Dear Rebecca:

I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon’s shows for awhile. “Firefly” was one of the best short-lived shows ever to exist, and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” still (mostly) stands up 20 years later.


More than an entertainer, though, Whedon has been known as that rare thing: A guy who proudly adopts the “feminist” label. Only….

Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and big-budget action movies that often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

That image was challenged by his ex-wife Kai Cole, who wrote an essay in a Hollywood industry blog called the Wrap Sunday accusing him of serially cheating during their 16-year marriage and calling him a “hypocrite preaching feminist ideals.”

“I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be,” Cole wrote. “I want the people who worship him to know he is human, and the organizations giving him awards for his feminist work, to think twice in the future about honoring a man who does not practice what he preaches.”

So. Confession time. I’m terrified that I, too, am Joss Whedon.

I’m not abusing my power as a producer by (allegedly) sleeping around with female actors, nor have I (allegedly) fired a woman for being pregnant. I like to think I wouldn’t do such things.

I also know it’s possible I would.

I know my heart. I know its temptations. I know I try to be better than my most base self, but I also know my most base self is in there somewhere.

There’s a lot of talk these days on the left about how people with privilege can be allies, and I confess sometimes to wondering about the limits of allyship. I try to be supportive of feminists, people of color, all the Ls, Gs, Bs, and Ts. I think this is my best self. It’s who I want to be. I think.

But I’ve never really had the power to be a total monster. And I sometimes stop short of identifying myself as a “feminist” publicly, not because it is a bad thing to be, but because I know I might be a bad man who someday shows myself to be an utter hypocrite. Joss Whedon’s troubles show me I’m not the only one.

Maybe this isn’t something to admit publicly. But I suspect that if I’m going to write honestly and ardently about the issues I write about, a bit of honesty here is critical.

I’ll keep trying to be better than my worst self. But my best self feels like a fragile thing sometimes.

With respect, Joel

Author: joeldermole

Joel Mathis is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and son. He spent nine years as a syndicated columnist, co-writing the RedBlueAmerica column as the liberal half of a point-counterpoint duo. His honors include awards for best online commentary from the Online News Association and (twice) from the City and Regional Magazine Association.

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