Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Feminists know a good deal about having and voicing unpopular opinions about films and television. There are often uncomfortable truths about well-loved movies or series. While many people prefer to either ignore those uncomfortable truths or deride those attempting to expose them, it is imperative that we remain active participants in the consumption of media.
As frustrating as our erasure and stereotyping is, however, I’d like to go beyond the question of “good” and “bad” representations of bisexual characters to ask this: exactly what it is about bisexuality which makes it so hard to represent on-screen? And why, when bisexuality is visible, is it so likely to collapse back into dominant stereotypes of bisexuality as either promiscuous or merely a phase?
But the clearest example of the Buffyverse’s discomfort with bisexuality, in my opinion, appears in the character of Faith Lehane. … Despite what was at the time a groundbreaking portrayal of a loving lesbian relationship, ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ still had many issues in its messaging surrounding queer sexualities, in particular bisexuality. In my opinion, a few material changes could have gone a long way in removing at least some of this negative messaging.
So is Willow bi, or is she a lesbian? Well, I guess it’s your choice. I personally believe she’s bisexual; it makes more sense to me, a bisexual woman, that Willow is also a bisexual woman, just with a preference for women. But I have read that many lesbians connected with Willow’s story on such a fundamental way, and I can’t wholeheartedly take it away from them; they have just as much of a right to her as I do.
The possibility existed to use season 3 to explore the sexual identity of three very central female characters in this show. Buffy could have been questioning; Faith could have been explicitly bisexual rather than simply implying as much through very sexually-charged dialogue with Buffy; Willow could have started exploring her sexuality earlier to arrive at a more self-aware place, whether that was as a bisexual woman or a lesbian.
Bisexuality is commonly erased in the media, despite there being many examples of characters attracted to multiple genders.
Despite what the multitude of Bechdel-test-failing media would have us believe, relationships among women can be complex and about much, much more than men. The sibling relationships of sisters, in fact, can be particularly rich, nuanced, and worth contemplation. Sibling rivalry, as it appears in ‘A League of Their Own’ and ‘Sixteen Candles,’ examines competition for recognition, birth order conflict, and self-doubt when faced with perceptions of sibling superiority.
Check out all of the posts from our Superheroines Theme Week here.
Often carrying the burden of representation in a genre overrun with male characters, superheroines were strong or weak, clear-headed or in constant need of saving, but rarely complex or allowed complicated internal lives, and even more rarely truly relatable. Buffy changed all that.
However, Whale challenges Shelley’s automatic association of the maternal with the absent female: the Bride’s rejection of Frankenstein’s monster shows that the maternal can be absent even when the woman is present, while the blind man’s nurturing care suggests that man can embody the noblest maternal impulse.
Recognizing the function of Ice Prince/Wolf in YA SARCom implies the continual defeat of the Whore as structural necessity in male writings also – as a pursuing character she must be resisted to generate sexual tension, regardless of whether the male author is Team Madonna or Team Whore. The destructive impact on the self-image of female viewers is pure collateral damage, just as our SARCom is poisonously emasculating for male viewers.
Not only does the characterization of this violent misogyny as “primordial” imply that violence toward women is the natural state of men, it also implies that gender itself is an essential and natural state of being. Men are men and women are women. In a universe that generally operates in gray areas, such a distinction is uncharacteristically black and white.