The specific slant found within the program formula for "Buffy the Vampire
Slayer" (BTVS) is unique in both film and television: the lead character is a
female world-saver who belongs to no government organization, who seldom
relies on men for help, who is not an androgyne and who has a curfew. The series
was created and continues to be meticulously overseen by Academy Award
winning writer Joss Whedon. Whedon writes for his female characters with
particular care to maintain the validation of the feminist viewpoint. Until feminists
quit taking pot shots at each other and arrive at a mutually agreed upon
definition of feminism, and for the purposes of this paper, "feminism" will be
considered the empowering of the female who takes control of her life to the
extent that such control directly affects her well-being and future. Ignoring the
psychological and mythological doublespeak used by many feminists, this paper
will discuss the manner in which Whedon and his cadre of carefully chosen writers
deal with feminist issues vis-\u00e0-vis character development.
Buffy has another side, however - she is a good girl (more or less) who minds her
mother (unless a house rule conflicts with her slaying duties) and keeps her
amazingly frilly and feminine room neat. Buffy misses her father, to the extent
that a rejection by her father was manifested as her worst nightmare coming
true. She turns to Giles, her Watcher, for guidance and sometimes regrets it. He
lectures her on her slayer duties - "Buffy, when I said you could slay vampires
and have a social life, I didn't mean at the same time" - until she must resort to
slyness just to get a night off. Feminists decry feminine-wile manipulation but
several female characters on BTVS are guilty of just such guile; Buffy uses it on
Giles when she wants a night off; Jenny, Giles' love interest, uses it to help him
come out of his shell; Willow, Buffy's closest friend, uses it only when she is
desperate, and Cordelia, the trophy-wife-in-training, uses it indiscriminately and,
oblivious to her shallowness, with great enthusiasm. What absolves the first three
from censure is that they contrast this deception with true feminist attributes -
they are in control of their lives and use their femininity only when their men are
too dense to comprehend any other method of getting their point across. As
Buffy's friend, Xander once said, "I'm a teenager - linoleum turns me on!"
Buffy sometimes envies Cordelia, who practices feminine wiles in order to snare a
handsome, rich husband. Cordelia, as Sherrye Henry says some females do,
adheres to the belief that "men vie with each other for honour, wealth, and good -
looking wives. However, both times Buffy dons ultra-feminine gowns, she realizes
that she prefers the power of being a slayer. Recovering from a spell in which
she was a helpless Southern belle; she immediately bests a vampire and says,
"You know what? It's good to be me."
Interestingly, the gender of the slayer is not only relevant but absolutely vital to
Joss Whedon's Buffy. His scenario suggests that every Slayer throughout history
has been female. Vampires are masculine in essence; they represent
penetration, the "ineffable power of patriarchy, striking suddenly, appearing from
nowhere" as in the Oedipal myth mentioned in No End To Her by Martha
Vampires overpower and focus on their goals to the exclusion of what is going on
around them and this is their fatal flaw when meeting a female slayer. This
results from the specific Slayer ability and supposed weakness of Whedon's
original, cinematic Buffy - she experiences menstrual cramping when a vampire is
near and can thus be warned. By the same token, vampires, having heightened
senses, can seek her out easily during her period. In transferring the role to
television he has played down that part somewhat but retains unbroken the chain
of female slayers. In television, women are seldom portrayed as classic heroines,
exact counterparts of male heroes. Instead, they are at best classified as victims
or decoys who, because of their limited abilities and intelligence, are dependent
upon masculine heroics. Even those who demonstrate exceptional abilities are
usually, in the end, reliant on the male. What heroines there are usually work for
government or law enforcement agencies, patriarchal institutions - Emma Peel,
Laura Holt, Nikita.
Cinema is voyeuristically male and objectified females are what they watch.
Feminist/critic Linda Williams contends that horror films are male oriented
because the female victim is being punished for `looking,' the exclusively male
prerogative. Much is made of the castration theory, that women are
underpowered because they lack a penis; Buffy, however, has her stakes to
compensate, one of two of the show's phallic symbols - the other being the
penetration of the fangs.
The historically prevalent definition of masculinity is linear, etching a "clean
masculinity" against a murky feminine concept. BTVS treads a fine line between a
linear narrative and the feminine perspective - the male solvers are satisfied by
each story's conclusion and the female philosophers who resist plot closure are
satisfied by the exploration of motive, emotion and consequences.
There are few female vampires because the vampire ethic is so masculine,
overwhelming and penetrating. The one major female vampire in BTVS is the
most dangerous of all, we are led to believe, because she is mad. Once she
regains what passes for sanity in the unread world, however, we see that she
remains dangerous. The lesson is that she is simply one bad dude, regardless of
gender. Spike, one of BTVS's most endearingly nasty vampires, says of the
weapons he's holding: "I just like them. They make me feel all manly." There is
little resemblance between these vampires and Anne Rice's "brat prince," Lestat.
In "School Hard," Spike ponders his defeat at Buffy's hands: "A slayer with family and friends - that sure as
hell wasn't in the brochure."
Wendy Kaminer, a noted feminist, says that nature "doesn't tell us what roles
men and women should be... allowed to play and what rights they ought to
enjoy" and Buffy would agree. For all her confident talk, Buffy is hardly in the
vanguard of the feminist movement. She runs like a girl, arms akimbo, and legs
splayed, and most definitely defies Kaminer's image of "female machismo." She is
no "Bond-in-a-bra" with bulging muscles ala Xena and Wonder Woman. She does
not gladly embrace her destiny; she is brought literally kicking and screaming
into a lifestyle of karate chops, cross-bows and wooden stakes. Gloria Steinem
and Betty Friedan will be handing her no awards. Her theme song will not be "I
Am Woman," Helen Reddy's anthemia call to all mammals of the female
persuasion; her theme would be "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". She does,
however, occasionally find great fun in dispatching evildoers and at those times
we see the true heroine - fully female and fully lethal, infinitely more deadly than
the male. She screams at the Master, her arch-rival: "You that aped about hell?
Go there!" When Principal Snyder says, "Who do you think you are?" she snaps
back, "I'm the one who knows how to stop them." and when her vampire-lover
Angel tells her she must trust someone, she responds, "I trust me!" Her defiance
is reminiscent of Carolyn Trochman's proud quote: "I don't need anybody or
anything to tell me who I am, what I am capable of doing."
By endowing Buffy with extra-ordinary strength, agility, healing ability and
sensory perception, the writers may appear to imply that, to compete with men
(vampires), Buffy needs more than average female attributes; this is not to be
considered a putdown of women but rather the appreciation that there is,
regardless of the conflicting philosophies of Nochimson and Burkett, a physical
strength disparity that is exacerbated by a vampire's superhuman strength.
Whedon emphasizes Buffy's training and feminine instincts instead. Males have
gleefully pointed out this gender gap ever since Freud's famed "Anatomy is
destiny" discourse; Buffy eliminates it to the point that she often rescues the men
in her life - her Watcher, her friend and even her lover. The villains, whether
human or demon, are principally male and always defeated; an interesting twist.
Buffy has a few decidedly non-feminist lines: "Halloween's a perfect chance for a
girl to get sexy and wild without repercussions," for example. Her portrayer,
Sarah Michelle Gellar, probably also would fail to make a top-20 feminist list. In a
statement guaranteed to raise hackles in boardrooms and bordellos, she says,
"Feminism sort of has a negative connotation. It makes you think of women that
don't shave their legs."
Manchester Guardian writer Carolyne Ellis maintains that "television has taken
two genders and made one and a half. In what used to be the proactive, strong,
capable, attractive male parts have all been given to women" and claims that
what would have been female roles have been given to male characters, making
them "pathetic little creatures." Ellis denounces this trend, claiming that
"Feminism was not about making women into imitation men...." and this is
exactly what Joss has avoided; he has allowed Buffy her femininity.
Joss Whedon oversees the entire look of BTVS and, as Nochimson says, "exerts
the most influence on the... tone of a show." Nochimson maintains that Freud's
masculine `uncanny' concept is terror that seems familiar; the feminine
`uncanny' suggests that something horrible "lurks beneath the surface of the
familiar." Whedon uses the latter by basing much of his writing on his own
teenage years and the horrors of high school. The backdrop of high school corridors contrasting with the
violence of the demons intensifies the horror.
Sunnydale is situated over the Hell mouth, which spews forth demons with great
regularity, possibly indicative of Whedon's perception of those teen years.
Diane M. Meehan says that having more women writers has resulted in more
sensitive female portrayals, and yet Joss Whedon is most definitely a male - one
who has created a believable heroine that tangentially, as she slays vampires,
also deals with many women's issues Whedon showcases the worst of male
chauvinism in a scene from "Inca Mummy Girl".
Oz: "You're just impressed by any pretty girl that can walk and talk."
Devon: "She doesn't have to talk."
According to Nochimson, the cinematic male hero is `interrupted' when a female
appears on the scene and his role is to "put [an] end to her intrusion...."
[Interpretation: Solve her problem so that he can return to his guy activities].
Buffy rejects this feminine role of "object" and moves from the silence of the
(usually female) object to the (usually male) language of the subject. She thus
obliterates the original feminist belief that, because of the very gentleness that
allowed them to be victimized, women were superior to men. In BTVS, there is no
hero and therefore no oedipal association of mastery. Both Giles and Xander try
but fail, and Angel is too ephemeral and quixotic to qualify.
The current season shows us a more mature Buffy. She has been sobered by a
devastating love loss and her wardrobe (fewer early-Valley-slutgirl outfits) and
demeanour (testing well on her Sates) reflects this. As Buffy softens, Willow begins
to revel in her new-found skills as a computer genius, researcher and witch-in-
training, controlling events and taking charge when need be. Her character began
as an "everywoman" persona that metamorphosed into a Jewish liberal feminist
whose belief in her abilities is growing exponentially. This character growth
signifies a well-conceived creative concept and execution.
This critically-acclaimed, multi-layered series demonstrates that quality needn't
be sacrificed in order to put an intriguing idea before an audience and that a
heroine can carry a show if the part has sufficient depth.
Two additional slayers have been introduced on BTVS. Kendra, who arose when
Buffy was technically dead for a few seconds, and Faith, who was called forth
when Kendra was killed. Each claim certain feministic traits; Kendra was all
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