Yesterday, Kai Cole — writer/director Joss Whedon’s ex-wife — posted a #controversial piece about her time spent married to writer/director in hopes of letting women know “that he is not who he pretends to be.” According to the post, throughout their marriage Whedon “never conceded the hypocrisy of . . . preaching feminist ideals” while cheating, and told Cole he paid other women an inordinate amount of attention because “his mother raised him a feminist, so he just like women better.”
“I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights,” she continued. “But now I see how he used his relationship with me as a shield . . . so no-one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.”
Which, like, look: knowing that these are allegations — (Whedon, creator of one of the most feminist TV shows ever, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, has opted not to comment) — I’m still not shocked, because at this point, nothing like this shocks me anymore. A particular type of man choosing to co-opt the feminist label to distract us from their shitty behaviour is old hat. “But I’m a feminist!” has become a rallying cry for countless self-identifying feminist dudes who don’t like being called out on their bad behaviour or dangerous rhetoric or lazy jokes. I know too many men who’ve used feminism — and the most vocal kind — to counterbalance their yet-to-be uncovered zest for sexual harassment or assault. At this point, revelations like Cole’s doesn’t shock me anymore. And it won’t shock me when it doesn’t have a massive effect on Whedon’s career. After all, hi: Woody Allen is still working and recruiting the biggest names in pop culture for his backwards-ass movies. And that dude (allegedly — I get it) is a full-on sexual offender. So why would someone who (allegedly — again, I get it) cheated under the umbrella of feminism suffer any consequences? (Editor’s Note: we are in no way implying that cheating is on the same level as sexual assault. It is not, and the two are very separate things.)
Exactly. They won’t. The same rules apply to famous men as they do to ones like Brock Turner or the guy you worked with who everybody knew tended to “cross the line” but felt that firing him was too drastic. Everything happens, then nothing happens, and maybe people get mad so a small and tiny thing happens, but then we keep on going and never really talk about it again. So no, I’m not surprised by Cole’s Joss Whedon revelations. I’m surprised that any of us, by this point, are surprised. As cynical as it is to say “trust no one,” I don’t really. Or if I do, I certainly trust white vocal male feminists less than I do everybody else.
Especially since feminism has become such a currency. We’ve seen a slew of famous feminist white guys put on slogan t-shirts and announce their feminist revelations, but we’ve also seen little-to-no real work after the fact. We’ve seen little-to-no discourse about the way women of colour are consistently shoved out of feminist conversations, or of the way trans women continue to be excluded. We’ve seen no one call out friends, shut down casual discrimination or harassment, nor have we seen much of a universal “male feminist” call to see men like Casey Affleck acknowledge his allegations of sexual assault (because lest we forget that Brie Larson — who played a rape victim in Room — had to present him with his award this year). And we still see men like Woody Allen get work, get praise, and get names. Or Mel Gibson make a “triumphant comeback.” And this is in Hollywood — not even in real life.
So no, I’m not surprised by this. I’m not surprised to hear a famous director whose vocalization of 101-levels of feminist thought isn’t the feminist he’s cloaked himself as. But I’m also not surprised when I found out about a wolf-in-feminist’s clothing has a history of harassment or assault, either. Why should I be? We’ve long learned that actions speak louder than words, and if someone’s using a movement for cultural clout over contributing to actual change, it’s suspect.
Especially when it comes to men being the ones to lead the charge. You can be a man and be an ally, and be supportive, and you can use your platform to bring attention to equal pay and equal representation and equal rights. But it should never be about you — about your visibility, your profile, your willingness to be “one of the good ones.” The co-opting of anybody’s cause is always a bad look. Particularly because it sends the signal that you were only ever in it for you, anyway.
Or, I guess in the case of Whedon, “allegedly.”