Monday, May 05, 2008

Allecto Returns with “Our Mrs. Reynolds”, Part 2

Before I begin, I feel the need to clarify my motivation with these rebuttal articles. If Allecto were just arguing that Joss Whedon is not really a feminist, despite his reputation, I wouldn’t really have anything to say in response. Unfortunately, she can’t seem to stop with saying he isn’t the feminist he’s cracked up to be: she has to claim that he’s a woman-hating, wife-beating rapist. If she had any credibility, she’d probably be on the receiving end of a defamation suit.

All that said, Allecto makes a heck of a lot more legitimate points in this article than in her previous ones, largely because she stays closer to the actual content of the show instead of imagining things to complain about. In particular, she has some valid points about the stereotypical handling of a female villain. If she didn’t wrap her good points in delusional ranting, I wouldn’t have anything to say about them. I guess I should thank her for providing me blog material.
I mentioned in the first post that the most disturbing potential reading of this episode is as a justification and indeed glorification of male violence/terrorism in the home. I left off in the last post talking about the romance between Mal and Jayne. In the following scenes Saffron settles in to her role as a subservient and pleasing wife, with Mal being a happy consumer of her services.
Speaking of Allecto delusions, she couldn’t resist mentioning “the romance between Mal and Jayne.” As for Mal being a “happy consumer” of Saffron’s “services”, we’ll see what she uses for evidence.
MAL (cont’d)
Well, that is odd.
I just don’t - I’m not one talks about his past. And here you got me…
Does your crew never show interest in your life?
No, they’re, they’re… They just know me well enough to… What about you? What’s your history?
Not much to say. Life like yours, I fear you’d find mine terrible dull.
Oh, I long for a little dullness. Truth to say, this whole trip is getting to be just a little too interesting.

Touching stuff here. Mal beginning to see Saffron’s resources as an emotionally supportive slave as an addition to her exquisite domestic skills. What makes me even more annoyed about this scene is the fact that Mal, as always, does all the talking, leaving Saffron’s potentially interesting history unexplored. This is typical of stories written by misogynists. They are not interested in women’s stories; women are only there to further understanding of the male characters.
I know that Allecto wants the story to revolve completely around the female characters. Alas, that’s not the story that Joss Whedon is writing. I guess you can disqualify him as a feminist on those grounds if you want.

SPOILER WARNING! (Last one you’ll get; it should be obvious that these posts will be full of them.)

Looking at this scene a little closer, it’s obvious that Joss has no motivation to give us detailed backstory on Saffron here, because Saffron’s submissive wife persona is a complete fabrication. More on that as we get to the Big Reveal, but in the meantime, Allecto needs to pick on Zoe some more.
One obvious example of [male writers creating female characters that hate themselves] in Joss Whedon’s work is in the following scene where Zoe shows herself to be completely unsympathetic to Saffron’s slavery and blames Saffron for her own subjugation.

ZOE (V.O.)
She’s clearly out of her mind.
Well, she’s led a sheltered life.
Did you see the way she grabbed that glass from you?
Every planet’s got its own weird customs. ‘Bout a year before we met, I spent six weeks on a moon where the principal form of recreation was juggling geese. My hand to God. Baby geese. Goslings. They were juggled.
Of course the man rushes in to defend her…
(huh?) I’m talking about geese.

[some dialogue clipped by me]
It goes without saying that I find it highly problematic that women’s oppression is compared with the juggling of geese.
I’m skipping over some colorful language that I don’t think needs to be repeated here (follow the link to her post if you want all the profanity). I guess you can interpret this scene as trivializing women’s oppression if you have Allecto’s hyper-literal, hyper-sensitive point of view. You could also watch this and conclude that Wash finds Saffron’s submissive demeanor to be quite strange, as if he didn’t normally see women behaving that way. Character after character sees Saffron's behavior as some sort of disturbing anomaly, but Allecto thinks all the male characters are delighted and all the female characters are jealous. It seems to me that a rational person watching this show would have to conclude that everyone but Jayne is rather appalled by Saffron’s oppression.
And here we have Zoe blaming women for their own oppression and hating women, presumably for not being as liberated herself. Does that even make any kind of sense?
It’s nice to see Allecto making some kind of a coherent argument, because Zoe definitely does seem to be blaming the victim. To answer the question, perhaps Zoe’s lack of sympathy could be attributed to the fact that, having come from a liberated environment, she is unable to identify with someone as apparently oppressed as Saffron. Even given that it is wrong for Zoe to blame the victim, is it really bad that she is unable to relate to the victim mentality?

Wait a minute... Zoe's "liberated"? I thought Zoe was Wash's indoctrinated, oppressed servant-wife!
And Wash borrows Mal’s unicorn outfit to ‘defend’ Saffron and her weirdness. See, that is what I just love about male supremacy. Men rape babies, they buy, sell and trade women (real, live, thinking, breathing human beings) as sex, they kill each other, they bash, rape, mutilate, torture us day in and day out, for not being subservient enough, for being too subservient, for being too ugly, for being too beautiful, for not conforming enough, for conforming too much, in short for being born female. And women are the ones who get called crazy and weird.
I like how she just dumps out a huge list of crimes and lays them all at the feet of every man on the planet. Yep, women are “real, live, thinking, breathing human beings”, but men are all scum. Nice double standard, Allecto.
How the #@&* are women supposed to survive what men throw at us and not go a bit crazy? And weird? Well, if hating my sisters, conforming to white male supremacy by being treated as a sex-object and possession by a white man, conforming to white male supremacy by jumping when the white man says jump and calling the white man ‘sir’ is your idea of ‘normal’ womanhood, Mr. Whedon, then I sure am glad that I am ‘weird’. But thankfully I know that your image of Black womanhood ain’t anything like the courageous, resourceful, angry, compassionate, strong, resilient, tireless, flesh and blood reality of my Black sisters.
I copied that paragraph only because I wanted you to read the last sentence. Most people think that stream of adjectives would apply quite well to Zoe, but Allecto thinks Zoe is just an oppressed victim.
The next part of the show is one of the most disgusting, heteropatriachal, rapist scenes that I’ve watched. So gross. Saffron shows up in Mal’s cabin completely naked. She surprises him when he comes into his room. She is in Mal’s bed, draped in his sheets, telling Mal that she has made the bed warm for him and made herself ready for him. EWWWWWWWW. I already think I need a bath. #$^&@ Joss has a filthy mind.

So Mal, still wearing his unicorn suit (though by this stage it is getting a bit tatty) tells her that she has her own room. Saffron is confused believing that, as they are married, they must become ‘one flesh’. EWWWWWW Joss’s words there. So Saffron quotes her planet’s bible at Mal. Remember these words were written by the great feminist Joss Whedon.
Yes, the “biblical quote” that Saffron gives is despicable. I don’t see any reason to dispute that point. Of course, I don’t think Mal approves of the concept either, since he tries to resist her little seduction routine instead of just jumping her without hesitation. I think Joss is pointing out the misogynistic content of fundamentalist religions (well before the current FLDS church controversies arose, I might add), not glorifying it.
Interlude: Joss Whedon’s Guide for Beginners on how to make female submissiveness sexxxxay. Take one naked, skinny, shortish prone woman. Add one clothed, built, tallish standing man. Insert suggestive, heteropatriarchal, religious reference. Stir.
And yet, the implication of the entire scene, even before the Big Reveal, is that taking advantage of this woman is wrong. At least that was the impression I got. Mal actually lets the audience down when he gives in to temptation; although I suppose your mileage may vary.

Allecto relates an anecdote from her own life about how she’s a better person than Mal for having resisted temptation in a similar situation. Good for you, Allecto. You are better than a flawed, fictional character.

Mal, however, succumbs to the whole seduction scene and lets Saffron kiss him. Boom! He falls the floor. Apparently Saffron has knock-out drugs in her lipstick. It's the Big Reveal: the submissive wife routine was all an act. Saffron’s actually a con-artist.

Allecto is going to complain at great length about the manipulative female villain cliché. I have no reason whatsoever to dispute this with her. A cliché it is, and not a complimentary one to women, either. Of course, I think she carries it way too far; here's what she takes away from this revelation...
Women lie. About everything really, but mostly they lie about rape, child abuse, sexual assault and harassment, male violence in the home, male violence in the street etc. Women lie and lie and lie. They can’t help it. They don’t even have a reason for lying, they just do it. It’s biological… and pathological… but still very wrong.
Sorry, Allecto, but one deceitful female character in the show does not make your case. Zoe is not a liar; Kaylee is not a liar; River is not a liar; and if Inara is lying to someone, it’s herself.

Moving on, Saffron leaves Mal on the floor to go to the bridge, where she tries her seduction routine on Wash. Wash actually turns her down, but Allecto can’t leave it alone, so she goes after why he resists.
[Something in Chinese] do I wish I was somebody else right now. Somebody not married, not madly in love with a beautiful woman who can kill me with her pinky.

Reason number 9623 of why I find the whole Wash/Zoe relationship unconvincing. Wash openly admits that he wishes he could sleep with Saffron a woman who he has just met. He simultaneously believes that he loves Zoe despite the fact that he openly admits to wanting to [sleep with] Saffron. And the primary motivation for him refusing to [sleep with] Saffron does not seem to be because he loves Zoe, it is more because of his life may be in danger if he does. Wow, I really do just love these nice, white husbands. Whatever would women do without all these nice, white men?
Remember how – according to Allecto – Zoe is Wash’s abused, helpless wife? That’s what she told us about the relationship in her review of “Serenity”. Now, though, he’s too afraid of Zoe to defy her. Allecto apparently evaluates every scene in isolation, so she doesn’t notice when she contradicts herself. Yeah, Wash does express regret for being unavailable at the time, but I don’t think his statement invalidates genuine love for Zoe.

I’ll admit something bad about men, here. We really do find it hard to resist an offer from an attractive woman. Evolutionarily speaking, women have the scarce commodity. Sperm are cheap and plentiful, but eggs are limited and precious. (EDIT: Looking back, it appears that I have repeated a popular misconception here. The distinction appears to be more cultural than biological.) Consequently, the male’s first instinct when getting an offer is to accept it, and the conscious mind has to work to overcome natural instinct in order to refuse. If Wash really thought so little of Zoe as Allecto thinks, he wouldn’t have made that effort. The world is full of men who haven’t lived up to Wash’s standard of ethics.
Anyway, Joss writes his first remotely feminist bit thus far and Saffron kicks Wash in the head after rolling her eyes at his stupidity. WOOHOO!!!! That’s more like it sister! Now this Saffron IS sexy. Not that sexy is a word I’d use but hey. This Saffron is a woman who kicks @#$@%@ men in the head and that makes her pretty darn attractive in my book.
Well, now we know what Allecto considers to be a good example of feminist script writing. No character development, no story arcs, no depth… just men on the receiving end of violence.
Saffron stuffs up the ship’s navigation before heading to one of the shuttles. She encounters Inara along the way. Can’t really be bothered to detail the scene. Suffice to say that Joss chucks in a bit of lesbian pornography for his wanker fans. Ho hum moment number 3948.
In brief, as Saffron heads toward one of the shuttles to abandon the ship, she meets Inara in the hall and tries to seduce her, too. Inara doesn’t fall for it, and she also dodges the kick to the head. Saffron manages to get into the shuttle, though, and take off. Is Joss trying to sex up the show too much this way? Is this script the work of a wife-beating rapist? You decide.
Inara reveals the hideous truth about Saffron to the others. She acts as though she has had training at the Academy for Companions. Shock, horror. A Companion that uses her ‘skills’ in servility for evil???
Yes, yes… we know, Allecto. You hate the manipulative woman cliché.

Allecto does a lot of summing up of the remaining plot, since Saffron’s off the ship and no longer directly involved. It turns out she set the ship on a course for a trap, and there’s no way to regain control of the ship before they get into it. Everyone will be killed, and the ship will be sold as salvage. Fortunately, Jayne is able to damage the trap with his big rifle to save the ship. Disaster avoided and the ship back under control, Mal goes to get his shuttle back.

For this scene, Allecto quotes a lot of script and includes some screen captures, because she thinks it makes her point about the episode being an “endorsement of male terrorism in the home”. I don’t want to repeat all of that here, so please just read it in her post. In a nutshell, Mal finds Saffron, says “Honey, I’m home”, holds her at gunpoint a bit, and a fight ensues. I will not even dispute that Joss tries to put some sexiness into the scene – including Saffron making a last-ditch seduction attempt, and I won’t argue about the appropriateness, either. There is one portion that I’ll highlight, though, because there’s a rather suspicious omission.
You gonna kill me?
Can you conjure up a terribly compelling reason for me not to?
I didn’t kill you…

Why the act? All the seduction games, the dancing about folk — there has to be an easier way to steal.
You gonna kill me?
Can you conjure up a terribly compelling reason for me not to?
I didn't kill you...
You turned me and my crew over to those that would kill us, that buys you nothing.
I made you dinner...
Why the act? All the seduction games, the dancing about folk -- there has to be an easier way to steal.
I find it a little strange that Allecto quoted Saffron’s “I didn’t kill you” line but omitted Mal’s response, “You turned me and my crew over to those that would kill us, that buys you nothing.” Is she trying to gloss over the fact that Saffron conspired to murder everyone on the ship?

Allecto’s summary of the scene:
Saffron leaves Mal and Mal tracks her down, invading her home by force as a husband, pushing her to the bed, using his body to pin her down while he lectures her for not conforming to proper feminine womanhood, before slamming his gun in her face.
If you’re still thinking of this pair as husband-and-wife at this point (if you ever were), you are truly deluded. You may not like the manipulative female villain cliché, but that’s what Saffron is. Mal is reclaiming stolen property from a criminal. You could easily argue that it could have been done without a confrontation, which would have allowed it to occur without Mal hitting a woman, and I wouldn’t have any complaints. Strictly speaking, a direct confrontation to reclaim the shuttle wasn’t necessary, but I suppose it’s another character flaw of Mal’s that he couldn’t just fly away in the shuttle without a word. I suppose Joss felt that the audience needed some kind of closure, as well.

You can certainly make the case that the scene – the whole episode, in fact – isn’t feminist. You can make the case that the manipulative woman cliché is a bad image to be rehashing, although many people like the fact that Saffron seems to be a smart, resourceful character. Is the episode “glorification of male violence/terrorism in the home”? I think that’s a stretch, but you can watch it yourself and decide.

So, the summary for part 2 of Allecto's "Our Mrs. Reynolds" review:
  • We should get plenty of backstory on female characters, even if it's going to be false.
  • Comparing unusual social customs to absurd pastimes is an effort to trivialize them.
  • A “liberated” female character does not relate well to an “oppressed” female character.
  • Women are real, live, thinking beings; men are baby-raping, slave-trading, murderous monsters.
  • A woman trying to seduce a man is icky.
  • The manipulative female cliché is proof of the writer's misogyny.
  • Men only resist seduction attempts out of fear.
  • A woman kicking a man in the head is feminism.
  • The scene in which Mal confronts Saffron to get his shuttle back is loaded with evil images of male dominance.
This post was actually hard to review. It’s hard to wade through all the venom and maintain any semblance of objectivity. True objectivity is an unattainable ideal, of course, and I know that my perception influences my opinion, but I like to think that I can step back from a subject and give it a fair evaluation before writing a critique. I honestly don’t think Allecto even made the attempt.

Incidentally, the entire script of “Our Mrs Reynolds” is available online, if you want to check anything yourself.

Check Part 1, if you missed it.


Saranga said...

Hello, comments as requested:
First, i don't think your post is a rant. You've clearly thought about Allecto's points and you're writing logically.
I didn't pick up on the Zoe as submissive wife/violent woman to break Wash contradictions, but they are good points.
I'm not sure I agree with your arguments about evolution and women being a scarce commodity. I liek to think we've outgrown our primordial impulses, but again, I think that's the point you're making right?
It's interesting that Allecto cut some dialogue out...

Lord Runolfr said...


Thanks for stopping by.

Regarding my evolution/instinct observation: I like to think we've outgrown our primordial impulses, too, but watching one episode of "The Jerry Springer Show" (is it still being made?) is enough to show that not all people have outgrown those impulses. As I see it, we still have the instincts of our ancestors. We can overcome those instincts with intellect, but you have to recognize that those instincts exist and make a conscious effort to overcome them. Far too many people act without thinking, if you ask me.

It's like the "fools" proverb. "You can fool some people all the time, and all people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time." Well, I think much the same applies to overcoming your instincts. Everyone slips occasionally; some people slip a lot.

As for the dropped line: I'm not sure if it was an oversight or intentional. I'll probably never know.

Joel said...

She's ... entertaining, if nothing else.

More nonsense. :)

Joshua said...

This was a good post. Thanks for sniffing out the omission in that scene at the end.

I wanted to defend Allecto's assertion that Zoe is "jealous" a bit. I don't think "jealous" is the right word, but I think I see what she's getting at. It's really about one part insecurity and three parts disappointment. Insecurity because she knows she can't compete with Saffron on this level. If what Wash wants is this kind of a submissive woman (and a darker part of him does - the same way a darker part of every woman wants to be a princess waited on hand and foot), that's something she can't give him, being who she is (i.e. sensible, independent, having self-respect, etc.). That brief flash of insecurity is followed by disappointment at the idea that any of the men around her could want such a thing. It lowers Wash a bit in her estimation to think he might be envying Mal. (And clearly he does envy him the good food a bit!)

Watching the scene, I think it's clear that Wash is going through exactly the kind of thing you're talking about with regard to suppressing instincts. There's a base part of everyone, male and female, that wants someone so completely devoted to them and concerned with their comfort as Saffron seems to be with Mal's at this point in the story. Respect for human dignity, which I like to think makes up the better part of our reactions, overrides this, but that doesn't mean it's not sneaking around in the (not-so-)sub(-)conscious. It's pretty clear that Zoe is a bit put out with Wash in this scene, and I think that's a natural reaction in a situation like this.

Allecto's way out of line calling it "jealousy," exactly, but then her line on Zoe won't allow her to see clearly what's really going on with Zoe in this and many other scenes. I think Allecto's on to something, she's just too invested in her version of Zoe as slave-girl standin to follow it up.