I didn't want to write this. Not because I don't have anything to say, nor because I think it would be wise to stay silent. Quite the opposite in fact. I think, given my history of public adoration of Joss Whedon, staying silent now would feel somewhat disingenuous, even if the argument can be made that this is none of our business. Our business or not, he is a public figure with a large following, and so we're allowed to have thoughts. And we should have thoughts. We've looked up to this man. We've followed him. We've trusted him. But I still feel weird about writing this. I don't feel equipped with the context I'd need to form a strong and fair opinion. But I do have some thoughts, and like I said, as a Joss fan, I think it would be weird not to say something, especially when so many other Joss fans are trying to figure out their own thoughts and feelings. So here goes.
In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, Joss Whedon's ex-wife, Kai Cole, recently dropped a bombshell of an open letter over on The Wrap. I'm not going to spend any time analyzing the details of what Kai said. It's her letter. It was her decision to share it with the world. I don't think it's inaccurate to say Kai is going through some stuff right now, and I sincerely hope publishing this open letter has helped her on her journey to good mental health. If this has truly helped her to feel free, then I say, good for her. I'm glad she was able to lift this burden from her shoulders. I wish her nothing but the best. And in case you're wondering--I believe her. If she says Joss cheated on her, I believe he did.
But here's the thing: I don't think that necessarily makes Joss a bad feminist. Nor does this revelation cause me to see Joss's work under a different light. Let me explain.
We're raised on fairytales. Perfect love, perfect family, perfect career. But as we get older, it hits us like a ton of bricks: real life isn't a fairytale. The American dream is a sham. I'm not saying happiness isn't possible--I don't doubt for a moment that many people find happiness or at least enough happiness that they lead "happy lives", but a true fairytale life is an impossible pursuit. Life is too messy for that. Too complicated. The baggage we all carry only gets heavier. The decisions we face only carry more weight. It's not straightforward and it's never perfect. Marriage is hard. Family is hard. Career is hard. And as I understand it, fame and success are brutal on relationships. There are people who survive it, but let's be real; celebrities, even ones we look up to, aren't built stronger than the rest of us. They aren't wiser by default, or more honorable. If anything, they have less time and fewer resources to help them sort their shit out. So why are we still surprised when their flaws are revealed? People cheat. It happens. A LOT. And for a lot of different reasons. And you know what? It's not the end of the world. Teenager-me probably would have told you different. Her privilege kept her from understanding shades of gray. But adult-me kinda gets it. I don't have any personal experience with cheating, but the older I get, the more I observe of the world, the more I can see how it happens. Yes, some people cheat because they're douchebags, but sometimes, people are just going through something personal and cheating unfortunately ends up being part of it. It makes them shitty partners, and yeah, sometimes people who cheat actually are bad people, but it's not always so straightforward. And in this case, I don't have enough context to judge Joss with any certainty. So without more information, I'm not going to.
To say Joss and his work have influenced the person I am today would be an understatement. He's perhaps one of the biggest creative influences in my life. He's one of the reasons I do what I do. One of the reasons I write the way I write. Does him cheating on his wife erase that? Does him projecting one message while (some would argue) living another make me question myself or the values I personally hold dear for even a moment? No, it doesn't. Because regardless of what was happening in his personal life, the art and messages he's put out into the world still are what they are. The influence they've had over me is real. And I don't think Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly, or Dollhouse, or Dr. Horrible have made me a bad person. I think their various influences have made me a stronger, smarter, funnier, more thoughtful person. If he'd been outright abusing his wife, or sexually assaulting women, we would be having a different conversation. And at this point in time, I don't see any evidence of that. But cheating? Struggling in his relationship? Struggling with his identity and perhaps mental health? I personally don't think that erases all the good he's done. I don't think it even taints it. I think it's natural and normal to feel at least a little betrayed when you find out someone you look up to isn't who you thought they were, but I also don't think fidelity is a requirement of feminism. And even if you can argue that it is, I don't think you have to be a perfect feminist to call yourself a feminist or promote feminist views. I don't think it necessarily makes him a hypocrite. I think he tries and fails like all of us. I think he's weak. I think he's flawed. I think he's human. And yeah, I still think he's more feminist than not.
Regardless of who he is behind the scenes, his work is still powerful. It's not perfect--it's never been perfect. But what's wrong with us that we keep expecting perfection? That we blame others for not achieving it when we damn-well know we can't manage it ourselves? That doesn't make any sense to me. And neither does shunning Joss's work. I can lose some respect for the man and still hold his creations in high regard.
My feelings about this aren't finite. New info might change them. New perspectives might too. Please feel free to share yours.