The no true Scotsman fallacy is defined as:
[…] a kind of informal fallacy in which one attempts to protect a universal generalization from counterexamples by changing the definition in an ad hoc fashion to exclude the counterexample. Rather than denying the counterexample or rejecting the original claim, this fallacy modifies the subject of the assertion to exclude the specific case or others like it by rhetoric, without reference to any specific objective rule (“no true Scotsman would do such a thing”; i.e., those who perform that action are not part of our group and thus criticism of that action is not criticism of the group).
People use the fallacy most often in situations in which a member of their group commits an act that makes the person, and by proxy the group, look bad. The more prominent the figure in question, the more likely the group will resort to the fallacy.
This is particularly common among groups that hold themselves as morally and ethically superior to others. It becomes imperative that nothing tarnish that claim, especially when the claim itself is constantly in question. Again, the more prominent the figure in question, the more necessary it becomes to cast that person out of the group. The fallacy shifts from merely being that the no “true” member of the group would ever behave in such a manner to said person was never “truly” a member at all.
Such is the feminist response to a blog post from Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole. She posted a scathing commentary on Whedon’s “faux” feminist on the Wrap, claiming that Whedon admitted to a number of affairs with women over the years. She wrote:
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.
There are a couple of things to parse here. This is a woman who is angry following a divorce. While it is possible she is telling the truth, it is also possible that she is merely trying to hurt her ex-husband. She would not be the first woman who spread untruths about her ex following a nasty break-up.
Secondly, she claims she was diagnosed with complex PTSD from this relationship. She never claims that Whedon physically or emotionally abused her, so it is unclear how or why she would have complex PTSD merely from being told that he cheated on her.
Finally, it is interesting that her primary instinct was to go after Whedon’s claim to feminism, knowing that this is also part of his claim to fame.
Feminists were quick to follow up that attack. The A.V. Club wrote of Whedon’s “performative feminism”:
“Beautiful, needy, aggressive young women” are the words of a predator, not a feminist. “It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth” is just a more poetic way of saying “I couldn’t keep it in my pants.” “The world” isn’t yours for the taking. None of these are words you say if you believe that women are equal, and that we have the right to bodily autonomy, and that we are not things for you to consume and play with. (Hello, Dollhouse.) Feminism isn’t a brand, and it’s not something you can wield to deflect criticism.
It is that kind of cognitive dissonance that causes so many problems for feminists when they encounter any of their own who do the wrong thing. We saw a similar reaction from feminists concerning the bad actions of feminist icons like Alice Walker and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Feminists were quick to claim these women either were not feminists or that their actions were contrary to feminist ideals, despite all their other behavior being influenced, if not controlled, by said ideals.
It is feminism itself that regards women as beautiful, needy, and aggressive. Feminism itself states that women can be all things (except things that are bad; those are reserved solely for men). It stands to reason then that a man raised by a woman to view women as equal, if not superior, to men would make the following statement when presented with women fawning over him:
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.
At no point does he take away women’s bodily autonomy. Rather, he — or his wife — claims he viewed his position of power and desirability as a disease. The comparison to the Greek myth is likely a reference to the Sirens, in which it is the men who lack the power to resist, while the women wield the power to control men’s desire.
That is right out of feminist doctrine.
As for feminism being a brand, this is something feminists have created themselves. They treat the ideology as a badge to be earned, worn, and heralded. This is why Whedon made a point of incessantly mentioning his feminist mother and being raised a feminist. That he would say those things with pride was enough for most feminists. That he would repeatedly say it, despite the potential backlash it could cause with his male fan base won him ever greater praise.
Had it been the other way around, had he complained about his feminist upbringing, how his mother may have shamed him and his brother for being male, these same feminists would have despised him no matter how well he wrote female characters.
The truth is that feminism is an ideology that inevitably results in contradictory behavior. One cannot help but do it because feminism itself is contradictory. One can see this in the feminist response to Cole’s blog post. Cole denied her own autonomy:
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.
She is essentially playing the victim, something feminism supposedly opposes. Granted, Whedon may have deceived her, yet everything in the above statement is that of a woman who frames herself as helpless. And yet she is still considered a feminist by other feminists. Indeed, this reaction is well within the bounds of feminism. Were the situation reversed, however, and it was Cole who betrayed Whedon, Whedon could not make the above statement. It would be misogynistic to even suggest that his wife should have any element of loyalty to him or their marriage.
Again, we do not know if Cole’s claims are true. There is a history of people attacking Whedon as a “fake” feminist, claiming that he uses the label as a means of garnering easy support. This accusation plays into that narrative perfectly. Almost too perfectly.
Finally, Whedon’s camp did respond to the accusations:
While this account includes inaccuracies and misrepresentations which can be harmful to their family, Joss is not commenting, out of concern for his children and out of respect for his ex-wife.
How very feminist of him.