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The Feminist Filter: Halloween

will57
Alright! Let's do Halloween! This one is particularly rich in the feminist text, so make yourself some tea. :)


Mission Statement:

This series is intended to outline the feminist text of each episode so as to provoke and encourage open discussion. It's not so much about making value judgments about events and/or characters but about analyzing the series from a feminist framework so as to see what patterns and themes emerge.

Rules:

1. If you do not consider yourself a feminist or do not see the point of dissecting a TV show from a feminist perspective, this is not the meta series for you. I don't mean this in a hostile way, however the intended audience of this series is feminists who want to turn a critical eye to the show.

2. This meta series is written well beyond a 101 level of feminism. If you are new to feminism, I ask that you please take a look at this blog for an introduction to concepts that will be discussed heavily here.

3. If you begin to feel yourself getting defensive on behalf of a character (or the show), take a break from commenting. The outlines as posted are not meant to condemn either the characters or the show, but to contextualize the dialogue and events within the patriarchal cultural in which they reside.

4. BtVS is a constructed media. The characters are not actual people but are written, dressed, and directed by a team of outsiders. Criticizing a character for, say, having sex could be a sexist insult or it could be a legitimate criticism of the writers who chose to go that route with the storyline. There are nuances here when discussing a television show, and I ask that everybody be careful about exactly what's being discussed. A couple helpful terms are Watsonian and Doylist. "Watsonian" indicates that the discussion is taking place within the Buffy universe as if the characters are real people. "Doylist" indicates that the discussion is focused on the construction of the narrative and, as such, deals with the decisions of the writers and/or producers.

5. The key goal here is open discussion. I'm not presenting you guys with any brilliant insights; I'm just laying out what's in the episode. Feel free to discuss or disagree with me and others. Also feel free to answer other commenter's questions. The comment section is an open floor.



2.06 Halloween

I. The Tallies

Criteria for Bechdel Check: The episode must have a) two women in it b) who talk to each other c) about something besides a man.


  1. Bechdel Check: PASS on 6 counts

  2. Deaths:
    Dead boys: 0
    Dead girls: 0


II. Agency

Criteria for Agency: Do the female characters a) exert power or influence over the plot b) through decisions based on their own characterization? Agency means more than providing information or support that helps the (usually male) characters resolve the conflict.

The Plot: Ethan Rayne creates some chaos by turning people into their Halloween costumes. Spike takes advantage of the situation to hunt down Buffy.

The Big Question:
If Buffy were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? No.
If Willow were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? No.
If Cordelia were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
If Drusilla were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.


  • Decisive Buffy: Buffy's first major decision rests in picking out her costume for Halloween. This inadvertently renders her the damsel for the majority of the episode. This doesn't afford her much in the way of agency, however her return to herself at the end allows her to fight Spike.
  • Decisive Willow: By contrast, Willow ultimately doesn't choose her costume. The cover-all ghost outfit quickly gives way to the more revealing outfit beneath. This inadvertently renders her the most capable member of the gang. She quickly takes charge and makes the plans. She's the one who gathers everybody together and gives them the 411 on what's going down. Then she tells everybody what to do while she gets Giles.


III. The Feminist Fine-Toothed Comb

Criteria: Do any of the characters engage in sexist dialogue or action, whether overt or subtle? Does it receive an explicit rebuke or does it pass uncommented on? Further, what can be deduced from the various gendered comments that are made by the characters?


  • Protagonists (Buffy, Xander, Willow, Giles, Cordelia, and Angel)

    1. In the first act, Cordelia is relating to Angel a story about Devon. She says: "So I told Devon, 'You call that leather interior? My Barbie Dream Car had nicer seats!'"

    Barbie Dream Car being a reference to the girls' toy, which is highly feminized.

    2. After seeing Angel with Cordelia, Buffy gets insecure about her post-Slaying look. She says: "Dates are things normal girls have. Girls who have time to think about nail polish and facials. You know what I think about? Ambush tactics. Beheading. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. "

    We get another example of Buffy's liminal status between masculine and feminine. With this comment, she's lamenting her lack of femininity due to her involvement with Slaying, the masculine.

    3. In Act One, Larry asks Xander if he and Buffy are just friends. Xander responds: ""I like to think of it less as a friendship and more as a solid foundation for future bliss."

    He gives voice to some Nice Guy tendencies in sticking with a friendship with the unspoken hope of more happening later. This usually leads to entitlement issues and possessive jealousy towards any other guys that the friend may be interested in (as we see in Xander towards Angel).

    4. When Xander confronts Larry about his slut-shaming comments about Buffy, he says: "I'm gonna do what any man would do about it: somethin' damn manly."

    The emphasis on "manliness" is pretty explicit. Xander is attempting to live up to gendered expectations of masculinity. This involves defending the "honor" of Buffy, his friend (and a girl, not coincidentally). As he says this, he makes the motions of threatening physical violence. Much like we got with Buffy in #2, we have the association of masculinity with violence as well as with protectorship of women.

    5. After Buffy rescues Xander from Larry, Xander rails against it: "Oh, I'll forget about it. In maybe fifteen, twenty years when my rep for being a sissy man finally fades! [...] A black eye heals, Buffy, but cowardice has an unlimited shelf life."

    In this case, being rescued by a girl is equated to cowardice, which is declared decidedly unmasculine. This point is important in that Xander's not labeling getting beat up by Larry as cowardice. Xander was facing Larry down and knew he was about to get pummeled. He preferred that to being rescued by Buffy. The act of being rescued by a girl socially labels him as cowardly.

    6. After Xander walks away in a huff, Buffy and Willow commiserate:

    Buffy: I think I just violated the guy code big time.

    Willow: Poor Xander. Boys are so fragile.


    Buffy references the "guy code". References to "guy code" or "girl code" usually act to essentialize the genders and maintain the socially constructed gender binary.

    Willow chooses to subvert common traditional gender roles by noting that "boys are so fragile". Presumably, she means emotionally fragile, a stereotypically female trait.

    7. Buffy and Willow take a look at the Watcher's Journals and come across a picture of a woman from 1775. They provide some commentary:

    Buffy: So that's the kinda girl he hung around? She's pretty coiffed.

    Willow: She looks like a noble woman or something. Which means being beautiful is sort of her job.

    Buffy: And clearly this girl was a workaholic. I'll never be like this.

    Willow: C'mon! She's not that pretty. I mean, look at her. She's got a funny... uh, waist. Look how tiny that is.


    Earlier, we'd seen references to Buffy's "job" being Slaying. Here we get the opposite: being beautiful as a "job". This sets up the dichotomy for later in the episode.

    Interesting to note as the conversation continues:

    Buffy: (sarcastically) Thank you. Now I feel better.

    Willow: (exhales) No. She's like a freak. A circus freak. Yuk.

    Buffy: (exhales) Musta been wonderful. Put on some fantabulous gown and go to a ball like a princess, and have horses and servants, and yet more gowns.

    Willow: Yeah. Still, I think I prefer being able to vote. (Buffy raises her brows) (smiles) Or I will when I can.


    While Buffy gets misty-eyed about the princess fantasy, Willow remarks on the lack of rights women had at the time.

    8. When Willow and Buffy tell Cordelia that Angel is a vampire, she responds:

    Cordelia: (steps over to them) You know what I think? (crosses her arms) I just think you're trying to scare me off 'cause you're afraid of the competition. Look, Buffy, you may be hot stuff when it comes to demonology or whatever, but when it comes to dating, I'm the Slayer.


    Cordelia comments, essentially, on Buffy's failure to be feminine, positioning herself as particularly good at it.

    9. Later, Buffy and Willow are picking out costumes. Buffy is less than thrilled with Willow's choice of a ghost. She expounds on the point of Halloween. "It's come as you aren't night. The perfect chance for a girl to get sexy and wild with no repercussions."

    The no repercussions, of course, implies that being sexy and wild normally has repercussions in the form of slut-shaming.

    10. At the costume shop, Buffy becomes enamored at a dress. Xander comments: "Too bulky. I prefer my women in spandex."

    It's interesting to note that Xander's initial instinct is to comment on how the dress appeals to him, sexually. It's not about Buffy thinking the dress is pretty or whether the dress is well-made or whatnot, but about how it satisfies his desires.

    11. The beginning of Act Two contains a lot of evaluation of how the girls look in their costumes. The end goal is obvious: attractiveness.

    Buffy, referring to Angel: "I'll show him I can coif with the best of 'em."

    When Willow emerges in her costume, Buffy comments: "Wow! You're a dish!"

    Then when Xander arrives, we get a prolonged commentary on her looks: "Buffy! Lady of Buffdom, Duchess of Buffonia, I am in awe! I completely renounce spander!"

    Buffy responds: "Thank you, kind sir."

    It's notable that no comment is made on Xander's costume or his attractiveness. Women are subject to a near-constant scrutiny and appraisal of their looks.

    12. When she's turned into her costume, Buffy takes a look at a picture of herself. She says: "I don't understand any of this! This is some other girl! I would never wear this, that low apparel, and I don't like this place, and I don't like you, and I just wanna go home!"

    The comment that modern!Buffy's outfit qualifies as "low apparel" is, of course, speaking to the cultural differences between the two times. However, it also speaks to the history of women's place in society in terms of appropriate dress.

    13. When Willow goes to find Giles, she instructs everybody to fight off anything that tries to get in the house. Buffy responds: "Well, it's not our place to fight. Uh, surely some men will protect us."

    Cordelia provides an effectively sarcastic commentary on that: "What's that riff?"

    Buffy's fully in her role as the regressed and disempowered women. See the Points to Consider section for more on this point.

    14. As Xander is securing the house, he mentions that he's doing what Willow told him to. Buffy replies: "You would take orders from a woman? Are you feeble in some way?"

    15. Later, when Xander discovers a picture of himself, he gets on board with Willow's "amnesia" explanation. Buffy rails against it: "I was brought up a proper lady. I-I wasn't meant to understand things. I'm just meant to look pretty, and then someone nice will marry me. Possibly a Baron."

    While Buffy's comment highlights the hyperfemininity of her costumed character, Xander's response shows a disregard for the feminine, overall: "This ain't no tea party, princess."

    16. Giles questions Willow about the nature of her costume. In discomfort, Willow points the finger at Cordelia: "Well, this is nothing. You should see what Cordelia was wearing. A unitard with cat things, like ears and stuff."

    In pointing out that her costume is "nothing" compared to Cordelia's, Willow's effectively saying that Cordelia is dressed sluttier than she is. She's trying to bring herself up to an acceptable status in Giles' eyes by giving an example of a girl whose transgression is even worse.

    17. During the final act, Giles is explaining Janus to Willow:

    Giles: Primarily the division of self. Male and female, light and dark.


    It's traditional to separate male and female as opposites. Unfortunately, this practice leads to all sorts of problems. After all, if men are strong and women are opposite men, then women must be weak.

    18. After the spell is done, Buffy explains to Angel why she dressed up in that particular costume:

    Buffy: (sits next to him) I just wanted to be a real girl for once. The kind of fancy girl you liked when you were my age.

    Angel: (ironically) Oh, ho.

    Buffy: What?

    Angel: I hated the girls back then. Especially the noble women.

    Buffy: (nods) You did.

    Angel: They were just incredibly dull. Simpering morons, the lot of them. I always wished I could meet someone... exciting. (looks her in the eyes) Interesting.


    Note that Buffy positions being a "real girl" as being feminine. Doing Slayer stuff doesn't qualify as being a "real girl" for her at this point.

    See more about this discussion in the Points to Consider section.

  • Antagonists (Spike, Drusilla, Ethan)

    1. While watching video of Buffy fighting, Spike comments: "She's tricky. Baby likes to play."

    "Baby" is an infantilizing affectation with which to refer to Buffy.

  • The Rest (Oz, Devon, Larry)

    1. In his first confrontation with Xander, Larry comments on Buffy: "I heard some guys say she was fast."

    Obviously, there've been some slut rumors going around about Buffy that Larry's picked up on.

    2. Later, in Act Two, Larry teases Xander: "Where's your bodyguard, Harris? Curling her hair?"

    This is an insult to women as much as it is to Xander, as it's positioning women bodyguards as absurd and worthy of mockery.

    3. At the beginning of Act Four, pirate!Larry spots lady!Buffy and comments: "Pretty, pretty!"

    There is the unmistakable threat of sexual assault against Buffy in his attack on her as he tries to forcibly kiss her. She is rescued by Xander.



IV. Objectification Watch


  1. The episode opens with a very literal male-gaze on Buffy: that of the vampire camera man. We get several video camera shots of her as she fights a vampire. We later see Spike watching the footage of this, complete with rewind.
  2. Willow's costume is revealing, which is the point according to Buffy. Despite Willow's attempt to cover up, she spends most of the episode with her midriff showing. Cordelia's costume is less revealing, but more form-fitting and spandex-y.
  3. We get a shot of Willow from Oz's viewpoint at the end.


V. Points to Consider


  1. The costumes of the kids we see seem to fall along gender lines.

    Little boys: A devil, 2 generic demons, a vampire, a doctor, a pirate, a...potato?, 2 knights, a football player, a Dalmation
    Little girls: 3 witches, a princess, a belly dancer, 2 fairies, a ballerina, something with a red polka dot dress
    Can't call: A pink bunny thing, a yellow flower

  2. In having Buffy turn into a eighteenth century lady, this episode proceeds to play it for humor and then uses it to damselize Buffy. Within the larger metaphor of the episode, this is a commentary on femininity, which Buffy is shown to be concerned about at the beginning. Does this episode end up denigrating femininity? What about Willow's comment: "She couldn't've dressed up like Xena?" Xena being a more masculine character, of course. In an effort to show how Buffy enjoys and benefits from her masculine (Slayer) side, does this episode swing too far in its depiction of femininity as weak, irrational, and incompetent?

    Furthermore, several of the characters have insulting reactions to lady!Buffy. Cordelia snarks at her several times. At the end, Angel goes to great length to assure Buffy that he "hated the girls back then" because "they were just incredibly dull" and were "simpering morons". With these reactions, is the show condemning the feminine in lieu of placing more value on the masculine?

  3. What about the sexual assault of lady!Buffy by pirate!Larry in this framework, with her subsequent rescue by manly!Xander? We have a character who's hyper-femininized and then left vulnerable to an assault, only to be rescued by a character who's been hyper-masculinized. What are we to take from this?

  4. On that same line of thought, what do we make of the fact that soldier!Xander, in all his masculinity, is completely okay following Willow's orders?



Comments

local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 02:16 pm (UTC)
Like others above I'm a little bit weirded by the way femininity and masculinity are presented via Buffy and Xander. Because feminine!Buffy is useless, selfish, etc., and masculine!Xander is actually pretty functional, not misogynistic, taking orders from Willow, etc. I do tend to think that the reason for this has to do, though, with the nature of Buffy and Xander's specific fantasies. Buffy's fantasy is tied directly to What Angel Wants -- it's purely reactive to what she thinks someone else's ideal is, and that makes feminine as an object, entirely. Xander's fantasy is to be strong and self-actualized, and is ultimately about himself as a subject. Once he's a subject, in his fantasy, much of his insecurity about strong women actually dissipates.

One could argue too that the reason Xander is portrayed in a more positive way is that Xander in The Pack was another model of hypermasculine Xander, and that was (pretty much) wholly negative.

I think the implicit criticism in noble!Buffy is not of actual noblewomen, or actual 'feminine' women, but of the idea of women as objects -- and the internalized misogyny of women believing they should be objects. It's like the way Cordelia comes under feminist fire from the show; Buffy wants to be the type of girl whose job it is to be beautiful, or rather she wants to be that because it will make her desirable, not a freak, etc., etc. But that attitude itself is a problem. More to the point, it is going to hurt her -- because there is an element of Buffy who accepts the aspect of B/A that has her in the weaker, victimy role, and Angel will exploit that. But the extreme to which noble!Buffy was painted as selfish and the like as well does seem a bit far for this point, and it's always problematic to criticize female fantasy.

This is Marti Noxon's first script, I think -- it's credited to Carl Ellsworth, but Joss has confirmed that Marti did a complete rewrite. So it is interesting, because Marti Noxon returns to the themes of female fantasy quite often, and often has Buffy in a somewhat more 'feminine' role of wanting to be rescued, wanting to chase after male protector figures. For some controversial examples, see the helicopter chase in Into the Woods, the Bangel bits in Surprise, The Prom and Forever, the AR which places Buffy in the victim role and which was largely MN's idea. There's also Willow submitting to Rack in Wrecked. How does the female authorship of these elements affect our perception of them? Does it at all? For me it does -- because I think Marti Noxon's understanding of what female fantasy (of submitting, of being in the 'weaker' position) is is going to be much different than Joss' understanding is. She also, of course, writes women as dominant a great deal of the time -- c.f. Vamp Willow, Drusilla in What's My Line, Buffy to an extent in Wrecked. I think it'd be interesting to track differences between the Marti/Jane/RRK scripts and the Joss/Fury/Doug/Greenwalt scripts.
doublemeat
Sep. 18th, 2011 02:47 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure how to reconcile the idea that Buffy's costume is a female fantasy with the idea that it's a male fantasy (specifically, Angel's fantasy). Her fantasy of his fantasy? It gets pretty convoluted there, and like I said above, I think the writers equivocated a lot on whether the costumes were entirely fantastic. Definitely not the most thematically tight episode.

Random side note on Noxon vs. Greenwalt: I was looking at the list of Greenwalt scripts and noticed he wrote "Dear Boy", which is one of my favorite AtS eps. I was surprised he wrote it, looked it up on the wiki, and found out Marti did all the Angel/Darla dialogue. Mystery solved!
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
I see what you're saying. How about this: I think it's a fantasy for people generally to be wanted -- to be exactly what someone else wants and needs and to complete them completely, etc. It's a bit of a fantasy of passivity, though, in that it is about being the complement to an already existing figure of desire, rather than wanting something about yourself. Buffy is looking in the books for the kind of girl Angel must have wanted; is jealous that Cordelia can be the kind of girl Angel wants, etc. She's surprised to learn that Angel actually would prefer her as she is. I think that there may be other Buffy-centric reasons she'd like to be Duchess Buffy, but I think that her believing that it's what Angel actually would want is really high on the list.

But then -- my general read on Buffy/Angel is complicated, especially because I think he presents himself as a figure of female fantasy, all dark brooding stranger etc. -- so that to some extent he basically *is* Buffy's young teenage dream lover, and then her nightmare guy. So maybe it's even more convoluted, of Buffy trying to be the fantasy of a guy who acts out being her fantasy. Eep.

I find the first three acts of Dear Boy pretty dull. Oh, let's have Darla kill a guy and then Kate will implicate Angel! Um? But then that Angel/Darla scene comes along and it's like, WHAT JUST HAPPENED GIVE ME MORE. Mystery solved, indeed.
doublemeat
Sep. 19th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
But then -- my general read on Buffy/Angel is complicated, especially because I think he presents himself as a figure of female fantasy, all dark brooding stranger etc. -- so that to some extent he basically *is* Buffy's young teenage dream lover, and then her nightmare guy. So maybe it's even more convoluted, of Buffy trying to be the fantasy of a guy who acts out being her fantasy. Eep.

Yes, absolutely. It's presented as the first serious relationship for both of them (maybe not in Angel's case, depending on how truthful he's really being), so they're each trying constantly to figure out what the other wants. Maybe the idea of convergent fantasies is a coherent one after all.
local_max
Sep. 20th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC)
I do think that Angel's relationship with Darla is extremely serious -- but Angel and Darla are very careful about not calling it love, and with emphasizing that their relationship is one that never comes in the way of their own self-protection. I think a lot of that is actually a front, because they are trying to be anti-society, anti-human types. Angel seems to like the idea of dying for Darla in "The Trial" not just in the present scenes, but also in the flashbacks to when Holtz is hunting them; it's Darla who makes sure the terms are set that she is way more important than him. But I don't think that actually undermines that they had a long, long relationship. Buffy is the anti-Darla for Angel is most ways, though I'm not sure that he's conscious about it.
angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
This is Marti Noxon's first script, I think -- it's credited to Carl Ellsworth, but Joss has confirmed that Marti did a complete rewrite. So it is interesting, because Marti Noxon returns to the themes of female fantasy quite often, and often has Buffy in a somewhat more 'feminine' role of wanting to be rescued, wanting to chase after male protector figures. For some controversial examples, see the helicopter chase in Into the Woods, the Bangel bits in Surprise, The Prom and Forever, the AR which places Buffy in the victim role and which was largely MN's idea. There's also Willow submitting to Rack in Wrecked. How does the female authorship of these elements affect our perception of them? Does it at all? For me it does -- because I think Marti Noxon's understanding of what female fantasy (of submitting, of being in the 'weaker' position) is is going to be much different than Joss' understanding is.

Hmm, this is interesting. I think, in a way, the female fantasy of submitting/being in the 'weaker' position stems from this desire to uplift the value of women's roles from the individual POV. There's lots of contradictory messages that go down with women -- first, that they're worth less, that what they do isn't as important, that they shouldn't be as smart or as tough -- but then the ~ideal of womanhood isn't treated with respect because they're not as smart or as tough or earning enough money. (I didn't express this very well, but I hope you get what I mean: the roles society expects of women are the ones society devalues: censure on one side, scorn and disinterest on the other). It's a Catch-22: this is the sort of situation where fantasy thrives because there is little hope for resolution in reality. So fantasizing about the fulfillment possible from truly embodying the societally dictated form and being ~loved, accepted and respected is like fantasizing about society's promise being fulfilled: be a woman and you'll finally be in your place and be happy. Only society breaks this compact since the structure is not egalitarian.

But when you're young and you're trying to figure out who you are, how people perceive you is hugely influential because it seems like they know where as you don't. Considering all these ~chase scenes you listed, I think it's as much running towards the fantasy Real Girl as it is running from the dark demonic Slayer. (/topherism) Connecting this back to the outside world, embracing the fantasy Real Woman could be about seeking comfort from the untenable position women have in society. There's no way for a woman to ever be ~good enough -- even if she's the Queen of Performing her role, she still feels alone and empty inside (Cordy: she really shows it's performance largely for the men in positions of power).

Edited at 2011-09-18 03:46 pm (UTC)
gabrielleabelle
Sep. 18th, 2011 04:21 pm (UTC)
Fab points. I also feel that this female fantasy of submission connects to rape fantasies and the like. It's the same socially-induced mindset that women and girls adopt to reconcile conflicting social pressures.

angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Word. You know I'm there with you on the rape fantasies subject. It's fascinating to me how the social pressures are reconciled by the individual. Sociology vs. psychology.
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 04:30 pm (UTC)
Yeah, this makes sense. Women are expected to "be womanly," and then being womanly is a sucky thing to be; but to the extent that they are not womanly, and have traits that might be considered positive in men, it's only written as women failing to be "real women." I think the fantasy of submission maybe has something to do with not just the fantasy of the Real Girl but also, maybe, the end of the neverending pain of being judged for who you are -- if you are submitting to someone else's view of who you should be, then it's no longer your responsibility, and the judgment sort of gets displaced onto whoever is defining you. An abdication of responsibility, and a displacement of personal confusion onto the load of society generally.

And yeah -- I think Cordy's story is really the best demonstration of it. Cordy chases after ideals of the Real Girl. She doesn't have the same level of difficulty that Buffy has with being the Real Girl, because she's *not* a freak, she's *not* the masculine-y slayer. And also, she doesn't have the level of compassion Buffy does in WttH and elsewhere, where Buffy rejects the role that Cordy chooses because it's, well, really mean. (Which, I don't think this is because of anything intrinsically lacking in Cordelia -- but that's a digression.) Later Cordelia pursues the ideal of Angel-centric supporto-gal. And it kills her. Things we've discussed, but it seems particularly significant. Women can't win: they can't be taken seriously in charge, and if they're not in charge and let others make choices for them, they are either mocked for being weak, or they end up being swallowed and destroyed. THAT'S WHY THERE'S BUFFY. Honey I'm home because ultimately she's home as Buffy the slayer, not Buffy the distorted feminine ideal.

There's a bit in Casablanca (have you seen Casablanca? should we talk about Casablanca? spoilers for Casablanca, though I try to vague it up) where Ilsa asks Rick to do the thinking for her, and Rick accepts that in a manly way. What's kind of interesting and subversive is that what Rick ends up doing with his thinking is deciding to prop up Ilsa's initial choice, but it is presented as being Rick's brilliant decision. I mean, I don't think this is deliberate feminism, but maybe it's part of my way to come to terms with (one of my) favourite movies' less savoury aspects. But what I think happens is that Ilsa is required to make ridiculous sacrifices for the War Effort, and because the only options of how to sacrifice as a woman are limited in WW2, it is basically to play a domestic role for Victor Laszlo the Resistance Icon. And this tears her apart because her own desires aren't met; and she has to leave Rick behind without saying anything; and she has to act as a kept woman who can't officially say she's married to Victor and suffers people's scorn; and etc. So she's making huge sacrifices which go unappreciated. And so she submits to Rick at one point in the film -- and he makes the heroic choice to...send her off with Victor to continue all this, but for him to heroically get involved in the war effort in his own way. So on one hand this is awful. But in another it basically *is* the only thing they can actually do, because the war is more important than their individual lives, AND because, ultimately, Ilsa was right all along. But by Rick confirming that Ilsa's decision was the correct one, he also removes the burden of *guilt* that underlies her decision, and so in a sense sets her free even as he constricts her. But is that okay, to have a narrative where a woman submits to have her choices made for her, even if the choice made is ultimately one that reinforces the decision that she herself had made? Is it demeaning to suggest that the decision only counts when a man makes it? I can't quite process it. But I feel like it's sort of okay. Anyway, Ilsa is such a BAMF. Even if she can't bring herself to pull the trigger on Rick.
angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
if you are submitting to someone else's view of who you should be, then it's no longer your responsibility, and the judgment sort of gets displaced onto whoever is defining you. An abdication of responsibility, and a displacement of personal confusion onto the load of society generally.

Right, the abdication of control aligns with abdication of responsibility. This ties in with the infantilization of women. It makes me think of a child striving to be ~perfect~ for her parents, but never being good enough no matter how well she does in school, how popular she is, or successful. And the constant yearning for acceptance from society/parents means she's not looking for acceptance within. Dominance games...


Oh. Cordy as the gender role supplicant really gets skeevy with how her story is rife with monstrous pregnancy that devours her individual traits. Has anyone done a gender analysis of Cordy's entire arc? Because AtS Season 4 and the ~performative~ nature of Cordy!Jasmine...

What's funny is that Cordy ~thinks she's the Queen of Performing, but Owen sees through her immediately, and as we see in Reptile Boy that her ways of performing are actually obvious. She's a bad actress, so she's a bad gender performer. But what she excels at is intimidation -- which is why she's incredible as the judge, jury, and executioner of the gender police. I feel like Cordy's story was ~ready for her to become a feminist, perhaps more so than any other character. In AtS Season 1 when she's confronted with her past in R/m With a Vu -- the reclamation of her sense of self and her ability to be the strong intimidating ~bitch~. She could've used this self-awareness of her past gender policing to turn on the dudes she used to court -- after all, she hasn't been able to break into the power structure no matter how many auditions she goes to (bad actress, not a good enough performer). Her physical beauty gets her in the door (she's a beautiful woman), but she's not able to play the role successfully. She knows enough to hide her intelligence, but she's unable convincingly play the part (when she throws herself into Angel's arms to thank him for saving them all, it's overly dramatic and ridiculous). She's a bit too honest in her wants and needs and her expectation that those needs be met (e.g. too obvious about being money hungry -- pooh pooh so nouveau riche).

It's like there was this opportunity for Cordy to really become ~aware~ of the gender and power games she's been playing, but instead she ends up doubling down on the gender role of ~true~ womanhood and actually goes a bit medieval with it, becoming the martyr/saint/mother figure for Angel.

Cordy wasn't good at being a modern Real Woman, but I guess she just needed to go back a few centuries? Back to when womanhood was more grounded in ultimate sacrifices (her body, her humanity), silencing of self (tied to the sacrifices), and comforting the menz.

---

HAHA I HAVE SEEN CASABLANCA, OF COURSE. Though I need to watch it again. I've found there's so many things I need to watch again, simply because my perspective on art has really shifted since I was a teenager.

I'm not sure it's all that empowering that Ilsa needs Rick to remove her burden of guilt, though. Far more empowering for her to challenge the source of that guilt and find her own reasons to do what she knows she must do.

(I'm missing nuance because it's been a long time since I watched this movie.)
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC)
HAHA I HAVE SEEN CASABLANCA, OF COURSE. Though I need to watch it again. I've found there's so many things I need to watch again, simply because my perspective on art has really shifted since I was a teenager.

I'm not sure it's all that empowering that Ilsa needs Rick to remove her burden of guilt, though. Far more empowering for her to challenge the source of that guilt and find her own reasons to do what she knows she must do.

(I'm missing nuance because it's been a long time since I watched this movie.)


Yeah. I mean, it's literally disempowering, for Ilsa to abdicate responsibility the way she does. What I think the empowering thing is more the fact that her initial choice is supported by the film. Rick's heroism is to support Ilsa's original choice. Ilsa breaks and abdicates responsibility after holding it together in a difficult situation for years. I think it's less that the arc is empowering to Ilsa, and more that it's a bit of a complicated case of abdication of power/responsibility. That said, Rick making the decision for both of them without talking it over with Ilsa -- and his paternalism in assuming she won't go along with his choice -- is also disempowering.

(In fairness to Rick -- part of the movie's brilliant, probably accidental structure, is that what happens in the present day part of the plotline is a very close reversal of what happened between Rick and Ilsa back in Paris. In Paris, Rick was completely devoted to Ilsa and planning on staying with her, and then Ilsa made a decision about the Greater Good, didn't expect Rick to be able to handle it, and dumped him harshly in a letter, not giving him any opportunity to have a say or even understand what happened. In the present, Ilsa finally undoes that action by reemphasizing the primacy of her and Rick's love and deciding to stay with him, and then Rick leaves Ilsa for the Greater Good, without giving her any opportunity to have a say -- though in the second time through there is at least an opportunity to discuss it, if not extensively. So Rick's take-charge attitude mirrors Ilsa's, and offers her redemption for her behaviour. Phew. It's also sort of a revenge fantasy; I think it's also a fantasy where Ilsa gets what she wants -- to continue being a good person fighting the good fight -- while being relieved of her guilt; it's also a fantasy where Rick gets to be the big hero where he gets the girl and simultaneously doesn't get her; etc. It's a lot of buttons that get pressed at once. I don't think it's a very feminist work, especially since it is in the film's present, rather than in the past, that Rick is the dominant/decision-making partner, as opposed to Ilsa who is the dominant/decision-making partner during the Paris era. But I don't think it's anti-feminist per se, or maybe I just want to believe that. It's interesting the way it engages with that abdication of responsibility.)

I agree with your Cordy thoughts, but they are NOT AS CLOSE TO MY HEART as Casablanca so.
angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC)
Yeah, now that you're refreshing my mind on the film, I have to say that it seems a bit more like the independent woman who ~dared make decisions for the man has been put back in her place. I think for the film to have taken a more feminist route, Ilsa would've needed to challenge the guilt she felt and possibly let go of it. Her actions in leaving Rick make me think of women abandoning their men to devote themselves to public service -- THE HOUSEHOLD NEEDS YOU, LADIES. Plus that famous last line, "Here's lookin' at you, kid." Rick has reclaimed her action, but has legitimized it by his performing it. He's reclaimed control and his role as the agent who decides when she leaves and where she'll go. It's what she wanted all along, but Rick must give his blessing first. So yeah, very paternalistic.

...

I LOVE INGRID BERGMAN
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
Anyway, yeah, I think you're right -- I sort of have struggled with this for a while. I think that I have sort of danced around different interpretations while avoiding the obvious one. I think that in isolation it's still a great character study, but I think it is one that is ultimately very regressive in a broader gender context. Which is perhaps to be expected for work from the era, but is no excuse.
angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
I think it's still amazing as a film, though. And it speaks to the time period about how men and women interacted. Sometimes seeking texts from the past for feminist themes is like expecting them to be about our present rather than our past.

So maybe the question would be to explore why Rick felt the need to regress, to restore the status quo? Dangit, I need to watch this movie now because isn't the status quo being ~beyond~ restoration a theme of the film?

It could be that Rick's vying for control in her personal dynamics is a commentary on how he feels the world is spinning out of control.
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
Hm -- it's an interesting question! I might move to pm since it might be moving out of feminist territory (since my umabashed fannishness will get in the way of whether I get defensive on its behalf).
local_max
Sep. 20th, 2011 01:21 pm (UTC)
I want to also add that while Rick vies for control in their personal dynamic -- he should have some control in their relationship. Because relationships should be equitable, and Ilsa's departure left him with zero control or understanding. Rick I think overcompensates and reaches for a kind of 1940's paternalism as a more equitable situation, but I think that doesn't mean that his desire to redress the power imbalance is itself wrong. I think Ilsa did owe Rick an explanation to a degree -- because I think any two people in a close relationship do owe each other some sort of explanation when they leave, if only to establish that they're not dead hey wait a minute what does this remind me of.

None of which is a criticism of Ilsa's behaviour ultimately, except insofar as her not trusting Rick with the info. But the world does come first *as it should*. And you know, not trusting herself to be able to handle telling Rick about it -- understandable. Sort of like Spike in AtS s5, where I don't really hold his non-call against him. I try to stay away from all that a lot. I don't think his withholding/controlling the flow of information is specifically gendered, though it could be read as paternalistic -- especially as he eventually does reveal himself to her when he's in a position to protect her. But it's how it goes in (past) relationships: I think that there is a responsibility to the other person to a degree, and a MUCH GREATER responsibility to oneself.

(There's a PM about Rick & Ilsa as Spike & Buffy, where Ilsa is in the Buffy role, which is the opposite comparison. I am realizing that they are actually a pretty Spuffy couple IMO, which is maybe why I dig them.)
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 05:51 pm (UTC)
(to be clear, the revenge fantasy reading is totally anti-feminist -- but it's polysemic and there are other readings that aren't. ANYWAY, is it ever feminist to abdicate responsibility? is the main question at hand)
angearia
Sep. 18th, 2011 06:01 pm (UTC)
is it ever feminist to abdicate responsibility?

It depends on the responsibility, I suppose. I think The Awakening as a feminist text, and this includes the protagonist abdicating responsibility she had assumed due to societal pressures and a lack of self-awareness. She leaves her husband and she lets her mother-in-law care for her two sons while she goes off to ~find herself. Actually, this makes me think of Willow getting to find herself while Buffy is saddled with the ~500 kids.

Buffy's promised freedom to discover herself in "Chosen" is negated by her taking on responsibilities (because she always takes on responsibility in the end -- she wishes for freedom, she might even run for it, but she always comes back). Where as Willow gets the journey of self-discovery that pre-Season 8, I thought was going to be Buffy's future. Willow abdicates responsibility to others in her journey to understand herself, which falls in line with The Awakening's Edna Pontellier's journey to discover herself and her sensual nature.

Hmm. I feel like "abdicate responsibility" depends on context in order to judge it. So, too broad?

Edited at 2011-09-18 06:01 pm (UTC)
gabrielleabelle
Sep. 18th, 2011 04:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, good points. I suppose there's a question of whether Buffy turned into an 18th century lady or if she turned into her perception of an 18th century lady. The show is ambiguous on this point, and the interpretation of the feminist text seems to hinge on it.

I didn't realize this was Noxon's first script. Personally, that does change how I view it, because I do think Noxon writes well from a female perspective. I'm gonna have to ponder that.
local_max
Sep. 18th, 2011 07:08 pm (UTC)
Yeah. My take is that she turned into Buffy's perception of an 18th century lady -- which I think is a reading which works better for the episode. If an actual 18th century lady was the intent, yeesh.

I am not sure how much of the episode actually was hers -- it might have just been a full rewrite of the dialogue, which would mean she isn't responsible for the story. Or, maybe...? I don't know the full story.

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