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The Feminist Filter: Lie to Me

I assume you all know the drill by now. :)

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.


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.

2.07 Lie to Me

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 3 counts

  2. Deaths:
    Dead boys: 1
    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: Ford, an old friend of Buffy's, comes to town with the intention of becoming a vampire. To do so, he offers up a group of vampire wannabes and the Slayer to Spike in return for being turned.

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? Yes.
If Cordelia were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
If Chantarelle were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
If Jenny 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? No.

  • Decisive Buffy: Even though there are a number of people going behind her back, Buffy retains control of the reins in terms of the big plot. Once clued in to Ford's plan, she preemptively goes to stop him. She manages to rescue the vampire wannabes and trap Spike and his crew in the basement.

  • Decisive Drusilla: Drusilla's main moment of agency comes when she keeps Spike from killing Ford. This allows Ford and Spike to eventually conspire together to kill the Slayer. Besides that, her presence is important when Buffy threatens to stake her to get the vampire groupies to safety.

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. During Cordelia's one scene, we get another example of the high value placed on women's appearance. Cordelia talks about Marie Antoinette: "I can so relate to her. She worked really hard to look that good, and people just don't appreciate that kind of effort."

    This occurs as Buffy is passing Willow a note commenting that Angel was talking to an unknown (to Buffy) woman. She writes about her: "Dark hair Old dress pretty"

    Notice what gets the emphasis. Her beauty is a cause for concern and potential jealousy for Buffy.

    2. After Ford and Buffy leave, Xander grumbles: "Jeez, doesn't she know any fat guys?"

    Presumably, because Buffy could never be romantically interested in a fat guy. We're getting an instance of body standards for guys.

    3. When Buffy arrives at the Bronze, Ford has already been there. Willow says: "Buffy, Ford was just telling us about the ninth grade beauty contest and the, uh, swimsuit competition."

    I suppose there is a chance that this is referencing Ford having been in a swimsuit competition, but it's more likely about Buffy having been in a beauty contest. Beauty contests and pageants are a formalized system of gender role enforcement.

    4. After Buffy leaves the Bronze with Ford, Angel questions Willow and Xander about the new arrival. Angel asks if he just moved here. Xander responds: "Yeah. And, boy, does he move fast."

    Xander will consistently assume that the Ford/Buffy relationship is romantic rather than platonic throughout this episode. We're getting a suspicious eye toward mixed-sexed friendships that ultimately ends up being rooted in traditional gender ideology.

    5. At the beginning of Act Two, Angel visits Willow's bedroom. She says: "I'm not supposed to have boys in my room."

    Angel replies: "I promise to behave myself."

    This little exchange about the parental prohibition against guys in the bedroom (even while Willow has a male best friend) and then Angel's promise to "behave" subtly reinforce the notion of men/boys as predatory and mixed-sexed relationships as not-platonic.

    6. When Buffy tells Giles that Ford knows about her being the Slayer, he asks her: "You are not, by any chance, betraying your secret identity just to impress cute boys, are you?"

    We're, again, getting the leap to the assumption that the Buffy/Ford relationship is based on romantic interest. What's more, we get Giles' first assumption being that Buffy betrayed her (masculine) calling in pursuit of cute guys (a feminine trait). However, let's also stop and consider that this would mean Buffy thinking that the Slaying is something that would impress guys, something that runs counter to Buffy's usual opinion on Slaying (see the previous episode).

    Of course, Giles is wrong, as Buffy corrects him.

    7. Later in the act, it's revealed that the date Jenny took Giles on was to a monster truck rally.

    Jenny: (stops in her tracks) You hated it that much?

    Giles: No! But, but, uh, vampires on campus is, could have implications. Very, very grave...

    Jenny: You coulda just said something.

    Giles: Uh, honestly, I, I've always, I've always been interested in, in, uh, monster trucks.

    Buffy: You took him to monster trucks?

    Jenny: I thought it would be a change!

    Giles: It was a change.

    Jenny: Look, we could've just left.

    Giles: Wha-what, and miss the nitro-burning funny cars? No, couldn't have that.

    Monster trucks is a very masculine activity. We once again see Jenny defying gender conventions (and Giles responding in kind).

    8. In that same scene, Buffy sees a picture of Drusilla in a book.

    Buffy: (picks up the picture) Who's this?

    Giles: Um, she's called Drusilla, a sometime paramour of Spike's. She was killed by an angry mob in Prague.

    It's interesting that Drusilla is defined by her relation to Spike at this point. When Spike entered the show in School Hard, he's defined by his accomplishments - killing two Slayers. Drusilla, however, is notable due to her relation to a man.

    Part of this can possibly be explained by the fact that Drusilla may not have any notable accomplishments to her name (that the Watchers know of). However, this still leaves us with the Doylist criticism of character creation wherein a female character is established as, basically, an accessory for a male character (And two male characters, at that, as her relationship with Angel is revealed in this episode).

    9. During his confessional scene with Buffy, Angel details Drusilla as "Pure and sweet and chaste", all qualities that have been traditionally valued in women (and still are to some extent).

  • Antagonists (Spike, Drusilla, Ford)

    1. When explaining his history with Buffy, Ford clarifies why he didn't reciprocate her affections when she was in the fifth grade: "Well, I was a manly sixth-grader. I couldn't bother with someone that young."

    That's an interesting conflation of age, status, and masculinity.

    2. When the vamps are leaving the warehouse to go to Ford's underground bunker, Spike snaps out some orders: "Two men on the door..."

    Going Doylist, his use of gendered language acts as an example of male as default. Two men at the door, despite the fact that we've seen a female henchwoman in Spike's group in this very episode.

IV. Objectification Watch

  1. There is an unusual camera angle of Buffy during her conversation with Angel in her kitchen. It's shot from above so we, the audience, are looking down at Buffy. I don't think we've ever had such an angle on the Slayer before, and this type of camera angle usually denotes submission on the part of the subject. We're far more used to Buffy power shots, which are shot while looking slightly up at Buffy.

V. Points to Consider

  1. Angel goes behind Buffy's back to do research on Ford. Does this tie into the role of the Jealous Boyfriend that we saw in Some Assembly Required? Are these backed by feelings of possessiveness or ownership? What type of gender dynamics are coming into play?

    Indeed, we see more Jealous Boyfriend behavior from Spike in this episode:

    Spike: Darling! I heard a funny thing just now. Lucius tells me that you went out on a hunt the other night.

    Drusilla: My tummy was growly. And you were out. (to the bird) Come on. (whistles) I'll pout if you don't sing.

    Spike: (puts his arms around her) You, um, meet anyone? Anyone interesting? Like Angel?

    Drusilla: Angel.

    Spike: Yeah. So... (kisses her forehead) What might you guys have talked about, then? Old times? Childhood pranks? It's a little off, you two so friendly, him being the enemy and all that.

    Drusilla: (to the bird) I'll give you a seed if you sing.

    Spike: The bird's dead, Dru. You left it in a cage, and you didn't feed it, and now it's all dead, just like the last one.

    Drusilla cowers and whines.

    Spike: Oh, I'm sorry baby. I'm a bad, rude man. I just don't like you goin' out, that's all. You are weak. (takes her hand) Would you like a new bird? One that's not dead? (sucks on her finger)

  2. What do we make of the Buffy/Ford relationship? As presented, it's strictly platonic, however Xander frames it as potentially romantic. Indeed, the show often undercuts mixed-sex friendships in various ways (the restriction on boys in Willow's room) while also presenting a great number of mixed-sex friendships (first and foremost being Willow/Xander). What's the root of this societal suspicion of the platonic relationship? What does it say about expectations for men and women, and how is this handled in the show?

  3. Now seems as good a time to bring it up as any: Drusilla's insanity as it connects to gender. What can we take away from this? Especially as her insanity is the result of torture at the hands of Angelus. The show presents her as the permanent victim. How does this state of victimhood connect to mental health connect to gender, and is this a positive portrayal?


Sep. 24th, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
I don't know. I feel uncomfortable calling those instances of complete manipulation on the part of Drusilla considering she "plays the helpless female" specifically when Spike yells at her. If she'd started her whining and cowering when Spike's just asking her about Angel or tells her he's too busy to dance, then sure. But she only reacts in response to his losing his temper. Given we only see her do this when she's sick in the first part of S2 (as I recall, that is), I'm willing to believe that some of her helpless female behavior is genuine in these couple instances.
Sep. 24th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
I think Drusilla's helplessness is deeply rooted in her own personality, more specifically: in her upbringing. Both her and Spike grew up in the same culture; she is about 15 years older than he is and as humans they even might've lived in the same city (I'm sure Spike was from London and I think it was the same with Dru, but I'm not sure about her). So for both of them the first contact with the concept of romantic love was within the Victorian society, and, therefore, based on strict definitions of gender roles. Of course they are vampires; they've lived together through the 20th century and changing times also shaped their relationship. But Spike and Drusilla come from Victorian culture, end, even though they've changed, they still understand 19th century code of behaviour. Drusilla was trained in obedience, and then driven mad, so some character traits are "frozen" within her. For her entire sane life she was taught that in a situation of conflict she should show weakness, and she never had any reason to snap out of this pattern, because it worked perfectly well first with Angelus and Darla (helpless Drusilla was easier to manage for them), and then with Spike (he was shaped by the very same culture and his instinct was to to be protective and caring whenever she showed helplessness). So I'd say that Drusilla's pattern of behaving like a helpless female whenever Spike lost his temper was not only genuine, but even default for her (because of her upbringing).

I always have a huge problem with interpreting the Fanged Four in terms of gender, because Spike and Dru seem just as magnificently Victorian as Angelus and Darla seem wonderfully pre-industrial. Perhaps Angelus is written in a little inconsistent way, but I've always had an impression that Darla, Drusilla and Spike were all written in a way that binds them closely to the times they come from.
Sep. 25th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Dru's definitely a Londoner - she's got a Cockney accent. (You could definitely read it as fake because it's terrible, though.)

Interesting thoughts! I think, as well, you could see it as linked to Dru and Spike's thing of playing out roles together. She's the damsel to his knight and the muse to his poet - those link her to traditional gender roles very strongly.
Sep. 25th, 2011 07:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! English is my second language and, weird as it may sound, recognizing accents (even some obvious ones) is the most difficult thing for me when it comes to language.

Good point, Spike and Dru definitely play things out. Especially Spike constructs his image and identity very consciously. I think he associates his human self with weakness and as a vampire he tries to gain another identity that would empower him. Since the only model he associates with strenght is stereotypically masculine, he goes for it. He even pretends to be an uneducated man from the working class, because for him it's more suitable to symbolize physical strenght. On the other hand, we can clearly see in s7 that it's more natural for him to be a wingman, not a leader; and he has no problem with following Buffy's lead.
Sep. 25th, 2011 03:51 pm (UTC)
I think it's natural to Spike to be whatever the situation requires him to be. He is a pragmatist, and if there is someone more suited for leadership that he respects and trusts, he will have no hangups about it. If he is best suited for leadership in the situation, he'll be a leader. The "alpha"/"beta"/"gamma" labels are meaningless and I frankly just find them annoying.
Sep. 25th, 2011 12:10 am (UTC)
Fab comment.

*has nothing of substance to add*
Sep. 27th, 2011 03:53 pm (UTC)
Loving everything about this comment. I'd add that the dynamics of Drusilla and Darla interacting across the social conventions of the times they came from are quite interesting too - Darla came from a time when it was at least somewhat accepted for noble women to access much more legitimate political power (through the patronage system) than they would have had access to in Victorian times, and where lower class women were expected to work and sometimes take part in some pretty taxing labor.

You can see this play out in the way that Darla wields power - she creates vampires like Angelus who she can provide patronage to, but she never challenges the master's power, and is in fact at her weakest when she's with him. Some of that is due to Darla's character evolving a lot between her first appearances on Buffy and when her backstory gets fleshed out on Angel, but I think that some of it is also reflective of the limits of power offered to 15th/16th century women. I suspect that perhaps some of Darla's power in the master's organization was tied to Angelus, and that to have power in that setting she needed to be providing patronage to a man who get further into the organization than she could.

However, outside of the context of the Master's organization, Drusilla responds Darla as an authority figure with a great deal of power. She calls her mummy and slots her into a position that fits with Victorian conceptions of gender roles - if Spike and Drusilla are children then it makes sense that Darla, the mother, has power over them. But Darla also obviously has power in the familial relationship that goes way beyond what Victorian gender roles would have allowed for women (heading up the group when Angelus disappears, challenging Angel's authority when he loses his soul, siring Angelus, ect.), and Drusilla mostly responds positively to this. Darla is also not the most nurturing of mothers, constantly insulting Drusilla and Spike and leaving them behind when Angelus is not around (and in her human life she was literally the opposite of the Victorian picture of ideal womanhood, a whore). Yet Drusilla still responds to Darla with both affection and obedience, and is willing to go to some effort to revamp Darla after she's brought back as a human on AtS.

On the one hand, the contrast the show draws between some of Buffy's more stereotypically masculine ways of accessing power (attacking and becoming a general) and Darla and Dru's more stereotypically feminine access to power (patronage of male champions and manipulation of male partners) bothers me, because it views traditionally/stereotypically female means of accessing power as less valid than those that men have traditionally had access to. That kind of value judgment has been used to denigrate and downplay the accomplishments of women and to critique those who do hold power and it makes me uneasy.

However, I think it's significant that Darla and Drusilla are literally the walking dead, characters brought back from older cultures to negatively impact modern times. And so to contrast their means of access to power to that obtained by Buffy and Willow and Cordelia (excluding the craptastic end of her arc), is interesting, in that you have three women taking on some serious power in their own right. Two of those women almost went the manipulative mean girls route, and then detoured into a much more traditionally masculine kind of power that modern society is more willing to afford to women than either Drusilla or Darla's cultures were. The notion that these kinds of power had a valid place in the past, but that they're poisonous in a more equal society, is one that I think I can get behind.
Oct. 1st, 2011 08:13 am (UTC)
If this was Facebook, I'd "like" your post.

Two of those women almost went the manipulative mean girls route, and then detoured into a much more traditionally masculine kind of power that modern society is more willing to afford to women than either Drusilla or Darla's cultures were.

I'm not sure what you mean by the manipulative mean girls route? Though Cordelia did have a tendency to act stereotypically feminine in seasons 1 and (early season ) 2, especially around Angel.

I'm also not sure how much I'd describe Cordelia as having a lot of power in her own right. It's also interesting to note that she ends up performing the role in AI that Drusilla had in her vampire family, as a seer (though on AtS the role was of course passed on to Cordelia from a man).
Sep. 25th, 2011 04:58 pm (UTC)
Hmmm, I'll have to watch for it, but my recollection was that she does it pretty often. Not necessarily whimpering and cowering, but definitely appealing to Spike's chivalrous, protector instinct. That's not to say it was ever complete manipulation, since I don't think she necessarily does it on purpose or even consciously. But I do think it's notable how well it works, whether that's just Spike's nature as love's bitch, his Victorian upbringing, or him playing the alpha male role because he thinks that's what Dru wants (or some combination).


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