It’s a strange thing to write about a comic-book writer turned TV phenomenon writing about women’s rights. Particularly when that writer is as controversial as Joss Whedon, feted by some for portrayals of strong women characters and critiqued by others for the intensely traditional basis on which those characters are portrayed.
However Whedon is attempting to bring the Dua Khalil case to a wide audience and calling for action. Whedon, who is recognised for his contribution to women’s right by american group Equality Now, links together honour killings, as exemplified by Dua Khalil’s murder, with the perversely anti-woman rhetoric of US culture in a blog entry on his fan-site. On first reading, my response was pretty negative – his rhetoric is poor and his theory of “womb envy” rather underplays the privileges that patriarchy gives misogynists and non-misogynists alike, and I am duly suspicious of a white, middle class american man criticising (however valid the criticisms) Middle Eastern culture because it tends to descend into imperialist overtones of “lets civilise the savages”. Indeed my lasting critical point on this is Whedon’s need to portray himself as “other” to mainstream culture when he fundamentally is part of it and benefits from it. No man can stand outside of the culture he tacitly accepts, even to critique it, and he doesn’t give mention to the reasons why the oppression of women happens.
All that said, however, Whedon’s entry is a call to action:
All I ask is this: Do something. Try something. Speaking out, showing up, writing a letter, a check, a strongly worded e-mail. Pick a cause – there are few unworthy ones. And nudge yourself past the brink of tacit support to action. Once a month, once a year, or just once. If you can’t think of what to do, there is this handy link. Even just learning enough about a subject so you can speak against an opponent eloquently makes you an unusual personage. Start with that. Any one of you would have cried out, would have intervened, had you been in that crowd in Bashiqa. Well thanks to digital technology, you’re all in it now.
The links he makes in the entry are quite interesting – Whedon criticises the film (or at least the trailer and the poster campaign) Captivity (due for release soon) as:
the total dehumanizing not just of women (though they always come first) but of all human beings…part of something dangerous and repulsive, and that act of aggression has to be answered….part of a cycle of violence and misogyny that takes something away from the people who have to see it. It’s like being mugged (and I have been). These people flouted the basic rules of human decency.
As yet Whedon hasn’t made any public statements on Black Snake Moan, another film which fits his description of portraying women as wrong, “Physically. Spiritually. Something unnatural, something destructive, something that needs to be corrected”.
So whilst Whedon brings women’s rights to sci-fi fans (oh and I should mention that during his acceptance of an Equality Now award he does make very good use of the continuing media interest in why he writes strong female characters – watch the video here – showing the frustration with that fascination) the Iraqi authorities have arrested four members of Dua Khalil’s family for her murder and have pledged to redouble their efforts to increase women in the Police Force (obviously assuming women can’t also be patriarchy supporters) and to replace the head of the Police Force in the area who did nothing to stop it. More from CNN here.