|Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers|
Written by Lady T.
A year ago, I began writing a series called “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Consent Issues,” looking at specific episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that included a major plot point related to consent, rape culture, and sexual violence.
What I found was illuminating. The show explored sexual violence, misogyny, and rape culture in a number of episodes. Some of these episodes shone a light on problematic aspects of our society, while others perpetuated rape culture–and some managed to do both at the same time.
Here is a roundup of the posts analyzing specific episodes from seasons one and two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Episode 1.06, “The Pack”: Xander, possessed by the spirit of a predatory animal, attempts to rape Buffy.
|Xander (Nicholas Brendon) attacks Buffy while possessed|
“Xander isn’t accountable for what he said or did under the hyena possession. I think unintentional, accidental possession by demonic spirits is about as extenuating a circumstance you can get … I do, however, think that the attempted assault scene reveals something less than pleasant about Xander’s character. No, he would never attack Buffy when he was in his right mind, but he does believe that she’s attracted to dangerous men–that if he were dangerous and mean, she would be attracted to him.”
Episode 2.05, “Reptile Boy”: Buffy and Cordelia are offered as human sacrifices in part of a college fraternity’s ritual.
|Buffy and Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter) wait in terror for the frat boy demon to arise|
“Even before this scene, we knew that Richard was a bad guy and that the Delta Zeta Kappa guys were up to no good, but we were also led to believe that Buffy’s date, Tom, was the nice guy of the group. We think he’s the only good one of a group of potential rapists, and when he pulls Richard off of Buffy’s unconscious body, our initial inference is confirmed–until we see that Tom is just as bad as the rest, if not worst of all. He was only pretending to be nice to make Buffy trust him. The message is clear: even guys who pretend to be nice and unassuming can be dangerous, and you can’t assume that a self-deprecating ‘nice’ guy is actually a good guy.”
Episode 2.07, “Lie to Me,” and Episode 2.10, “What’s My Line? Part 2″: Angel admits to his former torture of Drusilla, and she takes revenge on him.
|Drusilla (Juliet Landau) begins her torture of Angel (David Boreanaz)|
“I’ve often thought that Drusilla is the most tragic character on Buffy, and that’s largely because of her relationship with Angel. I think her obsession with Angel is a commentary on molestation and Stockholm Syndrome. I’m not sure how old she was when Angel and Darla turned her into a vampire, but these episodes and a few flashbacks on Angel indicate that she was pretty young, maybe on the verge of turning eighteen. However old she was, the point is that she was ‘pure, sweet, and chaste’–qualities that made Angel obsessed with her, made him want to corrupt her innocence.”
Episode 2.13, “Surprise”: Buffy and Angel have sex, even though Buffy is still under the age of consent.
|Buffy and Angel, shortly after escaping death and before sleeping together|
“Even though Buffy and Angel sleeping together is wrong from a legal perspective, I have a hard time categorizing this incident as rape. Defining it as rape would rob Buffy of her agency in making that choice to sleep with Angel. She knew exactly what she was doing in the heat of the moment. She wasn’t under the influence of anything, she wasn’t hesitating for a second, and she wanted it to happen … At the same time, Buffy is barely seventeen, and Angel is two hundred and forty. Angel having sex with Buffy at her age and her level of experience is … well, it’s a little gross.”
Episode 2.16, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered”: Xander casts a love spell on Cordelia to get back at her for breaking up with him, but the spell affects every woman in town except Cordelia.
|Xander walks down the hallway with every girl in Sunnydale High ogling him|
“Xander temporarily making Cordelia fall in love with him just so he can break her heart is gross, cruel, and inexcusable (even though I do empathize with his hurt feelings). But imagine if he had wanted Cordelia to love him forever, if the love spell had worked and was permanent, that he slept with her, married her, spent his life with her, all while her feelings for him weren’t real. A temporary love spell for the purpose of revenge is stupid and malicious, but a permanent love spell inspired by ‘pure’ intentions is a much, much bigger violation of consent and autonomy. Yet the second of the two would be considered more ‘romantic’ in our society.”
Episode 2.20, “Go Fish”: Buffy is offered as a “prize” to the members of the school’s swim team.
|Buffy worries more for her reputation than her safety|
“This episode has a lot of victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Buffy is the one who is attacked, but she’s blamed for dressing inappropriately. She defended herself–something that assault victims are always encouraged to do–but only further incriminates herself in the process. Sure, Cameron does have a broken nose, and Buffy doesn’t appear to be injured, but his word is automatically taken over hers. He’s worth more to the school administration. He’s a successful athlete who brings acclaim and honor to the school, and she’s a violent troublemaker. Buffy’s not the ‘right’ kind of victim.”
After analyzing this batch of episodes from the first two seasons, I noticed a few common threads.
1. In two cases, Xander is an “accidental” predator. The circumstances in “The Pack” were truly not Xander’s fault, as he never intended to become possessed by a hyena. The love spell in “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered,” on the other hand, was entirely his doing, even though he did not intend to use the spell to violate anyone’s physical consent.
2. Buffy was a victim or intended victim in most of the episodes. She was a target of Xander’s hyena-possessed lust, chosen to be a human sacrifice, offered up to the swim team as a prize, and the first girl to fall under Xander’s love spell. The strongest girl in the world still faces victimization whenever she turns around.
What are the implications when one of the main male characters (and one of Buffy’s best friends) is shown to be an “accidental” predator? And what are the implications when our protagonist, a butt-kicking young woman, is a common target for misogynistic attacks?
(Hint: these questions are open-ended for a reason, kids. Give your answers in the comments. Extra credit to those who show their work!)