Why I don’t like Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I know my opinion is pretty unpopular, but I can’t stand Buffy. The show was on tv when I was in high school, and I tried watching it. I saw part of one episode and thought it was stupid. In college, my roommate loved it. I tried watching one episode with her. Again, it was stupid. But what I can’t stand about the show, or maybe just about her fans, is the notion that the show is feminist.

Fan art by Eireen on DeviantART. Having a big weapon does not make you a feminist.

 

No. Just because a woman is the main character does not make the show feminist. Just because the woman is tough does not make the show feminist.

As I understand it, feminism is about equality. It is also about meaningful choice. Meaningful choice is making a decision between two or more choices which are mostly equally desirable. It’s choosing between frozen yogurt or ice cream. The froyo might be better for you, but the ice cream might taste better. It’s not a choice between one option that sucks and another that is great. There is a brand of feminism called choice feminism that says, in a nut shell, that any choice a woman makes is a feminist choice because it’s being made by a woman.For example: if a woman chooses to go into prostitution, it’s her choice and therefore, prostitution is feminist. I disagree, because we need to know why that woman made that choice. Did she make that choice because she was bullied into it by her husband or pimp? If so, then it is not meaningful choice and therefore not feminist. Did she make that choice because she didn’t have any skills and the job market was bad and this was the quickest way to pay her rent? If so, then again, not meaningful choice. Did she make this choice because the money was good and it can be done safely and legally and it gives her the money and free time to pursue her other goals (if any) and give her autonomy otherwise? Then this might be meaningful choice.

Buffy does not make meaningful choices. Being “the chosen one” (a concept that I hate generally), Buffy had to kill vampires and demons and things that go bump in the night. She didn’t have a choice. She can be tough and look pretty or traditionally feminine when she performs her only purpose, but because she is locked into this role (even when she tried to escape she found herself killing demons and then sucked back to Suckydale) there is no choice and it cannot be a feminist story.

Additionally, she has a stuffy middle aged father-type figure telling her what to do. IIRC, she rarely can make a move without him, and when she does, things go all to hell. And when he does leave, she wants/needs him back. I know that a slim minority of the watchers are women, but just having a vagina doesn’t make you a feminist. Look at Phyllis Schlafly. This concept of a watcher seems to make the point that even (or especially) strong, tough women need a handler and can’t be trusted to make decisions for themselves. When Faith was watcher-less, she went bad. When Willow became powerful, she then needed Giles’s protection or help. Anya was also powerful, and I don’t recall her exactly having something like a watcher. A boss maybe, but that’s not the same thing. Besides, Anya was evil.

And had bad skin.

She only became good after she lost her powers.

 

 

 

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About emmawolf

I'm a freelance writer living in Baltimore with my husband, son, and two cats. I'm working on editing my first novel. I love reading, traveling, and the cello.
This entry was posted in Feminist issues, television and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Why I don’t like Buffy the Vampire Slayer

  1. Interesting point about making meaningful choices. You’ve eloquently put into words something I’ve been struggling with in regards to women and the “choices” they make. I work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. I think that the points you’ve made above directly correlate. Many of my clients are condemned for staying as if it were a choice. No one wakes up and says I want to be sexually assaulted or be beat by my husband when I grow up.

    • emmawolf says:

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’m so in awe of people who work with DV survivors. You do great work. It is so complex and I know I know so little about it. But it’s something that I care about and want to know more about.

  2. Justin says:

    I realize that your post is almost a year old, but I just now came across it, and it made me have a lot of thoughts that I wanted to share with you.

    You’re right: Buffy has strength and power but she has no choice in how she uses it. She is chained by her duty to humanity—actually her duty to the male Watchers, who hold unjust authority over her. This is exactly the situation of women in real life. Women are strong, but the male-dominated society oppresses them. Thus, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a powerful feminist allegory. The show explores how Buffy responds to her fundamental lack of choice, how she fights against it, and how she tries to break free of it. You certainly wouldn’t know that from what little you’ve watched.

    Additionally, there are times when Buffy’s status of Chosen One forces her to make tough choices. They are not meaningful choices: they were motivated by the unwarranted pressure of her Slayerdom. But these choices are never shown as free choices. Buffy, her friends, and her viewers all know that she doesn’t deserve to have to make these choices. Just like women today are forced into choices that they don’t want. Buffy’s story is feminist precisely because it shows her struggle against her oppression, and that is a major part of feminism: exposing the oppression of women and the struggle of women against it.

    I’m not saying you have to like Buffy. If chosen-one stories just aren’t your thing, then that’s totally fine by me. I just wanted to point out why I think you are wrong to claim that the show isn’t feminist, and how the evidence for your claim is actually evidence for the opposite claim.

    Here are some key episodes that illustrate these points, in case you want to see for yourself:

    S1 E12, “Prophecy Girl”: Buffy found out that, due to a prophecy, she will fight the Master (this season’s villain) and die. She initially refuses to fight the Master: “I’m sixteen years old. I don’t wanna die.” However, Buffy is the only one who can save the world from the Master; when she is confronted with this harsh reality, she realizes she has no choice: she must fight and die. In this episode, nobody thinks it’s a GOOD thing that she has to do this. In fact, Giles was devastated when he first found out about the prophecy. This episode shows just how unfair it is that the world has placed this burden on Buffy.

    S2 E1, “When She Was Bad”: Buffy suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from her battle with the Master in “Prophecy Girl”. She didn’t return proud and heroic from her epic battle—she returned badly scarred.

    S3 E12, “Helpless”: The Watchers’ Council puts Buffy through the traditional eighteenth-birthday hazing ritual, wherein Buffy’s powers are temporarily taken away and a demon foe is presented for her to defeat without the aid of her Slayer strength. Giles reluctantly administers the power-depleting drug to Buffy, because he would be fired otherwise. When Buffy loses her powers, she feels utterly humiliated and confused: “if I’m not the slayer, what do I do? What do I have to offer? Why would you like me?” Then when she finds out what is going on, she is absolutely furious, and she severs her ties with the Watchers’ Council. This is the first time we see the Watchers’ Council as a monolithic adversary to Buffy—a symbol of the patriarchy, in the Buffy allegory. It’s also the first time we see Buffy start to fight back against the oppression of Slayerdom.

    S4 E11, “Doomed”: Buffy says something that encapsulates the attitude that I’ve been talking about:

    “This is a job to you. . . . It’s an adventure, great. But for me, it’s destiny. It is something that I can’t change, something that I can’t escape. I’m stuck!”

    See? Buffy knows she isn’t making a meaningful choice. The constant hard “choices” of Slayerdom are a source of anguish for her.

    S4 E22, “Restless”: This is a fascinating and deep episode, but I will say only this: Buffy dreams about the isolation and loneliness of being the only chosen one. At the end of the dream, she realizes she doesn’t have to be alone: she has friends that can help support her, to somewhat share her burden. This is her big advantage over all the previous Slayers. This conclusion is another example of rising up against oppression, but it is more of a cerebral or spiritual uprising than in “Helpless”.

    S5 E12, “Checkpoint”: The Watchers’ Council returns, putting Buffy and the gang through a thorough inspection. At the end of the episode, after the Council tries repeatedly to take away Buffy’s dignity and autonomy, Buffy reprimands them and calls them on their bullshit:

    “You guys didn’t come all the way from England to determine whether or not I was good enough to be let back in. You came to beg me to let you back in. To give your jobs, your lives some semblance of meaning. . . . You’re Watchers. Without a Slayer, you’re pretty much just watchin’ Masterpiece Theater. . . . So here’s how it’s gonna work. You’re gonna tell me everything you know. Then you’re gonna go away. . . .”

    And they do! This is a real win for Buffy against the patriarchy, although the Slayer power is still on her shoulders, a curse more than a blessing.

    S5 E22, “The Gift”: The hardest choice Buffy will ever have to make: she sacrifices herself to save humanity, giving herself as a gift. This is also one of her least meaningful choices, because none of this would have happened if she had never been given the burden of being the Slayer.

    S7 E15, “Get It Done”: Buffy and friends finally find out the origin of the Slayer: Men, afraid of the evil in the world, bestowed power on a girl and forced her to fight demons. This story, along with Buffy’s reaction to it, lends concreteness to the ever-present metaphor of Slayer-as-oppressed-woman.

    S7 E21, “Chosen”: Buffy finally breaks free of her bondage. I’ll let her tell it:

    “In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. [We are] more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule.”

    • emmawolf says:

      “You certainly wouldn’t know that from what little you’ve watched.”

      Um….I suffered through almost the entire series. But thanks for being belittling and mansplaining Buffy and feminism. Now that you’ve shown me what feminism really is and what Buffy was trying to say (the message I must have missed because I have a vagina and am clearly too stupid to understand) I see your point. But thanks for giving me your permission to still not like Buffy anyway.

      • Justin says:

        In the first paragraph of your original post, it looks like you said you watched one episode and a part of another episode. That’s why I thought you hadn’t seen much of the series. I assumed (without realizing it) that you didn’t watch more than those two episodes—after all, if you thought they were stupid, it’s likely you didn’t watch any further. Regardless, my assumption was wrong, and I’m sorry about that.

        I also realize that I should clarify what I meant by “I’m not saying you have to like Buffy.” I wasn’t meaning to tell you what you can or can’t do; rather, I was meaning to communicate the purpose of my argument. I guess it would have been better to say “I’m not trying to convince you to like Buffy.” I’m sorry about the misunderstanding, and I’m sorry that I sounded condescending when I said that.

        Most importantly, I am sorry about being belittling and mansplaining. My gut reaction when you called me on it was to defend myself and my words, but I realize that I really should have the decency to admit that I was wrong. After all, it’s not for me to decide whether my behavior is oppressive. I don’t want to make excuses for my post, but I do want to try to tell you why I felt the need to write it.

        I am actually a feminist. Feminism is an important thing for the world and an important part of my beliefs. And Buffy was a big part of my conversion to feminism. When I first watched Buffy (in college), I wasn’t smart enough to see the connection to feminism on my own. But after I watched the series, I read a lot about it. I read some interviews with Joss Whedon where he describes the feminist message he tried to convey in the story of Buffy. I also read Wikipedia articles on a lot of episodes. And I talked to my friends, read websites, and so on. Buffy, along with a few other things that happened in my life, led me to become a feminist. So, when I came across your post that said that Buffy is actually anti-feminist, it was jarring to me.

        Your interpretation and mine intersect in a weird way: we both use the same evidence from Buffy, but we draw opposite conclusions. That was also why your post was jarring to me, and as a result I decided to write my comment. It didn’t cross my mind that I shouldn’t be telling a woman what’s feminist and what’s not, but it should have. In truth, I didn’t read your blog carefully enough to notice that your name was “Emma”; without this bit of information, I made a conscious effort not to assume anything about your gender.

        Anyway, I’m sorry I caused you trouble, and I’m sorry that I was belittling and mansplaining and sexist, and if you got to the end of this comment then I’m sorry that you had to keep reading words I wrote.

        • emmawolf says:

          Hey, I was in the middle of writing a less bitchy, more responsive to what you actually wrote than the way I took it comment when I received this (because I think you deserved that. You obviously put a lot of thought into your comment, even if I took a particular message that wasn’t intended). Thanks for apologizing. That is really big of you and probably not necessary. And I’m sorry for being bitchy. I shouldn’t fly off the handle at people who are responding to my blog.

          Upon rereading my post, I realize how one could assume that I only saw part of two episodes. I would be annoyed at someone who made an opinion on only part of two episodes of anything. I actually watched most of it with my husband, who became obsessed with the show (I think just to make me angry). So while I didn’t see every episode, I saw more than two (and actually like a couple of them). But I still clearly know less about the show than you.

          Regarding feminism: I think that a core or the core of feminism is equality. I don’t think you can have equality with a show that makes one person better just because. Even if that person is a woman. So maybe that taints my whole perception of the show. (It’s not just Buffy. I was really sad when Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Once Upon a Time did this.)

          Buffy and the watchers may be an allegory for patriarchy, but accepting that, this show seemed to me still to be about working within this watcher business, even if not always playing along nicely. This is coming out wrong because I’m rushing a response because I don’t want you to think I’m a complete bitch and I have to go in a few minutes. And I’ll watch the episode you suggested Checkpoint tonight. (My husband will wonder what’s wrong with me, but be delighted.)

          • Justin says:

            I’m glad you are not upset anymore, and I certainly don’t think you’re a bitch, and I am glad you’re going to watch Checkpoint!

            Coincidentally, I was thinking earlier today about the fact that Buffy is “a show that makes one person better just because”. My girlfriend was saying that she couldn’t really relate to the character of Buffy, since Buffy is so strong and above everyone else. Actually, I think that Buffy’s position as basically a superhero makes her feel isolated and alone, because nobody else can understand the troubles she’s going through.

            But then again, everybody feels that way. Everybody has troubles, and everybody feels alone, and everybody says “Nobody understands what I’m going through”. However, just like Buffy, we all have people who can help support us and make our lives a little easier, even if they’ve never had our experiences. So, in a way, Buffy is everybody.

            I just reread the preceding paragraph, and it looks kind of silly, because obviously we don’t all have super strength and the uncanny ability to locate a vampire’s heart.

  3. Mahnoor says:

    I cannot disagree with you more. Just like Justin, I was inclined to think that you had watched only the first two or three seasons at most. However I’m quite surprised that you have watched the whole series and you actually think that Buffy relies on Giles that much? She relied on him alot but evetually she became her own person. Watch “Lies my Parents told me” from S7.

    The thing that I love about BtVS so much is that it is not a “preachy” show. There aren’t long speeches about good and evil and bla bla. It is a show about characters. It is driven by characters. Alot of people don’t like Buffy herself but there are so many others. Spike? Willow? Dawn? Anya? Xander? Tara? Usually people can relate to one of them.

    BtVS was also groundbreaking because of the way it depicted Willow-Tara dynamic. Before BtVS homosexual relationships were used for sensual appeal on television. Joss depicted Willow-Tara in the most lovelies way. Just as two normal people in a normal loving relationship.

    BtVS stood out because of how it dealt with issues. With people. With characters. The growth in the characters over a span of 7 seasons is termendous. Spike and Willow are the most prime examples of that. This is not something that alot of popular shows can claim even today.

    I don’t know whether you’re aware or not but Buffy Speech became a source of study. People actually wrote their Master’s Thesis on the language of BtVS. Some of the lines from BtVS have gone on to become iconic. “I do doodle, you do doodle too” from Gingerbread is an example.

    I understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion but sadly you haven’t supported your opinion with enough valid arguments.
    BtVS was an iconic show and Joss Whedon is genius. Peace.

    • emmawolf says:

      My original comment may have gotten eaten….

      Anyway, thank you for sharing your opinion. I don’t think I need to support my personal opinion with “valid arguments.” But if you claim something like “Joss Whedon is genius,” or “BtVS was an iconic show,” then I think, as this is trying to be something factual, you do need “valid arguments.” I don’t think the show is iconic. I’ve never heard “I do doodle, you do doodle too,” or any other Buffy quote, outside of the context of the show, so I have a hard time understanding how you think its dialog is “iconic.”

      In terms of homosexual relationships on television, I’m not 100% sure what you mean by “Before BtVS homosexual relationships were used for sensual appeal on television.” Yes, the T/W relationship was portrayed “as two normal people in a normal loving relationship,” but I’m not sure how groundbreaking that was. Before that (or at least contemporaneous with), I can think of Friends, Rosanne, and Ellen that all had gay characters that weren’t just for sensual appeal. (In Friends, however, it was not a main character.) I think it’s much more groundbreaking for the named lead of a show, who is homosexual herself, to come out on her show. Especially when the show is geared to an audience that is older (and likely more hesitant to accept homosexuality).

      The above is not to say I don’t appreciate Buffy’s role in normalizing homosexual relationships. Or its efforts at being a feminist show. Just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I think it’s worthless. I’m glad other people are enjoying it, but I struggle to understand what one will do with a degree in Buffyology 🙂

  4. imagocorvi says:

    I know this post is now four years old, but I want to thank you for writing it. I have now suffered through 2 seasons of Buffy. I kind of felt backed into a corner because people kept telling me how great it was. But I am also a philosopher and I take seriously the injunction to “know thine enemy” so I will likely watch it to the end (its on in the background while I do other work)… Even though the idea that you should have to sit through up to 3 seasons of cliched writing and stock characters before I come to the “good stuff” is ludicrous…

    Of course people love it! They love it because it doesn’t really challenge anything. It puts a slightly new spin – but careful analysis would show that the subtext is the same old story. The “chosen one” myth is essentially a patriarchal myth. Putting a women at the centre of it doesn’t make it any less patriarchal. A show that actually challenged patriarchal notions would not be popular…

    I sometimes wonder what world people live in that they think this is “feminist’. The idea that the only way to be strong is by kicking people in the face and stabbing them to the heart is so trivial! Its like saying that Margaret Thatcher stuck a blow for feminism because she beat men at their own game! And the hot but dangerous babe is an entirely overdone and certainly non-feminist trope. The stock high-school characters (the nerd, the clutz, the guy who plays guitar in the band) don’t bear any resemblance at all to the real people I knew in my high-school.

    I was particularly shocked by the episode where Buffy’s first sexual encounter turned her beloved evil. What kind of a message is THAT supposed to send to young girls? The same old cliche that is at the centre of all classic horror movies.

    And though I have been going to a Feminist Science-Fiction and Fantasy Convention (WisCon) every year for 10 years – I have never yet met a Buffyologist (-:

    • emmawolf says:

      Hi. Thanks for writing. I’m glad to know I’m not alone concerning my thoughts on Buffy.

      I’m curious to know how the chosen one myth is essentially a patriarchal myth. Can you elaborate? I’ve mentioned here that I hate it when stories do this, and I’d like to have more arguments to back this up other than that I think it’s lazy writing.

      I think people think the show is feminist because it does seem a lot more feminist than other shows of its time or earlier. Do you think the show deserves credit for trying and that it’s unfair to criticize it for not being perfect?

      • imagocorvi says:

        Thanks for replying – I got no notification of your reply, so I didn’t find it until now!

        The chosen one myth (for me, I am no feminist scholar) is patriarchal because it reinforces the idea of hierarchy, which is essentially a patriarchal notion. As I say above – putting a woman at the apex of a hierarchy doesn’t mean it’s feminist – it just means that another woman has gone over to the dark side! A feminist world is a world of equality, of anarchy (like Annares in Ursula LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed”) where people learn to share and take responsibility for themselves. Where decisions are made through concensus at a grass roots level. I have not found my own ideas expressed so well as they are in this book (Dispossessed) If you haven’t read it – I recommend it highly. The anarchist utopia she imagines is not perfect – its one of the things I like most about it – but it tends toward equality in a way that a hierarchy never can.

        It interests me how seduced people STILL are by the ideas like “rightful” leaders (Arthurian type stories), important “bloodlines” (see Dan Brown) and general ideas of elitism. They advantage SO few…

        BTW – I never finished Buffy. 2 seasons was MORE than enough for me… (-;

  5. CM says:

    I respectfully disagree with you. When I was a kid, I used to watch this show and loved just primarily for the action. Watching it again, I didn’t expect to find a new love for it but I did. I think it’s because some of flaws of the show are flaws in real life. One point I want chime in on is the watcher The role of the watcher is interesting because while they do place some sort of control over Buffy, it becomes clear that Buffy separates her watcher from the rest of the council. She even leaves the council after her watcher is disbanded. While she does go to him, more and more episodes come in showing Giles’ personal life away from Buffy and he NEVER goes back to being her watcher. In context of feminism, I believe there is something there.

    Anyways, thanks for the original post. I know I have many shows I disagree with that are loved, so I respect your courage.

    • emmawolf says:

      “I respectfully disagree with you.”

      First, just thanks for that. You might have an idea of how many people came to my blog to complain about how it’s unfathomable to them that I don’t like [insert name of popular show here]. Because everyone has to have the same taste or something. And I got a little nervous when I saw I had two comments on this post.

      Perhaps I will watch a few episodes again (or for the first time. I have not seen every episode) and pay more attention to post-Watcher Giles. I remember in Once More With Feeling (I don’t generally like musicals or Buffy, but I learned that when two things I don’t like are combined, I really like the result. Like Friends quotes on Disney pictures.) Giles sang about how he thought he was actually standing in her way. I guess I’m kind of getting at, from what I remember, Giles didn’t want to be her watcher anymore exactly, but she still really depended on him. And I remember that up until the very end of the TV series. I could be remembering it wrongly. I think there’s something there too that can be said about feminism.

      Ultimately though, I think it’s unfair of me to say I don’t like this show because it’s not feminist enough. Nonetheless, that’s might be part of the reason why. Twenty or so years later, I believe there is more feminist entertainment. So maybe Buffy helped pave the way. But I think having a strong female character alone is not enough, and that’s really all I saw. It reminds me of complaints against Orange is the New Black. I love that show, but other people think it revels in violence against people of color, so it’s not so progressive. Buffy kind of revels in violence against Buffy, a female. So yes, good that we have a strong female character, but we also have to look at the context of what happens to her and how she has so little autonomy.

      I think the show deserves my criticism but not my loathing. I am grateful to the Buffy fans who have come here to help me ease up and open my mind. So thanks.

  6. Although I am obsessed with the show I find this read to be very interesting. There was a lot about the show I didn’t like. Xander throughout the entire show and Willow in earlier seasons made me angry, Buffy in S1 sucked, and I hated Dawn. Thanks for the post!

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