After years of hearing from some of my favourite people (my brother, Sofiya, Samarra) about how wonderful Buffy the Vampire Slayer is, I have finally gotten around to watching it. I've just finished the first season. Back when Buffy came out, I recall thinking it was a guy thing. A scantily clad, good-looking young woman runs around fighting vampires? No surprise my brothers watch it! But since, I've been hearing rumours that it's feminist.
I really like Buffy. The dialogue is great, the characters funny. My favourite two episodes in the first season both had a lot to do with highschool - the mean kids turning into a pack of hyenas and the unpopular kid becoming invisible. It certainly has some interesting and spot-on things to say about the nature of highschool.
However, I am not so sure of its feminist credentials. So, on the surface, we've got this tough woman kicking ass and taking names. Which is great. Strong female character. She walks about after dark, secure in her ability to defend herself. But...
-There's the clothing. Compare Buffy to Willow. Then compare how "hot" they are meant to be.
-Older man teaches, younger woman learns. Giles provides the brains of the operation, Buffy the body. A female reduced to her body is nothing new in narrative.
-Then there is the fact that she has to sacrifice her own wants/life/goals to save others. She was born to do that. Sound anything like the construction of the idea that women were born to have babies and sacrifice themselves for their families?
-In "The Pack", Zander (who has always had a crush on Buffy) while possessed by the hyena spirits attempts to rape Buffy. Then, he pretends to have forgotten the whole incident-there's no remorse, no apologies. The response to attempted rape on his part? Embarrassment. Giles realises that Zander attacked Buffy and knows that Zander remembers it, but he too is happy to ignore the whole thing, pretend it didn't happen. Just as so often in real life sexual assaults are covered up, ignored, excused.
-In "The Puppet Show" the principal is very, very disturbing. Now, one of the funniest comments on the show so far came from him in this episode ("Kids are human beings. It's fuzzy-minded liberal thinking like that that gets you eaten.") However, when Buffy is behind stage, searching for the kid with the dummy, he finds her and warns her off. He tells her the school isn't safe for a girl on her own. He's creepy and he's basically just used rape as a threat. I mean, that's what it means when people tell women it's not safe to go somewhere, to be somewhere. That threat of rape controls women's activities. I thought the episode would lead up to him being the demon, thus he'd be punished. However, he wasn't. He's just a really creepy man who uses the threat of rape to cement his authority over his female student.
-"Prophecy Girl" I've not worked out the implications of the symbols in this one yet in my mind, but there is some interesting stuff. First, there's the white dress. She goes to meet her fate looking a bit like a bride, like a virgin. Over top, she wears the black jacket given to her by Angel, a creature of the night. Then, she seems to have taken some additional strength from the Master, a male, through his killing her. Granted, this taking strength from your enemy is a regular theme (think Harry Potter and Voldemort), but it's just interesting that the slayer (Always female? Seems to be the implication) isn't born with sufficient power of her own, and seems to need to get more through a strong male character.
I'm sure this has all been written about and analyzed by people far more qualified than myself. And I'm sure the show continues to develop and grow-I've got quite a few more series to go through. I just found it interesting that I was expecting a feminist show and I don't really see that, aside from in a sort of surface way.