Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Radical Feminist Criticism of Firefly

The train wreck continues in Allecto’s second article on Firefly, in which she reviews the episode “Our Mrs. Reynolds”. This should be interesting, since the episode features a female villain.

I’m going to skip her opening rant about the hate mail she received after publishing her review of “Serenity”. I really don’t doubt she got all the hate mail she describes; this is the internet, and obnoxious people use the anonymity it provides to make jackasses of themselves all the time, so getting a batch of hate mail after bashing a TV show with a fairly large fan cult should surprise no one. (As an example, at Babtech on the Net, we've received a charming array of insults and death threats for our assessments of the fictional technology of Babylon 5.)

She apparently intends to write two posts on this episode, and she sounds like she doesn’t mean to get to her main complaints until part two. Here’s her summary.

Our Mrs. Reynolds is the sixth episode of the television series Firefly. This episode was written by the Great White Feminist himself, Joss Whedon. In this episode, Mal the captain of the ship finds out that he has married a woman when he finds a stowaway on his ship. The stowaway, whose name is Saffron, was traded to Mal as a gift because he helped the inhabitants of a planet to get rid of some bad guys.

Not really; Allecto is making this up. It may seem so at first, but if you’ve actually seen the episode, you know that the villagers did not trade Saffron to Mal in return for his assistance; the whole “wedding ceremony” and stowing away was entirely her idea, as we shall see.

The most disturbing reading of this particular episode is as an endorsement of male terrorism in the home. I’ll talk more about the potential for this reading in the second half of my analysis.

It will be interesting to see how she spins the events of this episode into “an endorsement of male terrorism”, but that will have to wait.

On to the first scene, in which the crew of Serenity are working as hired security for a small settlement that’s been plagued by robbers. Mal has set a trap for the robbers by driving a wagon through the countryside. He and Jayne are on the seat, while Zoe is hidden in the back. Mal, incidentally, is disguised as a woman. Allecto doesn’t find that amusing.

So the ‘woman’ sitting by the driver of the carriage is actually Mal in drag. Shock, surprise, this is real funny **** huh, women? A man in drag, teeheehee. SO radical. And feminist, huh? What do you think, does Joss get a cookie?

Sigh. There has been loads of work done on the anti-feminism of drag and I can’t be bothered to rehash. Suffice to say Jayne gets away with spouting a whole bunch of sexist, looksist crap and it is ‘funny’ because he directs it at a man in drag. Not to mention, joking about rape. Drag is often used by men as a way of expressing woman-hatred and they dress it up as humour. Just a joke girls, now get over yourselves, right?
I’m actually not going to argue about this, because I see it as a justifiable complaint. I don’t find it offensive in the same way as Allecto, mind you, but at least she’s addressing the content of the show in its genuine context instead of making things up or deliberately misinterpreting the scene, so she can have this one.

But there’s more to the whole dress-wearing thing.

A bit later Mal talks about how he likes to wear dresses with Inara. “Like woman, I am a mystery,” he says of his enjoyment of wearing dresses. Sorry, Joss, score zero for that one. Women aren’t a mystery, WE ARE FULLY CONSCIOUS HUMAN BEINGS. And Mal is a wanker and wankers aren’t a bit mysterious. At least they aren’t to me. Maybe wankers are mysterious to unicorns. Who knows. I think I’m starting to hate unicorns.
When did being a fully conscious human being and being mysterious become mutually exclusive? I know that Allecto is a fully conscious human being, but I admit that it’s a mystery to me how she arrived at her current world-view. I could speculate at length, but that would not mean I really understood. Beyond that, is mystery actually a bad thing?

Update: In the comments to her post, there's a clarification. She see's calling women "mysterious" as a sort of hasty generalization, which is a fair enough complaint. Beyond that, why should women be considered any more mysterious than men? Furthermore, she's at least criticizing something that actually happened, so point conceded to Allecto.

Incidentally, “unicorns” is her chosen term for “feminist men”, a concept she apparently considers to be imaginary. She’ll be using it frequently in this post.

So, Mal saves some colonists from the bad guys by killing them all while wearing a dress.
I would like to take this opportunity to point out that Zoe shoots some men, too. This observation will be relevant later.

Mal and the crew get back on the ship. As they take off, Mal surprises a stowaway, who tells him that she is his wife. Mal gets all panicky and calls Zoe.

Now, it is pretty obvious by this point that Saffron has been traded to Mal in exchange for his killing the bad guys. She is a wife in the sense of being a sexual and domestic slave. When Zoe is told that Saffron has been traded to Mal as a wife/slave she begins to laugh. She then calls the rest of the crew and invites them to join her in laughing at Mal’s newly acquired possession. Now, I don’t know about you, but I have never met a Black woman who laughs about slavery. I can’t believe that any woman, Black or white would laugh at an incidence of men trading women. Where the hell does Joss Whedon do his research on women????? What women does Joss know that he can portray them like this????
It certainly appears that the villagers have rewarded Mal with a young wife, and she certainly behaves in an extremely submissive manner. Mal is obviously surprised by this situation, since no one told him about any such arrangement, nor would he have agreed to it if he had been told. In an absolutely bizarre distortion of the scene, Allecto concludes that Zoe is making fun of Saffron, when it’s abundantly clear to anyone who watches this scene with a clear head that Zoe is making fun of Mal. Zoe knows that Mal did not and would not want “a sexual and domestic slave”, so she is laughing at him (with no consequences for doing so, I might add) and sharing her mirth with the rest of the crew. Soon everyone on the ship – except Saffron, who isn’t breaking out of her assumed persona – is having a laugh at the swaggering alpha male’s expense. Yeah, the women are really being shown their place here.

Anyway, Saffron runs off crying, apparently embarrassed because Mal has rejected her. Mal follows her, and in one of the scenes only available on the DVD, the following conversation ensues:

Are you going to kill me?
What? What kind of crappy planet is that? Kill you?
In the maiden’s home, I heard talk of men who weren’t pleased with their brides, who…
Well I ain’t them. And don’t you ever stand for that sort of thing. Someone tries to kill you, you try to kill ‘em right back. Wife or no, you’re no one’s property to be tossed aside. You got the right same as anyone to live and to try to kill people. I mean, you know. People that are… That’s a dumb planet.
Believe it or not, Allecto finds a way to be offended by this exchange.

Ah Mal, Mal, Mal. So gallant, so kind, so noble. But just one question, Joss. Do you know what happens to women who defend themselves from violent men? Have you heard of Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Terraine Dandridge, Venice Brown, Dixie Shanahan, Yana Ladgari, Mary Winkler, Sherry Mariana, Marva Wallace? (This list is by no means exhaustive.) Women who defend themselves from men who are trying to kill them have their children taken away from them and are locked up. That is the stark reality of what equality means for women who live under male supremacy.
That’s right: Mal suggesting that Saffron should defend herself if attacked is bad, because women who defend themselves can suffer social consequences in our misogynistic world. Never mind that those social consequences are probably preferable to being murdered: Joss Whedon proclaiming that women have the right to defend themselves is bad.

If none of those names ring any bells for you, don’t be surprised; I had to do a web search myself. There’s an article about the court case on Wikipedia, and you can probably find more information from both sides with a more determined search. As neither a witness nor a juror, I’m not going to render an opinion on whether justice was done in the case – feel free to dig around and make your own decision on that.

And just a tip Joss, from one writer to another. If you believe that women should kill men who try to kill them then, quite frankly, I agree with you. If you want to show your encouragement and support for women who defend themselves from men, then write a female character that kills a man who is trying to kill her AND GETS AWAY WITH IT.
Remember how Zoe killed some robbers earlier in this very episode? What were the terrible consequences for her from those kills? Hmm… let me see… rewards and acclaim from the local villagers are all I can think of. I know she killed at least one man in “Serenity”, too. Would it be worth it to tally up Zoe’s total male body count over the course of the series? Maybe we should throw in River's list of kills, too.

Now, let’s see, do you actually show women getting away with being disloyal to men? We had Patience, a character in the first episode. How did she fare when she tried to cheat Mal? Hmm… let’s think. Oh, that’s right. You left her trapped under the carcass of a horse. Mmm. I just love that feminist empowerment, Joss.
That’s right; she just said that deceit and treachery should be okay for women, but she seems to have no problem with such double standards. You could legitimately complain about the fact that the villain in that particular scene was female (although I think villainy should be just as equal-opportunity as heroism), but to suggest that villainy should be overlooked if the perpetrator happens to be female is just… what? Deranged? Immoral? Sexist? You decide.

Anyway, after Mal’s conversation with Saffron, he gets a little lecture from Shepherd Book.

If you take sexual advantage of her, you’re going to burn in a very special level of hell. A level they reserve for child molesters and people who talk at the theater. (Allecto’s emphasis.)
Remember how I noted in response to her review of “Serenity” that to become a radical feminist you apparently have to sacrifice your ability to detect sarcasm? It comes as no surprise, then, that she interprets this line in the most literal way possible, and then comes to completely unsubstantiated conclusions about Joss Whedon based on it.

Now, that comment right there indicates to me that our dear Mr. Whedon is a porn user. And that it is highly likely that his pornography of choice is Hustler, given that he seems to think it funny to trivialise the sexual abuse of children. How many times has Joss wanked to our degradation in Hustler while chuckling away at Chester the Molester cartoons? I actually really want to know the answer to this question. Joss continues his race hatred by putting this ‘joke’ in the mouth of a Black man.
Allecto, if you’ve never wished you could do something indescribably and undeservedly horrible to someone who was being obnoxious at the theatre, you’ve been far luckier than I. It’s a sort of personalized loathing that inspires thoughts of ruthless torture, even though you know that punishment of that sort – punishment that you might think suitable for a serial killer or child molester – is completely out of proportion to the crime. If you really think Joss is trivializing child molestation, though, you have such a literal turn of mind that I’m surprised you can function.

Edit: I'm not sure I articulated this as well as I would like, so let me elaborate. It's plain to me that Book's line is meant to exaggerate the "crime" of talking in the theatre, not trivialize the crime of child molestation. I do not see how any rational person can misunderstand that, so I can only conclude that Allecto has deliberately misinterpreted it in her obsessive quest to demonize Joss Whedon at every possible opportunity.

A scene follows in which Saffron has made dinner for Mal; naturally this occurrence is an affront to Allecto, but the problem doesn’t end there. Zoe and Wash walk in while Mal is still eating, and Allecto inexplicably finds their behavior demeaning to Saffron, as well.

So, are you enjoying your own nubile little slave girl?
(mouth full) I’m not… nubile… (swallows) Look, she wanted to make me dinner. At least she’s not crying…
I might. Did she really make fresh bao? (off Zoe’s glare) Quaint!
Remember that sex we were planning to have ever again?

Black female wife being jealous of a woman she terms a ‘slave girl’. Anyone else see a problem with this?
This is a leap of illogic that leaves me in total shock. She thinks Zoe is jealous of Saffron? The only feeling I see in Zoe is contempt for Mal and Wash! The only “problem” I see is that Allecto must be delusional if she can misinterpret this exchange so completely. It makes me wonder if Allecto is lying about having watched Firefly and is actually basing her reviews entirely on her readings of online scripts. It might be possible to misinterpret the scene the way she does just looking at it on paper, but I find it difficult to believe that anyone could actually watch it and arrive at her distorted interpretation.

So, we get to the scene where Jayne offers to trade his best gun – named “Vera” – for Saffron. It goes without saying that Jayne is objectifying women in this exchange, and Allecto is quite right to conclude that Jayne is dangerous, although raping the passengers and crew of the ship doesn’t seem to be one of the threats he poses. He would obviously take advantage of Saffron’s apparent subservience – and I won’t dispute regarding that as rape, since Saffron’s persona is clearly “indoctrinated” to be subservient to men to the point that I would not consider her capable of giving informed consent. On the other hand, he has never shown any inclination to force himself on Kaylee, Inara, or Zoe, and apart from one vulgar threat brought on by being told that “Jayne is a girl’s name”, he hasn’t displayed sexual aggression toward River, either (and no, such a threat is not justifiable, but there remains no indication that he would actually have followed through on it). In short, Jayne seems to expect at least apparent willingness from women from whom he wants sex. Consequently, Allecto’s conclusion about Jayne...

If Mal did care about the protection of women, he would have spaced Jayne immediately, or at least locked the ****** up.
... seems to be unwarranted. Let’s hear it for preemptive murder, shall we?

On another level, the trading of women and the naming of Phallic weapons, the sharing of homoerotic tales of male violence (Jayne’s story of how he acquired his gun), this is part of the larger romance of the show, the homoerotic, masculine connection between Mal and Jayne.
Does she have a different definition of “homoerotic” than the one I found in Webster’s? There’s no denying that there’s a lot of macho posturing going around, but I still don’t see how that implies Mal and Jayne are trying to impress each other as some kind of homosexual mating ritual.

The summary of Allecto’s complaints about “Our Mrs. Reynolds” so far:
  • Allecto has imagined that some backwater villagers traded one of their young women to some mercenaries (anyone who has seen the whole episode knows this to be false).
  • Allecto doesn’t think a man disguised as a woman is humorous.
  • Thinking women are “mysterious” is equivalent to thinking they are non-sentient sub-humans.
  • Allecto is offended by the ship’s crew laughing at Mal’s “new wife”, even though they were actually laughing at Mal himself because they assume he was so drunk that he was tricked into a “marriage” he did not want.
  • Suggesting that women defend themselves against attack by men is bad.
  • Women should be allowed to cheat men.
  • Sarcasm is an evil rhetorical trick used for trivializing horrific crimes.
  • Allecto cannot distinguish between jealousy of a subservient woman and contempt for men.
  • Men who pose a risk of sexual aggression should be preemptively imprisoned or killed.
  • Men who seem to be competing for power are actually lusting after each other.
Whether she will actually finish her review of this episode, let alone whether she will publish more, remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Purtek has a very coherent article critical of "Our Mrs. Reynolds" at The Hathor Legacy. She makes some very good points about how the show fails to be feminist instead of spewing nonsense about how it "endorses male terrorism".

Move on to the response to Part 2


Lord Runolfr said...

Oooh. I think I got a visit from Allecto. According to site meter, the referring URL was http://allecto.wordpress.com/wp-admin/, and I can't think of anyone else that would be coming from her admin page. I put a comment on her article just so she'd know these rebuttals exist. She didn't publish the comment, but that's no surprise.

Saranga said...

I like your posts. I think you know the show a damn site better than Allecto (and me actually) and have a better understanding of the character relationships and therefore the meanings behind each scene and I think you make a lot of sense. So nope, not crazy! And you've quite clearly got a grasp of the feminist fundamentals so I might start calling you a unicorn. ;)

Natalie said...

I was curious about what else she had to say about the show, but decided to read your post quoting her instead of actually reading hers. It's a lot easier to swallow. And a lot more articulate and analytical, rather than spiteful and irrational. Also, I think Zoe's Latina.