At that point you open up a HUGE can of worms.

    I am a bit puzzled, though. If he hates the word “feminist,” it seems that, in his speech, he actually didn’t offer an alternative to the word “feminist;” only an alternative to the word “sexist.”

    1. If I understood correctly, think he doesn’t want an alternative to “feminist” because as the ideal default position shouldn’t require a specific label. You label those who are on the wrong side of the line (ex: “racist”) and shouldn’t have to label yourself as someone on the correct side (ex: “anti-racist”). Sam Harris made a similar point about the word “atheist,” much in line with the “non-stamp-collecter” concept.

      In all these cases, I appreciate the sentiment. I’m not so sure about its effectiveness. I’m not sure sure why “genderist” is better than “sexist” other than being new and so doesn’t have a lot of baggage yet.

  4. Brilliant. It’s pure comic genius. He knows genderist isn’t going to replace feminist. Nor is he trying to “white knight” the movement. He’s a writer, words matter, yet malleable, and the word feminist should not f—g exist. Nor should genderist. His point is how humanity is so skewed these idiotic words arise and they always cloud politics as everyone reacts to whether the word means something or not, is offensive or not, or what, as a means of continuing an insane debate and reowning a position when no position should be necessary. There is no debate, no argument. All history but a few moments has abused women in one way or another. The KP reference pretty well shows how much he cares how feminist is used stupidly even y those who are humane. As KP should ever in any way diss her femaleness in spite of any and all success. His remark that with genderist now she could now dress pretty… He’s mocking the entire debate as idiotic and there is no way to make it rational. All words are hollow, stupid in the face of the issue. It’s stupefying that any time needs to be spent convincing people that women should be treated better.

  5. Mr. Whedon’s privilege is showing. He likely would never have said such a thing if he had been a female director who had to struggle through Hollywood’s er.. “genderism”.

    The call for less loaded terms almost always comes from the privileged majorities. It makes them feel better about themselves.

      1. I profoundly disagree with many of the sentiments in the comments on this forum. But in particular, this comment. No, Mr. Whedon is not mansplaining to women about how they need to fight for their equality differently. In fact, it’s you who is imposing the idea that Joss is aiming to address women specifically about “their” movement. That he’s using his privilege as a man to say how HE knows better and EVERYONE else is wrong and if you’d only just listen to HIM. And in the process, you completely misinterpret, or worse yet, don’t even try to understand the point he was trying to make… that ideas and values should be able to exist and passed on without needing an appropriate and specific word. Yes, it IS a very simple idea, and yet sometimes simple ideas can have a remarkably profound effect on the lens in which we think about things. Your decision to focus on who he is FIRST, and what he said SECOND, makes me sad.

        It just makes me curious…. rather than watch the video, if you had read a transcript of what was said, with all direct mentions of the speakers own gender removed, what your reaction to the IDEA would have been, rather than trying to psychoanalyze the reasons of the person who made them based on your own preconceptions about the problems with men in the feminist movement.

  6. Yeah… sorry, but I have to disagree with Mr. Whedon, as well. But perhaps I’m biased, because I completely lost any respect I ever had for him after I found out about this (MAJOR! TRIGGER! WARNING!):
    http://prozacpark.dreamwidth.org/111215.html

    I found out about it when I saw the Science Channel’s interview with the cast and writers of Firefly. It was the first time I was glad that the show was cancelled. Then I did more research, and started finding write-ups like the one I linked to above.

    At this point, I’m in the “Joss can go to hell” camp. I mean, I loved Avengers, but yeah… he’s no feminist ally. A friend put it best elsewhere… he’s a “cookie-grubbing faux-ally”.

    1. Lets also remember that Joss was the one who fired an actress because her pregnancy was inconvenient to his story arc, after asking her if she really needed to be pregnant at that particular time and then messing with her character before the final axe. That is not the way an actual feminist acts. BTW that actress was Charisma Carpenter and she worked with Joss for 8 years before this happened, so she wasn’t just some extra that could be written off that easily.

  7. When Gloria Steinem was asked if Feminists should look for a better term because people associate it with “man hating”, her response was that no matter what word they used, it would still be associated with “man hating”, so there was no point in changing. She was right, no matter what word Feminists decide to refer themselves as, you’ll still have Hollywood types refusing to identify as one, regardless of how many of the tenants of it they agree with.

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