Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thank you, Joss Whedon!

Dear Joss Whedon,
Thank you for your years of service to the entertainment industry. Thank you for giving the world the hip supernatural and science fiction television shows that you have so brilliantly created. But most of all, thank you for creating a group of independent ass-kicking female characters. In film and television, female characters are too often written into supporting roles, only allowed to be wives, mothers, or figures within the madonna/whore dichotomy. But you, Mr. Whedon have changed things, placing women into roles and situations that were new to us.

First, there was Buffy. The 1992 movie was great and the television show was even better. In Buffy, we found a girl who could kick some serious vampire booty and make corny jokes in the process. She wasn't a robot (though there was a Buffy bot at one point) -- she had good traits and bad traits, but she always got the job done, protecting mankind from evil supernaturals. Buffy's scooby squad of sidekicks included her best friends Willow and Xander. While a loyal friend, Xander often took the back seat to Willow, the super brainy witch with a dark side. Later in the series, Willow discovered she was a lesbian. She's not a stereotypical butch lesbian or a man-hating lesbian or a super-sexy, man-titillating lesbian, but a representation of a real lesbian, who has relationships with other real lesbians. For a couple early seasons, Buffy worked with a fellow slayer, Faith. Eventually, Faith decided to drink the cool aid and turned to evil. Nonetheless, she was tough and proved that women don't always have to be good. We can be dark and mean just like male villains, thank you very much.

Then, we have Angel. The central character is the super-cute, soul-bearing vampire Angel, but his spot atop the supernatural detective pyramid is held steady with the help of his assistant Cordelia and Fred. Cordy, who was the Sunnydale bitch-who-owned it on Buffy, moved to LA and helped Angel solve mysteries. She is outspoken and tough; spiders might make her scream by she can kick a demon's ass. Throughout the series, she matured and became invaluable to Angel's agency. Part-way through the series, a succession of hi-jinks led Angel to find the brainy mathematician Fred in a cave in an alternate dimension. She joined the team and blossomed as their personal think tank.

Last but not least, we have Firefly. Firefly was gone too soon, but its short run showed us a host of awesome female characters. The ship, Serenity, was captained by Malcolm Reynolds. However, it could easily be argued that his tough-as-nails first mate Zoe outdid him in brains and balls. She wore the pants in her relationship with Wash, and saved the rest of the crew time and time again. The ship's mechanic, Kaylee, was bubbly and broke stereotypes because she knew everything there is to know about machines. In one episode, we learn that she beat out a guy for the position on Serenity. Then, we had Inara, the ship's resident companion (aka courtesan). She spoke her mind and was in control of her sexuality. She took a commonly stigmatized and marginalized social figure and made it elegant. In fact, she was the only one on the ship who was not on the run from something or someone. Last, there was River. Held in a government facility before being rescued by her big brother, she was slightly nuts, but wicked smart and incredibly insightful. In Serenity, the movie based on Firefly, we learned that River, with her pixie dresses and army boots, was a serious badass with the ability to face her demons and fight off hordes of commandos all by herself.

So, thank you, Mr. Whedon. The characters you have created show weakness, but it is because they are human, not because they are women. As women they show strength, intelligence, and sensitivity that makes them role models for all of us. You also show that femininity and non-violence do not necessarily go hand in hand, a misconception that has been reinforced for far too long. I am truly grateful that someone finally put these figures on TV and only regret that they can only be found in science fiction.

P.S. I haven't seen Dollhouse, but I can only expect that Eliza Dushku's character is awesome.


  1. I really want to see Firefly! I have not heard as much about it but in the past couple weeks people keep bringing it up and now I think I have to watch it. I agree with all of this post. Thanks, Joss!

  2. You have to see Firefly! It's so good! I've been wanting to re-watch it, so just let me know when!