Today’s post is by Angela Fowler.
I was at first reluctant to watch Buffy. It was a ridiculous show with an even more ridiculous title, and the concept of a petite blonde in cute clothes fighting vampires sounded a bit fetishy to me.
The first episode I watched was the Season Three opener. Buffy has run to LA after slaying her occasionally evil vampire boyfriend, where she works as a waitress at a diner. Haunted by nightmares and handsy male patrons, she’s rudely pulled out of her funk by a girl who has lost her boyfriend (compliments a demon using the homeless as a work force). Buffy eventually rescues the homeless and kills the demon.
Buffy is undisputedly the hero. Not only in strength, but because of her actions. The girl who asks for help, Lily, knows that Buffy can and will confront the “demons” (which often act as metaphors for real-world problems). The “demon” for this episode is identity and power.
The demon strips the homeless of their identities, forcing them to answer “no one” when asked who they are. Buffy responds, “Hi, I’m Buffy, the vampire slayer.” She refuses to be stripped of her identity, autonomy, and power.
Lily, on the other hand, completely lacks identity. Each time she changes boyfriends, she changes her name: Lily, Chaterelle with the vampire cult, Sister Sunshine with the traveling preacher… Buffy not only saves Lily from the demon, but gives tools for identity: her job and the name “Anne,” Buffy’s alias. We see Anne later in the spin-off Angel running a homeless shelter. Lily/Chanterelle/SisterSunshine has become Anne, emulating Buffy as a woman who exercises her power constructively.
The story of Buffy is the hero’s journey, yet it’s not “feminized.” She’s not weakened or domesticized, as we’ve seen for so many other female superheroes. While we might see a pair of leather pants, we won’t see the usual cut-out leotards.
Buffy is a character that anyone can relate to, not just women. She deals with parental issues, relationship issues, poor grades, fights with friends, not being ready for adulthood: it’s a coming of age story as well, and the show never tries to write the “female coming of age” as remarkably different from the male experience.
I was used to female characters being a decoration. Buffy isn’t exclusively determined by her relationships or her narrative role. While she certainly makes mistakes, her solution isn’t found in a man. Buffy resists and rewrites those comfortable narratives, and that was a relief to me as I grew more and more uncomfortable with those narratives.
The episode ends with Buffy hugging her mother. Buffy takes up not just the mantle of hero but the role of a human being. So many times the heroic journey ends alone, or with the female partner that seems more reward than relationship. The point of Buffy, then, becomes to explore what it means to be human, and I can’t think of anything more inspirational than that.
Angela is a doctoral student in Victorian literature at Auburn University. You can follow Angela on Twitter @angelcakes83