shirenomad: (Whedon)
[personal profile] shirenomad
I was reading the Mark Watches review of Firefly and, although Mark and I both love Joss Whedon's work in a lot of similar ways, we heavily diverge on at least one point of interpretation. That of the meaning of Inara and her "career."

Mark, it seems, thinks that Whedon means to respect the profession of prostitution as a proper career. In Mark's mind, it's a part of Inara, and Mal is stubborn and overly-protective for dismissing it as worthless. And there's definitely nothing harmful about it.

Except Mark then contradicts himself when he reaches "Heart of Gold," by calling what Burgess did to Petaline a violation, and rightfully cringing at "get down on your knees." Why? Surely Burgess paid both women properly for the service, didn't he? It's a dignified service to provide, isn't it?

But Burgess is not alone in his misogyny. Atherton treated Inara as property ("I know what's mine"), despite Inara's later claims that she's very careful about who she selects as a client. Fess's father (the one who actually called Inara in and paid her, mind you) treated her dismissively as well. There's a pattern here. When a man meets a woman who gives him, well, everything in return for some cash, it's hard to see how he'll respect her.

Or see her as anything but an unusually sexy device. Remember Mr. Universe and his robot bride? Had Atherton taken Inara as a personal (and permanent, "bought and paid for") companion, would he see her as anything more than that, other than that Inara makes better conversation? At best, wouldn't she be like the indentured mudders, just with a better wardrobe?

I remind everyone that for all its faults, the world of Firefly is not sexist. No one ever, meeting Zoe, questioned for an instant her ability to kick copious ass. No one ever, meeting Kaylee, questioned for an instant her ability to keep a ship running (on duct tape if necessary). Patience owns a moon and leads a small army of thugs. Good guys have no issues slugging women who earned the privilege, with no thoughts of "she's a woman, be gentle!" ...And then you get to the sex workers, and all of the sudden people see only objects.

Oh, Whedon understands perfectly the harms of the oldest profession. Inara was not in the original plans of the story, but Fox insisted on including a "space hooker." So Whedon gave them the geisha-like companions, who behave with high class, who have the (supposed) protection of their guild... and who are only respected by those not their clients. (And then we got Dollhouse later, if you really want to see the horror of "selling yourself" amped up to eleven.)

But I still need to talk about Inara herself. The model of professionalism, of poise, of grace. Of artificiality. Her every move, every word, is calculated. We so rarely see the facade drop, and only when she's dumbfounded (Jaynestown), enraged or terrified (Our Mrs. Reynolds), or devastated (Heart of Gold). There's something beneath, and we catch glimpses of it in the above episodes, but she buries it. For the job, to present the face her "clients" want to see. Until she almost forgets the real self exists.

Therein is the tragedy of Inara's "career." "Inara, he doesn't even see you." So few do.
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