On Joss Whedon And Failures of Intersectionality

On Joss Whedon And Failures of Intersectionality

Joss Whedon gave a speech the other day and had some things to say about feminism.

A lot of it was problematic

, but I won't go into it here because

it's already been said

, and the fact that he said it is only vaugely related to the point I want to make.

See, Joss Whedon is free to say whatever he likes about feminism in a "freedom of speech" kind of way. That is his right. But

the arrogance

of suggesting that a movement centered on women and their efforts to advance their own causes should refocus itself based on the self-serving suggestion of a cishet white guy is, well.... astronomical.

But truthfully, the bigger issue here is not


 he said, but the


to what he said. While I don't agree with the nitty gritty of his reasoning, there are legitimate complaints to be made about the word feminist, and the feminist movement. Women of Colour, and black women specifically, created womanism for this very reason; to address the issues that were unique to their intersectional experience as women who were


 not white. WoC have been pointing out the problems inherent in feminism for YEARS, and have been summarily ignored. And yet, a cishet white guy tangentially brings up those issues and suddenly it's revolutionary information. Suddenly we should be praising a white male ally for his

perfect feminism

for parroting what WoC have been saying forever. It's bullshit that contributes to the erasure of WoC from the feminist movement and privileges someone with literally


over the women who the movement was actually meant to benefit.

This attitude is significant because Joss Whedon's speech wasn't just covered, it was covered extensively and


 as a revolutionary act. It was presented as an intellectual achievement worthy of praise, when almost the exact sentiments have

long been championed

by WoC to no avail. For a day and half, the white feminist movement hung its hat on the glorification of a white guy who assigned himself the feminist ally label. I don't mean to be a Debbie Downer, but as I recall,

things didn't turn out so well

the last time that happened.

In contrast, within a few days, legendary womanist thinker bell hooks 

sat down with fellow womanist

Melissa Harris Perry to discuss feminism in the context of black women, and the current state of our politics. It was an amazing moment for black women that produced some genuine wisdom about how black women can and do move through the world, and how society's expectations affect our ability to do so. It was discussed extensively on twitter for days; it was an important moment for womanism. And yet... this was the

sum total

of coverage

that it received

on Jezebel, one of the most visible mainstream feminist sites. But the problem wasn't just Jezebel. (Especially considering that it is

notorious for completely failing

on intersectional issues.) The real problem is that not a single other mainstream feminist site stepped in to fill the holes in coverage.

This speaks to the larger issue of white feminism focusing not on dismantling the patriarchy to the benefit of all women, but rather in white women gaining access to the patriarchy (and parity with white men) on the strength of their white privilege. It solidifies for me, my belief that white feminism is self-serving, and is intentionally non-intersectional. As Flavia Dzodan says on

Red Light Politics


There is a direct correlation between the lack of coverage of bell hooks and Melissa Harris-Perry’s conversation and the amplification (and staunch defense) of Joss Whedon. Both exist within the same historical wrongs of white feminism. Both are part of the same neoliberal ethos that has taken over mainstream feminism. Two Black women intellectuals challenging a racist, capitalist patriarchy are not to be looked upon as role models. The key to understand this is their Blackness. This neoliberal feminism seeks empowerment by encouraging women to be more like white men. For this media, Whedon is a feminist icon; bell hooks and Melissa Harris Perry barely register in the radar.

To me, this also connects to the larger issue of the visibility of WoC within the feminist movement. Not only is a white man's opinion being elevated over the opinions of WoC, but when undeniable activism happens outside the context of white feminism, it is largely ignored.

This is significant because it ties into the idea that WoC aren't doing work for their own empowerment. When major womanist conferences occur and there is no mainstream coverage, it feeds into the idea that the work simply doesn't exist. In essence, down the line, when WW "demand receipts" for the work that WoC are doing, none exist. The only coverage to be found is on smaller, non-mainstream blogs that have significantly lower, niche readerships, and this fact is used as justification that the events being covered weren't "important enough"; completely ignoring the fact that their white privilege gives them access to resources that are often unavailable to WoC. In essence it is a silencing tactic that serves to erase WoC from the conversation altogether. For Joss Whedon's butchered attempt to present womanist arguments to be signal boosted over actual WoC is a travesty.

I happened to have a great conversation with both Flavia Dzodan and Lisa Elwood on twitter that inspired this post, and I've storyfied the tweets below. The lesson I learned from engaging with them is that this attitude isn't just a one-off thing. White feminism is invested in ignoring women of colour and negating their presence and contributions to the feminist movement, and it's frustrating and infuriating, and it bring it right back around to why WoC have issues identifying with the feminist label in the first place. There is no genuine effort to incorporate intersectional thinking or perspectives.

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