Depending on how you look at it, Joss Whedon is either a well-known male feminist in Hollywood, or he’s well known for telling you how he’s a male feminist. To be fair, Joss often says the right things about feminism, telling female stories and the need for more female protagonists in films. To be fair, a lot of what he says could be interpreted as virtue signaling from a guy who actually hasn’t done much in recent years to bring forth powerful storytelling for women (hello, Black Widow). Anyway, Joss Whedon was married to Kai Cole for about fifteen years. They got married in 1991, after being together for four years. They quietly separated a few years ago, but only announced their split this year. They have two children together. The Wrap just published an essay called “Joss Whedon Is a ‘Hypocrite Preaching Feminist Ideals,’ Ex-Wife Kai Cole Says.” You can read the full piece here. In the piece, Cole completely destroys any idea that anyone might have had that Joss Whedon is a good guy, a good husband or a good feminist. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
…There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of “Buffy,” Joss decided to have his first secret affair.
Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running ‘Buffy,’ I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”
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.
…Then later, after he confessed everything, he told me, “I let myself love you. I stopped worrying about the contradiction. As a guilty man I knew the only way to hide was to act as though I were righteous. And as a husband, I wanted to be with you like we had been. I lived two lives.” When he walked out of our marriage, and was trying to make “things seem less bewildering” to help me understand how he could have lied to me for so long, he said, “In many ways I was the HEIGHT of normal, in this culture. We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both!”
Despite understanding, on some level, that what he was doing was wrong, he never conceded the hypocrisy of being out in the world preaching feminist ideals, while at the same time, taking away my right to make choices for my life and my body based on the truth. He deceived me for 15 years, so he could have everything he wanted. I believed, everyone believed, that he was one of the good guys, committed to fighting for women’s rights, committed to our marriage, and to the women he worked with. But I now see how he used his relationship with me as a shield, both during and after our marriage, so no one would question his relationships with other women or scrutinize his writing as anything other than feminist.
…By the time he finally confessed the truth, 15 years after his first affair on the set of “Buffy,” I was broken. My brain could not fit my experience of our life together, through the new lens of his deceit. My entire reality changed overnight, and I went from being a strong, confident woman, to a confused, frightened mess. I was eventually diagnosed with Complex PTSD and for the last five years, I have worked hard to make sense of everything that happened and find my balance again. It has not been easy, because even though in my personal life I have been completely open about what happened, publicly people only know his superficial presentation of us: him as the lovable geek-feminist and me in the background, as his wife and supporter. We’re finally divorced; I’m doing architecture again, and slowly getting my life and self-esteem back.
Until recently, Joss was still letting the illusion of our marriage stay intact. Now that it is finally public, 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.
I saw some comments on Twitter which were like “you’re not necessarily a bad feminist if you cheat on your spouse.” That’s true – you can be a good feminist who works to support equality across the board and passionately engage in political and social feminism, all while cheating on your partner. This situation is a lot more than that, though. Joss Whedon not only cheated on his wife, he gaslighted her for nearly two decades, he used his virtue-signaling “feminism” and the shield of his marriage to sleep with female colleagues. Think about the power imbalance of that too – how many young women he might have seduced, how little power they had compared to The Great Joss Whedon, family man and feminist. The whole thing makes me feel sick. This too: “We’re taught to be providers and companions and at the same time, to conquer and acquire — specifically sexually — and I was pulling off both.” Much feminist, Joss. I’m glad Feminist Whedon talks about his affairs with female colleagues in terms of “conquering and acquiring.”
Photos courtesy of Getty, WENN.