Feminism in "Buffy"

By: Melinda McMahon, Columnist
October 31st, 2013

When asked in an interview years ago why he writes such strong female characters, screenwriter and producer Joss Whedon answered, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

Whedon is the creative force behind various beloved television shows and films such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Firefly,” “Serenity,” “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” “Dollhouse,” “The Avengers” and more recently, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Most who have seen Whedon’s work remember the stand out characters such as the titular Buffy Summers, River Tam, Willow Rosenberg, Echo or even Whedon’s version of Black Widow.

The praise Whedon has garnered from these characters is well deserved, but his work with male characters is often overlooked.

Buffy gave us one of the most domineering fictional women in 1990s pop culture. Buffy Summers was a small, blonde, mildly ditzy high school student when she came into her calling as the Slayer. But Whedon did something amazing with Buffy; he made her human. Even Buffy broke down every once in awhile. In one of the very last episodes Buffy asks Xander Harris, her best friend since high school, to take her sister away from the final battle. Xander tells her that he should be with her, and Buffy tells him, “You will be. You’re my strength, Xander. You’re the reason I made it this far” (Buffy, season 7, ep. 21, 13 May 2003).

Xander had always seemed to be a bit of a throwaway character, but in this moment Whedon shows that Xander never was. From the first to the last episode, it was Xander who never left Buffy. Even when she had given up on herself, Xander still believed in Buffy. He knew she was stronger, faster and more skilled but he never tried to bring her down for it. Instead, he built her up. He treated her like a woman, respected her as a person, and loved her as a sister. And even when it hurt him to do so, he always stepped to the side to let Buffy save the world. And Xander was always there to save her.

Whedon has a history of creating characters with the same dynamics as Buffy and Xander. Sometimes the man was the de facto leader (“Firefly”), sometimes it was the woman (“Dollhouse”) but he always created a chemistry based on respect. Whedon writes strong female characters because people are still asking him why he does, but that isn’t the true talent of Joss Whedon. Whedon’s true value is showing that no gender is better than another. Buffy was the savior of the world; Xander was Buffy’s savior, not because Xander was the man but because Xander knew the weight of Buffy’s calling. She had to save the world; someone else had to save her.

Whedon has made incredible strides for the strong female but he never sacrificed the value of men for that. So thank you, Mr. Whedon, for reminding us that we all matter.