Welcome to my blog series Femivision where I combine two of my favourite subjects to write about: feminism and television. I will explore the feminist issues within popular tv shows and analyse how the characters, storylines and writers use or abuse feminist issues. This post will delve into the show that defined me as a person; Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Before I begin this post I feel it’s important to explain my absolute love and devotion to Buffy. There are many people who love Buffy and I am not claiming I am the biggest fan. I know there are people out there who love it as much or more than me. However I feel very few fans, even super fans, know this show as well as I do. This is not me bragging, my Buffy expertise are a mixture of several factors. Firstly, I started watching this show when I was only 9 years old. I still remember watching the first episode with my Gran when it aired on BBC2 at 6.45 on a Thursday evening and so started the obsession. That is 22 years of loving this show, which has allowed for several re-watches over the years. I also feel that watching it as a young tween into teenage years, such a developmental age in terms of learning, means I know it as well as some people know the books they read as a child. Secondly, my obsessiveness. Anyone who knows me knows that when I love something, I don’t just love it: I am obsessed. Buffy is probably the biggest obsession I have had within my life (I think my obsession with Haven Holidays may just be behind). My uncle kindly used to record the episodes off of sky 1 for me each week and I used to watch the new episode at least once everyday until the new episode was on. I predict I have watched episodes of season 3, 4 and 5 over 100 times at least. I learned every line of every episode, I knew every episode name and number, I had (or still have) so many tie in books and merchandise. I ate, slept and breathed Buffy. Finally, I have an exceptionally good long term memory; I still remember every episode name and number. A couple of years back I recited the episodes in reverse chronological order just to see if I could. I remember most of everything I read at the time and my compounded knowledge will always be with me. Not only do I know Buffy, I still love it as much as I did back as a 9 year old child.
I know that several people have issues with Joss Whedon and his interpretation of feminism. I wholeheartedly understand and agree with the criticisms raised. I am not going to disagree that I think the show is terrible with representation when it comes to ethnic diversity and also Joss’ obsession with making the women of the show suffer consequences for their sexual relations. Angel, Parker and Spike are all perfect examples of this, showing that Buffy was unable to be in a normal healthy relationship because she had “darkness” within her. While this is not necessarily the best message to send to young and often vulnerable women, it can be accurate for some women who have experienced trauma may find it difficult to obtain and maintain good relationships, both platonic and romantic. However, when it comes to his television work at least, very few can argue that Joss does not write strong, flawed, empowered, realistic women. Buffy broke the mould in that not only did it have one woman who embodied real women, the show was full of them.
I recently had a heated discussion about the rampant homophobia within the popular television sitcom Friends. The argument put forward by other fans is that the show was a product of its time and the casual homophobic and transphobic remarks should be taken as such. However, if you look at shows like Buffy, you can see this was not the case for all shows that aired in the late 90s/early 00s. Buffy had one of the first lesbian relationships on prime time television and it was not used as a ratings ploy, the relationship wasn’t glossed over or hidden away. It played out like any other heterosexual relationship on the show and showed that LGBT relationships are just the same as any other. They can be healthy, they can be toxic. My only gripe with how Buffy approached LGBT issues is that it would have been more effective if Willow had been written as bisexual as her relationship with Oz and her feelings for him were just as romantic as her feelings for Tara or Kennedy. When compared with other shows of the time, such as Friends or Gilmore Girls, both of which had very heavy homophobic humour in some scenes, LGBT issues were NEVER used as humour and gay characters were only ever respected and nurtured.
For me, the main reason that Buffy should be considered one of the greatest feminist shows of all time is the overall message of the show: how powerful women are despite all the shit that is thrown at them. In season 7, it is shown that the slayer line was created essentially through rape. A girl was tied down by men and violated with magics to create a warrior without her consent. Buffy, as a show and a character, continually fights against the patriarchal system. She resists the men who try to control her, whether it be her lovers, her father figure or the Watcher’s Council itself. Over the course of the show, she not only survives all the adversity thrown at her, she eventually thrives from it. She embraces her power. And at the end of the show, she chooses to share it. With every woman (or well, every potential slayer). What is more feminist than that?