Natasha Simons has a post up arguing that Joss Whedon isn't quite the feminist icon that the fans make him out to be. Shani Hilton has a response arguing that while Joss isn't a great feminist he is still pretty good.
I'm not a feminism expert by any stretch. But I agree with Hilton. And I'd direct you to that link to address most of the shows, characters, and situations that Simons brings up. One point I wanted to address is Firefly and the character of Inara.
Inara is a companion. In the world of Firefly, this is a job that is essentially a prostitute. Modern prostitution is not a glamorous job. Here in the US it is not a morally acceptable job aside from in Nevada. And even then the vast majority of women don't really want to have it as a career. That is even more so the case in states where its illegal. And across most of the rest of the world its even less the case that its not a good job. Its actually something that many women are forced into by either poor economies or coercion.
But in Firefly a companion is a very glamorous position. Inara is considered to be very highly educated and highly skilled. As we see in the episode "Train Job" even people in planets outside the central planets respect companions. We see on several occasions Kaylee wishing she had Inara's job. And even Zoe doesn't seem to have any objections to what Inara does. Though she does object strongly to Saffron's maid-like behavior towards Mal.
So why do I think this illustrates Whedon's feminist cred? A big part of it has to do with choice. I'd assume that for the vast majority of women in the world that work as prostitutes it is not a choice in the same sense that someone chooses to become a teacher or a lawyer. As I said, many women are forced into doing it. And in performing their job they often run into problems with abuse in various forms. But for Inara, she not only (presumably) chose her profession, she chooses who she wants to perform her job with. She doesn't have sex purely for money. She chooses to have sex with people because they will either pleasure her directly or indirectly in that it pleases her to satisfy their desires.
A big part of feminism (at least in my mind) is that notion of choice. For so long women didn't have many choices when it came to things involving sex and careers. So when it comes to feminism in Firefly I think its a good thing when a woman can choose to become a mechanic, fight in a war, or become a prostitute who can fulfill her sexual desires in a safe environment.
I struggle with the question of given the amount of safety that Inara seems to enjoy when performing her job, who wouldn't want to have her job? Everyone enjoys sex right? If I could have people willing to pay me to have sex with them and I could pretty much choose who I want to engage with I think that would be a career worth strongly thinking about entering. Perhaps that is a result of my experience as a man. So I would love to her from some women about this subject.