Horizon Zero Dawn, Joss Whedon and a Problem with "Strong Female Characters"

Over a past weekend it emerged that Joss Whedon, a mythological creator of Buffy a Vampire Slayer, competence be a bit of a scumbag. Whedon, who in a past decade has built something of a repute as a heading masculine feminist in cocktail culture, was recently divorced from his mother of 16 years, Kai Cole. In a blog post on TheWrap, she alleges that over a march of their relationship, Whedon had been a sequence cheater, indulging in romantic and earthy affairs with fans, coworkers, actresses, and other “needy, aggressive” women that he confront in his decade and a half of Hollywood writing. The news was, of course, damaging to some, predicted to others, and unsatisfactory to usually about everybody.

Personally, we was on a side of “disappointing though predictable.” Generally, as a tech contributor and cocktail enlightenment critic, this is a story I’ve seen play out many times, adequate to start combining a speculation as to since it happens so often. The initial part is customarily a absolved chairman in a marginalized space that starts to suffer a certain courtesy they get from public, self-righteous dignified posturing. These people are mostly stealing something; Whedon himself certified as many to his mother (see also: Hugo Schwyzer).

The second is customarily a marginalized assembly who desperately wants to trust that a chairman of rough payoff finally “gets it.” we myself am guilty of this; during times I’ve rallied behind several cisgender true organisation in a tech attention since we insincere they could be devoted on a consequence of their avowed beliefs. In private, however, many of these organisation incited out to be usually as sexist as any of a presumably misogynistic; frequency were they means to indeed use what they preached. Often a warning signs were there, though we usually speckled them in hindsight. When you’re unfortunate for a pointer that a universe is changing for a better, we see what we wish to see.

A problem with cocktail enlightenment feminism is that a preparation is spontaneous and opt-in; frequency are a acolytes (who are fundamentally a many outspoken and eager evangelists) given a contextual substructure of a philosophical underpinning. As a result, some of a ideas present within a village can be misguided, if not harmful. In a box of nerd culture, a loudest voices are mostly white and cisgender, a organisation that, on warming adult to amicable probity causes, mostly means good though in their eager try to disciple for others, start to pronounce over those who have approach knowledge with discrimination. Thus a renouned account is shifted to a slightest judicious perspective, mostly holding a movement’s priorities with it (of this, as a white woman, we have also been guilty).

I consider this is since so many true cisgender masculine writers, like Joss Whedon, are confused about a disproportion between “strength” and “agency.” That is, many writers consider that valuing a lady formed on her strength is feminist and that essay a “strong womanlike character” who “totally kicks ass” is adequate to plea misogyny. And while that context can and does mishandle common sexist tropes (for example, putting a high value on earthy womanlike strength, and portraying women as a lead and not a sidekick, both of that support womanlike autonomy), it reinforces others. Because during a heart, it doesn’t indeed understand. Society has prolonged been structured around womanlike coherence on organisation and it leaves us intensely exposed and at-risk for exploitation and harm. That’s since we quarrel so tough for a mercantile leisure and intent to a amicable frameworks that strengthen a subjugation. This can embody how we are decorated in media. Feminism is a avowal of a right to find out and conclude a possess existence and establish a possess fates. It’s not adequate to write a “strong” womanlike character. Not all women are strong, and that doesn’t meant they’re any reduction valuable. Don’t write them with strength as a goal: write them with agency.


Aloy HZD Female Videogame Character.jpg

I’ve been meditative about this a lot as we finish adult Horizon Zero Dawn. Aloy, notwithstanding carrying been created essentially by a masculine lead writer, is one of a improved womanlike protagonists I’ve ever played in a game, and it’s tough to find error with her. But behind that ideal multiple of middle strength and external independence, as good crafted as it is, is a existence that we consider feminism is about creation all women strong, instead of valuing all women, no matter how diseased we might know them to be. We privately use a disastrous associations surrounding romantic countenance to disgrace women as incapable. The usually approach to plea and mishandle it is to stop restraining their romantic countenance to an inability to achieve.

We women know we’re strong. We’ve had to be. Sometimes when we regard us for a strength, it feels like you’re celebrating a ability to continue measureless amounts of bullshit. In that sense, even a value that true cisgender organisation place on a strength feels self serving: in a end, we’re strong, since we’re perplexing to tarry you.

There are many ways to write and “be” feminist. But cisgender true masculine writers, in particular, do not seem to know that contextualizing a noteworthiness of a lady in terms of their passionate value is sexism’s nauseous root, not merely one of a branches. If we ask them to stop gauging a woman’s value on a basement of her appearance, there is mostly an entitled, roughly indignant response, along a lines of, “But it’s my right to demeanour during women and weigh their body.” And therein lies a problem. Many cisgender true organisation do not wish to stop meditative about women on their possess self indulgent terms. Their whole temperament is wrapped adult in it and they have no inducement to act differently. And with organisation like Joss Whedon, it shows adult in their work. It’s since so many of his lead womanlike characters demeanour suspiciously like passionate fantasies.

If we wish to urge a amicable condition by adjusting a approach we write women, start with agency. Empower us, make us a favourite of a possess story. Defer to a management and a perspective. Make us sympathetic. Empathize with us. Give us a advantage of a doubt. Write women who are exposed and diseased though still bravely pursue their motivations and endeavors. Write a lady who cries and is frightened though still saves a day. Write a lady who is indignant and unlawful though has a heart of gold. Write a lady we don’t wish to fuck—not since she has traits we find unfuckable, though since we honour her adequate to not even consider about if she is or not. Write a lady who would wish zero to do with you. And above all, uncover that we value women adequate to value them in any of their forms—even a ones you’ve been conditioned to use as justification to secrete your respect. Value them on their possess terms, and not yours. Until we can do that, a work is not nonetheless done.


Holly Green is a partner editor of Paste Games and a contributor and semiprofessional photographer vital in Seattle, WA. She is also a author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work during Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.

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