I know everyone loves Firefly but...
June 29, 2010

... but I just can't get over how sexist it is. This is a show about the perfect male (the captain) and how, if you're perfect enough, women will put up with your abuse and acknowledge how right you are in any situation... even if they have the free will to be cutely spunky.

There's an instance in every episode, but this particular bout of ire was set off by a conversation between Mal and Inara, in which she takes offense at him calling her a whore but quickly lets it slide. Shortly after, she calls him a petty thief and everything gets real serious. Mal looks hurt and Inara gets very apologetic. Though she cracks a joke at the whole thing, she acts like a child caught doing something wrong.

This is immediately following Mal giving a speech about how women use their wiles to control men, a speech that is given no rebuff by Inari. In fact, if you watch her, she looks like she was caught "in the act" when he says this.

But that's just Mal's character, you might say. He's just a sexist guy. Maybe that's the case, but this sexism is rarely challenged (really challenged) by the other characters. Mal may get the occasional talking to about his sexism by the women of his ship, but ultimately they all come running to him to save them in the end.

It's a very modern way of looking at sexism, where the man is okay with his women being spunky, being good at mechanics, being smarter and wittier than he is (I'm describing characters from the show, if you didn't notice), as long as in the end he's the captain of the ship and everyone knows that he's the one who saves the day.

But then why include a character like Jayne, who is really obviously sexist? Jayne is a cover up. He's the extreme example of sexism that makes Mal's sexism seem okay by comparison. Also, you can't really dislike Jayne for his sexism. He's such an over-the-top character... I mean, it wouldn't be an exageration to call him a muderer and a rapist, not to mention a little on the slow side...

It reminds me of the general in Avatar. He wasn't a statement on the insanity of the military. He was a statement on the insanity of the insane. Not even right wing militants could possibly side with the general. He was a PSYCHOPATHIC BLOODTHIRSTY MURDERER and most of us already dislike those. The fact that he was military was such a tiny part of his personality that any message about the evils of war were lost amidst him jumping out of planes while on fire.

Jayne is an even stranger example. He exists to be reprimanded by Mal to make the white male lead look better than he really is. When Jayne talks about taking advantage of the women on the ship, Mal chastises him and we all think how good it is of Mal to put Jayne in his place. Of course, Mal is allowed to call them whores, be jealous when they won't sleep with him, and (in some episodes) punch women in the face because, in the circumstances that he does it in, it's the right thing to do.

Of course, this is all by Joss Wheedon, who has made it clear several times in his career that he's a man's man. Which is fine. I like spunky but ultimately acquiescent pussy, too. Most guys do. I mean, you only have to look at the majority of female roles in Hollywood to see that this is a common desire among the dominant culture.

But you know, it would be nice to start seeing women portrayed as three dimensional characters once in a while. The most frightening thing is when it comes in the form of shows like Firefly, where the women are given backstories and falsely deep motivations, but ultimately stick to their men as a rule or need some extreme reason to not be interested in men... for instance River who has no mind left, and is still dependent on her brother. Brother as in man.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy Firefly. But I don't think the writing is genius and I think the message portrayed is questionable. I just wish people would stop and think about what they are watching.

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zippdementia zippdementia - June 29, 2010 (08:43 PM)
Related article I found talking about the racism inherent in the episode: Objects in Space.

It's a big article, but very interesting.
Suskie Suskie - June 29, 2010 (09:08 PM)
I think you're looking too far into this. I've attributed characters like Mal, Jayne and Inara as essential to the show's Western vibe. I noticed you've strategically failed to mention the existence of Zoe, who is, in fact, a strong female character. Plus, what's sexist about calling Inara a whore when that's precisely what she is?

To be fair, I've only just recently been catching up on the series and I'm only a few episodes in, but I'm really not sympathizing with what you're saying here.
zippdementia zippdementia - June 29, 2010 (09:28 PM)
I'm glad you bring up Zoe. Zoe is one of those "everything's all right" characters, who seems simply to exist to show that not all women are lay-abouts and not all men have one over on their women.

Joss Wheedon also seems to have trouble writing for her. Next to the Priest, she has fewer lines than anyone else in the show and is rarely featured as a character of note. She's nice as a shield against criticism, since she's both a strong woman AND a strong black character.

Not that she ever saves the day in the way Mal does. And she still needs him as much as every other woman on the ship.
WilltheGreat WilltheGreat - June 29, 2010 (10:18 PM)
I think you're reading too much into Mal. He's far from the perfect male character, he's deeply insecure and acts tough and heroic because he doesn't know how else to express his emotions. Every instance of Mal calling Inara a whore is in response to a percieved threat; the very first time, when she's renting the shuttle, it's his response to her line about supporting the Alliance. He calls her a whore just after she's engaged by Atherton Wing in "Shindig" because he's, of course, madly in love with her and is lashing out because he wishes Wing were him.

The example you gave, in "Trash", is actually a great one. Mal has built himself this image of a dashing smuggler captain, for lack of anything else to identify himself as. When Inara calls that into question and threatens to shatter his fragile self-image, Mal again lashes out at her and calls her a whore. Inara has no such self-esteem issues and casually dismisses it. Then she calls him a petty thief and, yeah, things get serious, because she's gone and smashed his world on the rocks of reality and the only way Mal can save face is to storm out like a petulant child.
zippdementia zippdementia - June 29, 2010 (10:33 PM)
If you get the time to read that article, let me know what you think, will! I'd be interested in hearing your angle on that.
bluberry bluberry - June 29, 2010 (10:39 PM)
"if you're perfect enough, women will put up with your abuse and acknowledge how right you are in any situation..."

yep. over in one.
WilltheGreat WilltheGreat - June 29, 2010 (11:50 PM)
"Anyway, Mal is a ‘safe’ man, because he never crosses that invisible line. Of course he rapes women. That is shown quite clearly in the episode Heart of Gold."

This is about where I stopped reading that article. It's one thing to write a deliberately sensationalized article to make a point. It's entirely another to start blatantly making shit up to support it.

Augh, that article makes me really really angry. I want to punch the author in the face and yell "STOP GETTING FEMINAZI IN MY SPACE COWBOY SHOW".
zippdementia zippdementia - June 30, 2010 (12:10 AM)
She isn't sensationalizing. She's writing to a feminist audience and many feminists, such as this writer, consider men who use whores to be rapists, taking advantage of women who, in their eyes, are forced to use their body to make a living in a male dominated world.

Thus the strong language.
fleinn fleinn - June 30, 2010 (03:42 AM)
rofl. There's a reason why it didn't survive on FOX for more than a season, yeah?

But you know.. it's not that it makes the "sexism" subtle to see, it's that it mirrors the perception or myth of the male-dominated western culture, and rolls with it to recreate it in a futuristic universe.

Same with the way Joss integrates Chinese culture into the borderworld mish-mash. It's a futuristic fable that takes the common perception of a phenomena today, and then drives it off to a believable conclusion.

That the results are unpleasant, while the people in it may not be fundamentally bad folks, that's the entire point.
zigfried zigfried - June 30, 2010 (05:53 AM)
The below response assumes that the hypothetical men and women being discussed are heterosexual.

I was reading that article. I stopped at the rape line, too, because that's when it just got too stupid to continue any further. I'll only quote one thing:

"At the end of the fourth season there is an episode where the character Xander fantasises about Tara and Willow together for his (and the whitemale audiences’) sexual gratification. What makes this even worse is the fact that Willow is supposed to be Xander’s best friend. Later, in the seventh season Xander again fantasises about the potential slayers (15-16 year old girls) having erotic pillow fights in his bed. Really sick stuff."

The author's problem is not with Firefly or Buffy or even Joss Whedon in particular, but with men. Any honest expression of mens' fantasies would clearly come under fire from this author.

It's one thing to bring these thoughts to light, but her use of fire-starting language reveals something else. What I mean by fire-starting language: Comments like Really sick stuff after describing some perfectly normal male thought patterns. Then there's the over-use of the word objectify. Instead of using the word appropriately -- to mean an actual reduction of a person to the status of an object or tool -- she is using the word to describe any instance where a male thinks of a woman sexually. To her warped and twisted mind, she problem does think that "objectifies" women.

It's obvious that the author of that article hates men.** She's using words like objectify and rape to shock readers and -- should she have any male readers -- make them say "gosh, I never knew my innocent thoughts and actions make me a potential rapist! I'll change immediately!"

**Yes, I know that "you just hate men!" is one expression on the anti-feminist bingo card -- used to identify trolls or ignorants. In this particular case, at least for the first half of the article, it's clearly appropriate.

Of course, men can't change, because they are men and they will always think of attractive potential partners in sexual ways (and they will show minimal personal interest in people who are not potential partners). Men won't change -- they will just be more likely to hate themselves for their thoughts, and this world already has enough self-loathing without artificially creating more.

It's also worth noting that these objectionable male thoughts and verbal expressions -- so very unwelcome to this particular woman's mind! -- are acceptable in real life when uttered by someone the woman is personally attracted to. It works in the other direction, as well. That's what being "twitterpated" is all about -- otherwise we'd all kill each other and never reproduce.

Men are attracted to vulnerability -- very different from weakness. Women are attracted to confidence -- guys who speak and behave as though they don't give a crap what others think. These kinds of articles are pretty useless because they don't attempt any sort of feasible reconciliation between reality and internal desires.

zippdementia zippdementia - June 30, 2010 (08:14 AM)
These are all interesting observations. Thanks for thinking about these things and taking the time to dissect them. I love it because it continues to morph my opinion of the show. Alone, we can only see one viewpoint: ours. But I love bringing my viewpoint to this site because it always changes and develops.

I'll take some time to digest the newest posts and maybe come back with another counter point to continue things.

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