Thursday, June 28, 2007

Imagine a World with Lots of Female Slayers

I finally saw the very last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer last night and yes, I balled. I did. I was so moved by the ending. If you haven't seen it, then don't read my post. I won't have lots of spoilers, but enough to ruin it if you are just now watching the series like I did.

Anyway, what really moved me about the last episode was Buffy's idea to overthrow the "patriarachal" rule that there can be only one slayer in any given age. She devises a plan with Willow to activate all the potential slayers in the world, thereby giving them the power and strength to combat demons, vampires and evil (obviously this is all a metaphor). The scenes showing all the young and older women becoming slayers is powerful because it is such a clear message that what needs to happen is for women--young and old--to embrace their own power and self-reliance to fight evil. Buffy is not a show that features damsels in distress, the heroes are women and girls and they can rely on themselves to tackle whatever frightening or just plain difficult obstacles that come their way.

The show in no way degrades men, their powers and talents, but it elevates women as their equals and does a good job modeling true partnerships, wherein relationships are built on complete mutual respect and admiration.

Anyway, I made a random comparison while watching this last episode. I thought of William James' The Will to Believe. In this essay, James gives an example of a train robbery. The point is that if everyone on a train, which is being robbed, believed that if he or she stood up against the robber, then the robber would never succeed. The robber would be totally outnumbered. James' point is that sometimes beliefs can make facts. But, in this case, everyone would have to believe that if they were to challenge this villain, then everyone would stand with them.

I started to think of my dear friend, Ann's book on Rape (Rethinking Rape). One of her last arguments is that if women were to redefine their bodies--train them via rape prevention courses and other means of helping women feel more embodied and powerful--then potential rapists would have to transform the way they see women's bodies. Currently, women's bodies are culturally coded as vulnerable, weak, and easy to overpower. This cultural view is internalized by women themselves, who grow up to see themselves as vulnerable, in need of male protection, and thereby rapable. Women also don't believe that if they were to confront a rapist that others--especially other women--would come to their rescue (hence why I was thinking of James' essay).

But, what the Buffy episode did was ask the viewer to imagine a world wherein a woman's body did not automatically signify weakness, vulnerability, and thereby rapability. You could never be sure if you were coming up against a slayer. Clearly, this is fantasy. But the message still holds. If women were to begin to take power, embrace their strengths, shed views of themselves as defenseless, weak and in need of male protection, it would not only transform their confidence, but it would stop rapists in their tracks.

I am glad that I saw this episode right after my post on intimate partner violence and pregnancy. Because I am a feminist and therefore view domestic violence as part of a cultural view that sees women as weak and rapable, I am always moved, deeply moved, by visions of women as powerful and self-reliant. I don't relish women who "kick ass," which unfortunately is the default Hollywood, barbie-boobification view of powerful women. The point is not to represent women as violent chicks on bikes with big boobs. The point is to represent women as capable of protecting themselves, not only physically but emotionally too. And, what Joss Whedon does well is show women bonding together, rather than ripping each other apart to curry the favor of some cro-magnon guy who will supposedly bestow them with status and protection.

So, I hope that my daughter will want to watch Buffy episodes with me someday. I know there is a real Nancy Drew revival, but I gotta say, I think Buffy speaks far more to younger generations now than Nancy Drew does.

Any Buffy fans out there?