The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Buffy, Feminism, and the Importance of Paying Attention

April 8, 2011

Natasha Simon at The Mary Sue argues that Joss Weedon Whedon’s shows are insufficiently feminist. Shani O. Hilton says most of what needs to be said about Simon’s odd reasoning, particularly with respect to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But she misses one crucial point that, from my perspective, renders Simon’s interpretive skills highly questionable (via).

Simon writes:

Buffy, for all her killing vamps and breaking stuff, is rather a weak character. Let’s consider that she, as a Slayer, descends from a line that was literally created by men – a formation that stems directly from the male anxiety over an inability to create life the way that women do. And inherently problematic is the idea of the Watcher, a predominantly male presence that is the male gaze made manifest – a source of constant looking that is an explicit form of control.

I’ll admit that Buffy’s seventh season was a (sometimes horrifying) mess, but the fact that Simon knows that the Slayer line was “literally created by men” suggests that she watched it. And therefore has no excuse for apparently failing to notice the entire point of that season: to use these aspects of the Buffy universe to criticize patriarchy.

I mean, for frak’s sake, the Big Bad of the season — the First Evil — works through Caleb, a personification of misogyny. Weedon makes clear that the creation of the Slayer, the magic used to prevent the existence of more than one Slayer, and the institution of the Watchers themselves are part of that evil — a control mechanism to keep women down. The show ends with the lifting of that magic, and the sudden (literal and metaphorical) empowerment of countless numbers of theretofore “potential slayers.” The defeat of the “First Evil” is rendered coterminous with a massive blow against patriarchal domination.

Hmmm. What could that imply?

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.