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'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' as Feminist Icon.

Updated on November 15, 2010



            For the influences of the TV programme ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, you only have to look at the current TV and Cinema Listings, New Moon, The Vampire Diaries etc, etc, etc. It would seem that most people, or geeks, who avidly watched the programme are now somewhere in their thirties and making their names as script and screen writers. I’m surprised that another element of the show has not created such an obvious legacy, that element being one of feminist supremacy.

            Of course the most obvious aspect of feminism is having the main character be a powerful female, the character could just as easily be male, but clearly Joss Whedon, the creator of the concept, wanted not just Buffy, but all Slayers to be female. This though is far from being the only feminist slant that runs through the show. Let’s start with Rupert Giles, he is ‘The Watcher,’ so by definition he is a voyeur who stands by whilst Buffy heroically fights the demons and saves the world. Any time he does get involved in the action, his incompetence is often highlighted by him being knocked unconscious, particularly in the earlier seasons of the show. Then there’s Xander, virtually the only main cast member who never develops any sort of mystical power or any great knowledge of the demon world. Again he valiantly joins in several fights, but more often than not the best he can do is be some sort of, cannon fodder like, distraction to help Buffy. Angelus and Spike are the two fiercest male Vampires in ‘Buffyverse.’ Both are metaphorically castrated in their own way. Angelus is cursed by gypsies, they give him his soul back, meaning he has to live with the mental torture and anguish provided by memories of all the people he’s brutally killed and tortured, living out this brooding existence as ‘Angel’. He also has to live with the knowledge that one moment of true happiness will remove his soul and return him back to his evil ways. Spike’s impotence is brought about when he is captured by a military initiative that put a micro-chip in his head, which makes him unable to attack humans. The chip allows him to attack other demons and that in turn provides another sociological point, that being if you are only physically capable of fighting on the side of good, will that gradually make you less evil? Then there is Oz who becomes a Werewolf, ultimately he leaves the show when it becomes clear that he can’t control the ‘monster within’. A metaphor for the weakness of certain types of guys?

            Other than Buffy there are several other female characters that are particularly powerful. Of course there is Faith, the other Slayer, who at times is good, other times evil, but always has the same skills and powers as Buffy. Willow starts out as a classic high school nerd, but develops into ‘the most powerful wicker in the western hemisphere’, even good old Willow takes her turn at being evil and is powerful enough to bring about the end of the world. Cordelia doesn’t have any magic powers, but she is always in control of any male she is talking to, purely by oozing extreme confidence, being quick and brutal with the put downs and reaching levels of extreme bitchiness. Anya is probably the most blatant feminist character of them all, being that she has spent a thousand years as a vengeance demon, only ever using her powers to seek out revenge on men who have wronged a woman in some way. She briefly gets her powers back, and in the final season it comes as no surprise that when it comes down to a fight between Anya and Buffy, lo and behold Anya is more than capable of holding her own. The two baddest female Vampires are Darla and Drusilla, who ‘back in the day’ would hang out with Angelus and Spike and join them on their path of destruction. Drusilla never has her powers reduced in anyway, indeed I’ve heard that the plan for the second series was for Spike to die after a few episodes and Drusilla to become the main villain, this plan was only shelved because the audience response to Spike’s character was so favourable, if this is true then it is another sign of the desire to promote girl power. Darla’s character makes most of her impact in the spin off show ‘Angel’. Although she has the misfortune to die twice (the second of which being at her own hands so that her unborn baby can live – that’s a whole other article!), there is no doubt that Darla is not only portrayed as a powerful character, but one who is capable of out thinking Spike and even Angelus, whilst the boys react on aggressive instincts, Darla uses her intelligence to stay out of trouble. Also eventually she even manages to make Angel react like a ‘typical guy’ when he is unable to resist her feminine charms, he takes her to bed for one passionate night, risking losing his soul, looking at her it’s difficult to blame him too much – definitely a case of ‘if you’re going to do something wrong, then do it right’.

            Each series of Buffy follows the pattern of there being one ‘Big Bad’, a main villain who is intent on the destruction of the planet or something similar. Each one for a while looks unbeatable, but somehow Buffy always finds a way to beat them. After four series of a male ‘Big Bad’, we are introduced to ‘Glory’, the first time the main villain is a female. After male vampires, a town Mayor who turns himself into a demon and a man-made hybrid of human and several other demons, not surprisingly Glory raises the bar by being a God. In series one Buffy kills the Master in a straight fight, then wins her duel to the death with Angelus in series two, series three sees the Demon and blown to smithereens along with the high school, Buffy needs a little help from her friends to beat Adam in the final fight of series four. Enter Glory, a foe that not only can Buffy not beat in a straight fight, she can’t even come close, only with a little mystical help and a Troll’s hammer can Buffy do any damage at all. The only way Buffy can stop the end of the world in this series is for her to sacrifice her own life.

            Please feel free to point out anything I’m missing, but nearly fifteen years after Buffy first hit the screens, there doesn’t seem to be the outpouring of truly strong female characters and any shows of such obvious feminine dominance. Is there still a lack of female writers out there? Or are TV and film studio executives still holding firm in the belief that audiences only want to see strong male characters and females should be little more than sidekicks and love interests? Every year the Oscars highlights the lack of great roles for actresses, when picking five nominees for the best actress there is nothing like the same abundance of roles to choose from that there is for the best actor award.

            No doubt Buffy’s legacy will live on, but will it merely be the legacy of tales of demon fighting being ‘cool’, rather than the legacy of empowering females?


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Buffy will always be my favorite show of all time, and Serenity was awesome!

    • Elefanza profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain

      I would have to agree that television has not presented strong femaile characters as seen in Buffy and even Firefly, another Whedon show. Although Charmed imitates Buffy somewhat in the vein of presenting main characters with girl power, think it failed to present main characters as strong or fully dimensional as the ones in Buffy. I could go on about the flaws of Charmed, but I won't. In any case,I heard Whedon say in an interview on amazon that many shows (like Charmed) tried presenting strong female characters, but they only saw it as a fad before reverting back to the norm.

      If I had to guess why, I would say site Susan B. Cooper's explanation of why she write main characters that are boys. Apparently, girls have an easier time getting into guy characters whereas guys often don't get into books about girls. As for why girl characters aren't presented in a way that is strong, I think the problem is that "strong women" is still equated with the burning bras, man-hating, butch associations. Dark Angel, a t.v. show, has some strong females, but does so by making all the male characters utterly weak, pathetic and one-dimensional.

      Good post. I still enjoy Buffy and wish Firefly hadn't been cancelled.


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