Someone shut Joss Whedon up, please. Every time he opens his mouth to talk about feminism, we all get a little bit dumber.
The internet is abuzz today because nerd-culture golden boy Whedon got another opportunity to flap his lips at an Equality Now event, just like he did years ago when he made up that goddamn “interview” quote that will never go away, and that was never from an interview and that exists solely to tell us all how awesome Joss Whedon thinks Joss Whedon is.
Here is the latest speech, if you hate yourself and want to watch it:
It is stupid, and if you like it you are stupid. Here is why:
1. It Is Entirely About Joss Whedon
This is, let’s remember, a speech at a fundraiser for a group called Equality Now. They do actual legal and grassroots work, which you can like or not like depending on your political views, but that doesn’t really come up in the speech.
The culminating point of the speech (which it takes about ten minutes to reach) is that we need a new word to change the public discourse (yes, he uses that phrasing), and that Joss Whedon has it for us. Deep sighs of relief all around. What would we have done without him?
That’s it. It is a fourteen-minute pitch for Joss Whedon’s idea that instead of “feminism” we could start talking about “genderism,” because his word is better. If you want to hear about his hosts, go read their website or something — he doesn’t even mention the organization’s name.
2. He’s Really Bad at Words
The whole conceit here is that Whedon, as a Writer(TM), thinks very hard about words. So he’s going to tell you all about “feminist” and why it’s not a pretty word, because his writer brain is smart about these things.
(Reality check: he writes TV shows and action flicks. Not exactly a modern-day Shakespeare here.)
But with that as his justification, Whedon goes on for the bulk of his speech about how “feminist” isn’t a pretty word. It’s too hissing. In his words, “It’s Germanic but not in the romantic way.”
Well, no, no it isn’t. English got the -ist ending denoting “one who does” or “one who believes” from the French (and Old French) -iste ending. They had it from Greek, via Latin. So it is about as far from “Germanic” as you can get in the English language, and five minutes with Wiktionary could have told you that.
German doesn’t even have many words that end in -ist, except for ones borrowed from other languages. But it’s cool, you guys. Joss Whedon’s a writer. He knows more about this than you do.
Which was an offensive pitch even before it was demonstrably false.
3. The Whole “Taliban Island with White Sands” Thing
I’m not even sure what to do with that one. Here’s the quote, if you didn’t watch the video:
And it bugs me that I don’t love the word [feminist] more, because there are other words that sound so welcoming and lovely. Taliban. Ahh. That’s so good! That sounds like we’re going to Bora Bora and then we’re off to the Taliban Islands with white sands…’The Broughton-Smythes came by, and we had a rather exciting game of Taliban on the back lawn’…you know, it sounds; it’s jolly and fun and it shouldn’t be and it’s not fair. We’ve got feminist and our ist.
Ha! It’s funny because it sounds exotic and Oriental. No problems with making that joke. And sure, let’s throw “white” in there just to make us all feel extra-awkward about laughing how strange “Taliban” sounds to English-speakers.
It’s the kind of line that probably isn’t worth giving a fuck about, except when you stick it into an entire speech about discourse and social theory, and then people have to stop and say “hmm, dog-whistly maybe, just a little bit?” because you’re already on the subject. (Whedon later closes his speech by telling people to enjoy their dessert and that “the chocolate Taliban is supposed to be scrumptious,” I guess just to make sure no one thinks it was an accidental, one-off awkwardness.)
And I mean…really? In a speech purportedly about feminism, we go with “Taliban” as the “doesn’t this word sound nicer than ‘feminist’” example? Because it’s not like there are any feminist concerns associated with the Taliban that make that a little tacky, or anything.
It’s not doing much for Whedon’s thesis that, as a writer, he’s especially attuned to how we use words, let’s just put it that way.
4. His Objection to “Feminist” Is That It’s Too Pushy
This is where things started to get really problematic. Here’s the relevant passage:
Let’s go back to this ist, okay. Let’s rise up a little bit from my obsession with sound to the meaning. ‘Ist’ in its meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can’t be born an ist. It’s not natural. You can’t be born a baptist; you have to be baptized. You can’t be born an atheist or a communist or a horticulturalist. You have to have these things brought to you. So feminist includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be people, is not a natural state. That we don’t emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human, that the idea of equality is just an idea that’s imposed on us. That we are indoctrinated with it, that it’s an agenda.
And you know what, Joss?
You’re right. Feminism is an agenda. And it exists because we’re not born believing that everybody in the human race is human, or at least, a human of equal importance to us. People start taking advantage of one another pretty much as soon as they’re born.
Feminism assumes that equality has to be actively promoted (or, in Whedon’s feminism-is-scary words, “imposed”) because the entirety of human history supports that thesis. The idea that you can just chill out, bro, and let people be people only works if you’re one of the people who already get to be whatever they want to be without facing systemized resistance. It’s a great attitude, if the deck is already stacked in your favor.
To put it bluntly: if your objection to the word “feminist” is that it sounds kind of pushy, like an active thing rather than a passive one, you’ve got problems beyond etymology, and you should maybe stop talking about feminism.
5. Let’s Mansplain to Katy Perry for a While
Yes, we all are frustrated when people feel the need to say “I am not a feminist.” Many people in the world winced when Katy Perry put that qualifier in her 2012 “Woman of the Year” acceptance speech.
That doesn’t make it okay to quote Katy Perry, shake your head regretfully, and say “That’s lovely, Katy,” in a condescending tone of voice. You’re not criticizing, Mr. Whedon, you’re mocking. It’s smug, it’s infantilizing, and it’s ugly.
“Don’t know why she feels the need to say that first part,” says Mr. Whedon, clicking his tongue sadly.
No. You don’t. You’re not Katy Perry. You can say pretty much whatever you want, and the internet will beg to slobber their praise all over your balls. Maybe — just maybe — she’s encountered some more hostile institutional forces out there in her day and felt pressured to softpedal a little, who knows?
Certainly not you. So shut the fuck up with your patronizing, white boy self.
6. “Racism” Is In the Past
In the public discourse, there’s one word to deal with race. Racism. That is the word. And it implies something very important. It implies something that we are past.
Oh my god stop talking.
7. Oh, Hey, “Feminism” Is In the Past Too
And that is a line that we have crossed in terms of gender but we don’t have the word for it. People are confronted with the word “feminist” and it stops them; they think they have to deal with that. But I think we’re done with that as intelligent human beings. Being on the wrong side of history in terms of the oppression of women is being on the whole of history, all of recorded history, you’re on the wrong side.
No! No, we are not past that. We do, actually, as intelligent human beings, still have to deal with the oppression of women.
I’m genuinely glad Mr. Whedon thinks the oppression of women is “the wrong side of history,” but it’s a history that is still unfolding. You don’t get to say that things are better now because intelligent human beings (like Joss Whedon, obvs!) have noticed and said that This Was Bad.
8. He’d Like Us to Stop Using Nasty Words Like “Sexist” and “Misogynist” Now, Please
Let’s pause for a moment and remember that the whole speech, for its first ten minutes, is just build-up to the grand reveal that hey, there’s a new word you can use now, ladies, and Joss Whedon thought it up for you.
But first he’s got to knock some existing concepts out of the way, so “sexist” gets dismissed as an outdated concept (it’s “a little specific” and “evokes a fat guy from the 70s in a powder-blue three piece suit”). “Misogynist” gets the boot from Mr. Whedon’s lexicon because it implies hate, and most people don’t really hate women, or at least they won’t admit it.
The problem with this being — both of these things still exist. They’re not obsolete. There are plenty of people who actively, aggressively hate women out there. There are plenty more who are openly and unrepentantly sexist. And Joss Whedon can’t make them go away by saying that history has moved past that.
I’m sorry if the words are mean, and hurt Joss Whedon’s delicate fee-fees. But they describe real things that are really happening right now. We don’t need a new word to describe people that hate women, or that believe that genders are inherently unequal, because we already have those words.
9. His “New” Word Has Nothing to Do With Feminism
If you sit through all fourteen minutes of this blather, you finally get to Joss Whedon’s grand plan of action: let’s all start using “genderist” the way we use “racist.” That way everyone knows it’s a bad thing that we’ve put behind us, just like racism (it’s over, remember?), and we can stop having to identify as “feminist” because it’ll just be the natural state of affairs.
So, number one, that’s redundant, because (see the previous point) we already have words we use to refer to the kinds of oppression he’s talking about. They are functional and accurate words that people already know how to use.
Number two, you can’t replace an active identity (“feminist”) with a passive derogation (“genderist”). People who work to actively promote gender equality aren’t “not genderists.” They’re feminists. And if Mr. Whedon doesn’t like that ugly, hissing, pushy word, maybe he should stop using it.
Especially in reference to himself. I think that would be a good idea all around.