* CAUTION: SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD *
Buffy Summers is one of the greatest feminist icons of fiction. She is strong, resilient, flawed, loyal, complex, reliable, courageous, and a total badass. I first watched Joss Whedon’s masterpiece when I was six years old eating tv dinners with my dad in the living room. Of course, I don’t remember much from the episodes at the time, but hearing stories about these bonding moments meant that the words “vampire slayer” held a nostalgic place in my heart. So, after futzing around on Netflix for a year, I finally got to rewatching the show I knew from some vague memories. I remember my sophomore year when I saw the first episode and it seemed that I could finally engage in the trend of binge watching. It changed my life. I learned that girls could be dainty and strong; there really isn’t a dichotomy. I was going through a weird, difficult time as I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her sassy remarks and dogged determination helped me get through it.
During my sophomore year, my grandpa became quite sick. At the time, I didn’t cry because I was so confused and probably in denial about the whole situation. He was my best friend and my rock. I loved him so much (I still do). As an escape, I watched Buffy destroy vampires, demons, and misogyny so I would feel more powerful. I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up that I tend to emulate the media I consume. (As you can imagine, I was a nightmare to deal with after binge watching Skins, but I digress). I felt braver and stronger when I saw a short, skinny girl take on the likes of previously souled vampire ex boyfriends, semi robotic demons, and even gods. By the time my grandfather was in really critical condition, I had moved on to Angel, the spin off series starring David Boreanaz. The exact moment I found out that he passed away, I was watching an episode, trying to forget that my closest relative was dying in the hospital. Truth be told, all the strength I gained from the Buffyverse escaped me as I threw the tablet on the bed and curled myself into an inconsolable ball. Even then, however, I recalled Buffy and Dawn when they lost their mom, when the “scooby gang” lost Buffy temporarily, when Willow saw Tara die, and when Buffy watched Spike sacrifice himself to save the world. Although the context of these situations differed drastically from my own, I still drew stability from the way the characters dealt with the deaths of close friends and family. Buffy’s strength does not lie simply in her physical ability; her emotional depth in the face of major setbacks (like having to send the love of her life to hell in order to save the world) is what makes her unique. Whedon created his protagonist to be more than a one trick pony which is why the story resonates with audiences 20 years later. She isn’t just a teenager or just a warrior, she encompasses the complexities of growing up in her seemingly contradictory roles as both the popular cheerleader and brooding figure.
Besides dealing with familial loss, I also learned a lot about myself at this time. During my freshman year, I was afraid of words like feminism and pro choice. Although I mostly subscribed to their key tenants, I thought those labels meant I was part of some extremist group. Thankfully, with the help of Buffy and publications like RookieMag, I learned that feminism is not a dirty word. Part of the reason I felt so empowered, I realized, was because Buffy proved that girls who care about clothes and makeup are just as smart and legitimate as girls who don’t. The show exemplified the complexities of womanhood and concretely examined narratives of varying female personalities. There was Buffy, the no BS slayer who grew up way too fast. Willow, an innocent child who gradually explored her magic abilities and sexuality. Cordelia Chase started as the mean girl trope, but, through Angel, learned what it meant to be a hero. Faith, the complicated villain and hero of many Buffy storylines who taught audiences that being a good guy isn’t ever simple. And, Anya, the hilarious demon who learned how to be human. These women shaped the person I became and allowed me to pursue my activism. Now, I serve as a co leader of the Feminist Illuminati and do my best to support/ promote intersectional feminism (one issue the show doesn’t handle super well). Sure, at times the show is campy and the graphics in the late 20th century weren’t the best, but don’t let that discourage you from watching it. The story is pure gold. The characters become your family. The women in Buffy raised in me the ability to be a purposeful individual who understands her inner strength.
If you can’t already tell, I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It comforts me when I’m stressed or scared and reminds me that one girl really can change the world. As a writer, I hope to create characters with the same impact as Buffy Summers. The beauty of the message and the fact that I am writing about it 20 years after its premiere proves that Buffy is a lasting staple in our cultural lexicon. It taught me how to handle grief, be a better feminist, and to embrace my gender. I am so grateful to my father for introducing it to me twelve years ago and to Netflix for having it on watch instantly. I was watching it recently and a line resonated with me.. Whenever I feel down or someone hurts me I go back to this conversation. In the scene, Buffy faces her soulless ex boyfriend, Angelus, as he attempts to kill her and suck the world into hell.
Angelus: “So that’s it. No weapons, no friends, no hope. So what’s left?”
Thank you to the creators, directors, writers, and actors for teaching me exactly what it means to be independent and able. I am forever grateful.