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.
3.04 Beauty and the Beasts
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 3 counts
Dead boys: 3
Dead girls: 1
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: Angel returns from hell as Pete, an abusive boyfriend, goes out of control. Before Pete is revealed as the bad guy, Oz is suspected.
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 Debbie were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? No.
If Faith were taken out of this episode, would events occur in much the same fashion? Yes.
- Decisive Buffy: Buffy is the one who takes the initiative to find out how Jeff was killed. She also, of course, keeps Angel's return a secret and chains him up in the mansion.
- Decisive Debbie: It's hard to call Debbie "decisive". She definitely affects the plot through her victimhood, though her ultimate decision is to go back to Pete at the end. She ends up dead.
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, Oz, Angel, and Faith)
1. In the teaser, Buffy and Faith talk about Scott.
Buffy: But my most favorite thing so far (sighs) is that he doesn't seem to be any kind of Hell Beast.
Faith: All men are beasts, Buffy.
Buffy: Okay, I was hoping to not get that cynical till I was at least forty.
Faith: It's not cynical. I mean, it's realistic. Every guy from... Manimal down to Mr. I-Love-The-English-Patient has beast in him. And I don't care how sensitive they act. They're all still just in it for the chase.
As with the last werewolf episode, Phases, we're getting the setup of masculinity constructed as being animalistic and beastlike. Faith explicitly lays out the theme.
There are obvious problems with this belief from a feminist perspective. Arguments to the inherent aggressiveness of men are often used to justify violence against women. It leads to "boys will be boys" excuses, and it is used as justification for women to "protect themselves" against men because men cannot be expected to restrain themselves.
Later, in Act One, Willow presents a counterpoint to Faith's view, which Buffy agrees with:
Willow: I don't think that's true, that every guy is in it only for the chase.
Buffy: I know. It is an awful generalization.
2. When the Scoobies think that Oz may have killed a student, Xander rushes to try to defend him:
Xander: (annoyed) Oz does not eat people. (Cordelia rolls her eyes) It's more werewolf play. (Buffy looks at Giles inquiringly) You know, I bat you around a little bit, like a cat toy. I have harmless, wolf fun. Is it Oz's fault that, (Oz lowers his head) you know, side effect, people get cut to ribbons, and maybe then he'll take a little nibble and... (Willow gives him a hurt look) I'm not helping, am I?
Obviously, he's discussing Oz in his werewolf form, but he's making an argument that the beast (men, as the metaphor in this episode goes) doesn't hurt people intentionally. Instead, they play around and accidentally kill people. Echoes of the "boys will be boys" argument.
2. In Act One, Oz becomes upset at the topic that he may have killed someone. He tries to leave the library, but Willow stops him.
Oz: Okay. Uh, you know that thing where you bail in the middle of an upsetting conversation? (inhales) I have to do that. (exhales) It's kinda dramatic, I know, but... sometimes, it's a necessary guy thing.
It's strange that Oz designates this as a "guy thing". The gendered nature may come in the avoidance of conflict in contrast to a "girl thing", which would presumably be talking out one's feelings. Indeed, the disparagement of therapy later in the episode from Pete may tie into this.
- Antagonists (Pete)
1. Debbie mentions Mr. Platt making her do a dream journal. Pete teases her:
Pete: Oh, what's that, like, a Barbie thing? Dear Dream Journal, how come Ken hasn't come around since he got that earring?
There is a common cultural tendency to associate journals and working out feelings with the feminine. Pete, in comparing it to Barbie, at once feminizes and denigrates Debbie's psychological treatment. It becomes something of a joke, not to be taken seriously.
Indeed, Debbie comments: "I never did it. He's a quack."
A few lines later:
Scott: Well, my mom says that therapy can be completely helpful.
Pete: Yeah, but your mom has the wattage of a Zippo lighter, Scott.
Pete persists in insulting any form of pyschiatric help for Debbie. In this case, Scott goes to bat for therapy by citing his mother as an authority. Pete then insults Scott's mother's intelligence.
Pete's insistent on devaluing the feminine.
Ironically, when Buffy bails soon after, Pete teases Scott: "Check out Scotty liking the manic-depressive chick."
In doing so, Buffy is dismissed as mentally ill, something worthy of mockery - not only for her, but for Scott for liking her.
2. While walking together, Pete decides he wants to make-out (or possibly more) with Debbie.
Pete: Debbie, come on. Just for a minute.
He takes both of her hands and tries to nudge her against the wall, but she evades him and pulls away.
Debbie: No, I can't. I have to meet a friend.
He pulls her back to him by both wrists.
Pete: So you'll be late but happy.
He then pulls her into the closet with him, wherein she giggles and begins responding.
At first, though, she evades his efforts and pulls away. He physically pulls her back to him, even when she says "no". He's showing a clear disregard for her lack of consent, though, unsurprisingly with the dynamics of the relationship, Debbie eventually gives in.
Of course, this type of "push-pull" initiation of sex is not uncommon and, in fact, is often seen as standard and perfectly normal in society. What that reveals about our standards of consent is at once interesting and disturbing.
3. In Act Three, when Pete hulks out, he yells at Debbie:
Pete: (angrily) *You're* the reason I started the formulas in the first place: to be the man you wanted! And you pay me back how? (Debbie sobs in fear) By whoring around with other guys and taunting me!
Pete states that he started drinking the formulas to "be the man [Debbie] wanted". This speaks to expectations of masculinity. More importantly, though, he accuses Debbie of "whoring around" with other guys.
Jealousy often plays a large factor in domestic violence. Abusers maintain tight control of their victim, suspecting any interaction she may have with another person as infidelity. We see this in Pete's choice of (murder) victims: Jeff, who she horsed around with, Mr. Platt, who could possibly keep her away from Pete, and Oz, who was talking to Debbie alone.
Later in the same scene, Pete yells: "I'm all you've got now, Debbie! Do you hear me? (points at her) I AM ALL YOU'VE GOT!"
As the abuser isolates his victim (in this case, by first disparaging therapy and Mr. Platt to her and then by killing Mr. Platt outright), he also uses her dependence on him to keep her with him. Just as Pete does here with Debbie.
The scene ends with Pete calming down. He acts remorseful, but he explicitly blames her for what happened: "Hey, listen. You know you shouldn't make me mad. Huh? You know what happens."
In the end, Debbie ends up comforting Pete, holding him and repeating, "It's okay."
4. Pete confronts Oz near the end of Act Three. He asks: "Since when do you touch my girl?"
The level of possessiveness wherein any sort of touching is not allowed, along with the objectified language ("my girl"), belies the misogynistic underpinnings of Pete's character.
Later in the fight, Pete says: "Did you kiss that whore? Huh? Did she like it?"
5. After killing Debbie, Pete is fighting Buffy and shouting: "All the same! (punches again) You're all the same!"
He's referring, of course, to women. One half of the world's population are identical to the overtly misogynistic and abusive man.
- The Rest (Scott, Debbie, Mr. Platt)
1. The scene in the bathroom between Buffy, Willow, and Debbie is fairly anvilicious in its depiction of an abuse victim. Debbie makes excuses for Pete:
Debbie: It's not his fault. I mean, he's not himself when he gets like this.
She blames herself, as well as the fact that he loves her "too much":
Debbie: It's me. I make him crazy. He-he just does what he does because he loves me too much.
The idea of love as out of control, along with the idea that loving someone to excess is an adequate excuse for violent and abusive behavior is very prevalent in our society, and it leads itself not only to domestic violence, but also rape and stalking.
She expresses fear that he may be sent to jail:
Debbie: Would they take him some place?
Debbie: I could never do that to him. I'm his everything.
See Points to Consider for more.
IV. Objectification Watch
- Angel is consistently shirtless in this episode.
V. Points to Consider
- The episode bookends with narration from 'Call of the Wild'. How does this steer the comparison between men and beasts? In what way does this episode act as a commentary on that metaphor?
- This episode is heavy in its domestic violence message. How does it handle this issue? Does the scene in the bathroom between Buffy and Willow and Debbie end up blaming the victim? What about the fact that Buffy appears to identify with Debbie (and, thus, is why she is so harsh on her - along the lines of IOHEFY).
Buffy: It's tricky, covering a fresh shiner like that. You know what works?
Debbie: What? (puts away her makeup)
Buffy: Don't get hit.
Debbie: (shakes her head, sobbing) I could never do that to him. (Willow sighs) I'm his everything.
Buffy: (disgusted) Great. So what, you two live out your Grimm fairy tale? Two people are dead.
Debbie: (resists) He does love me.
Willow: I think we broke her.
Debbie: He does love me. He does love me.
Buffy: (stops at the door) I think she was broken before this. (leaves)
Mr. Platt: Look, lots of people lose themselves in love. It's, it's no shame. They write songs about it. The hitch is, you can't stay lost. Sooner or later, you... you have to get back to yourself.
Buffy: (considers) And if you can't?
Mr. Platt: If you can't... (inhales) Well, love becomes your master, and you're just its dog.
Interesting that in an episode with constant comparisons of men to beasts, a dog metaphor is thrown out there that doesn't translate directly to "men". In fact, the role ascribed to being a "dog" in this instance is the role of the victim - that of Buffy and Debbie in relation to their respective boyfriends.
- At one point, Faith backhands Buffy on instinct when Buffy approaches her in the library. Does this carry implications of "Slayer as beast"?
Indeed, Faith and Pete share one similarity.
Oz: Debbie. (Giles looks at him) Well, victim number one, Jeff. He was in jazz band with us. They used to horse around.
Faith: They were screwing?
Faith quickly reads into a rather innocuous statement as being sexual. Pete does the same thing with his jealousy toward Debbie. He assumes that her talking with Oz revealed a sexual relationship. And, in fact, the "horsing around" between Debbie and Jeff also led to Pete killing Jeff because he thought they were screwing.
What are the differences between Faith and Pete in this instance? Pete's trait is linked to his abuser status, while Faith seems to be linked to her status as a potential past victim of sexual abuse.
- Debbie and Pete's relationship acts as a parallel in parts to both Buffy/Angel and Willow/Oz. How does this framework of domestic violence connect with either of these two relationships? What message is the episode giving us, especially with Debbie's death at the end?
- At the end, the Scoobies talk about some of the rumors going around about what happened to Pete and Debbie. Buffy says: "That's better than the estrogen theory. I heard he took all of his mother's birth control pills."
There's a twist of irony that some students believe that it was estrogen - the "woman" hormone - that caused Pete to beat and kill Debbie (as well as killing him). The show, instead, seems to indicate the opposite: that something intrinsic in men - perhaps testosterone (metaphorically represented by the formula Pete had) - led to Pete's outrageous behavior.
It's also noteworthy that Cordelia, the resident gender role enforcer, believed that one:
Cordelia: He didn't? (to Xander) Pete was a monster? (Xander nods) Where have I been?
Cordelia: So, what's the true story? What happened?
Willow: Well, we got ahold of, uh, Pete's lab books and stuff, and Mr. Science was doing a Jekyll/Hyde deal. He was afraid Debbie was gonna leave him, so he mixed this potion to become super mas macho.
Buffy: The only thing was, after a while, he didn't need the potion to turn into a bad guy. He did it just fine on his own.
Cordelia: So it was like a real killing. He wasn't under the influence of anything?
Buffy: Just himself.
What do we make of this explanation in terms of the "men as beast" metaphor?
This entry was originally posted at http://gabrielleabelle.dreamwidth.org/373180.html. There are 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.