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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Woman of the Month: Buffy Summers


Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sometimes these entries chose themselves, and with the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer taking place this year on the 10th March, it was inevitable that she'd be our Woman of the Month. That said, I did reflect for a while on whether to choose Buffy or one of the many, many other great female characters that populated the show and its spin-off.
But it had to be Buffy. It's only recently that I've realized just how important she was, both on a personal level and as a pop culture icon.
There were three great feminist role models of the Nineties: Xena Warrior Princess, Agent Dana Scully and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each broadly filling the roles of brawn, brains and beauty. (Obviously this is a huge generalization and does a disservice to the depth of their characters, but bear with me...) 

If Xena was played by Lucy Lawless with all the masculine characteristics typically found in an alpha male hero (confidence, authority, swagger), and Scully written as a cool intellect who filled the unusual niche of being the more rational thinker to an intuitive male (it's easy to forget that this was an astounding gender flip back in the Nineties) then Buffy captures a very different type of duality: preternatural strength within a seemingly harmless feminine exterior.
The genesis of the character is well documented: Joss Whedon was watching a horror movie involving a blonde wandering into a dark alley, and began pondering what it would be like if such a character was the story's hero and not its victim. And so Buffy was born: blonde, petite and seemingly vulnerable, but endowed with super-strength and chosen to fight the forces of evil.
It's worth saying that Buffy was also a lot younger than Xena and Scully, lending her a vulnerability that offset her physical prowess. At the start of the show she's only sixteen years old, more worried about fitting in at her new school and making friends than the threat of any dark forces that might be brewing – which is well in keeping with the show's early theme of "high school is hell – literally".
But what made Buffy special was the way she subverted the rules that surrounded her, even as she herself was a subversion of the stereotypical ditzy blonde. Unlike past Slayers, who fought and died alone, Buffy insisted on a strong support system of friends and family that protected her both emotionally and physically, rejecting the "she alone" part of the mantra that defined the Slayers up till that point. She had her own moral compass and she stuck to it, reaching out to social misfits, broken delinquents and even the occasional ensouled vampire – offering compassion just as often as she dealt out death.
This duality was the cornerstone of her character: here was a girl who could be tough-as-nails and soft and feminine, who was self-sufficient and sarcastic in the face of supernatural evil, but needed others to help her through the dark night of the soul. As she grew into a young woman over the course of seven years she made her fair share of mistakes, but the end of her story is its beginning: once again she found a way to transcend the rules and share her true gift (compassion, imagination, inner strength) with others.

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