Sunday, June 28, 2009

Feminism in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Just as I did with the last round of blog posts, I want to once again address feminist aspects in yet another TV series.

This time around I just wanted to point out the strong feminist aspects in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

A short snipped from Wikipedia:

Joss Whedon (the creator of 'Buffy')identifies himself as a feminist, and feminist themes are common in his work. For his part, Whedon credits his mother, Lee Stearns, as the inspiration for his feminist worldview. When Roseanne Barr asked him how he could write so well for women, he replied, "If you met my mom, you wouldn't ask."

Joss's feminist influences are seen throughout the entire 'Buffy' series. He once stated in an interview that he wrote 'Buffy' with the idea of combating the stereotypical 'blonde girl as a damsel in distress in horror films that is either killed or saved by a man'. He certainly achieved this goal. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a series about a young blonde girl who has the destiny to combat the forces of evil.

I must now take a short moment to apologize to everyone reading this post -- I forgot to warn you all that I am a ridiculously HUGE Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I have all 7 seasons on DVD, t-shirts, the BTVS high-school year book from season 3, over 20 BTVS paper back novels, The entire first season on VHS as well, the BTVS video game 'chaos bleeds', A Buffy barbie doll, and several other things. Haha. Now that I've scared everyone away, I'll continue.

A lot of people credit 'Buffy' with opening up opportunities for women on TV as portraying strong, female independent characters. In the series, Buffy Summers herself isn't exactly the brightest crayon in the box (though her SAT scores in season 3 would suggest otherwise). I think Joss chose this quality for Buffy with a specific purpose in mind. A lot of Buffy's intellect isn't displayed in her school work but rather her most intelligent decisions come about when she is trying to save the world or her friends and family. Joss uses Buffy's emotions as a weapon (both figuratively and literally) as a means of 'solving the puzzle' in Buffy's battles.

Contrary to what a lot of anti-feminists proclaim, emotions - in this case - provide strength rather than weakness.

Honestly, I grew up with this series. I had been watching it from a young age (with a lot of that being without my mother's knowledge) and I think it definitely shaped a lot of my attitudes and feelings about women empowerment. 'Buffy' definitely taught me the importance of staying true to yourself and to make decisions based on how I want to make them.

I think one of my all-time favorite episodes that impacted me the most was in Season 5, episode 12 of the series.

In it, The Watchers' Council comes to Sunnydale to tell Buffy what they know about Glory, on condition that she proves herself worthy. She refuses to go through their tests, and they tell her Glory is a god. (Summary from Wikipedia)

The most relevant scenes in the episode were probably as followed (I know that this post is ridiculously long, but I PROMISE it is relevant):

1. In Buffy's history class, the teacher is discussing how Rasputin was considered nearly impossible to kill. Buffy challenges the professor to look at history from another angle, but he shoots her ideas down with scathing criticism and sarcasm, embarrassing her in front of the class. That night, Buffy complains about class to a vampire she's fighting until she is thrown off balance. Spike suddenly appears, flying over a tombstone to tackle and stake the vampire. He expects gratitude, but Buffy accuses him of getting in her way. The two then verbally attack each other.

My response: Buffy attempts to share new insights on an old perspective, and is shot down. I think she really shows that it is important to share your beliefs even if others will think they are ridiculous, because in reality there are some who agree with your beliefs and were too shy or scared to say them themselves.

Also an interesting tidbit is this part about Buffy shooting down Spike's chivalry. She shows that she is extremely independent and doesn't need a man's help, undead or not.

2. Buffy: No review. No interrogation. No questions you know I can't answer. No hoops. No jumps. (Nigel is about to speak.) No interruptions. See, I've had a lot of people talking at me in the last few days. Everyone just lining up to tell me how unimportant I am. And I've finally figured out why. Power. I have it. They don't. This bothers them. Glory came to my home today.

Giles: Buffy are you all—

Buffy: Just to talk. She told me I'm a bug, I'm a flea, she could squash me in a second. Only she didn't. She came into my home, and we talked. We had what in her warped brain probably passes for a civilized conversation. Why? Because she needs something from me. Because I have power over her. You guys didn't come all the way from England to determine whether I was good enough to be let back in. You came to beg me to let you back in. To give your jobs, your lives, some semblance of meaning.

Buffy: You're Watchers. Without a Slayer... you're pretty much just watching Masterpiece Theater. You can't stop Glory. You can't do anything with the information you have, except maybe publish it in the Everyone Thinks We're Insanos Home Journal. So here's how it's gonna work. You're gonna tell me everything you know. Then you're gonna go away. You'll contact me if and when you have any further information about Glory.


Relevance: This scene in this episode pretty much blew me away. Just to point out a few key things -- Glory was the 'big evil' in season 5 that Buffy had to defeat. Buffy had knowledge about something that Glory wanted. Giles was Buffy's watcher (a watcher is someone who trains slayers) until he was fired in season 3, ironically he was fired in an episode where Buffy lost her power temporarily. Nigel is a member of the Watcher's Council in England (this is the headquarters of watchers who work on supernatural research and attempt to help the Slayer -- though again, ironically, she hasn't been associated with them (unofficially) since Season 3 in the episode 'Helpless') .

I think this is an extremely important scene in the episode, if not in the series. This situation holds true in all formats globally. Anyone who has power has been ridiculed for that power. People are TERRIFIED of others that have power. They will go to great length to tear down anyone with power. We saw this with Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Both of these women had TREMENDOUS power. As a result, they were ridiculed 24/7 because people were afraid of their power.

"You guys didn't come all the way from England to determine whether I was good enough to be let back in. You came to beg me to let you back in. To give your jobs, your lives, some semblance of meaning."

Again we see this with the media and other aspects of life. Why do we watch the news? So that we can hear other people's opinions about other people. Without those powerful people, the media has nothing to talk about.

Even in the work force, women are constantly trying to prove that they are 'good enough to be let in' to something. That's not to say that men don't strive for the same thing, but for a while women have had it harder. Without employees, businesses don't run effectively.

"So here's how it's gonna work. You're gonna tell me everything you know. Then you're gonna go away. You'll contact me if and when you have any further information about Glory."

Just another example of the independent and strong characteristics of Buffy Summers. She is truly a strong embodiment of feminism.

Although I would love to talk more about BTVS, I will save more for later posts!

1 comment:

  1. I think you brought up some really good points with this post. You don't have to be a big masculine girl to be strong and independent. I also like the example you brough up of how she used her emotions as a weapon. I like the idea of changing the negative connotations with things that are associated with being a woman.