– Or How Warped Has Our Image of Women Become –
As a writer, I pay a lot of attention to how people are portrayed in media. As a woman, I tend to also pay close attention to how women are portrayed because of how much of a Big Deal it is to me. Buffy, as a whole, does an excellent job of presenting characters that are human. They aren’t shamed, really, for who they are. Each character is well rounded and feels, you know, like an actual human being.
Buffy, in particular is fascinating to me because she is a ‘girly-girl’ – she’s into fashion, cheerleading, and boys – but the audience never once doubts that she is intelligent (just maybe not in a ‘public school’ sort of way), brave, strong, and empathetic. She was allowed to care about how she looked and also care about her physical strength. She is allowed to be caring and defensive and offensive and Bad Ass.
I wonder, sometimes, how girls in my generation would handle a character like Buffy today. I have seen arguments that would lead me to believe that, if they did not already associate Joss Whedon with feminist characters, they probably would not react well to Buffy.
There is this idea out there that a Strong Female Character must be Physically Strong, or Mentally Dominant, or Controlling. She must not care what anyone says about her, and must not care about others, except in a…leaderly way. She cannot be Motherly, Girly, or Conform to any Gender Norms.
But that’s a really limited definition of a ‘strong’ character, and perhaps strong isn’t the right word. In my opinion, Buffy is a strong female, but she is also a person. She has flaws and a personality that fluctuates as she tries to figure out who she is. She is simultaneously a typical teenager and a responsible adult in Band Candy. She is able to take charge and deal with Angel’s conflation of strength and cowardice (while crying, might I add) and she is not seen as weak. On the other end of the spectrum, we quite literally see two sides of Willow in Dopplegangland, and both, I would argue, are excellent representations of women. Yes, one Willow is Vampiric, and a little sadistic, but she’s still her own person, not a cardboard cutout side character.
Strong, I think, is the wrong word. Well-rounded is better, but that calls to mind ‘well adjusted’ for me. Buffy and Willow represent people to me – their personalities are malleable and they have flaws and they are not shamed for anything that they do. They suffer through the consequences of their actions, but they are never, ever, outright shamed. I think that is what makes Buffy and Willow great representations of women in the media; they were written, first, as people.