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Joss WhedonJoss Whedon : why are his strong women characters still so unusual ?
Wednesday 30 October 2013, by Webmaster
Joss Whedon: why are his strong women characters still so unusual?
The writer and director is about to be honoured for his track record in creating strong roles for women. But listen to a speech he gave seven years ago, and ask yourself why so little has changed in the entertainment industry.
You may love Joss Whedon for creating the vampire-slaying kick-ass female hero Buffy, or maybe for his film Marvel Avengers Assemble just last year, but I became one of the screenwriter, director and producer’s biggest fans when I first heard this thank-you speech, made after campaign group Equality Now honoured him for his work in 2006.
You may say that the fact that he is about to be honoured again at next week’s inaugural Make Equality Reality event in Beverly Hills is a slim pretext for airing a seven-year-old speech. And you would be right. But the fact that he could plausibly make the same speech again seems a good enough reason to run it again. For, really, which one of the points he makes is no longer valid?
This is obviously the same thinking that led Upworthy.com, the viral media site, to post the video this weekend. Since then the YouTube video has started to trend on Twitter.
In his speech, Whedon imagines himself at an imaginary press conference answering the same "dumb question" he is asked "400 times" by reporters – to whit, why does he write strong women characters? Starting off with the anodyne answer that it was due to his "strong mother", his "engaged father", the fact that female characters are allowed emotions, or just because "women are hot", Whedon finally shouts: "Why aren’t you asking the 100 other guys why they don’t write strong female characters?"
He goes on, in a speech that should act as a rebuff to every Seth MacFarlane boob "gag" at awards ceremonies, to point out: "Equality is not a concept, not something we should be striving for, equality is like gravity … misogyny is life out of balance and it sucks something out of the soul of every man and women confronted with it."
His final answer to why he writes about strong women? "Because you are still asking me the question."
And we journalists are still asking the same question, lauding the rare case of a male writer writing strong and supporting women characters. We still marvel at Carrie Mathison in Homeland, say Birgitte Nyborg could only be written by a Dane and idolise DCI Jane Tennison. They are remarkable partly because they are women and not simply interesting characters. It is so bad now that author Sophia McDougall recently railed against the notion of "strong female characters" altogether. "No one ever asks if a male character is "strong". Nor if he’s "feisty," or "kick-ass" come to that," she said.
The time when there are just as many strong, opinionated, multi-faceted, complex, serious women on our screens as there are men, a point where no one even discusses how refreshing, unusual, odd or marvellous such a writer as Whedon is will be the right moment for Whedon’s speech to be left to gather dust in an archive somewhere. Until then, let’s keep showing it. Enjoy.