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Guys, this is a really, really interesting episode! I'm so excited to hear what your thoughts on it are. :)

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.

2.19 I Only Have Eyes For You

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 2 counts.

  2. Deaths:
    Dead boys: 1
    Dead girls: 2

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: The ghost of a young boy who killed his lover, his teacher, haunts the school. This forces Buffy to face her own feelings of guilt for Angel losing his soul.

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 Ms. Frank were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
If Grace were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? No.
If Drusilla were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.

  • Decisive Buffy: As usual, Buffy is the first one to catch on that something weird's going on. When Giles is preoccupied with the Jenny explanation, Buffy takes the lead in figuring out what's going on. Willow swiftly joins in to help.

  • Decisive Willow: After the snake attack on the school, Willow decides to scrap the earlier plan of communicating with James' spirit and she comes up with the plan to exorcise him.

  • Decisive Grace: She plays the central role, of course, in being the object of James' guilt. Her choice to forgive James after death is what ends the haunting.

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, and Cordelia)

    1. In Act One, Xander handwaves away Buffy's concerns about the recent events:

    Xander: I don't wanna poo-poo your wiggins, but a domestic dispute, a little case of chalkboard Tourette's?

    The "domestic dispute" that Xander refers to is actually a case of attempted murder (Putting aside the fact that it's a result of the haunting, which the gang isn't quite aware of yet). Yet because it involves a couple, this instance of violence against a woman gets categorized, and trivialized, as a "domestic dispute".

    This type of trivialization is common. Rape is often dismissed as a "miscommunication" between a couple. When one partner rapes the other, it's called a "date rape" (or the more loathsome "gray rape"). Assault against women are "domestic disputes". All these cute terms have the effect of minimalizing and downplaying the seriousness of the crimes. As such, a case wherein a guy pulls a gun on his girlfriend while yelling at her that she's a "bitch", is seen as a simple "domestic dispute".

    2. After Xander gets roughed up by a random locker monster, Willow comments upon seeing him:

    Willow: Xander, what happened? Did Cordelia win another round in the broom closet?

    Our culture implicitly links sex and violence all the time. "Fuck you" and its variations are used to connote a violent insult. Sexual intercourse is "pounding", "hammering", "screwing", etc.

    Willow's joke conflating a make-out session in the broom closet with a physical alternation plays in line with the larger cultural standard for sex as violence as well as the idea of sex being a competitive act with winners and losers. Of course, the secondary joke is that Xander, the male, loses.

    Xander: Your dreams are getting wicked accurate, Buff. You wouldn't happen to see me coming across some big cash? Or possibly knowing the love of a woman? In a full body sense?

    As usual, Xander breaks out the sexual comments, though this time he's not sexualizing Willow or Buffy.

    4. When discussing what James did, Buffy is vehemently against forgiving him:

    Buffy: No, he should be doing sixty years in a prison, breaking rocks and making special friends with Roscoe the Weightlifter.

    She makes a casual reference to prison rape. Prison rape jokes are still considered acceptable humor even though they trivialize and normalize an actual brutal crime. Indeed, sometimes it goes beyond humor into wishes for revenge. Declarations that anybody deserves rape as punishment are disturbing.

    5. In Act Two, Cordelia takes a decidedly anti-feminist stance in regards to the Sadie Hawkins Dance:

    Cordelia: I hope you guys aren't going to the Sadie Hawkins Dance tonight, (sits) 'cause I'm organizing a boycott. Do you realize that the girls have to ask the guys? And pay and everything? I mean, whose genius idea was that?

    Xander: Obviously, some hairy-legged feminist.

    Cordelia: Really! Well, we need to nip this thing in the bud. I mean, otherwise, things are going to get really scary.

    Willow: But it can't ever happen! It always ends the same, which means Buffy just went in there to get shot, Giles.

    Giles: Yes. But the school's deserted. There's no way for James to... to play his part. There's, there's no man inside for him to possess.

    It's interesting how, even knowing that Buffy identifies with James, the Scoobies go on the assumption that Buffy would play Grace's part because of their shared gender. The thought that Buffy could play the man's part never crosses their minds. This points to how rigid our views of gender are.

  • The Rest (Grace, James, Snyder, Ben)

    Ben: So, I was wondering, you know the dance tomorrow night? Are you going?

    Buffy: You mean the Sadie Hawkins thing? The deal where the girls ask the boys?

    Ben: Yeah.

    Ben: And I thought maybe, you know, if you're free, you might ask me.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, we get a warping of the intent of the Sadie Hawkins dance. Even though girls are supposed to ask the boys to it, a boy - Ben in this instance - ends up asking the girl anyway.

    Men and boys are still assumed to be the ones who need to show the initiative when it comes to dating.

    2. James' oft-repeated phrase: "DON'T WALK AWAY FROM ME, BITCH!" contains a sexist slur.

    3. While chewing Buffy out in his office, Snyder refers to her as "missy", a very diminuative form of address.

IV. Objectification Watch

  1. At the beginning, we get a shot of Buffy on the balcony from Willow's viewpoint.

V. Points to Consider

  1. The episode revolves around the Sadie Hawkins dance. What's to be made of the gender dynamics involved in this tradition? And how does it tie into the episode, as a whole?

  2. What's to be made of the partner violence in this episode?

    The theme is of forgiveness, and the final revelation that the gun went off accidentally seems intended to absolve James of some of his guilt. After all, Grace – or her spirit, at least – forgives him.

    But this boy purposely took a gun to a confrontation with his lover, yelled at her when she wanted to end the relationship, and pulled the gun on her. This is all violence. What are we supposed to think with the sympathetic message towards James?

    Buffy: But-but I killed you.

    Angelus: It was an accident. It wasn't your fault.

    Buffy: Oh, it *is* my fault. How could I...

    Angelus: Shhh. I'm the one who should be sorry, James. You thought I stopped loving you. But I never did. I loved you with my last breath.

    It's not only sympathetic, we get the victim of the violence – Grace – apologizing to her murderer for trying to leave him.

    Murder-suicides are a particularly gendered crime, often carried out by men against their intimate partners. How do we reconcile this with the parallel to a relationship between a young girl and her older boyfriend wherein having sex with him essentially "kills" him? Is there an adequate parallel? Does the episode problematize this?

  3. And what about the parallels to the Buffy/Angel sex?

    In the James/Grace scenario, we do have a teacher having a relationship with her student. We're not given James' age, but the power dynamics between a high school teacher and a student make the affair questionable. How does the episode present James insofar as he's the partner with less power?

    We've discussed before (in Teacher's Pet) about how underage boys having sex with older women are seen as being exceedingly lucky because they're being ushered into manhood early. In contrast, underage girls who have sex with older men are seen as having something taken away from them (innocence). Does this episode provide any contrasting comentary on this point between James and Buffy?

This entry was originally posted at http://gabrielleabelle.dreamwidth.org/362898.html. There are comment count unavailable comments on the DW side. Comments are welcome on either side. Due to massive SPAM issues on LJ, anon comments are only on the DW side.


Feb. 17th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)
Well the thing that Xander really would have to forgive Anya for is the whole trying to murder him in gruesome ways via his friends. But there's never any clear sign in text that Xander even knew about this or acknowledged it.

That is a very good point. I hadn't considered that. Though yeah, the show never really goes there. So instinct tells me to treat it as two separate issues, though that doesn't make much sense from a moral stand point. The show didn't take Anya's attempts to kill Xander very seriously (did she attempt to kill Xander or did she "just", I dunno, try to make his penis shrink? Damn I need to watch the show again). It wasn't played for laughs, but it certainly wasn't taken as seriously as Anya's murder of the frat boys later on. That one came as such a shock just because the revenge story wasn't treated as a real threat. Never did I get a feeling that Xander was really in danger.

I'd say both had things to forgive. And Buffy beating up Spike in Dead Things is a specific and apparent thing to forgive.

Certainly, but he had that "Join the darkness, let it all out" thing going on and there's also the fact that the AR was set up to be this Big Bad Climactic Thing in a way that's very different from the beating (I'm not disagreeing with you. I'm totally with you. I'm just saying that the whole storyline is so complex, and there are so many ways of reading it, that it doesn't make for a particularly good example to compare with James and Grace.)
Feb. 17th, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
The show didn't take Anya's attempts to kill Xander very seriously (did she attempt to kill Xander or did she "just", I dunno, try to make his penis shrink? Damn I need to watch the show again)

That's the thing, the episode treats it as comedy, which only works because she doesn't succeed - and she doesn't succeed because none of Xander's friends take the bait. Imagine if she actually did manage to make Dawn, for instance, cause Xander's body to explode. (It's not the first time the show has made a comedy out of attempted murder - remember Spike/Willow in The Initiative.) She didn't try to make his penis shrink, she tried the following things (I consulted the transcript - I only remembered she was trying to mutilate and kill him in gruesome ways):

ANYA (in demon face):
And I wish you were never born!

I -- I wish you felt the pain of a
thousand searing pokers boiling your
heart in its own juices!


I wish you lived in a state of
constant panic! I wish you had
tentacles where your beady eyes
should be! I wish your intestines
were twisted into knots and ripped
apart inside your lousy gut!

Then after she realizes she can't wish something herself:

Anya, Xander's my friend. I know
what he did was wrong and if it had
happened to me I'd --
-- wish his penis would explode?
It's not really so much about hating
the men.
We're more centered around the girl
on girl action.
And men really like to watch that
kind of stuff, don't they? Men like
Well, I --
Don't you wish his eyes would explode?

Tell me more about wishing Xander's
guts and brains would go blooey.
I didn't say that.
Yes you did.

After she doesn't succeed, she tells Buffy she doesn't understand her pain; Buffy tries to comfort her, but she's still only interested in revenge, and when Xander arrives, angrily storms off:

Congratulations. They all still love
you. Even after what you did to me.

Because obviously, leaving someone at the altar justifies a death penalty, performed through making one's penis/eyes/brains and guts explode, ripping their intestines, or just deleting him from existence.

The oddest thing is... Anya is still one of the my favorite characters on the show, but boy, did the show fail at treating her and her crimes seriously except in Selfless.
Feb. 17th, 2012 04:21 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I love her too. Definitely one of my favorites!

I don't mind the comedy. I'm not opposed to the concept of using bloody and gory ways of murdering people for comic relief. It's not as if Anya's attempts at killing Xander, and their presentation as comic relief, are hurting real people (unlike misogynist or racial slurs such as the ones we're discussing here). There certainly are interesting points to be made about her arc from a feminist POV, but I'm not taking issue with the presentation of mayhem as funny. The fact that she tried to kill him doesn't bother me. Neither does her motivation. On the other hand, the fact that the show never addressed how Xander felt about it, especially since he had a lot to say about her sex life at the same time, is a case of bad writing.

But generally, Anya's story should have been explored better. It was too big a story for a secondary character.

So I'm very much looking forward to the upcoming feminist analyses of the Anya episodes. There's a lot in her arc I'm very undecided about. What was the point of her whole vengeance demon story? She's such a gendered character, being constantly driven by her feelings for men. Her hate of men gives her power (!). One that is perceived to be an evil power by the heroes. I'm inclined to believe it ultimately was a positive exploration of a woman's emancipation (since she did give up the vengeance business without the intent of getting back together with Xander), but I would have to look at that arc in detail first before drawing any conclusions.
Feb. 18th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
This is a bit OT, so worth talking about later, but I don't have a problem with the show's presentation of Anya in Entropy, because I think that it's part of the way the show generally plays with POV. Anya is funny and silly when she is trying to commit murder because the Scoobies fail to take her seriously -- and because Anya's moral understanding is so weak that she sees her inability to kill Xander as akin to the frustration of not being able to convince someone to buy insurance from her (or whatever analogy you can think of that might merit a similarly comic fumbling sequence). Anya doesn't really get what she is doing is wrong at all, so the scene plays as it does. In a way, we can compare this to the way the Trio's antics continued being played for comedy until Dead Things -- until Selfless, Anya doesn't quite know how her actions affect real humans, because she has always been either all the way on the demon side or all the way on the human side, not, as she is at this moment, sympathetic to both.

OTOH, on a purely personal level, I wish more people in fandom did acknowledge how scary Anya is in Entropy -- and obviously that being jilted doesn't excuse attempted murder (resonance for this episode!).
Feb. 18th, 2012 06:51 pm (UTC)
OTOH, on a purely personal level, I wish more people in fandom did acknowledge how scary Anya is in Entropy -- and obviously that being jilted doesn't excuse attempted murder (resonance for this episode!).

Great point, it hasn't even occurred to me! A lot depends on the presentation - if the show presents something as wacky comedy, viewers on the whole are less likely to be upset by it and see it as a *real* attempted murder (see e.g. Spike/Willow in The Initiative). Then there's also the fact that people tend to react more strongly and see something as a crime when they see physical violence on the screen, and when it's closer to what might happen in real life. Watching Anya in humorous scenes where she's trying to make Dawn, Buffy, Willow and Tara wish Xander's body to explode doesn't immediately read to the viewers as 'attempted murder of an ex-lover for being jilted' the way a dramatic scene of James shouting and pointing a gun at Grace does. Kind of like Willow's mindwiping of Tara doesn't cause nearly as much outrage as Spike pinning a struggling Buffy to the floor (though there's also gender at play there, as seen if we compare Faith/Xander in Consequences).


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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