What Joss Whedon Gets Wrong about the Word ‘Feminist’

The Atlantic’s Noah Berlatsky gives an astute analysis of Joss Whedon’s recent speech about the word “feminist”:

What Joss Whedon Gets Wrong about the Word ‘Feminist’

I found this quotation particularly interesting:

“This is a speech about the word “feminist,” but there are no feminists in the speech.

Which, given Whedon’s presuppositions, makes sense. If equality is something that is natural, if it’s a thing that everyone understands innately, if it is the default, then it isn’t something you have to learn from anyone. You don’t need Betty Friedan to tell you that an enforced life as a homemaker can be stifling. You don’t need Andrea Dworkin to tell you about systematic cultural violence against women. You don’t need Patricia Hill Collins to explain that race and gender can intersect to create particularly vicious forms of discrimination and oppression. You don’t, for that matter, need to think about, or engage with, the long feminist mistrust of arguments from “nature.” You just know, naturally, what is right.”

I wanted to post this because the discussion around Whedon’s speech, and the speech itself, shows how allies can often get things wrong out of the best of intentions. I think it also sheds some light on Katy Perry and Lady Gaga’s comments on feminism – note especially at the end where Berlatsky mentions Alice Walker’s own dismissal of “feminism” in favor of her own term “womanism” because of the entrenched, racists history of American feminism.

Silencing women with the label “crazy”

When I was in my early 20s, some of my very close friends had a motto, “Boys are stupid, women are crazy.” Which, if you stop and think about it, is right in line with the gendered cultural narrative. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on problematic axioms like this, and to recognize where they’re reinforced. The tendency to label women, especially for men to label their female exes (although women do it too), crazy is troubling for a number of reasons. Harris O’Malley gets into some of those reasons in the piece: On Labeling Women “Crazy”.

I thought you might find this images interesting. Howard Schatz published a book called Athlete which was a study of the athletic body. His images include male and female professional athletes from a variety of sports. Huffington Post has a piece discussing a previous interview with him. I really like this particular graphic because you can clearly see the sport, height, and weight of each athlete, as well as having the visual comparison of body type.

Nelly revisits the 2004 Spelman protest of his “Tip Drill” video

For those who aren’t familiar with the incident, in 2004 a feminist student group at Spelman organized a protest to take place during a a bone marrow donation drive that Nelly had planned at their school.

In a recent interview, Nelly expressed frustration over the 2004 incident, and it looks like he might be blaming the student group for his sister’s death in 2005, whether he intends to or not.

Queering Romantic Relationships

I wanted to pull out a few examples about how some gay writers have written about how their relationships differ from the heteronormative script that we all grow up with. In the first example, Michel Foucault talks about how acknowledging this fact makes gay relationships profoundly uncomfortable for many people.  His claim is that it’s not the sex act itself that disturb people; it’s the love that can’t be put in a neat category.  The second example I’m pulling out, two different pieces, actively explore how these relationship differences can expand our idea of what romantic relationships, and therefore marriage, look like.

from Michel Foucault. “Friendship As A Way of Life.” Foucault Live (Interviews, 1961-1984). Ed. Sylvere Lotringer. Semiotext, 308-309.

Q. Can you say that desire and pleasure, and the relationships one can have, are dependent on one’s age?

M.F. Yes, very profoundly. Between a man and a younger woman, the marriage institution makes it easier: she accepts it and makes it work. But two men of noticeably different ages-what code would allow them to communicate? They face each other without terms or convenient words, with nothing to assure them about the meaning of the movement that carries them toward each other. They have to invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: that is to say, the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure.

One of the concessions one makes to others is not to present homosexuality as anything but a kind of immediate pleasure, of two young men meeting in the street, seducing each other with a look, grabbing each other’s asses and getting each other off in a quarter of an hour. There you have a kind of neat image of homosexuality without any possibility of generating unease, and for two reasons: it responds to a reassuring canon of beauty, and it cancels everything that can be troubling in affection, tenderness, friendship, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship, things that our rather sanitized society can’t allow a place for without fearing the formation of new alliances and the tying together of unforeseen lines of force. I think that’s what makes homosexuality “disturbing”: the homosexual mode of life, much more than the sexual act itself. To imagine a sexual act that doesn’t conform to law or nature is not what disturbs people. But that individuals are beginning to love one another-there’s the problem. The institution is caught in a contradiction; affective intensities traverse it which at one and the same time keep it going and shake it up. Look at the army, where love between men is ceaselessly provoked [appele] and shamed. Institutional codes can’t validate these relations with multiple intensities, variable colors, imperceptible movements and changing forms. These relations sbort-circuit it and introduce love where there’s supposed to be only law, rule, or habit.

These next two pieces are from a wedding planning blog called A Practical Wedding, which added a component called Reclaiming Wife after the founder’s wedding.  The pieces published explore the way the identity of “wife” is different for the generation of women currently marrying, and the blog features a lot of wedding planning advice and information for queer couples (primarily lesbian, although they have featured a few weddings of gay men). After featuring one wedding that was very popular, one of the women started contributing pieces under the subtitle “Remember the Lesbians”, which explore aspects of lesbian marriage intended for a very broad audience. The following two pieces deal with relationship roles and sex:

Reclaiming Wife: Remember the Lesbians

Remember the Lesbians: The Sex Edition