Famed writer and director Joss Whedon, creative influence behind some of our most cult favorites like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly,” and countless others, was recently exposed by “Buffy” actress Charisma Carpenter for perpetrating toxic and hostile work environments and being “casually cruel” with verbal, mental and emotional abuse on some of his most well-known sets.
In addition to Carpenter, other co-stars were quick to add their own horrible experiences with Whedon, but his representatives have not commented as of yet. While the takedown of a powerful man in Hollywood is an occurrence du jour these days, fans were disturbed and dismayed because of Whedon’s incessant public self-portrayal as a quote-unquote “male feminist.”
However, in an essay written in 2017 by Whedon’s now-ex wife, Kai Cole, she alleges that Whedon not only manipulated the stars of his shows and his fans for his own means, but that these advantages enabled him to become a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals.”
While it would be irresponsible to say that Whedon effectively represents all male feminists, his abusive actions, toxic attitude, and now-disclosed behavior have essentially characterized the archetype going forward. And if there’s one thing that’s imperative as women, it’s that we don’t put our trust in the wrong men, especially those who claim to be for us while actively working against us.
The Origins of the Male Feminist
Self-described male feminists, for whatever reason, seem to be closely tied to the “nice guy” trope. You know the one — the guys who are nothing but comfortable with overstepping physical boundaries and not taking no for an answer.
The toxic trait of the “nice guy” is their inherent belief that they’re owed whatever it is that they’re after, whether it’s a date, sex, or anything else, simply by virtue of being “nice.” As Urban Dictionary puts it, they “believe basic social expectations are currency for sex.”
Nice guys believe basic social expectations are currency for sex.
A nice guy will open the door for you, but might expect a drink afterwards. He’ll drive you home from a party, but might expect an invite inside for doing so. A simpler way to think of it is the classic children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, only much more creepy and predatory.
In today’s skewed view of gender and widespread rejection of norms, sometimes it’s difficult to know where we stand. Not every guy out there is a nice guy, but at the same time, we shouldn’t assume that automatically means there are no good, decent men left (because there are).
Nice guys have effectively used the pervasiveness of feminism in our culture to their advantage. When the nice tactic fails, they assert themselves as feminists because what woman wouldn’t feel comfortable with one? However, it’s important to remember that the two tropes are often interchangeable with the same end goal in mind, and just because you can’t trust a nice guy doesn’t mean you should trust a male feminist.
It’s Not about Respecting You, It’s about Fulfilling Him
The ideal male feminist, according to the Houston Press, “stands up to rape culture and fully embraces combatting sexism and would never dream of touching a woman without her express permission.” The article also goes on to point out, interestingly enough, that feminism is, overall, “performative.”
This is a key insight, not just on the subject of feminism but on any social or political label we give ourselves or others — sexist, feminist, racist, ally, etc. Male feminism is usually performative for the sake of female attention, just as posting on social media by decrying presidential administrations or kids in cages is meant to garner acclaim or attention from like-minded individuals. Perhaps that’s pessimistic, but these days performative activism and genuine conviction are more often than not difficult to distinguish.
Male feminism is usually performative for the sake of female attention.
Surprisingly, many feminists out there are mostly cognizant of this ploy. A writer for The Guardian asserts that feminism has become so mainstream that it’s more common than not to encounter a predatory, self-described male feminist as opposed to a run-of-the-mill guy with similar sociopolitical leanings who doesn’t advertise how wholeheartedly on board he is with gender equality.
But it looks as though there’s no in between — the self-described male feminists are utilizing feminism for their own gains, yet men who aren’t falling in line behind that ideology are seen as too conservative, too backwards, too misogynistic, too repressive. Where’s the middle ground? Is there even one? What could possibly be the solution to rejecting both men who seemingly adhere to a given position, and rejecting those who want absolutely nothing to do with it?
Look at the Evidence
Joss Whedon is just one such example of a failed male feminist, but look at countless others. Wherever there seems to be a high-profile environment known for minimizing or degrading women, you can be sure there’s a corporate policy or some individual ideological belief that’s supposed to “comfort” the women it actually intends to take advantage of.
The actual truth lies in between the black and white, the so-called allies and feminists and those who don’t subscribe to the narrative. The truth is, women don’t need exceptions or conditions made for them, either by their potential mates or even their workplaces for that matter. We’re entirely capable of doing without them — and if you look at Joss Whedon and those like him, it seems like we’re more damaged than anything else when the bosses, executives, and other superiors in positions of power supposedly align themselves with women’s rights but at heart are entirely antithetical to the benefit and betterment of women.
You shouldn’t have to label yourself as a male feminist to garner the trust of women.
You shouldn’t have to label yourself as a male feminist to garner the trust of women, whether they’re your partner, coworker, or otherwise. You shouldn’t need to rely on the crutch of an ideology to advertise how supportive and helpful you are — if anything, it speaks more to what you’re trying to gain by aligning yourself as such than it does by letting your actions speak for themselves. The saying goes, let your actions be louder than your words. Yet self-described “feminism” rarely goes beyond the superficial.
It doesn’t look as though feminists are entirely interested or relying on how men and their feminist leanings dictate the conversation. For one thing, as with any progressive talking point, feminists will be enraged when men don’t commit themselves to the task, yet just as angered when they do and then inevitably fail to live up to the standard.
But trusting a man who claims, wholeheartedly and proudly, to be a feminist is a different animal. It’s entirely possible he’s a man who sees you as a conquest, and one who’s utilizing a point of view he knows women are often invested in to get his foot in the door.
The unfortunate truth, however backwards it may sound, is that we don’t need male feminists to fight our battles or buy our drinks or any of the other things they feel compelled to do and thereby expect something in return. We need men who will open our doors, hold our hand while walking across the street, protect us and provide for us by virtue of their own goodness and decency, and not because they expect something in return for doing so. Until we realize that, we may never find the perfect man or perfect mate we’re really looking for, or the one we really need. We’ll only be entertaining men who play at being our allies, which is a tired, unforgiving, and altogether useless waste of our time.