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. To accommodate those who are still learning the feminist ropes, the first comment of each post will be open for basic questions. Anybody is free to take a shot at answering them.
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.
1.06 The Pack
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.
- Bechdel Check: PASS on 4 counts.
Dead boys: 2
Dead girls: 0
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: Xander is possessed by a hyena spirit, along with a group of other kids. They begin terrorizing the school.
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 Rhonda were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
If Heidi were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
- Decisive Buffy: In the teaser, Buffy is the one who decides to check on Xander. This leads to her meeting with the zookeeper, which eventually gives them important information to figure out what's going on with Xander. Speaking of that, Buffy's the one who first begins to push for an investigation of Xander's behavior. When Herbert is eaten, Buffy goes to check it out, leading to her confrontation with (and subsequent capture of) Xander. She consistently calls the shots.
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, and Giles)
1. It's interesting to track the way Buffy responds to the word "girl" in the series. In Act One, Xander approaches Willow and Buffy at the Bronze and greets them: "Girls!"
Buffy gives a sarcastically confused, "Boy!" in response.
2. In Act Two, Buffy goes to Giles with her concerns about Xander. Giles' response encapsulates the continuing construction of masculinity as dangerous and mean: "Xander's taken to teasing the less fortunate? [...] And there's been a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor? [...] And, well, otherwise all his spare time is spent lounging about with imbeciles. [...] It's devastating. He's turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. [...] Testosterone is a great equalizer. It turns all men into morons."
It's common cultural thinking that testosterone has such a noticeable effect on guys such that it renders them with a cavemen mentality. Actual studies show that it's not quite as simple as that, and yet the harmful depiction of men as mean morons continues, justified by pseudo-biological factors. It allows for "boys will be boys" excuses for bad behavior while at the same time othering men who are not so coarse in personality.
Buffy doesn't buy Giles' explanation: "I cannot believe that you, of all people, are trying to Scully me. There is something supernatural at work here."
Giles is adamant, though: "Buffy, boys can be cruel. They tease, they, they, they prey on the weak. I-i-it's natural teen behavior pattern."
Specifically, it's not just a "teen" behavior pattern but a "boy" behavior pattern, apparently. Such that an otherwise not overtly cruel guy such as Xander can inexplicably become a dull-headed bully. Such is the power of the testosterone.
Giles, of course, ultimately ends up being wrong. By the end of the scene, Willow comes to share the news that Herbert - the pig - has been eaten. This behavior is not within the realm of "natural teen behavior pattern" for Giles and he begins to research on hyena possession, as prompted by Buffy.
3. The end of Act Two has a prolonged bout of hyena!Xander's sexual assault on Buffy. He pins her to the floor. When she tells him to get off her, he asks: "Is that what you really want? We both know what you really want. You want danger, don't cha? You like your men dangerous."
Putting aside the "chicks dig jerks" vibe, he's questioning whether Buffy really doesn't want him assaulting her. It's the "she really wanted it" school of rape culture wherein a girls' "no" can't be trusted. Instead, her no is a challenge for him to prove his dangerous personality because women are turned on by that.
Xander furthers this thought: "Dangerous and mean, right? Like Angel. Your Mystery Guy. Well, guess who just got mean."
In addition to the rape culture stuff, he's also citing common Nice Guy thoughts. Girls only like guys who treat them poorly. As such, a nice guy's only recourse is to become mean and treat girls like shit. This includes assaulting them and calling them on their bluff when they say they don't want it.
This all melds together into the concept of masculinity that Xander seems to hold. Of course, Xander is possessed by a hyena, but his core personality underlies the possession. As such, his Nice Guy tendencies are turned up to eleven, as is his glorification of (and subsequent feeling of inferiority with regards to) the male ideal.
As the scene continues, so does Xander: "Do you know how long I've waited until you'd stop pretending that we aren't attracted?"
This is something that Spike will do later on in Crush: state with absolutely certainty that he knows that Buffy is attracted to him. It gets to the heart of male entitlement that they have the fervent belief that they can get any girl they want if they just make the right moves. It manifests in such a strong desire that she reciprocate his affections that he makes himself believe she does despite no indication that he's correct.
- The Rest (Kyle, Rhonda, Lance, Tor, Heidi, and Mr. and Mrs. Anderson):
1. The couple in the car that are attacked - Mr. and Mrs. Anderson according to the trancript - are having a stereotypical married couples' fight: "I didn't say she looks better than you, I said she looks better."
What we're shown in the media of married couples is often rooted in gender stereotypes. In this case, we're getting the husband with the wandering eye and the woman upset because her highly valued appearance is called into question.
V. Points to Consider
- Buffy and Willow talk about guys in the beginning. In the conversation, Willow comments on Angel as a "dangerous and mysterious older man". How does this conceptualization of older "bad boys" being attractive to young girls fit into the feminist text? Does this romanticize these types of relationships? Is this a good thing? We'll revisit this question in the next episode.
- After being insulted by Xander, Willow tearfully talks to Buffy. Willow suggests that it's because of Buffy that Xander's being mean to her, however, she seems to carry no hostility toward Buffy for this. This neatly sidesteps the common TV/movie trope of girls being pitted against each other. Does the show continue to do this? When does it fall into this trope?
- This is the first episode in which Buffy is sexually assaulted. Xander had spied on her while undressing in Never Kill a Boy on the First Date, which is on the sexual violence spectrum, however Buffy had never fallen prey to an overt attack. How well does the show handle it? What do we make of Xander's collusion with Giles at the end where Xander pretends he doesn't remember what happened? Is the Slayer inherently immune to sexual assault due to her strength (as in this episode, she knocks Xander out with a desk)?