“She saved the world. A lot.” International Women’s Day and Buffy Summers

Yesterday I read ‘Friend X has listed celebrity X, Y & Z as their influential people’ in my Facebook news feed. This, combined with International Women’s Day made me think about influential women being discussed lately, and who I’d consider mine.

To start with I’d have to throw in a couple of my favourite authors: Scarlett Thomas and Nicole Krauss, for their ability to write pure written genius, followed by Gioconda Belli. Belli is another writer (whose book I’ve reviewed for this blog previously) but also a Nicaraguan political activist with a host of incredible achievements, including coding dangerous messages across public radio to organise the guerrilla movement while taking care of her children at the same time.

The woman I’d really like to focus this post on, however, is a fictional one, but all the same someone who has defined girl power and gender equality across the masses and influenced limitless numbers of people, be it in being a woman, a carer, friend or demon-staking superhero. Yes, I’m talking about Buffy Summers, product of Joss Whedon and Vampire Slayer.

To quote the show, Buffy was someone who ‘Saved the world. A lot.’, but as well as doing that, she challenged gender stereotypes in popular culture entertainment and showed critics the cute, blonde girl who attended high school wasn’t always destined to be the one running away from danger, screaming helplessly until she tripped and fell to the mercy of her predators. Buffy reversed the role and showed audiences what female empowerment was about. Okay, so we can’t all suddenly start patrolling the streets at night with wooden stakes claiming to be above the physical powers of any danger we encounter, but the subliminal messages are there.

Female empowerment was a huge subject on the show: The God, Glory in season 5 showed even the highest powers could be female, followed by a second female Big Bad in season 6, the previously unsuspecting Willow, who then went on to become one of the world’s most powerful witches and achieve God-status herself in the final episode. Anya, the demon-turned-Scooby was another, which takes us nicely to Xander, who she gave up her powers to be with (in a not so girl power way).

Xander, though being the male of the group, used his own character to emphasise the allowance of role reversal, through his attraction to powerful women. As mentioned above, Anya previously was a man-eating vengeance demon, only following Faith, Buffy’s second half of her Slayer team, one of the most powerful women in the world who exercised her ability to dominate men on a regular basis, human or demon, and in more ways than one.

However, critics of International Women’s Day, and feminism in general will argue about the lack of International Men’s Day, and if they’ve ever seen Buffy, probably about the weakness of the male sex here too. Not only was Xander an example of this, but many of the victims Buffy saves also happen to be male. The final episode of season 5, ‘The Gift’, displays this in it’s opening scenes:

Buffy has just staked a vampire who had, until then, been pursuing a helpless male.

Boy: “How’d you do that?”

Buffy: “It’s what I do”

Boy: “But you’re just a girl”

Buffy: “That’s what I keep saying”

Girls can rescue men from deathly situations, fight and stake vampires in front of their surprised eyes, and still get the reaction, “but you’re just a girl”. This is why International Women’s Day is important, and why shows like BtVS are vital in challenging the norms of popular culture.

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5 thoughts on ““She saved the world. A lot.” International Women’s Day and Buffy Summers

  1. I totally think like you do. Buffy has been my role model for I don’t know how many years (not in the patrolling the streets and graveyards at night in a stake way but you know) and I think she really is a great example of women kicking ass! I also love Joss Whedon because he’s a man, and he made a main girl character (Buffy) and made HER the super person. Not a super man 🙂 So I totally agree with this. (Also, about the reversal with Xander always being the one in danger is totally right. He gets saved by Buffy on a daily basis!)

  2. Buffy totally empowers the female heroine character. In many traditional ways, initially, as she does accept the mantle of slayer reluctantly and the first season references to her absent tee father set the stage to establish her as any other girl gone hero character. However, its her humanity throughout the series, her everyday fights that she must face along with the more supernatural sorts that really establish her as a relatable character and one we can all connect to. The final season of the show really challenged those gender roles as Buffy’s choices become harder and her leadership role more defined. Giles (in his role as a father figure as well as the guide/dumbledore figure) challenges Buffy’s decision making regarding keeping Spike in the loop and in the group. Buffy graduates, finally, once and for all, from her tutorship to Giles when she defies his better judgment and reaffirms her alliance with our favorite sexy British vamp. Season 7 references to Buffy as the General in their army affirm the power of the woman to do anything. If ever a position were gendered it would be that of the wartime general. They dub her that without hesitation and even in the momentary mutiny it is never her gender that is questioned. Her unsuccessful successor is Faith, another powerful woman. Of course, they couldn’t entirely remove the stock trades of the female character, she has to have love interests, and they have to be complicated doomed relationships, but hey, anything that gets James’ shirt off is good with me!

  3. Hi Faith,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you have the same enthusiasm as I do and appreciate the decisions Whedon makes surrounding his characters. Despite the show ending several years ago now I still believe it stands out as one of the most definite brands of feminism and will continue to do so for a long time. Awesome name, by the way!

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