Joss Whedon has been a huge ally for feminism in Hollywood for years. The man behind 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was a loud proponent for the portrayal and representation of strong female characters in film and TV.
On Sunday, in a guest blog on 'The Wrap', Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole revealed her side of their divorce, claiming that during their 16-year marriage Whedon cheated on her several times, and the treatment of his wife throughout their marriage made him a "hypocrite preaching feminist ideals".
Whedon's work on shows like 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' meant he was constantly pushing the message of strong female characters in Hollywood. His ability to create seemingly "real" characters that relished in their flaws and insecurities meant he was praised for his portrayal of women in media.
"On the set of 'Buffy'," Cole wrote, "Joss decided to have his first secret affair".
Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn't know the whole truth, and said, "I've never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we've done both separately and together, how much fun we have..." He wanted it all; he didn't want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life.
Whedon has been an outspoken feminist, which he always credited back to his mother.
He has been honoured by Equality Now several times, an organisastion that protects and promotes the human rights of women and girls across the world and of which Whedon sits on the Advisory Board. He was honoured in 2006, and again in 2013 where he delivered a speech about the nature of the word "feminist".
Claiming it was an unnatural state, to add -ist to the end of a word means it isn't the natural state of things.
"'-Ist' in its meaning is also a problem for me. Because you can't be born an '-ist'. It's not natural... you have to have these things brought to you."
"So 'feminist' includes the idea that believing men and women to be equal, believing all people to be equal, is not a natural state. That we don't emerge assuming that everybody in the human race is a human. That the idea of equality is just an idea that is imposed on us."
Whedon then went on to suggest rather than "feminist", we should use the term "genderist", as a pejorative and in an effort to draw a line in the sand.
"My pitch is this word: 'Genderist'. I would like this word to become the new 'racist'. I would like a word that says there was a shameful past before we realised that all people were created equal, and we are past that."
Cole, who has two children with Whedon, worked on several of his projects including producing "Much Ado About Nothing" and "In Your Eyes".
"I thought we were a couple, a team. I was a powerful influence on the career choices Joss made during the 20 years we were together (we lived together for four years before marrying). I kept him grounded, and helped him find the quickest way to the success he so deeply craved. I loved him. And in return, he lied to me. A lot. He said, after he left, he understood: 'It's not just like I killed you, but that I'd done it subtly, over years. That I'd been poisoning you. Chipping away at you.'"
- Kai Cole
Whedon's brand of feminism has come under scrutiny in the past. Recently in 'Avengers: Age of Ultron', his treatment of female characters was hugely criticised when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) compared her infertility to Bruce Banner's monstrous alter-ego, the Hulk. Their strange, cobbled together love story was based on the notion that due to her forced sterilisation, Black Widow was a monster, just like Hulk who had earlier rampaged through several cities.
Black Widow was one of the few female characters in the Marvel cinematic universe at that stage and Whedon made the decision to shift Johansson's character from strong superhero to vulnerable love interest who yearned to settle down and have a family. That, coupled with Marvel's continuing hesitance to create toys and products for their female characters created an uproar online.
After the film opened, Whedon quit Twitter temporarily.
Whedon had also drafted a script for the recent 'Wonder Woman' solo film which was leaked out and ripped apart by critics. Many found it completely at odds with everything Whedon had preached, fetishising DC's only current female Justice League member in their films.
Thanking the entire universe for not allowing the sexist & terrible Joss Whedon Wonder Woman to ever get made. pic.twitter.com/xZrBsjmVY4— ✨libby ✨ (@ladylibberty) June 15, 2017
Cole claims after their divorce she was diagnosed with complex PTSD, and during the five years their divorce was kept out of the public, she attempted to make sense of everything that had occurred between her and Whedon. The two filed for divorce in 2012, but details only came out five years later.
After those details became public, Cole took control of her own narrative.
" I want to let women know that he is not who he pretends to be. 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. But no matter what happens, or how people interpret this statement, I no longer have to carry the burden of Joss' long-term deceit and confessions. I am free."
You can read Cole's entire blog over on 'The Wrap'.