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May 15 2005

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gender: How Buffy takes on the Patriarchy and Why. Brief Silver Bullet Comic Book's season-by-season analysis of Buffy discussing gender expectations and stereotypes and how Joss subverted them.

Excellent article. It manages to completely sum up the full Buffy arc in a short, but refreshingly new way. Doesn't waste words, but really nails each season beautifully. Worth the read.
Thanks for posting this, Jackal. Some interesting gender stuff here, that hadn't occurred to me, with lots of food for thought. Couple thoughts on the text:

In a few places, it seems like the author is working too hard to squeeze the series into his/her thesis. For example, The Body is described as: "...entitled so as to place emphasis on the nurturant female body." It's a nice idea, in fitting with the gender theory, but anyone who has watched that episode (and, to be fair, listened to Joss' commentary) would more likely understand the title as pointing to the horrifically technical & mundane processes of death, and what we go through as we move about the functional tasks of the first 24 hours after losing a loved one. The "nurturant female body" was exactly what it was not about.

Also, I have no wish to start a Season Six: Yay, or Nay? debate, but I think in the service of gender studies, the author gives short shrift to the rich, painful, and all too human goings on of this stellar season. It's the season that showed me the Mutant folks had stones, and were willing to show our Golden Girl(s and boys) without their metaphoric makeup on. What's it like when a strong woman hits rock bottom? And if not she, than who? What does she crave? How do others respond differently than they might were she a he? What's unique about her emptiness, and the lessons she learns trying to return to "normal?" Why aren't her responses seen as "normal?" (Is it because the very together SMG professed to not relating and therefore being in vehement disagreement with the path her character took? Or is it beyond gender...and so simple: simply that people just don't want to see their heroes falter?)

Again, interesting link. I appreciate the author's thinking and it's got me doing my own thinking about filling in the author's lean Season Six commentary...
I agree season six had its faults and on first viewing I was a little disppointed, but on repeat viewings I think it is one of the best seasons because it is so dark and uncompromising. It's really the first season where we've seen any of the characters become so desperate- Willow erasing Tara's memories, Buffy sleeping with Spike, Xander abandoning Anya at the altar, Spike attempting to rape Buffy... at the end of season five we wouldn't have thought such events possible, but we realistically saw the characters become much more ambiguous, and the show became much stronger for it.
I agree that it wasn't perfect and some storylines stand out for being poorly handled, but overall I thought it was very necessary for the characters to go through it, because if there wasn't such darkness, we could never have reached the generally happy ending of season seven.
I actually really disagreed with the comment, "and too dour a depression from Buffy". What did the writer expect? For Buffy to be resurrected and casually pick up her former life as happily as ever? I think her depression was completely believable and understandable, and made her death and subsequent resurrection all the more interesting and important. I actually thought that Buffy's detatched and unhappy demeanour was a fantastic way to create some dark humour. When she has to face the mundane everyday tasks in "Flooded" or "Life Serial", for example.

I just love the whole atmosphere created in "Bargainning". Sunnydale minus Buffy just feels wrong, and as if the plan to resurrect her wasn't interesting enough, the arrival of the biker demons who begin to destroy Sunnydale just set the tone of the season beautifully. I mean there are so many fantastic elements of every episode, even if there are parts people didn't like, you can find something to love in most of them.
Razor -- I started a long and ponderous post to explain my agreement with you about S6's tremendous strength, but it was, well, long and ponderous. So, I'll just say: Amen. And then some.
I didn't like season 6 because I don't understand why Buffy slept with Spike. I try to but I just don't see why she thought that would make her feel better or why she would get that close to someone she hates. For me to understand I'd have to think she was trying to fill the void by taking what she couldn't have from Angel and the only thing she could have from Riley but people don't like this idea because some think she loved unsouled-Spike or something...and that is another thing I can't fathom. So I agree with that essay. Season 6 was weak.
charisma, I think that Buffy slept with Spike because he was basically, a cool guy - in the sense of the shallow, high-school cool. The way the writers saw things, Buffy has a bad-boy complex, and Spike was even badder than Angel.
Ok. Thanks for explaining.
Buffy had sex with Spike, IMO obviously, less because of how she felt about Angel or Riley, than because of how she felt about herself. Remember that she was brought back from death, which both made her unable to feel and caused her to resent her friends. She was uncomfortable in her own skin, to the point of hating the fact of her own re-existence. Sex with Spike was a physical comfort and release, a way of feeling alive, a way to focus her self-despite. Spike was (a) not implicated in the resurrection spell; (b) understood to some extent where she had been and where she was coming from; (c) openly wanted (adored?) her; (d) was not unattractive to Buffy; (e) gave her an obsessive focus to her own self-hatred (look, this shows that I'm a bad person, I'm having sex with the one guy whom I've consistently despised more than any other the past few years). And, yes, I think she understood, without perhaps admitting it to herself, that his love for her grew and changed from impure lust to love through seasons four, five, and six. I don't think her relationship with Angel had much to do with it. Sure, Buffy had a bit of a bad-boy complex, but nowhere near enough, IMHO, to lead her to have sex with Spike without the dying-and being resurrected shock to her system that she had undergone.

I'm at best only an amateur psychologist so I'm perhaps not expressing this as well as others can and have but, in sum, I think the storyline of their relationship was well-written and had depth. It worked completely for me. I have a couple of issues with the attempted rape in Seeing Red, about which we've had manifold discussions, so I won't rehash that. But I loved the Buffy-Spike dynamic of Season Six, and I love the season as a whole.
Itís nice to read that some fans appreciate Season Six, as I do. Joss has frequently stated that Buffy is about the process of dealing with lifeís challenges. Season Six explores some of the messier, more damaging choices people sometimes make. Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Spike each make terrible decisions, pay the price, and then attempt to make amends. None of it is pretty, most of it isnít heroic, but all of it is reflective of life. A powerful season within a dynamic seven year story arc, and so uniquely Joss!
Disclaimer: Just read SNT's post after composing the below, and he probably said it better than I will, but since I spent the time typing all this nonsense, here's my two quid. : ) I swore I wasn't here to defend S6, but I can't help but share my thoughts on this question. (Though it seems that those who completely "get it," think the Buffy/Spike arc makes perfect sense, and those who "just can't see it" are unlikely to be convinced otherwise, so this will probably come off as "But...but...but...," so to the Spike-ambivalent, please forgive/indulge, etc.)

Sure, Angel and Buffy had a great love, and her affair with Spike doesn't taint that. But she was a child when that love was born and however epic it may have become, it was based on attraction and mystery, rather than the grown-up knowing of one another, that tends to precede relationships as we mature. *ducks* Not a damn thing wrong with that, it's just often true of young/first love. And it, along with her experiences with Parker, Riley, and hell...most of the people who loved her, may have set the stage for what happened with Spike.

IMHO, when she let Spike in, it wasn't that she loved him, or even that she hated him, but rather that it was the first time any man, (or even anyone) took the time to really try to decipher, decode and understand her, without disappointment or expectations. And the effect of that interest and understanding was intoxicating during a time when everyone else just wanted her to be the old Buffy. She was drowning, and Spike's interest and attention was a lifeline. It just makes so much sense that someone so down, so numb, so lost would gravitate towards someone who worshipped her and seemed to really, truly understand. She says it herself: she was using him. Is that impossible to understand? May not be a healthy move, but it was a desperate act of self-preservation, that for a while, paid off.

Just some thoughts, that. And as this is a babble on S6, I'll save my thoughts on the evolution of the Buffy/Spike story of S7 for another day...
SoddingNancyTribe, where can we see this additional discussion about Buffy/Spike's relationship and the attempted rape?

I personally Loved Season 6. Some of my favorite stuff is in there.
barest_smidgen, very nice comments. I think we agree in part, but whereas you see Buffy's use of Spike as an act of self-preservation, I've always viewed it as the opposite, almost an act of self-destruction. Hmm. Now I'll have to go back and watch the relevant episodes again . . . :)

pixxelpuss: here's one such discussion. (Although I see I didn't post my criticism of the rape scene as such. Must have just been thinking it.) I'm sure there are many others in the archives. Always worth a browse, the Whedonesque archives, if you have a spare minute or 30.
...oh, boy, and the attempted rape. Not pretty, but as a final, grotesque act of desperation, it seemed to serve the story. We're taught that rape is about power, and yet here, it seemed, in a disturbing way to actually be about sex. Because sex was the only way Buffy would ever let Spike connect, ever allow him in. It seemed like this sick panic, to play his only trump card. "Feed on flesh, my flesh. All right then, flesh. Solid through. Get it hard. Service the girl." Sheesh. Dark stuff, that. But not unbelievable.

Is it horrifically wrong that I partly felt for him some, in Seeing Red? Or can I call it a testament to James Marsters' acting, despite (or because of) the loathing and fear with which he approached the scene...?
I didn't have a problem with the ideas of Season 6. But the writing was just bad, almost embarrassing, and the plot development near zero. The only thing that makes Season 6 look good is Season 7...but that's sad.
I just watched "Seeing Red" about an hour ago (again). I was feeling weird about empathizing with Spike. I just understand that 'I'm so in love with you, please love me/ don't leave me' feeling. Then I saw Xander's face when he walks in the bathroom (why does he walk in the bathroom without knocking?) and I wanted him to beat Spike up.
I just can't figure that episode out yet.
As the Spike/Buffy "relationship" makes perfect sense to me, I've really enjoyed reading everyone's comments.

SNT captured virtually all of the reasons I think Buffy turned to Spike, I just see one additional twist. Spike doesn't "fit" in the world. Neutered vampire - can't be a demon, can't be a man. We heard that. Buffy's understandably self-destructive behavior caused her to focus on not belonging in the world any longer - resenting the world - and her friends - for having lost the peace she had earned.

At the end of the episode (as always, I don't remember the name) when she tells Spike she thinks she was in heaven, and then walks out of the shadows, into the light - I see both the contrast of their characters, and the similarity. Hers is a forced sunlight because of her deep depression. And there's Spike, though trapped in the shadows, understanding so well how it feels to not quite fit in.

That little scene for me, though it may have primarily been symbolic of other things, was when I realized how similar, though briefly, they had become. On the outside looking in.

For me, that common ground provided an excellent foundation for their clearly unhealthy relationship. No one else can remotely understand what Buffy is feeling, she is alienated from them anyway, and finally turning to Spike fed that self-loathing that has been discussed already

[ edited by Angela on 2005-05-16 09:46 ]
Very interesting comments SNT, barest-smidgen, and Angela. Barest-smidgen, I had not thought about the rape scene in quite that way, but your take on it is very compelling.

Having been in a very dark place once in my life, and having latched onto one or two relationships during that time that were similar to the Buffy-Spike relationship, if not quite as extreme, and, well, not involving someone who was dead, I have no difficulty understanding it. I'm totally in agreement with SNT about the relationship and the season. It is one of my favorites.
Mine too, palehorse, mine too. SNT, Angela, wonderful insights, all. While I protested way above that this wasn't the conversation I was trying to start, really, I'm loving the having of it. It's so thoughtful and interesting, and it's why I'm here.

holymother: I think you've just hit on the precise duality of what we were supposed to feel in Seeing Red. We should empathize with a rejected Spike's panicked, terrified, desperation, but after he reads the sitution so wrong, and chooses so appallingly, we should want Xander to kick his ass. This rollercoaster is why we love our show, and why I'm such a huge fan of S6's refusal to make it easy for us.

SNT said:
I think we agree in part, but whereas you see Buffy's use of Spike as an act of self-preservation, I've always viewed it as the opposite, almost an act of self-destruction.

You're right, SNT. I simplified my thoughts for the sake of my point, but you're absolutely right that hers was a masochistic goal in turning to Spike. Witness the violence (and the conversation) that started it all in Smashed. Witness Buffy's begging Tara her not to forgive her, and her devastating expressionlessness during the sex behind the Doublemeat Palace. Self-destruction, indeed.

Yet, I always thought to view it only as such was to miss a part of our beloved Buffy that makes this affair palatable. If she still truly loathed everything about Spike, and really believed he was the "evil souless thing" and then still had this violent, disturbing affair, then, truly, how could we relate? How could we forgive her? And because Xander (and like-minded fans) do still view Spike only as evil and souless, neither can comprehend or forgive Buffy's choice. A fair and valid perspective, that.

So, SNT, that is where I think our thoughts intersect. Buffy may loathe the idea of Spike, and thus turn to him to punish herself. But it's because she's seen the caring, supportive, worshipful side of him, that it's even possible, (and in some ways even helpful,) for her to go there. She won't admit it, or even see it at first, but she would never allow him in, if she didn't glimpse his kindness and desire to understand her. Yet she punishes him for his good, which only serves to validate her belief that she is just so very wrong. "Evil, soulless, thing," indeed.

Spike almost nurtures her -- in a way no one else ever could. Witness the soft moments where he tries to connect before the affair begins, (over Joyce's illness, over protecting Dawn from Glory, over Buffy digging herself out of her grave, over the social worker's visit, over the heaven revelation, over "thinning the herd".) Witness Spike trying to get her to quit the Doublemeat. But those moments when she allows him to connect, besides at the waist, are so rare and fleeting, that he resorts to turning on the darker Spike. (Which we learn from his backstory, is always a bit of a bravado costume for him.) The soft moments only ever turn bad when Buffy spurns his kindness -- she exploits his weakness, and punishes him for it. It is then that he comes to understand that it's not kindness Buffy wants, but punishment. And in his sad, desperate way, he loves her so much that all he can bear to do is give her what she came for.

And in all her life, no one had ever been willing to subjugate themselves so completely to her need. When you're in a good place, that kind of worship is disturbing and suffocating. When you're at your worst, it's like a drug. A lifeline.

Like Dawn, we Spike-supporters have seen the soft, chewy, (albeit distorted) center of the man, and therefore aren't appalled by Buffy's choice to turn to him. If we didn't, we'd be certainly be horrified and we couldn't comprehend or forgive. Instead, we see Buffy's behavior as an understandable, yet callous use of this yearning half-man who will accept anything she's willing to give, and give anything she seems to require. We forgive it, at first, for she's been through so much, and he still is only, really, half a man. But we begin to squirm when we see how it pains him, and how the power she has over him begins to corrupt Buffy. We want to root for them, but not like this. Please, God, not like this. And Buffy, too, seems to come to this understanding, if a bit late. Witness her breakup speech and witness her "I believe in you" speech in the basement in S7.

Oh, Season Six, you wreck me so. I am your bitca, it's true. But you wreck me so. (sorry for the ginormous post, friends.)

[ edited by barest_smidgen on 2005-05-16 15:55 ]
Initially I too was sceptical about Buffy and Spike developing a relationship, and for some time I couldn't completely accept it, but now it makes a lot of sense. There are several factors which all contribute to it. Spike knows how Buffy feels during her depression, and that their is darkness in the power of the slayer and the power of a vampire.

I always thought there were elements of Spike's character that were poorly developed during season six, rather than Buffy. Throughout season five he had been fighting a growing attraction to Buffy, but eventually became a better person, protecting Dawn and Joyce, refusing to reveal the identity of the Key to Glory, and eventually being one of her strongest allies in the final fight against Glory in "The Gift". When she reinvited him into her house at the end of season five I felt that was a symbol of his redemption, that he was trying to be a better man and that Buffy was willing to trust him.

Early season six we see more of the same, with him still helping the Scoobies fight evil even when Buffy isn't around. I think this is the first true indication of Spike's loyalty- it wasn't just to impress Buffy in the hope of starting a physical relationship, but that he was genuinely a better person. Throughout the next few episodes, whenever she confides in him at the end of 'Afterlife', their relationship makes sense. Buffy feels he is the only one she can confide in, and he understands some of what she is going through.

However, I felt Spike began to behave completely differently later in the season. I suppose events in 'Smashed' are to highlight the fact that obviously if his chip stopped working he would try to kill someone, but isn't this completely against the person he has become?
Fair question, Razor, and well said. I hadn't thought of it like that. I guess I saw it thus:

Spike was in love with Buffy. He was hurt that she spurned his kindess and pained by the way she mocked his feelings. And we've seen in the past, when he's feeling threatened and vulnerable, Spike reverts to a BadAssed version of himself.

And, though Buffy recognized Spike's loyalty and his doing-the-right-thing, she only seemed to reward him for it in service of her mission or in the protection of her family. Never, really, on it's own merits, as part of his own journey. (at least, not until S7) It's like, "I'm working so hard at getting/being better and why don't you love me for it?" (this struggle continues in S7, seen early on in the church "It's what you wanted, right?", and the scene which has Spike returning to the basement for his leather coat: "I want the Spike that tried to kill me when we first met.") Well, which is it? Both, really.

That, confused further by the neutered impotence he has felt with the chip "keeping him on a leash," and his belief that Buffy wants "monster in her man" has Spike at a loss for who he is, what he is becoming, and what Buffy would need him to be, in order to want him as he wants her. Not a demon, not a man, yet with the competing urges of both.

What a bubbling, boiling mess of "huh?" for our boy, right? Then -- add two, confusing, but clearly desirous kisses to the mix, and Buffy's refusal to validate either, and I think we end up with his behavior in Smashed. Not pretty, not pristine, his redemptive journey. But oh, so real, i think.

(And as to his darkness later in the season with Buffy, my thoughts above, in my megapost. ; ) )

[ edited by barest_smidgen on 2005-05-16 15:41 ]
Hope I'm not too late to butt in. Catching up after a weekend away. What a great thread. And since I watched Angel's Season Five Reaper ep last night for the first time since it originally aired, allow me to begin with my most favorite new catchphrase ever.

Let me do my sweet funky.

My best friend sailed happily through college and landed the ideal job. Two years later she returned home to friends and family with her one and only ;) vampwithasoul love, to yet another perfect, ideal job and life. Things were good.
A year later, her husband had bolted, she had nearly died twice, and she was living in total isolation from everyone. She never became an addict but she certainly depended on various numbing substances quite often. She was fired from a couple jobs, and the next man she became involved with died from a gunshot wound to the head. More than one man she knew told her they felt used by her in more than one way. The only time she felt anything was well, during some kinky sexual escapades.

I'm glad I never saw Season Six until recently. Had I viewed it as a young adult, I might have understood but like River would not have comprehended. I love it as much as all the other Season Six-lovers, but I don't quite view Buffy's "self-destruction" the same way. (It's really just personal experience talking here, not age. Emphasis on "personal.") There seems to be general agreement Buffy was on a downward spiral.

Buffy began to heal the moment she clawed her way back from Death. It was raw and bloody, but she began to feel again. Thus begins her path back to life. Back to life, back to reality. I wasn't around for many of the original great debates. I had only begun to watch Buffy while they were raging and didn't understand what I was reading.

Bless SMG, who so totally came through with the perfect, precious, so very Buffy vocals in OMWF. To me, she was just the essence of Buffy as she sang to feel alive again. And walk through the fire and let it burn. Everything she did was all about feeling once more. Sex with Spike accomplished that. It was the only thing that made Buffy feel again. She didn't feel a thing saving Dawn from Sweet. She just walked in, told him how it was, and btw y'all, I was in Heaven.

I haven't really thought about when she began to feel more than just Spike sex.

Maybe it's just me, but I think in Seeing Red Spike was trying desperately to make Buffy feel something. Anything. Why couldn't Buffy feel anything for him? Could he make her feel anything at all? Temporary insanity ensued. Call it what you will but it wasn't rape because it wasn't about power. And for the record, like Spike could ever physically overpower an even slightly-injured Buffy. C'mon now. And I know some people won't agree with that, but it's okay.

Dead Buffy ---> Feeling Buffy ---> Alive Buffy.

PS RE: Season Six. I'm glad I'm not hearing any "her self-esteem was so low she just wanted to feel loved (by a strong man)" crap.

[ edited by April on 2005-05-16 18:41 ]
barest smidgen, what a wonderfully articulated megapost. Feel free to bore me with that kind of post anytime. I wholeheartedly agree, though I couldn't have explained why until I read your post(s). A heartbreaker of a season, that.
Long post alert!
The Spike/Buffy relationship always made sense to me on a visceral level. It took time, however, to put the pieces together on an intellectual level. Actually I still am. That is why I love that whole arc so much. I was not around for the debates however, though I have read some vestiges of them here and there.

Season 6 in reruns was what made me really sit up and take a closer look at the show. I had watched intermittently before, but though a well done story about adolescence is fine, I had pretty much came to grips with the whole High School experience a long time ago. There has also been a lot done about High School over the years. However, the kind of themes that were being looked at in season 6, had not been looked at as much, and not so honestly. (After I got hooked with Season 6, I went back and really examined the whole series, High School and all, of course and found lots to love rather than just respect.)

There are so many things happening on so many levels it is hard to simplify. I agree with Razor, Barest_smidgen, SNT, April and Angelís assessments even where they were in conflict with each other because I think all those things and more were happening. Along with what everyone else said, IMO Buffy was drawn to Spike because his unconditional acceptance of her and lack of expectations about her behavior. That, combined with the fact that she did not have an emotional investment in what he thought of her (unlike she did with all her friends) and their closer physical strength giving her a freedom to do whatever it took to feel something, initially attracted her to him. Once she gave into the attraction, especially the way she gave into the attraction, the self-hate/anger/disappointment that she was already feeling at not being able to be the perfect everything to everyone, came out full force and found both a target and an instrument of self-punishment in Spike. At the same time, it did help her feel things, and work through things and heal. Twisted, but very human.

Spike, on the other hand, for years had only one objective at all times; get close to Buffy. Whatever achieved that he went with. The characters, including Buffy, almost never took the opportunities for positive reinforcement with Spike. Often he was given a hard time for not being good rather than being given credit or rewarded for being better than he had been in the past or for just trying. When Buffy did reward him near the end of Season 5 for keeping Dawnís secret, the results were dramatic and lasted well after Buffy died.

In Season 6 Buffy rewarded him again but this time for violent behavior toward her and initiating kinky sex. As is to be expected, he went with what worked. He was always a time bomb and and I did not find it at all strange that when Buffy ended the relationship, he tried to get her respond to him by trying to force her to have sex with him. I can see the argument that what happened in that bathroom was not about power, as in subjugation, but it was about trying to force someone to feel something, which is about a different kind of power and Spike is culpable. At the same time, Buffy had been playing with fire by encouraging violent sexual behavior by someone who was obsessed with her and she knew had spent more than a hundred years taking pleasure from violence, mixed with sexuality and some form of love. She has some responsibility for what happened in the bathroom too.

And that is what I really like about that season. There are no easy answers, or black and white situations. I liked that I found myself relating to both Buffy and Spike, often at the same time. Like some others who liked season 6, my friends and I also have gone/am going through some dark times and they have manifested in some strange ways that were not usually pleasant. I appreciated the fact that these things were not presented as easy or as impossible to overcome.

[ edited by newcj on 2005-05-17 17:23 ]
I really liked that, newcj.
One more post and we're officially archived.

[ edited by April on 2005-05-17 02:02 ]
April and newcj...thoughtful and well-written theories that really add to my understanding of one of the most compelling arcs of the entire series. Thank you so, for sharing them here. I'll still be thinking about what you (and SNT, Razor, Angela, et al) have written long after this thread, (and I) am put to bed.

(BTW, whatcha mean about "one more and archived?" I'm outta the rules loop.)

And thanks, blutortu, for the kind words. Sometimes we spend alot of time on this stuff and wonder if it's just for our own conceit. Happy to oblige. : )

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