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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 03:53 am (UTC)
This is all violence. What are we supposed to think with the sympathetic message towards James?

That his feelings are the only ones that matter, because he's the man? That if he got violent and homocidal, it's only because she made him that way by rejecting him and so she MUST forgive him her murder (it would be murder 1st, I think, because he brought the weapon with him and not an 'accident') in order to give him the peace he so needs? Never mind that she was ALSO trapped in that cycle of hate (vague Xena reference) along with him for forty odd years?

I think Buffy taking on James' spirit was a brilliant subversion of the audience's assumptions and the preceding 'couples' who acted out the spirits' drama, but I also think the rest of the message contained in the forgiveness scene was typical for gender roles - the man gets hurts and lashes out, and the woman is the one who must forgive and apologize. At least when you look at Grace and James.
Feb. 17th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)

The Grace/James part of it is really skeevy when you step back. As you say, it works well for Buffy's story and the guilt she's feeling. Taking the saga of Grace & James as it's own thing, though, it is a textbook case of violence against women (and the requisite necessary forgiveness).


The One Who Isn't Chosen

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