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The negative space *around* Marti Noxon

There's a fascinating post on Feministe that's been discussed lately: How Come It's Never Joss' Fault? The Scapegoating of Female Creators in Pop Culture.

It's primarily about Marti Noxon and the bile that gets directed at her for her part in S6. This article got posted on Whedonesque, and a read-through of the comments reveals a general lack of understanding of the problem. Understandable, because I think the situation is more nuanced than the initial post lets on.

There's a lot of explanations that Noxon gets criticized because of the execution problems in S6, that it's not because she's a woman, and that any exec producer would have been criticized for it.

I think it's true that any executive producer at the time would have come under such criticism, but there are more layers to the problem than just that.

For one, a lot of the criticism directed at Noxon is specifically sexist in nature.

Perhaps the best example of this are the criticisms of Noxon's affinity for naked!Spike. These criticisms are usually made in a derogatory, shaming fashion. That Marti 'just' liked seeing JM shirtless/naked.

Folks, this goes back to the idea that women aren't supposed to display their sexuality. Exec producers who are men litter their shows with naked women because they 'just' like to see women naked. They're rarely shamed for it (At least outside of feminist circles - which are still less about 'shaming' and more about pointing out the imbalance). But when a woman is actually in charge and she displays her own desired eye candy on screen, she's insulted and belittled for it.

That's a problem.

Additionally, there are criticisms that Noxon was drawing from personal experience in some of the decisions in S6. I've never understood these particular criticisms, and I can't recall ever hearing a male showrunner held to the same standard. A woman writing about her own issues, relating to the characters she's portraying, working through her own experiences, is something to be criticized? Okay. I can't help but speculate that there's an aversion to having anything linked to "women's issues" in our TV viewing.

However, there's more to the problem than just the nature of some of the criticisms. This problem has two steps:

1. In the first step, Noxon's gender is largely irrelevant. This would likely happen even if it were a man in her place.

Fact is, there's a pretty strict dichotomy at work when discussing the show. Aspects that we like are credited to Joss. Aspects we don't are blamed on Noxon. Even in S6.

This is something I'm guilty of, as well. When I squee about, say, Dead Things or Buffy's depression arc or the tone of S6, I inevitably praise Whedon. Noxon? Never gets praise. She only receives criticism and hate.

This is a problem. It means that everything negative about the season, even things that Whedon may be partially responsible for, are laid to rest on Noxon's shoulders. Alternately, it means that everything positive about the season, even things that Noxon may be primarily responsible for, are credited to Whedon.

This suggests that 'Noxon as a failure' is such a given, fandom can't fathom that she deserves any of the credit for the good in S6. So it's handed to Whedon, instead. This locks Noxon into a rigid symbolic representation of Failure in fandom.

2. There's an effect to this, though, and this is where the criticism of Noxon becomes problematic from a feminist perspective.

There are few to no female writers in the business. There are even fewer female executive producers and showrunners. And it's incredibly problematic that, when we finally get one, she's designated the Fandom Scapegoat for All That's Bad in BtVS.

Yes, it may have happened even if Noxon were a man. But male showrunners are a dime a dozen, and one more being criticized as a failure is nothing. When a woman is unjustifiably criticized in such a fashion, though, it heightens the hurdle of future female showrunners to be successful.

It's like...well, it's like when there's a group of superheroes with one token chick in it. Sure Superhero Bob may be hated by the fans for questionable reasons, but it's okay, because there's Superhero John, Tom, and Bill to cover. However, when Superhero Token Chick trips once (while saving the day), and fandom criticizes her as being the reason the entire mission failed, then she's it. She's representing for all women.

It's unfair. I know it's unfair. It's unfair that I cringed when that female pro golfer attempted to play with the men and lost. That makes it harder for the next female pro golfer that wants to give it a try. And that’s a problem with the system.

So, yes, it's a problem in this case. Because of the strict dichotomy explained in #1, Noxon is often unfairly criticized and almost never praised. This is the key point. It's that the criticism is one-sided and not reflective of the good that Noxon brought to the season. When her talents are overlooked to focus on her failures, when those moments of brilliance are credited to a man, when she's one of the only female showrunners, you have a grand example of fandom inadvertently contributing to a sexist culture.

Let me address some questions that I'm sure will get brought up.

So you're saying we're not allowed to criticize Noxon?

Absolutely not! Criticize her where criticism is deserved.

Like the superheroes. Criticize Superhero Token Chick when she trips. However, also praise her when she saves the day. Don't hand her kudos over to Superhero Tom, instead.

But we'd do that with a male showrunner, too. Isn't this giving women special treatment?

In a way, I suppose. However, it's more accurate to see it as recognizing the context surrounding the show and the media wherein women are generally disempowered and underrepresented and asking for appropriate sensitivity to it.

Think of it like the VAWA (Violence Against Women Act). Sure, it seems like "special treatment" on the surface. But that's assuming everything's equal in society; that women who are victims of domestic violence are given adequate attention by the justice system. Frankly, they're not. In order to rectify this imbalance, a special act for women is required.

Likewise with female executive producers. Asking fandom to take into account the cultural context in which Noxon did her thing may seem like special treatment. However, it's just taking into account the sexist society that surrounds her.

Besides, it's kinda a shitty thing to do to someone, man or women.

But this doesn’t mean the criticism of Noxon is necessarily sexist.

True, but not the point.

As noted (at length) in the post, some criticism of Noxon is absolutely sexist. Some is not. However, it exists in a sexist context, which is why it's a feminist issue. It's also why it's especially disheartening to see it happening in a fandom for an ostensibly feminist show.

The point is less to label individual fans as "sexist" and more to create an awareness of the larger problem and how the Noxon example exacerbates said problem.

Okay, have at it, guys. One rule, though: No bashing of any real life person! Noxon, Whedon, Fury, anyone. Criticism =/= bashing. Don't cross the line.


Jun. 16th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
I'm gonna at least link to it in the comments there, then. Just wanted your permission first. :D

I do think it's simplistic to say simply that Marti gets bashed because she's a women. However, there's a lot more going on with the Marti-bashing that I felt needed to be pointed out.

Plus, a lot of the criticism is just straight-up sexist, which is problematic on its own.


I actually don't tend to praise anyone for S6. When I talk about the things I love about it and specifically the gender stuff that I find so fascinating, I always end up saying, "But I don't think the writers really had any idea what they were doing. This is awesome, but I'm pretty sure it's accidentally awesome."

I still kind of think that, but I'm gonna be better about props.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
Heh. I do that, too. Refer to "the writers". But I think Noxon deserves a good chunk of the praise for Buffy's depression arc, which I'm more than happy to squee about. Especially as she seemed to be basing it on her own real life experience, which adds that brutal punch of reality that works for me (and probably puts off people that haven't experienced depression).

I think the AR misstep shows how largely unaware everybody behind the scenes was about the gender role reversals. S6 has a lot of accidental brilliance.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm mostly one of those "the writers" people. But the more I think about it, the more I think you're right about the depression arc, which I LOVE LIKE CANDY.

I think the AR misstep shows how largely unaware everybody behind the scenes was about the gender role reversals. S6 has a lot of accidental brilliance.

This is exactly what I was getting at.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
I think the AR misstep shows how largely unaware everybody behind the scenes was about the gender role reversals. S6 has a lot of accidental brilliance.

Yes. Though I was thinking about something the other day and wondered...

The AR kinda works for me in terms of gender reversal. You start off with William who's coded more feminine. Then upon becoming a vampire, the more masculine persona of Spike is created. But Spike is a mixture of William's heart and Spike's demon, a mixture of the masculine and feminine. I mean, Spike is created in a violent phallic sense. Fast-forward to Season 4 when Spike's neutered. He can't be a demon, but he can't fully be a man, William. He's caught in between.

His relationship with Buffy further pushes him into the feminine because while he's a man, Buffy wears the pants in the relationship (Spike makes plays to regain power by seducing Buffy, but even his seduction in Dead Things, but even his seduction ploy can be coded as feminine--or in fairness, it's the sort of seduction that can be both masculine and feminine, men seducing women because women hold power over their bodies, feminine in the lines of women seducing men to acquire power--though ultimately I think it's feminine--women seduce men, sleep with men, thinking that's the way to get love and that's what Spike is doing). Eventually, Buffy reasserts her power and gets out. Spike becomes desperate. All his ploys didn't work. He's not right. And then comes the AR. He resorts to drinking away his sorrows (again, coded masculine behavior) and then becomes the demon in violently assaulting Buffy. He's not seducing, he's gonna make her feel it. His attempts in the feminine have failed. He goes to Buffy to apologize and talk, but the door being metaphorically closed, emphatically closed to him, pushes him into reckless behavior and he jumps into the masculine extreme. Taking power, forcing submission.

But this is a violation of Spike and Buffy's dynamic. For Spike to vie for dominance means he's seeking to be Buffy's enemy, to become Spike of Season 2 in his interactions with her (not the Spike of S2 who shows softness for Dru and can submit to her whims and wishes). He cannot play the role of feminine fully, of William, without a soul and he cannot play the role of masculine fully because to do so is to become that which Buffy hates (and that which would hurt her).

Which then throws in this intersting dynamic that Spike getting soul was about submitting to the feminine. Soul is then coded as feminine in the 'verse while evil demons are often coded as masculine (not in simple black and white terms, but I think in the ruling dynamic... for Spike at least, this is the case). Spike returns with a soul and his coded behavior is far more feminine. He only gets his "rocks back" when he fully embraces the demon in Get It Done.

What's more fascinating to note is that Buffy demands Spike restore the balance. Just as she is both feminine and masculine in role, so too does she demand he be both in order to be fully himself.

Okay, just went off and wrote a tangential OT essay here. It's kinda off-the-cuff so it might not hold up completely. Just ideas flowing forth.
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:01 pm (UTC)
You should totally write a huge meta on this...
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:06 pm (UTC)
yes please!
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:08 pm (UTC)
I think there's something in there about Whedon perhaps seeing evil when the world becomes imbalanced. When masculine in extreme forces feminine into submission. And that the key to order is a balance of masculine and feminine forces.

Which I guess is very yin/yang in philosophy. But so many forms of evil in BtVS are phallic in nature, it's hard not to see them being coded as masculine. And for Buffy to battle them, she is the balance of both extremes--extremely masculine while also being extremely feminine. Buffy's heroic because of her balance--her reliance on her friends for emotional support while also having the bravery to go it alone (the self-reliance that is often coded as masculine).

Order and good are then about balance. In the world and in each individual.

I'm trying to display this balance with my icon. Buffy is "alone" yet not because she has her friends to support her. She's both alone and together standing fast.
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Jun. 16th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:10 pm (UTC)
I echo the call for meta. :)

I was speaking more that they were unaware of the real-world context and the subsequent ramifications having a male character attempt to rape a female character would entail.
Jun. 16th, 2010 11:28 pm (UTC)
Hey! I wrote a paper kind of like this once! :D But you took it in directions I didn't, and I love it.
Jun. 17th, 2010 01:17 am (UTC)
That's interesting, because I always read William as a romantic insecure geek who sought validation by getting and keeping the Dream Girl (Cecily, Dru, Buffy). I read William not so much as feminine, as he is fearing emasculation which lead him to cover up his insecurities with attempting to be more macho when he turned into Spike. What makes things interesting is that Spike's Victorian chivalry and romanticism, lifetime caretaking role (sick mom, Dru), and rivalry with men makes him really into female approval and as a byproduct comfortable with untraditional gender roles. So you can have Spike lash out or turn into a jerk when a woman rejects him or if he fears rejection, but also have him be more secure with a woman in charge while being rebellious when a man's in charge.

Soul is then coded as feminine in the 'verse while evil demons are often coded as masculine (not in simple black and white terms, but I think in the ruling dynamic... for Spike at least, this is the case).

I kinda have issues with non-aggressive, pacifistic behavior in male characters being seen as feminine. Xander, Giles, Oz, and souled!Angel have souls, are still masculine, and have varying levels of aggression and pacifism. I think the show tends to link aggression/violence to the demonic, although it does have gender bias in how it treats aggression. I see BtVS trying to present non-traditional gender roles, and more than one way to be a man or a woman. So women and men can be aggressive, pacifistic/nurturing, or a combo--depending on the personality, demonic origins, or situation.
(no subject) - angearia - Jun. 17th, 2010 01:43 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Jun. 17th, 2010 01:54 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - angearia - Jun. 17th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Jun. 17th, 2010 02:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - angearia - Jun. 17th, 2010 03:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mediumajaxwench - Jun. 17th, 2010 06:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - gabrielleabelle - Jun. 17th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - angearia - Jun. 18th, 2010 12:40 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 17th, 2010 12:44 pm (UTC)
I think the AR misstep shows how largely unaware everybody behind the scenes was about the gender role reversals. S6 has a lot of accidental brilliance.

There are lots of great comments in this thread I haven't read, but I do think the fact that the AR was based on Marti Noxon's personal experiences and thus DID come from a place of gender role reverals--she was Spike, in the personal version of the story--means that, even if the final result wasn't effective that way, I think the writers still could very well have known what they were doing, gender-reversal wise.

Which is one way to say as well that I'm very glad that Marti Noxon had the bravery to be honest about some of her inspirations, even if it seemed to result in much of the (often sexist, as you've said) backlash.

I guess I'm not quite willing to describe S6's brilliance in this area as accidental...but then, it very well could be (and part of my view is that I suspect that the writers play their hands close to the chest in interviews, when it comes to some of the subversive things they're writing). :)
Jun. 17th, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I would agree with that, actually. I think the writers' misstep was in assuming the audience would embrace the story instead of jumping into moral outrage.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC)
I'm gonna be better about props.

By using scythes and rocket launchers in your icons? AGREE.
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
Have I ever told you that I fangirl you?
Jun. 16th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC)
I vaguely recall such an occurrence at our last mutual admiration society pancake dinner aka Brunette Southern Goddesses Chowin' Down, Y'all.
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Jun. 16th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bobthemole - Jun. 17th, 2010 12:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - penny_lane_42 - Jun. 17th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC) - Expand


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