I Am Not Shocked at All
On Sunday, while I was traveling and wasting my life explaining my issues with the Frozen adaptation, Kai Cole, Joss Whedon’s ex-wife and partner of almost 20 years, published an open essay explaining the reasons for their divorce. Turns out Whedon cheated on his wife for most of their marriage and lied to his wife about it for the entire time. He had affairs with the actresses he worked with, other co-workers, fans, and friends. Never mind the dubious nature of Whedon sleeping with fans who worshiped him and actresses who worked for him. All the while, he was also presenting himself to the world as a champion of women, as someone who was fighting for women’s rights. A woman’s right to be used by a powerful man was what he meant, apparently.
But Joss Whedon turning out to have massive feet of clay doesn’t surprise me at all. He’s one of the reasons I started writing this blog. I actually used to call him “F*ck you, Joss 💩” in private emails when writing about him and his work. Only I didn’t use the *. I was never a huge fan of his TV shows, though I have seen a significant number of them, since I’m a sci/fantasy fan.
It was the treatment of Black Widow in the Avengers movies that made me realize how awful he really is. Metamaiden and I can get kind of protective of Natasha Romanov, who’s an amazing person and doesn’t need to deal with F-you Joss’s BS, OK? Thank goodness she’s in the hands of the Russos now, who I hope we can continue to trust.
His work is as loaded with institutionalized and internalized misogyny as, apparently, his life is. His female characters are all in need of male characters to guide them, otherwise they spiral into depression or violence or find some other way to become out of control. They tend to be self-loathing, especially the iconic ones. He was one of the creators of the sexy, physically capable, but emotionally stunted female stereotype that has become the standard female bad ass heroine today. Because women have to be beautiful, and fight wearing heels. And can’t be physically capable and emotionally well-adjusted at the same time. That’s too threatening.
“But his characters seem so complex.” ” And look great.” ” And do things men do.” You have to pay close attention to realize that they also fall apart when they have to think for themselves for very long, or face a crisis, or are given too much power to wield. I mean, Giles is so nice. Willow not being able to handle being a witch is just another great storyline for a woman. The dolls all needed handlers. Black Widow is small compared to the Hulk.
But when you start to add up all of the instances, through the course of his work, and listen to what he says in interviews and DVD commentaries, it becomes clear that he thinks women are weak and are objects for him to use.
And guess what his wife says in her essay?
“There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.
Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”
Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn’t know the whole truth, and said, “I’ve never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we’ve done both separately and together, how much fun we have…” He wanted it all; he didn’t want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life.
Then later, after he confessed everything, he told me, “I let myself love you. I stopped worrying about the contradiction. As a guilty man I knew the only way to hide was to act as though I were righteous. And as a husband, I wanted to be with you like we had been. I lived two lives.” When he walked out of our marriage, and was trying to make “things seem less bewildering” to help me understand how he could have lied to me for so long, he said, “In many ways I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture. We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both!”
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 right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.
I thought we were a couple, a team. I was a powerful influence on the career choices Joss made during the 20 years we were together (we lived together for four years before marrying). I kept him grounded, and helped him find the quickest way to the success he so deeply craved. I loved him. And in return, he lied to me. A lot. He said, after he left, he understood: “It’s not just like I killed you, but that I’d done it subtly, over years. That I’d been poisoning you. Chipping away at you.” He made me doubt my own instincts and watched me move further away from my personal values and social mores, trying to connect with him, never telling me it was impossible. By the time he finally confessed the truth, 15 years after his first affair on the set of “Buffy,” I was broken. My brain could not fit my experience of our life together, through the new lens of his deceit.
My entire reality changed overnight, and I went from being a strong, confident woman, to a confused, frightened mess. I was eventually diagnosed with Complex PTSD and for the last five years, I have worked hard to make sense of everything that happened and find my balance again. It has not been easy, because even though in my personal life I have been completely open about what happened, publicly people only know his superficial presentation of us: him as the lovable geek-feminist and me in the background, as his wife and supporter.
We’re finally divorced; I’m doing architecture again, and slowly getting my life and self-esteem back.
Until recently, Joss was still letting the illusion of our marriage stay intact. Now that it is finally public, I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be. I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches. But no matter what happens, or how people interpret this statement, I no longer have to carry the burden of Joss’ long-term deceit and confessions. I am free.
Ironically, he turned his wife into one of his characters through his misogynistic treatment of her, while publicly proclaiming himself a feminist and accepting widespread acclaim.
I started writing this blog in part because I wanted to point out the times that viewers are being gaslighted into thinking they are seeing female friendly entertainment, when they are not. More and more in the last few years, I’ve been seeing work like his, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the new Frozen adaptation. We are being given entertainment full of female characters who are very busy and prominent, and we are so grateful to see them there that we don’t pay close attention to what is actually happening to and around them. We are told that we should be happy that there are female leads. Or women of color. It shouldn’t matter how they are being portrayed, as long as they are there. And we often accept that. Or, the stereotypes and misogyny have become subtle, and it’s gone past us before we have a chance to react to what we’ve seen. Or we’re told, and we accept, that we’re being petty and overreacting. It’s just locker room talk. Boys will be boys. It’s just a joke. The character is complex, not misogynist.
Gaslighting is another word for manipulation, and manipulators are hard enough to spot in real life. Few of us want to spend our down time worrying that the movie or TV show we’re watching is also manipulating us. But nothing is ever an accident in a produced work. Joss Whedon and other powerful writers, producers, directors, and network and studio executives are all trying to sell us a product to begin with. They also promote their own view of the world, and they tend to like the status quo, where women have made gains toward equal rights, but still have a long way to go. Statistically speaking, men still rule the entertainment industry. The white male view of the world is still the view that we are given in most of our entertainment, even when, on the surface, it looks progressive.
Remember what Joss himself said about how men are supposed to see themselves:
“In many ways I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture. We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both!”
That is exactly the issue. Make it look good, but also make it a conquest, and a contest with other men. He used 5 words to describe his relations to females: provide, companion, conquer, acquire, sexually. Two of them, conquer and acquire, treat women as things. Provide could refer to any living thing, including a pet. So could companion, for that matter. Hopefully sexually is at least refers to humans, but it implies that, to him, sex is women’s main function. No where in there did he use words that would show any sense of humanity in his partner, never mind equality. Words like love, support, respect, cherish, faithfulness, devotion. Instead, his focus is on possession, domination and competition with other men.
When men write with the attitude that leads them to use words like provide, conquer, acquire, companion, and sexually in order to even let female characters in the room, that doesn’t leave much space for the woman to be the character who acquires, or conquers, or provides, or is more than a sex toy or bland companion. Which we can see in his, and many other writers’, female characters. If a woman does conquer or acquire, she becomes evil or tortured or develops some other major flaw. Or becomes perfect to the point that it’s a flaw. If she’s very intelligent, then her personality or looks will be lacking in some way.
The real game of life is for men. Women who try to play it are threatening, so they will be weakened or punished. They are rarely allowed the full range of emotional and life possibilities that male characters are allowed. Instead, we get women who follow the rules and stay in their boxes. A Velma or a Daphne. A Betty or a Veronica. An Anna or an Elsa. Thanks to Joss, we can be a Buffy, who needed men to tell her what to do, or a Willow, who couldn’t handle the strength of her own power. Sorry, that doesn’t inspire me. F*ck you, Joss. 💩