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.