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21 May 2007 @ 02:19 pm
Joss Whedon on the Inequality of Women  
Just sigh. No words. (Source with plenty of comments.)

Let's Watch A Girl Get Beaten To Death. This is not my blog, but I don’t have a blog, or a space, and I’d like to be heard for a bit.

Last month seventeen year old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men, some of them (the instigators) family, who then kicked and stoned her to death. This is an example of the breath-taking oxymoron “honor killing”, in which a family member (almost always female) is murdered for some religious or ethical transgression. Dua Khalil, who was of the Yazidi faith, had been seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim, and possibly suspected of having married him or converted. That she was torturously murdered for this is not, in fact, a particularly uncommon story. But now you can watch the action up close on CNN. Because as the girl was on the ground trying to get up, her face nothing but red, the few in the group of more than twenty men who were not busy kicking her and hurling stones at her were filming the event with their camera-phones.

There were security officers standing outside the area doing nothing, but the footage of the murder was taken – by more than one phone – from the front row. Which means whoever shot it did so not to record the horror of the event, but to commemorate it. To share it. Because it was cool.

I could start a rant about the level to which we have become desensitized to violence, about the evils of the voyeuristic digital world in which everything is shown and everything is game, but honestly, it’s been said. And I certainly have no jingoistic cultural agenda. I like to think that in America this would be considered unbearably appalling, that Kitty Genovese is still remembered, that we are more evolved. But coincidentally, right before I stumbled on this vid I watched the trailer for “Captivity”.

A few of you may know that I took public exception to the billboard campaign for this film, which showed a concise narrative of the kidnapping, torture and murder of a sexy young woman. I wanted to see if the film was perhaps more substantial (especially given the fact that it was directed by “The Killing Fields” Roland Joffe) than the exploitive ad campaign had painted it. The trailer resembles nothing so much as the CNN story on Dua Khalil. Pretty much all you learn is that Elisha Cuthbert is beautiful, then kidnapped, inventively, repeatedly and horrifically tortured, and that the first thing she screams is “I’m sorry”.

“I’m sorry.”

What is wrong with women?

I mean wrong. Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected.

How did more than half the people in the world come out incorrectly? I have spent a good part of my life trying to do that math, and I’m no closer to a viable equation. And I have yet to find a culture that doesn’t buy into it. Women’s inferiority – in fact, their malevolence -- is as ingrained in American popular culture as it is anywhere they’re sporting burkhas. I find it in movies, I hear it in the jokes of colleagues, I see it plastered on billboards, and not just the ones for horror movies. Women are weak. Women are manipulative. Women are somehow morally unfinished. (Objectification: another tangential rant avoided.) And the logical extension of this line of thinking is that women are, at the very least, expendable.

I try to think how we got here. The theory I developed in college (shared by many I’m sure) is one I have yet to beat: Womb Envy. Biology: women are generally smaller and weaker than men. But they’re also much tougher. Put simply, men are strong enough to overpower a woman and propagate. Women are tough enough to have and nurture children, with or without the aid of a man. Oh, and they’ve also got the equipment to do that, to be part of the life cycle, to create and bond in a way no man ever really will. Somewhere a long time ago a bunch of men got together and said, “If all we do is hunt and gather, let’s make hunting and gathering the awesomest achievement, and let’s make childbirth kinda weak and shameful.” It’s a rather silly simplification, but I believe on a mass, unconscious level, it’s entirely true. How else to explain the fact that cultures who would die to eradicate each other have always agreed on one issue? That every popular religion puts restrictions on women’s behavior that are practically untenable? That the act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death? In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.

It’s safe to say that I’ve snapped. That something broke, like one of those robots you can conquer with a logical conundrum. All my life I’ve looked at this faulty equation, trying to understand, and I’ve shorted out. I don’t pretend to be a great guy; I know really really well about objectification, trust me. And I’m not for a second going down the “women are saints” route – that just leads to more stone-throwing (and occasional Joan-burning). I just think there is the staggering imbalance in the world that we all just take for granted. If we were all told the sky was evil, or at best a little embarrassing, and we ought not look at it, wouldn’t that tradition eventually fall apart? (I was going to use ‘trees’ as my example, but at the rate we’re getting rid of them I’m pretty sure we really do think they’re evil. See how all rants become one?)

Now those of you who frequent this site are, in my wildly biased opinion, fairly evolved. You may hear nothing new here. You may be way ahead of me. But I can’t contain my despair, for Dua Khalil, for humanity, for the world we’re shaping. Those of you who have followed the link I set up know that it doesn’t bring you to a video of a murder. It brings you to a place of sanity, of people who have never stopped asking the question of what is wrong with this world and have set about trying to change the answer. Because it’s no longer enough to be a decent person. It’s no longer enough to shake our heads and make concerned grimaces at the news. True enlightened activism is the only thing that can save humanity from itself. I’ve always had a bent towards apocalyptic fiction, and I’m beginning to understand why. I look and I see the earth in flames. Her face was nothing but red.

All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.

I have never had any faith in humanity. But I will give us props on this: if we can evolve, invent and theorize our way into the technologically magical, culturally diverse and artistically magnificent race we are and still get people to buy the idiotic idea that half of us are inferior, we’re pretty amazing. Let our next sleight of hand be to make that myth disappear.

The sky isn’t evil. Try looking up.

While reading this I kept thinking of Buffy Summers and River Tam and how Whedon has used his creative power more often than not to show the strength and equality of women. I know he's not perfect, but he's a helluva lot better than many others in his position (calling Rob Thomas and then hanging up because really, there's nobody home.)
sweetumms33sweetumms33 on May 21st, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to find the write words to respond to this. First off, thanks for putting this out there, I'd never check Whedon's site, but this has had rumbles going around LJ all day. And he is seriously talented writer because very few could say what he is saying eloquently, without sounding preachy.

Second, its scary how little the world even notices things like honor killings anymore. I've even had someone lecture me on how I shouldn't force Western values down another cultures throat. I'm Indian, and my biggest fight with my parents, with my religion and with my culture has always been the intrinsic belief that there is something wrong with women. I always thought it was part of Eastern culture, but reading this article made me realize its so much a part of American and all Western culture. Joss is right, its a cultural phenomenon, the one thing every single culture agrees on. Deeply disturbing.

And you are incredibly right, Joss has created strong empowered women who are real, who overcome the situation around them and who are greater for it. One of my favorite things about Firefly is the dynamic between Wash and Zoe. He always seemed to love her kick-assness. RT....well Veronica's not exactly my role model anymore

Thanks so much for this, what a very important read, sorry if my response was too much.
Arabian: JD_Too Cutearabian on May 21st, 2007 09:29 pm (UTC)
I didn't know you were Indian, and hearing your perspective is definitely interesting. What I found most interesting is that you say you thought it was Eastern culture, and honestly, if asked, I probably would have responded as such. But Joss is totally right, it's everywhere. It is the ONE unifying thing that ALL cultures have in common.

Stepping away a bit from this reality, I think that was one of the things I really liked about The DaVinci Code, the whole backstory that before the Catholic Church (and I say this being a Catholic) it was Mother Earth and the Goddess. I've always read similar stories/ideas in fiction relating to King Arthur, when focusing on Avalon. It makes one wonder how different things would be today, were women allowed to remain in a position of power in religion ... because way back when that's where the rules of society were created.
sweetumms33sweetumms33 on May 22nd, 2007 02:22 am (UTC)
I assume you are talking about "The Mists of Avalon" by Marion Zimmer Bradley. That was just a genius work, and incredibly fascinating. Its not necessarily rooted in historical fact, though it is believed that the Celts worshiped women, placing an emphasis on fertility. It does make you wonder, when and how did it all change? Did some men just wake up one morning, and decide that they were better? Is it based on our physiological makeup, or is there something else. And why is it part of every culture?

And in my opinion, one of the reasons "The DaVinci Code" was such a big deal is because it questioned the validity of women being thought of as the lesser half of humanity.

The thing about assuming that inequalities are part of Eastern culture is that on some level it is. They (I guess "we") are much more open about roles in society; but in the same breath, ask my mom about half the atrocities that occur in India and she will have no idea what I am talking about. There's a culture of actually "protecting" women from a lot of realities. That's always been my parents line and its always infuriated me. I inevitably reply, why can't men be taught to behave better, so women don't need to be protected. And they tell me that it doesn't work that way. Which makes me wonder, why doesn't it work that way. Shouldn't it?
Arabian: Peace_LEarabian on May 22nd, 2007 02:31 am (UTC)
Mists of Avalon was the main thing I was thinking of, yes, but I've read other books that pretty much tell the same story in terms of the Celts worshiping women and how that suddenly changed and most things I've read basically blame good ole Christianity.

I think there is such a disconnect between reality and between what people believe actually happens a lot more than people realize. For example, and it's not the greatest, but I'm tired, I've read books/watched tv/movie about drugged up, violent, horrific parents who lie, cheat, steal and are terrible people presented as cliched examples of black poor people and while I'm intellectually aware that a degree of such happens everywhere (black, white, etc.) it wasn't until I met my best friend's family and my goodness, but her sister-in-law and her family is EVERY STEREOTYPE come to life. And my point is that, we hear about this reality, but it's presented in generalization or in cliche and the trueness of it doesn't quite connect. And I'm thinking the same thing with your mom, she may hear a generalization or cliche about Eastern cultures, but because she hasn't been exposed to it, it doesn't really connect. And I think that happens a lot, in every culture, in every way of life. Does this make sense at all?
sweetumms33sweetumms33 on May 22nd, 2007 02:55 pm (UTC)
It does, there is that lack of connection. But there's also that 1950s belief that it "can't happen here" I think that's something that is also prevalent in every culture. The wrongs of the world, they aren't happening here, its somewhere else, and its someone else's issue.

Stereotypes are such a funny thing, I think what you said is the point, it is applicable to certain people or the stereotype would never have started. But in the same breath, its not right for everyone, and people need to separate that
Arabian: Colbertarabian on May 22nd, 2007 03:45 pm (UTC)
Yes, there is totally that too. The "it can't happen here," but Lordy, it does. It does.
Mia: Sawyer_Miamusing_mia on May 21st, 2007 07:58 pm (UTC)
I'm very proud of Joss for writing that letter to the MPAA about Captivity. To be honest, I can't believe a production company would greenlight such a horrific film. People have definitely been desensitized to violence against women. What cinematic value does that film hold? None, IMO. I'm reminded of a bit of controversy from the 80s. There was a cop show called Hunter. The main character's partner, a female, was raped not once, but twice, and they were planning on a third rape, when she put her foot down and refused to do the scene. Back then, the whole subject was taboo, but my how times have changed.

What's sad about the honor killings is the hopelessness of the situation. Unless there's progressive thinking, the cycle will continue. Boys will be taught their female relatives are less than human, and they will grow into men, who think of women as chattel.
Arabian: Lincolnarabian on May 21st, 2007 09:32 pm (UTC)
I had vaguely heard of Captivity, but I didn't know what it was about. The sad thing is that you and I and Joss know doubt are aware that the film will probably do really well at the box office. I remember Hunter, but I didn't know that info. My goodness. Today? She'd probably have to do it or be fired.

I just can't understand honor killings, I just can't. Seriously, my mind can not wrap around the utter illogic of it. It's just, I can not fathom it.

On an unrelated note, FYI: I'll be in Georgia next week. Finally moving down there, I hope we can get in touch.
Mia: Sawyer_Miamusing_mia on May 22nd, 2007 12:56 am (UTC)
You're moving here? That's great! Definitely give me a call when you get down here.
Arabianarabian on May 22nd, 2007 01:24 am (UTC)
Yup, I know I mentioned it, but it was a "I plan to" not a definite. It's definite. I already have an apartment and I'll be there next Monday night.
Hey, wait, what's going on?mycenae on May 21st, 2007 09:48 pm (UTC)
Great. Now I'm going to be stuck with serious thoughts all day. (Sorry.)

I feel like there's a million things I think about this, but they're all milling around and I can't quite make sense of them.

I don't understand how anyone can think this is ok. I just don't. I don't get doing evil, but believing you are righteous. I'm not sure there's anything more terrifying.

The fact that misogyny is ingrained in every culture- in our culture- is one of those things I sort of tacitly acknowledge but don't really think about. I saw this post this morning on ONTD, followed by a post of clips of shows for next season. Watching the clips, I saw a lot of what Whedon was talking about, just going by, part of everyday American life. (The show about powerful men bitching about their wives. The show about "powerful" women, worrying about men.)

I don't know what to do. I'm not even sure I consider myself a feminist. I agree in large part with Whedon's lack of faith in humanity (though I think he has more of it than he admits to here). I don't know if I believe in the possibility of a better world. Stories like this one send me into despondancy and despair. We may all be in it now, linked up digitally with all the hatred and fear and oppression, but I still don't know what to do. So, I guess I should set a goal for myself: identify some form of enlightened activism. My friend volunteered at a domestic violence clinic. Something along those lines.

In a more superficial vein, there *were* some promising shows for the fall, in terms of strong women. Specifically "Bionic Woman" and "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Summer Glau once again as a kick ass superchick. Not bad. (Even if it is FOX and will likely be cancelled immediately.)
Arabian: David Duchovnyarabian on May 21st, 2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
I agree so much with everything you said and DAYUM! you were so right about the shows defining what Whedon said. Sigh. My life isn't in as order as it could be, but the field I'd like to get into when I settle (I'm moving next week) does involve helping others, and if not that, I'll be working with kids and helping to instil goodness, true goodness, in young minds is never a bad thing.

This, though: I don't understand how anyone can think this is ok. I just don't. I don't get doing evil, but believing you are righteous. I'm not sure there's anything more terrifying. Exactly. I just do not understand. I am not being facetious, I'm serious. I simply do not understand it, I can't wrap my brain around it. I just can't.
hiddeneloisehiddeneloise on May 22nd, 2007 04:21 am (UTC)
Sigh. I know Joss is not perfect. I've been a fan of every single one of his shows and I have heard and read a lot. Some of it even true.

But I am struck afresh every time he speaks out (or writes) by the sheer clarity of his thinking and the unflinching desire to get at the truth of the matter. And it doesn't even matter to me if I share all his views, because he gets me there by building an honest and impassioned case, not by simply being eloquent or funny. (And how unlike Rob Thomas, who is never interested in supporting his argument with anything but hallow quips, but simply expects us to buy into it because it's his view and, by that virtue, is the one and only truth.)

And how said is it that Joss is right and misogyny is one truly common trait to all societies? Propagated, sadly, not just by men. I have a friend -- an independent, well-educated, no-nonsense woman with a well-paying job -- who thinks "feminist" is a dirty word, the slight blending or gender-roles that we see today is the root of all evil, and that the best career for a woman (the one she would have liked, at any rate) is to be a stay-at-home wife. And I am not kidding.

Compared to torture, "honor killings," systematic oppression and lack of basic human rights that go on every day in some countries, our, more "civilized" misogyny is, of course, a cake-walk. I can't speak to the horrors of those societies. I am simply not equipped emotionally and mentally. I feel like screaming, crying, hitting something out of sheer horror and complete futility and uselessness.

But we are not as helpless here. I can fight my friend on her assumptions. I can tell her that a female boss is not a "bitch" simply because she is in a position of power. I can write an impulsive letter to a TV critic praising Veronica Mars as a role model and tell him that self-righteousness is not judgment, that vengefullness does not spell empowerment, and that brittle is the opposite of survivor. I don't know anything more insidious than this idea of a "strong" woman who asserts her "equality" either by shrill vitriol or by brandishing those supposedly "male" traits: base humor and unshakable entitlement.

I can follow the link Joss provided. It's not much, but it's a start.

Thank you for posting this.
Arabianarabian on May 22nd, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
I actually would prefer to be a housewife myself, so I don't see someone wanting that as being a "bad" thing, the problem goes back to the misogyny itself, that it's considered a "bad" thing to be a housewife. Why? Because years and years and years of society told us that was an inferior role, and it's not, but we've been told that ... because it was the role of women only for so long.

What we can do is stand up for humanity, not just femininity. Equality should be key and that's something that both sides don't quite get.
sweetumms33: orangessweetumms33 on May 22nd, 2007 03:01 pm (UTC)
Okay I'm just popping in on this convo, but I was taught in a gender studies class that feminism is supposed to be about equality. The feminism that most of us (myself included) detest, full of angry hard women, not willing to compromise and wanting to take the current male role in society instead of making the field even are NOT feminists. I'm not quite sure what to call them. But feminism is equality. The equality that allows you to become a house-wife, if that is what you want to do; its the same equality that allows your husband/partner to do the same if they choose. Sorry now I sound all scary :)
Arabian: Kermitarabian on May 22nd, 2007 03:49 pm (UTC)
You know I feel a little lame now because that is how I used to think of femininity, but honestly think that it's gotten warped over the last few years, maybe even because of the VM talk, I dunno. But yeah, femininity is all about equality between the sexes and that's how it should be. *Should* of course being the operative word.
sweetumms33sweetumms33 on May 22nd, 2007 08:33 pm (UTC)
If I hadn't taken that course that would have been my opinion as well. Its surprising what popular culture can do to the true meanings of words.
hiddeneloisehiddeneloise on May 22nd, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)
I think I didn't tell it correctly. I have no problem with her wanting to be a housewife. Or with housewives in general. And it isn't that she simply wants to be one. She wants that to be the only option. Seriously. Her contention is that the progress we've made in the past century is a bad thing. That women ARE weaker and that they SHOULD be at home. It's not a personal choice she wants to make, it's the resentment of the fact that there's even a choice. I get that, at least partially, it comes from hating her job, hating having to work at all, hating college she went to in order to get a degree in order to get the job, hating having to study, hating supporting herself, hating the fact that the guys she meets aren't conditioned to look for a wife they can support. When I tell her that it is a choice and a matter of finding a person who wants that, she gets up in arms about the fact that she has to look hard at all. She wants the mindset of the clearly defined gender roles back. She feels it's a pity the men aren't taught that they are providers and the women are expected to fend for themselves.

I am not saying we are any happier with the way things are. I don't think most people ever are happy with what befalls them by way of socio-economic set up of the day. But I am glad that I do have a choice of fending for myself, because, unlike her, I am not feminine, or maternal, nor do I have any domestic inclinations, and, in all likelihood, whatever the mindset of the society, my chances of being swept up into domestic paradise were always slim. But I don't think her aspirations are bad, or wrong, or inferior in any way. What I have issue with is her assertion that mine are.

Ultimately, equality to me is all about being allowed choices and having those choices respected.

I see nothing inferior in housewives. Another friend I have is a stay-at-home mom with 3 children, and I personally think hers is the hardest job possible and the least appreciated. And yes, the societal stigma places her in a "weaker" position, because she is not the bread winner. Never mind the fact that everything in that family rests on her shoulders, including her husband's peace of mind and subsequent ability to win the said bread.

The outlook doesn't change quickly, but it does. And yes, it's coming from both sides, not just from men. And standing up to it is challenging the assumption at every turn. Even if they are small or so ingrained in people's psyche, we forget they should be challenged.
Arabian: JD_Too Cutearabian on May 22nd, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
I just sat there going "wow" while reading the first paragraph. The ironic thing is that I've thought it would be nice to be in the era where it was expected because that's what I want, but to say that the strides that HAVE been made are bad and that we should go back, I just can't agree with. You're absolutely right, it should be all about choice.

Thanks for making your point of view more clear, it strikes a little closer to home to me because my sister is a stay-at-home mom with three kids.
hiddeneloisehiddeneloise on May 22nd, 2007 09:14 pm (UTC)
The ironic thing is that I've thought it would be nice to be in the era where it was expected because that's what I want, but to say that the strides that HAVE been made are bad and that we should go back, I just can't agree with.

Yeah. And here's the thing: I totally get wanting that. There's a certain security (and I don't think it's a bad notion at all) and comfort to those expectations. Wanting those things isn't wrong, it's natural and absolutely valid. But like anything else, it's not for everyone. It's sad that there's a morality and a value judgment attached to certain choices in life, especially so for women, when, in reality, one option is no more "wrong" or "inferior" than another. But at least there are options, and her categorical assertion that having them is a bad thing is what gets to me. :)