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Friday, August 21, 2009

Slaying the Vamps [Feminist Flashback Friday]

Ever since I started blogging I have wanted to write a post dedicated to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It is probably one of my all time favorite shows...and I just started watching it this past winter! This probably isn't that much of a flashback or a history lesson for many of you...but Buffy is in the past, so it's ok for a Feminist Flashback Friday, right? Even if it's not, it's going to be...

Joss Whedon has made some great creations and is a pro-feminist himself, so it would make sense that his feminist beliefs rub off on his TV shows.
Buffy is one of his most feminist creations.

For those of you who don't know, the show revolves around the "chosen one," the slayer, who at this point in time is Buffy Summers. Buffy spends every episode fighting "the big bad," whether it is vampires or some other form of demon. She has her crew of "scoobies" that help her out and occasionally get into trouble. My favorite of the Scoobies is Willow who has some special powers of her own: she's a witch. There's just so much that happens over the seven seasons that I'm not even going to attempt to summarize right now, so this is the best I can do right now.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all about strong women. Buffy herself is supernaturally, physically strong because of her status as the slayer. But she is emotionally strong as well. Sure, she has her breakdowns and times that she no longer wants to be the slayer, but overall she is a strong women, physically, emotionally, and mentally. And it's great to see a female action hero that was so sucessful. Buffy kicked ass on a weekly basis.

Willow was a strong woman as well. She went from a shy bookworm to a powerful, confident witch throughout the show. And she's the one example that I can think of in a mainstream, network show of a successful transition from straight to a lesbian. I don't know if "successful transition" is the right phrase, but there have been so many shows that make a character a lesbian for a couple shows and then she's straight again. But with Willow, she realized her sexual identity when she met Tara and she stuck with it. Yes, she did go crazy at one point, but all that did was to show how powerful and strong she actually was when it came to her magical powers.

And then there's Anya, who was a vengence demon who lost her powers (then regained them later). Even when she didn't have her supernatural powers, she was one of the key Scoobies. While it takes her a while to adjust to not having powers, she becomes one of the strong members of the team.

There are also some recurring minor strong women in the show. There's Faith, the slayer-turned-evil. Glory, who was a demon god bent on getting back to her hell.

Oh Xander. One of the two men in the Scoobies (yes, I do count Giles). He goes through a lot of identity crisis', especially in the later seasons, because he is surrounded by such powerful women and he doesn't really have a lot to offer. Buffy's the slayer, Willow and Tara are powerful witches, and Anya is an ex-demon. Some definite woman-power there.

One other thing that I like about
Buffy is that it's not super focused on romantic relationships. Buffy's romantic relationships definitely play a big role in the show, but she's not relationship-centric. When Angel goes evil and when he leaves, Buffy does have a really hard time and falls apart a little bit, but then she learns that it's ok to be a strong woman on her own. Xander and Anya's relationship and Willow and Tara's relationship are key to the show as well. But in all of the relationships, each of the people are independent and strong on their own and have a pretty healthy relationship because of that (the only exception I can think of is Buffy and Spike, but that's a whole other story).

To me, one of the undertones of the show is about being the best person that you can be, no matter what your powers. While the characters themselves are probably not feminist, I think that the show is. Buffy the Vampire Slayer portrays strong women as they are. Sure some of their strength comes from supernatural powers, but the strength that I am most concerned about is their mental and emotional strength.

What Buffy has is something that is severely lacking from television today. It has great writing, great acting, and strong women. Where are shows like this today? It's not like Buffy was made all that long ago. Where did it go? Well, right now I am jonesing for a Buffy fix, so I think I am going to go watch an episode over on Hulu.

So, how many of you watched Buffy when it was on or have since picked it up, like me? Any thoughts about the feminist value of the show?


Gnatalby said...

Buffy is my favorite television show of all time. It remains the only show that was truly appointment tv for me.

I had very mixed feelings, however, about Willow's development throughout the series. When it started, Willow had a "masculine" power-- her computer skills-- and then she ended up abandoning those for a "feminine" power-- witchcraft. When her character became a lesbian, this was attended by a total feminization of her wardrobe, which also got on my nerves.

I think it would have been a better show if Willow had remained as she was in the first two seasons. (With the exception of the lesbianism, they can keep that.)

Laura said...


I can see that your problems with Willow's development. One thing that I did like about her discovering her witch skills was that she became more confident. In the first couple seasons she was shy and kind of meek, but then as she developed her witchcraft, she became more confident, especially in fighting demons.

Her wardrobe change is a little odd though when you look at it that way.

JT said...

I was also a latecomer to Buffy - I didn't start watching until my sophomore year of college, when one of my friends forced me to sit down, swearing it would change my life. And what do you know - he was right. I think the most important thing that Joss accomplishes in Buffy is creating a world full of complete characters - with strengths as well as faults, and all on equal ground. When you're growing up, every new problem you encounter in life feels like a brand new monster - your first big love, the first major loss of someone you love, even the complicated nature of siblings relationships. Joss' demons and big-bads are the real life embodiment of the perils and pleasure of growing up, and Scoobies manage to rise victorious time and again with creativity and teamwork. Gosh, I could go on for days... Once I was introduced to the Whedonverse, I was a goner. I <3 Joss and all his creations!!

Laura said...


I never really thought about it that way in too much detail. That's a really interesting analysis.

I was introduced to Joss Whedon with Firefly during my sophmore year at college and have been in love with his creations ever since. I'm just sad that I didn't get into Buffy until a year and a half later.

Anonymous said...

I spend more time than is necessarily healthy analyzing Buffy. A few thoughts:
1. Buffy argues against Objectivism. Buffy has powers that other people don't, but that doesn't mean she deserves them or can do whatever she wants.
2. The voice that tells Buffy's story is fairly unreliable. If you start ignoring that Buffy/Angel is So Romantic and Beautiful and Tragic, it's seriously creepy. If you stop listening to Xander whining, he's actually very successful. If it weren't for everyone else having superpowers, he'd probably be the most powerful person on the show.
3. As for Willow going insane, my understanding is that the lesbian community was pretty pissed about that. There's a legacy of stories about lesbians that end in death and insanity (making them into moral lessons). That story arc unintentionally played into patterns of oppression that the writers weren't even aware of.

Anonymous said...

Buffy was an amazing show that empowered a lot of young women. Ultimately it's a tragedy -- the literary sense, and in the literal sense. There are many good articles on the show in general and some good criticism of the Willow/Tara arc in particular. Here is one.

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