Yes, Joss Whedon's cheating matters
My boyfriend is always at some stage of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Angel, or a combination of both. He watches analysis videos on YouTube that break down the mythology and symbolism. The comics sit on our shelves. As a feminist, he has always looked up to Joss Whedon and points out the episodes he wrote and directed. “You can always tell when it’s Whedon,” he says. “It just crackles a little more.” We had just finished season two together when news broke that Whedon had been cheating on his wife throughout his entire 16-year-long marriage.
I’ve seen the arguments that Whedon’s cheating isn’t un-feminist, isn’t abusive and isn’t any of our goddamn business. Certainly, cheating isn’t always abusive. A one night stand that would only hurt your partner to reveal is surely not that uncommon amongst long term, monogamous relationships. Prolonged cheating is another matter. The emotional investment in someone who isn’t your other half, and the distance it creates without explanation. Convincing them everything is fine and their insecurity is unreasonable. Omitting the facts they need to make decisions about what they do with their body. They are living in an alternate reality of your making. You are keeping them in a psychological box so you can fuck other people. That is abusive.
There had been warning signs that Whedon wasn’t the perfect feminist package he was sold as. After her character Cordelia was stuck in a coma and then written out of the show, Charisma Carpenter later confirmed that Joss Whedon had been angry with her for getting pregnant and ruining his creative vision. He was hesitant to cast Amber Benson as Tara because he wanted someone “smaller and less womanly”. After developing the character of Spike into someone we could love for more than just snappy put downs, he became a rapist as a plot device. But we shrugged it off. None of us are perfect and certainly none of us are perfect feminists, but we gave him too much wiggle room.
To make a crass comparison, (as the only evidence for the allegations of abuse made against him is the word of his daughter), Woody continues to work and the most talented people in L.A continue to flock to him. I’ve read countless think pieces about whether we should support him, and most say we have to guillotine the link between Allan and his art; except, Allan is his art. All of his films feature fast-talking, neurotic older men with awkward younger women. His personal agenda and experiences are in every scene, from Annie Hall to Barcelona. To buy into Allan’s films is to buy into him as a man.
So it is with Whedon. Being a feminist was his whole brand, in a culture where the feminist agenda is considered to be box office anthrax. We believed you couldn’t create feminist work without being a feminist yourself; to impersonate one to boost your career is surely lower than the lowest sexist troll letting women know via Twitter DM that their only purpose is to be dominated and impregnated.
“In many ways, I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture,” he wrote to his wife. “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!” After spending his career pretending to dismantle gender stereotypes and patriarchal values, he uses them as valid reasons to cheat on his wife. Of all people, Joss Whedon could not rise above the social conditioning he had reminded us we were all victims of.
As a survivor of domestic violence, I’ll admit I see abuse everywhere. But I found Whedon’s statement regarding his ex wife’s article chilling. “Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex wife.” She is the one putting the children at risk by speaking openly about her marriage and her ex husband’s treatment of her, while he shielded them by silently conducting his numerous affairs. She is publicly shaming him and selling her story while he divorces quietly. It subtly depicts her as an unfit mother and crazed harpy of a wife.
It won’t surprise many women to know that many abusive men tend to be model citizens outwardly, in success and in popularity. My ex partner appeared in court to plead guilty to his own catalogue of abuse against me while studying for his PhD. Joss Whedon relies on this, and it will allow him to slip back into his Hollywood life with barely a ripple. The damage has been done to young women, who know more than ever that we can’t trust any of the men in our lives, no matter how superficially supportive. Whedon did not see this as an opportunity to reach out to his fans; to apologise to the women who have supported him or to the men who have looked up to him and in not doing so, he has shown his true misogynistic colours.