Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Alas, Buffy

Before the final Buffy airs (well, "before" for us west coasters -- and we're the ones that count, right? :-p ), I wanted to post this commentary comparing the criticisms of Buffy to criticisms of women. I first read it over on the Empowering Women discussion board, but the original appeared on a Buffy board (I'm not sure which one).

Criticisms of Buffy/Criticisms of Women

by Miranda aka Catte

I've been noticing that a lot of the things that have been most criticisized about Buffy can be extrapolated to areas that society, and especially patriarchy, criticisizes about women as a whole.

Buffy is seen as controlling, bitchy, bossy, etc. while Spike's strength is enjoyed if not reveled in. I don't know of anyone who was unhappy when he reclaimed his duster...even if we all wondered how the heck it got in the basement.

The consensus is that it's ok for women to be strong as long as they have the proper attitude about it. If that doesn't happen, the strength doesn't count. Men, otoh, who are nurturing/caring, are seen as weak. Most prefer Angelus to Angel and would rather Spike was strong than vulnerable.

This carries over into the area of sexual aggression. Buffy is seen as too pushy, sexually, but while everyone raves over the kitchen door scene in Gone, what was that if not aggression from Spike? Everyone liked that he reclaimed his manhood and stood up to Buffy, the 'bad' woman and put her in her place.

The response that we're turned off because Buffy doesn't have the correct feelings for Spike doesn't really hold water because quite a few people enjoyed his picking up that college girl in Sleeper. I'd also argue that there were a boatload of wrong feelings in the DT balcony scene, but almost everyone except me, really, really liked it. Bottom line, sexual aggression is ok in men, not women.

I see a lot of criticism over Buffy's neglect of Dawn last year. This extrapolates to criticism of women we hear about who have children and who work full time. They are seen as bad mothers, even if the work is necessary to put food on the table. God help them if they just WANT to work. They're obviously evil. If something happens to the children, even if it's something done to them by someone else -- babysitter, day care worker, etc. -- the mother is blamed for not being there.

I didn't see the same criticism of Angel for working and Connor was an infant as opposed to Dawn's teenager. Connor is left with Lorne and sent off with Wesley as Dawn was left under Willow's supervision. Everyone was horrified when Buffy wanted Giles to talk to Dawn, but nobody worried about it when Cordelia was able to semi-calm Connor. Of course, by doing that, Cordelia stepped into her proper role of mother and nurturer instead of stepping out as Buffy did.

Faith and Lilah also don't fill their proper roles, but they get around that because they fill the stereotype of the 'bad' girl. She's the sexy one who breaks the taboos, the one you don't take home to mother. No one EXPECTS her to look after the children.

Still, Faith gets around all that by having a bad childhood. Bad things happened to her and made her a bad person. She's only waiting to be saved by the right man. And she is. Angel sweeps her on to his white horse and sets her soul on the road to redemption. There is the general idea that Faith will step into her proper role any time now. This also happens with Gwen and Kate on AtS.

Lilah on the other hand, refuses to be saved. She walked into her situation eyes wide open, enjoys every minute of it, and takes the consequences without whining. Wes, despite his best efforts, doesn't change her. Wes, and and the rest of us, kept thinking there had to be some kind of reason for Lilah to have made the choices she did, but if there is, we aren't privy to it.

No one really saves Buffy either. There's the occasional punch or strength-giving mind-meld, but in the end, she rescues herself. She makes the decision to choose the world of Sunnydale over the world of the clinic. She hauls herself out of her own grave -- twice. She faces Caleb.

Of course, Buffy tries to make up for saving herself by feeling guilty about not fulfilling her proper role. She worries that there's something wrong with her because she doesn't connect. All the good she does, all the lives she's saved don't count, because she doesn't have the right kind of feelings. She tries to blame it on being the Slayer, but she'd be much happier if she faced that maybe she's just not that kind of person and that it's ok.

BtVS was always supposed to be about breaking stereotypes. The fragile blond girl, normally the victim, is the hero. It seems some stereotypes are harder to break than others, and those who break them aren't as easily forgiven.

Not only does Buffy get to be blamed for her own character flaws - aggression and being a loner, although those traits seem to be ok when it's Angel who has them - she gets the blame for everyone else's actions as well.

Riley cheats because Buffy is a bad girlfriend. They used every cliche in the book with this one except 'she doesn't understand me,' and I kept waiting for it.

Spike initially develops an obsessive crush because Buffy 'led him on'. Their later relationship problems are all her fault, although Spike is free to leave at any time, and Buffy never lies about what they are doing. It culminates in the rape attempt, which is also made to be her fault. Here, the only line left out on the show was 'the bitch asked for it,' and it's a line I heard on some boards.

She's also faulted for Willow and Dawn's problems, although Willow, at least, is an adult, and there were other people on the scene at the time.

The main problem with all this is that Buffy accepts it as her due. She feels that what happened to Riley, Spike, Willow, and Dawn, is indeed her fault. Her guilt over wishing herself free of a burden or two sends her into catatonia not once, but twice.

Xander reaches a point where he refuses to take any more blame for Anya's actions. It would be nice if Buffy could do the same. I'd like to ship Lilah over to Sunnydale to run a few conscious-ness raising sessions.

Thank you to Catte for writing this brilliant analysis of women's role in society and how that is portrayed in Buffy (and thanks for letting me post it here).

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