There’s already a lot of digital ink being spilled about Joss Whedon’s alleged infidelities while married to his ex-wife. The Mary Sue in particular has done a good job pointing out that the problems were not that Joss screwed other people, but then he used a position of power to do so and then lied about it.
This is not the first time that a man who has appeared to be a very strong feminist has turned out to behave in completely different ways. I’m certain that many of you reading this know of individuals who have behaved this way and not made the national stage like Louis CK and Joss Whedon. They have made their careers (or at least reputation) around material that seems to be feminist and “woke”.
And then it’s revealed that they did something (or a lot of somethings) that were completely contrary to the ideals they espoused.
This is not the last time this is going to happen.
There is something I am not seeing in the writing about Joss Whedon or Louis C K.
We live in a patriarchal culture, and sometimes that leaks out in bad behavior.
That is not the important part. Even good intentioned people can act badly.
The important part is how bad behavior is treated and how the individuals in question react when one realizes – or has pointed out to them – the bad actions.
Louis CK apparently tried to silence and cover-up allegations about bad behavior on his part, and when he finally commented publicly a year later, it was a tepid statement at best. Joss Whedon tried to excuse himself privately (“It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth.” UGH.) and has been silent publicly.
Let me offer a counterexample in myself.
In the past, I behaved badly and in a way that shames me as a feminist. I’m not going into details at the request of the person that I hurt. I offered my mea culpa to her at the time and offered to post it publicly; she asked me to not publicly post it.
In private, however, I have admitted freely where I screwed up. There are factors that led to me screwing up and hurting another, but those things explain, and they do not excuse.
Unlike Joss Whedon, in his letter to his ex-wife, I have spent a lot of time examining those factors and working on myself so that I do not fall victim to them again. I have spent a lot of time working so that I can be a better person. So that I can be a better feminist.
I’ve used my story in private as an example of how even the best intentioned person can fail. How we all need to be called on our bad behaviour. How we need to be held accountable publicly and privately. I’ve also repeatedly – in public and private – asked people to call me on it when my privilege blinds me to my actions.
No one is perfect. Living in our racist and sexist society, there are timebombs of cultural programming in all of us. We are often blind to how we act as agents within this racist and sexist system. It is to be expected that we fail, fuck up, offend, and misstep. We will hurt other people. We will fall short of our ideals.
It is more important for us to judge how people take responsibility for their actions and the damage that they cause. It is more important for us to see how people apologize when they fail. It is more important for us to see how they ensure that they will move closer to their ideal self.
It is important to espouse public ideals and to encourage others to follow them.
It is also important to publicly acknowledge your failings and demonstrate how to make them right.
And it is important to hold people accountable when they fail to do so.