At the beginning of the month, the lectures and readings focused on the portrayals of gender and sex in television and literature. In class, we compared the Twilight film series to Fifty Shades of Grey, written by E.L. James. Our readings for that week briefly discussed the female characters in shows such as Alias, Daria, Freaks and Geeks, Gilmore Girls, and more. In this post, I’d like to use the main female characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) to demonstrate how the series provides female viewers with exceptional role models.
The main female characters of BTVS are Buffy, Cordelia, and Willow. Each of these women transcends gender stereotypes in television by being multidimensional characters and not conforming to traditional gender roles. These women also undermine patriarchal values by rarely relying on men for protection, or to attain feelings of self-worth. Several male heroes are introduced throughout the series, but each of them have at least one flaw which makes them subordinate to Buffy.
1. Buffy Summers
Buffy is a very unique female character because she displays many of the heroic ideals traditionally associated with masculinity while still retaining her femininity. At the beginning of the series, Buffy is introduced as a typical valley girl and high school cheerleader. When she learns she has the strength and skills to fight demons, she accepts that she must fight the forces of evil, but argues that she will do so while still maintaining a social life.
Buffy puts a moderate amount of effort into her appearance, and likes to look good and dress well. Throughout the series, she has a total of four sexual partners, each of with which she has a deeply complex relationship. Buffy is not shamed for having multiple sexual partners, nor does the show revolve solely around those relationships. When it comes to sex throughout this series, it is not exclusively portrayed as a serene, quiet, “love making”. Sex between Buffy and her various partners is most often rough, aggressive, and passionate. She is the dominant just as often as she is the submissive in these relationships.
Buffy is able to maintain the status of a tough, powerful, vampire slayer, while also displaying her emotions, and maintaining a social life. Buffy Summers is the character who sends the message to girls that they, too, can have it all.
2. Cordelia Chase
In the pilot season of BTVS, Cordelia is the most popular, most fashionable, and richest girl at school. She is a cheerleader alongside Buffy, and is introduced as being a shallow, self-centered, loudmouth. Cordelia is by far the most assertive female of the gang, but her honesty and dry humour do not dictate her character. She overcomes typical “bitch” stereotypes because as her character develops, she acts helpful and compassionate. Cordelia teaches girls that having agency and being assertive, all while wearing designer clothes, is completely acceptable. Girls must not be judged based on what they wear, or they first impression they make. Cordelia is an appropriate embodiment of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.
3. Willow Rosenberg
No matter how tough Buffy is, or how complex Cordelia’s character is, I’ve always believed that Willow is the most interesting character of the three. Willow is introduced to viewers of the pilot season as shy, nerdy, and peculiar. Her best friends are Buffy and Xander, both of whom are much more outspoken than she. One obvious development of Willow’s character throughout the series is her skill as a Wiccan. She learns more about her magical abilities as she studies witchcraft and attends a Wicca group meeting on her school campus. This example illustrates Willow embracing her individuality, and using her intelligence and passion for learning to enhance her self-awareness.
As the series progresses, Willow becomes much more confident and sure of herself. Her role as a female character in the mid-1990s is unique, in that she represents a positive portrayal of a Jewish woman, while also maintaining a lesbian relationship. Throughout the series Willow has three relationships: one with a man and two with women. In each of these relationships, her partner also possesses supernatural qualities, suggesting to viewers that relationships do not need to conform to fairy tale, heteronormative standards. Her first boyfriend, Oz, is a werewolf, her girlfriend Tara is a witch, and her second girlfriend Kennedy is a vampire slayer.
Willow is one of the show’s most peculiar characters, but also the most popular among audiences. In my opinion, her popularity stems from the fact that she is highly relatable to a teenage audience. Willow, like many high school students, experiences feelings of inadequacy, confusion about sexual orientation, and even bullying throughout the series. Her character teaches young women that being popular is not as important as staying true to one’s self. Willow also succeeds in illustrating the fluidity of sexuality, gender, and relationships.
BTVS is not without its flaws; the show is not totally progressive. For example, in its seven seasons, not one of the main characters is a person of colour. In spite of this, what I believe is most important to be learned from Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that Buffy, Cordelia, and Willow each serve as multidimensional, complex, and engaging female characters who are excellent role models for young women. E.M.