The distinctive feature of sexual objectification in Joss Whedon’s work illuminates the concern for gender stereotypes throughout his projects. He creates this motif by depicting both female and male characters using recycled tropes that illuminate stereotypical gender behaviors to emphasize the gaze. Women are portrayed as sexual objects rather than actual flesh and blood humans with emotions and opinions.
The Gaze in Firefly:
River is described as emotionally paranoid, embodying a variety of tropes including the “talkative loon.” Her less-lucid dialogue is sometimes nonsensical, and at other times it makes a disturbing amount of sense. River’s character development is evident throughout the series as she gets comfortable in her own skin. By Serenity, River is a fully-fledged human being who is allowed to kick ass and be comfortable showing her true self.
Between episodes 4–5, as River is waking up, she goes ballistic at the sight of the rest of the outlaws, wondering what is going on and expecting the worst. The audience takes pleasure in this scene because we are seeing a woman in her most vulnerable state. We’re supposed to have sympathy for her because there is a subtext of human trafficking and because she is a woman. Between River’s nudity and Mal’s assumptions of sexual misconduct, we are instantly poised to oversexualize her. The fact that River is being oversexualized only adds proof to how the media repeatedly does that to women. Men, on the other hand, are completely oblivious to it all because they are being treated much more nicely.
Inara is also highly sexualized. In the scene where Inara is cleansing herself, the music in the background is very seducing and seeing her naked increases the sex appeal. She is not trying to be seductive at all. The audience is manipulated into thinking that, but there is a deeper meaning. In every scene that Inara is in, she always appears to have something on her mind. She seems to be troubled by something, rather than being concerned about how beautiful she is. The director is not depicting her as an elegant young woman, but rather as a powerful character who has her own reasons to be present in the show. The audience may assume that she has some mysterious sexual appeal to her, but that’s the media’s way of brainwashing its audience like it has done for thousands of years. The overly sexual appeal of Inara is simply the audience being brainwashed into thinking that she does, but the reality is that she has her own place and will not be standing in front of the camera just so that everyone can admire how beautiful she is.
The Gaze in The Cabin in the Woods:
Whedon satirically pokes fun at the male gaze by having the employees appear googly-eyed while observing two of the main characters having a sexual experience. The recycled tropes that Whedon uses may be an indication that he is attempting to make a point about overused tropes. The characters are comprised of all the regular “cabin in the woods” horror movie stereotypes: the girl next door, the jock and his hot blonde girlfriend, the good guy intellectual, and the goofball comic relief…there is no virginal hero, the good guy doesn’t save the day and even the token jock and his blonde girlfriend aren’t idiots.
Our society takes pride in being patriarchal. The perspective in which we see everything is always male because they are supposed to be mesmerized by the beautiful women on the big screen without taking five minutes to understand that there just somehow might be a deeper meaning other than sex. If that is the way that society will be, then we might as well not have media because we are too focused on portraying women as objects of sexual desire rather than the human beings that they deserve to be. At the moment, everything is over sexualized to the point where the overall theme of the show is lost in oblivion. The only way that we can bring it back is by having more female directors. It clearly doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon and it never will because we are too patriarchal to pay any attention. Audiences have had material like this shoved down their throats for way too long and any hopes of it changing are thousands of miles away.