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"Mrs. Anya lame-ass-made-up-maiden-name Harris."
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March 10 2011

Women who hate women: female competition in Buffy. An analysis of the relationships between the female characters on the show.

Good read. I think the most fascinating was between Faith and Buffy. However, I would be amiss of the wonderful discussions of Buffy and Anya as well. Dang, I really liked them all!

I know, I'm so easy to please! Yet, so discriminating.....perhaps I should join a book club ;)
That WAS an interesting read.
I don't like the title. Female competition does not equal hate.
Agreed. Not really loving the "hate" in the title, though I wouldn't necessarily deny that there was a certain element of girl-on-girl crime in Buffy (a la Mean Girls).

I think it would be interesting to compare the girls' interactions with the men's. For example, there was a fair amount of appearance-based sniping between Angel and Spike, was there not?

I thought the Faith/Buffy section was especially interesting. But I've always felt that Buffy's ambivalence about Faith could have been at least partially explained by her feelings surrounding Kendra's death, which hadn't happened very long before Faith arrived. I wish they'd had even one line to that effect, just to show that Buffy isn't being totally irrationally jealous and that Kendra hadn't just been forgotten. To my mind, it also would have worked because Faith was Kendra's opposite even more than she was Buffy's.

[ edited by Ildeth on 2011-03-10 17:05 ]
Interesting read, but... should there not be sexual competition? Or should sexual competition not inspire some level of resentment? Are either of those actually realistic over seven seasons?

But okay... let's travel into Faith's psychology for a counter example. What about Buffy/Faith in Bad Girls, where Faith is pushing the topic of whether Buffy has done it with Xander? There you have it: sex and sexuality without competition or animosity. "Never?" Of course, I do think Faith is trying to figure out if she's made an unacceptable hook-up and would be greatly relieved if Buffy had "sanctioned" him first.
My goodness, just had to turn this to a sexual topic. (sigh)

No, that isn't it at all. The relationship of Faith towards Buffy was spirtual and a bunch of other words I can't think of right now. After all, who can place words there? Emotions in motion was the call word at the time.

We haven't even started with Dawnie and Tara.
That was an interesting read, but I feel like I'm missing half the picture. The point only works if similar male-male relationships aren't antagonistic in the same way. However, as Ildeth pointed out, Angel and Spike were always bagging on each other's looks and were very clearly set up as sexual rivals (first with Druscilla and then with Buffy). Plus, Xander's hatred of Angel stemmed from viewing him as a sexual rival for Buffy, and I'm pretty sure I recall Xander picking on Angel's looks quite a few times too.

Reading it as sexist doesn't quite fly for me. I think the show pretty much just portrayes it as a human thing.
Well firstly, sexual competition, yeah I guess it does happen but what bothers people about the way it is respresented on TV is that it is usually way more common for women to be mean to each other to try to get a guy than it is for women to be nice to each other and have rewarding friendships. I don't know what its like for straight women but for me, my female-female friendships have been the most rewarding and amazing relationships of my life. Its totally empowering to be friends with loads of amazing, strong, intelligent, inspiring women and I dunno, I guess ze patriarchy sees that as a negi.

On a slightly different note, as much as it annoys me that the media paints this picture of women all the time and I get peed off with the way Buffy treats some of its women, I do think that in the context of the show it can sort of be justified. I mean the show deals with the friendships between the four core scoobies. Most other relationships (besides Buffy's familial ones) revole around the love interests of the core four or the villains they face. This is always going to set up female/female relationships in a way that is not true to life.

I pretty much agree with the author that Buffy could have done better but that Buffy/Willow is really important. Angel is really poor in this regard and pisses me off way more.

Also, re. Faith/Buffy, I'd like to see an essay dealing with their relationship because I think it's one of the most complicated on the show.
Reading it as sexist doesn't quite fly for me. I think the show pretty much just portrayes it as a human thing.

It seemed like the point being made was that to be regarded as an unproblematic feminist text the show shouldn't have had competitive female-female relationships at all so whether it also happens between male characters doesn't really matter (as you say Kon4MitY, it does - according to Spike Angel's hair famously "goes straight up", partly contributing towards him being "bloody stupid" as one example. Though it mainly took place on Ats, IMO Spike and Angel competed for Buffy as hard as any female-female pair competed for a man on the show. Xander/Spike butted heads, Xander/Angel, at points Xander/Giles though mainly in the parent/child mold etc.).

Not sure I agree with that really, it has a faint whiff of "If not for the patriarchy then women would always have supportive, non-antagonistic relationships with each other so a true feminist text would portray female-female relationships in that way" which seems a bit rose-tinted to me, i'm not totally convinced that within gender sexual competition is purely driven by culture for one thing and even if it is, aren't we back to the same old argument about how much a story-teller should tell stories/represent the world as it is and how much he or she should try to fix the world/represent it as it - arguably - should be ?



ETF: typos

[ edited by Saje on 2011-03-10 17:58 ]
Fascinating essay, though as Ildeth pointed out, there was a fair amount of appearance put downs from men, Spike in particular. (Spike vs. Angel, Spike vs. Xander, hell, even against Giles.)

Still, I'm disappointed the author didn't tackle the Buffy/Willow friendship AFTER season 4. You can't talk about their wonderful friendship unless you address what happened in season 6, something which I don't think their friendship has ever fully recovered from...
As said above, better- I agree with everything here, more or less, but how about all the things left out? I think it's not the whole picture- to talk about all the competition between Buffy and Faith without talking about their eventual reconciliation in S7 doesn't make sense- it was a big deal, because it was so overdue. Or the way Willow and Buffy worked to stay close later in the show (with varying degrees of success), or how destructive the competition between Willow and Anya was portrayed as being, or heck, even Anya and Cecily! I mean, to use Cordelia as a major example is just silly- when was anything she did (on BTVS) ever portrayed as a good idea or a positive trope? She was the what not to do poster girl!

"I think it would be interesting to compare the girls' interactions with the men's. For example, there was a fair amount of appearance-based sniping between Angel and Spike, was there not?"

YES!! And Xander vs Angel/us and Spike, and Spike vs everyone ever (even Adam!) and The Trio, and, I feel like maybe even the initiative guys got into it at some point.... It may not be as loaded, politically, to see men being snipe-y in this way, but it certainly creates an environment that makes it possible to view the women's interactions differently (ie, comedic, in most cases).
I've often read that the relationships between women is much more problematic than between men, in general. I enjoyed the essay but I have to say, even when I was in high school, and short of saying girls will be girls, that kind of verbal sparring between young women is de rigueur, just not as witty as Joss and the other writers wrote it. I had to remember while reading the essay, that Cordelia, while vastly shallow on Buffy, became vastly better as a human being on Angel. It's true, once you leave that emotional, gives-you-hives place called high school, you tend to have a much larger world view; i.e. Cordelia became the anti-Grinch.

And in watching re-runs of Buffy lately on the Logo and Chiller channel, I saw the episode after Buffy returns home (from running away after killing Angel) Dead Man's Party. She and Willow had the put-downy kind of convo only really good friends can have. So, I really can't sign on to the whole women hate each other thing, not even throwing Cordelia and Anya into the mix:

WILLOW: I mean, I'm not a full-fledged witch. That takes years. I just did a couple pagan blessings and... a teeny glamour to hide a zit.

BUFFY: Does it scare you?

WILLOW: It has. I tried to communicate with the spirit world, and I *so* wasn't ready for that. It's like being pulled apart inside. Plus I blew the power for our whole block. Big scare.

BUFFY: I wish I could've been there with you.

WILLOW: Me, too. I really freaked out.

BUFFY: I am sorry.

WILLOW: It's okay. I understand you having to bail. I can forgive that. Mm, I have to make allowances for what you're going through a-and be a grownup about it.

BUFFY: (smiles) You're really enjoying this whole moral superiority thing, aren't you?

WILLOW: (smiles) It's like a drug!

BUFFY: Fine! Okay. I'm the bad. I can take my lumps... for a while.

WILLOW: All right. I'll stop giving you a hard time. (pauses) Runaway.

BUFFY: Will!

WILLOW: (smiles and giggles) I'm sorry! Quitter.

BUFFY: Whiner.

WILLOW: Bailer.

BUFFY: Harpy.

WILLOW: Delinquent.

BUFFY: Tramp.

WILLOW: Bad seed.

BUFFY: Witch.

WILLOW: Freak.

"I thought the Faith/Buffy section was especially interesting. But I've always felt that Buffy's ambivalence about Faith could have been at least partially explained by her feelings surrounding Kendra's death, which hadn't happened very long before Faith arrived. I wish they'd had even one line to that effect, just to show that Buffy isn't being totally irrationally jealous and that Kendra hadn't just been forgotten. To my mind, it also would have worked because Faith was Kendra's opposite even more than she was Buffy's."

I don't necessarily disagree, but Buffy didn't really care much for Kendra at first, either; it wasn't until later on that Buffy came to accept and even like Kendra. I think, on top of all the issues already discussed, there's was a certain selfishness on Buffy's part when it came to being the Slayer (pre-season 7, of course) -- sort of a "But I'm supposed to be the only one!" kind of thing. Buffy, to me, always simultaneously struggled with the responsibility and embraced the specialness that came with being the Slayer.

That, and I think there was a load of sexual tension between Buffy and Faith. There were some serious lesbian undertones between those two, particularly early on in Faith's character arc. I'm not sure what to make of them, but they were certainly there.

[ edited by CowboyWitch on 2011-03-10 21:22 ]
I think, putting myself in Buffy's shoes, and some new, not only Slayer, came riding into town, but one who wanted to stake my boyfriend right off the bat, I wouldn't like her either. Kendra was ignorant of certain things, had been a rigidly-trained slayer, who had no idea a vampire could have a soul. So that put them on bad footing, right from the beginning. I don't know that I see gay subtext between Buffy and Faith. I saw more a sister or good friend potential, simply because (as Angel knew when he first saw Buffy in L.A.) she has a huge heart and was maybe even instinctively protective of Faith. It took a lot for Buffy to then go in the opposite direction, considering Faith her dire foe.
Fair point, Tonya, and I will say this: I always thought the "Faith is the opposite of Buffy!" reading of the proverbial text was always a) incredibly simplistic, and b) completely off-base. They're two completely different people who happen to share the experience of being the Slayer. I think, as often as I take Faith's side in all matters Buffy-related, that Buffy did try really hard to be friends with Faith in the beginning, even in spite of whatever jealousy or apprehension she felt. I would've been very interested to see how the relationship would've developed in an alternate season 3 -- one in which Faith doesn't accidentally kill the deputy mayor and eventually spiral into darkness.
I think it's a simplistic reading as well, and not worthy of the thought or writing that went into creating those characters. Faith is utterly human and flawed, and though her descent into amorality made for frakking great drama, you could not (or at least, I couldn't) deny her fragility, deep despair, and pain at many moments in the series (and in Angel as well). To call Buffy the light and Faith the dark, is to miss the point of how realistic the human behavior is.
It seemed like the point being made was that to be regarded as an unproblematic feminist text the show shouldn't have had competitive female-female relationships at all so whether it also happens between male characters doesn't really matter


Yeah, I got that sense, too. And I disagree with it. I don't believe a text has to portray all women's relationships as positive in order to be feminist. Rather, the importance is that the portrayal is complex, rich, nuanced, and realistic. BtVS does that (I still enjoy this visual representation).

Women's relationships don't need to eschew antagonistic dynamics in order to be feminist. That's unrealistic. I mean, that's unrealistic even among the feminist community.


Simon -- could we have a special tag for all these essays?

[ edited by Emmie on 2011-03-11 00:30 ]
Good idea. I'll do that tomorrow.
Thanks. :)
Not only do I want to read an essay on the Buffy/Faith relationship, I kind of want to find the time to write it someday. I've never been sold that the lesbian subtext can be taken simply at face value. For Faith, sex is meaningless fun. Not only is emotional involvement not required, physical and emotional intimacy seem to be almost mutually exclusive. "Get some and get gone." She expressly doesn't want a relationship with her sexual conquests and in point of fact, can barely drive them away fast enough afterwards. Buffy means more than that, and yet there's no jealousy on Faith's part towards Buffy's boyfriends. Discussing sex with them is easy, non-threatning conversation. She's curious as to what it's like to boink the undead. She even talks up Scott Hope as “quite a muffin” and takes a little vengeance after he breaks up with Buffy. Later on, there appears to be sexual competition between the two for Buffy's boyfriends, but I don't see that Faith is ever actually envious of them or even gives much thought about them except as a path to punish Buffy.

So if not sexuality in the strict sense, why introduce lesbian subtext? It's there - no question about it. Faith is clearly focused on Buffy and wants that attention returned in a rather exclusive way. There's very light flirting, although as uninhibited as Faith is, it never becomes more direct than that. She does desperately need Buffy's approval and respect and when it's withheld... that contributes a lot towards Faith's downward spiral. I think the subtext just underscores that Faith has strong feelings for Buffy – even loves her - and certainly finds more emotional intimacy in that than she does with her physical relationships. It just doesn't cross the divide into sex - that's something different that's been compartmentalized elsewhere.
I don't agree with this assessment: "Buffy presents us with a world where female friendship can only exist where women aren’t competing for men." This is just as much of a fact of life in the real world as this supernatural one. Fact is, you're not going to form a deep, meaningful friendship with a girl so unstable she'll literally take your body and bone your boyfriend. Can't fault the female characters for not trying to sing kumbaya with villains like that.

Besides, the same can be said for the men. Matter of fact, the Whedonverse male relationships are far more strained, IMO. Spike vs. Angel, Xander vs. Angel, Angel vs. Riley, All the guys vs. Spike at one point, Angel & Spike vs. The Immortal, quite a few guys vs. Dracula, Wes vs. Gunn. The list goes on.
I think the point is not that women are never bitchy to each other in real life, but that women in real life also have deep and meaningful friendships with other women and this is rarely if ever portrayed on television, well at least the sf stuff I watch.

Also DeathIsYourGift, I think it's a little bit insulting to say that its a 'fact of life' that women can only get along when not competing for men. Surely at some level all women are competing for men's attention a lot, if not all, of the time, that doesn't preculde female-female relationships. Someone mentioned high school bitchiness between girls being a prime example of this behaviour in the real world, and yeah this happened at high school, you know what else happened, girls often had really great friendships with other girls. On tv you see a hell of a lot of male-male friendships of female-male friendships that are integral to a show, not so much female-female. Hence essays being writ about it. It's about balance.
BringItOn5x5,

You raise an interesting point regarding how Faith viewed Buffy at first, and I view it in stark contrast to how Buffy viewed Faith (and even Kendra) at first. Initially, Buffy was wary of both new Slayers -- for a myriad of reasons -- but Faith never felt that apprehension with Buffy. She embraced that there was another Slayer, and I'd love to see a text that delves into the reasons why she would -- whereas Buffy blanched at the thought, even though she eventually grew to like Kendra.

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