The Strong Female Characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I am biased more towards strong female characters. But the term “strong female character” has this connotation of a stereotype: a mannish looking woman with a lot of muscle and not a lot of personality or a female character with hardened eyes and a chip on her shoulder.

There’s a meme that goes around Tumblr: 

Screw writing “strong” women.  Write interesting women.  Write well-rounded women.  Write complicated women.  Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner.  Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband.  Write a woman who doesn’t need a man.  Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no sh*t, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks.  THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN.  Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people.  So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong.  Write characters who are people.

I’m gonna take a break from my Firefly Month today to talk about the show that put Whedon on the map in the first place. Long before he directed a movie about a team of superheroes, long before he made a musical with a villain protagonist, and long before he created a show about space cowboys, Joss Whedon created Buffy, which started out as a movie, but made its television debut on March 10th, 1997.

In case you couldn’t tell from my blog, I am obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I want to share this show with everyone I know and constantly seek out fans of the show just so I can talk about it with someone without boring or annoying them to death. So I’ll look into 10 female characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and why they stand out as people instead of just being tokens.

Spoilers ensue. You were warned.

10. Drusilla: Joss didn’t write many female villains in Buffy. Until her reappearance on Angel, Darla only lasted a few episodes and I still don’t find her to be as interesting as the other members of the Whirlwind. Drusilla, on the other hand, was a lot more interesting in spite of the fact that she was only there for a season and only reappears in person for one episode of a later season and via flashbacks every now and then. I have a soft spot for her because she is a victim of tragic circumstances, but she’s not just a damsel in distress. The way she loves people is complicated. She uses manipulation and trickery to lure her victims. She is devoted and loyal to those closest to her. She’s the Ophelia, the madwoman, and deserved a redemption story just as much as the other members of the Whirlwind did.

9. Glory: On paper, Glory is a villain who does not make a lot of sense. She got kicked out of her hell dimension, doesn’t have full range of her powers, and needs to feed off of people’s sanity in order to survive. To me, Glory is a lot like Loki in the sense that she embraces chaos and loves to dominate everyone around her. I love villains who can make me laugh one second and have me running for the hills in fear the next. You never know what they’re up to. She also reminds me a lot of The Master from Doctor Who in that she has this single-mindedness that drives her. She knows what she wants and will destroy anything and anyone that gets in her way from getting it.

8. Dawn: To say that Dawn is polarizing is an understatement. Most Dawn haters see her as a whiny brat who constantly gets in trouble and basically takes away the cool factor from the Scooby Gang. And I’ll admit, I hated Dawn at first. But it’s not Michelle Tratchenberg’s fault. Dawn was the victim of inconsistent, bad writing. Not to mention that, when you think about the fact that Dawn is the only other ordinary person in the Scooby Gang (the other one being Xander), she reacts to situations the way a normal bratty teenager does: she acts out. She’s similar to Lydia Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She has to deal with being in the shadow of her superpowered older sister, the loss of her mother, losing two women she considers to be role models when one of them leaves and the other one gets too caught up in her own problems, and oh yeah, all the supernatural stuff in her life. When you think about it that way, she was basically crying for help and a place to belong. I think we can all relate to that.

7. Joyce: Joyce is a supporting character that I really, really wish Joss didn’t kill off. But on the other hand, the episode centering on her death is one of the best episodes of the series. I think the reason her death had impact is because at that point, we grew to love her as a mother who’s trying to understand something beyond her comprehension. She supports Buffy and protects Dawn. She had an odd but sweet friendship with Spike. Her interactions with Giles in “Band Candy” and other episodes were priceless. And she meant something to all of the characters, in spite of the fact that she was never involved in any fights or battles.

6. Tara: Speaking of deaths that I really wish didn’t happen…Joyce’s death can be justified and explained. Tara’s death was senseless and just wrong. (At the very least, it was not written well. I watch way too many Forensic Files episodes and the trajectory of that bullet…but I digress.) Again, Tara’s death wouldn’t have that much of an impact if the audience didn’t grow to love her. I honestly wish that more screentime was given to her, storylines that involved more than her relationship with Willow. She showed herself to be proactive, supportive, and loving. I identified with her intuitive nature.

5. Anya: Speaking of characters who deserved more screentime, Anya was severely underused. She’s mostly known for being comic relief. And yes, she’s a hilarious and honest character. But she’s also someone who provided a lot of knowledge about the demon world. And in spite of the fact that she was all but pushed aside in Season 6, she gained a love for humanity. She was a complex character underneath her comic relief and had her own insights. And yes, I am not over the fact that she got killed off either. However, it was Emma Caufield’s choice that Anya should end up that way, so I’m not gonna judge her.

4. Willow: If any character went through a lot of changes in seven seasons, it’s Willow. She started out as the nerdy girl next door, went on to become a powerful witch, became the bad guy for the finale of Season 6, and finally turned things around in Season 7. A lot of people had major problems with her addiction to magic in Season 6, myself included. But her tendencies to solve problems with magic were there beforehand, as far back as Season 3, when she tried to do an antilove spell in “Lovers Walk.” On a writing level, I’d say that Willow’s was at least consistent and solid up until Season 7.

3. Cordelia: Cordelia Chase is another polarizing character. She started out being just a ditzy alpha female dog and played the role of Buffy’s “shadow self.” However, she also shows a lot of honesty that differs her from Anya. Her blunt honesty can be used for comic relief at times, but it also opened up people’s eyes to their own behavior. Case in point: “When She Was Bad” in which she lays it down for Buffy how wrong it was to act out against everyone over the fact that she died instead of dealing with it. Cordelia is not a perfect character by any means and I’ll be the first to admit that she is a lot better in Angel, but glimpses of the woman she becomes are definitely seen on Buffy.

2. Faith: Talk about a complex character. Faith is, at first glance, your typical bad girl. But she didn’t start out that way. I love Faith’s attitude towards her life. She knows what she wants and isn’t afraid of getting it. She’s loyal to those she loves and stands up for her friends. She’s motivated by a need to be accepted somewhere with someone and since the Scooby Gang wasn’t going to provide that, she went running into the arms of the Mayor. I’m not saying that it was okay that she killed the deputy mayor, though. She has a tendency to act out first and ask questions later, but in a way, that’s why she needed Buffy as sort of a morality tether. (And yes, I plan to fanfic how this friendship could’ve worked out.)

1. Buffy: I cannot state how awesome Buffy is. I’ve rambled about this before, but it still astonishes me how many people don’t like Buffy as a character. I mean, I like watching Angel and like everyone on the show except for the titular character, but my brain cannot comprehend someone who doesn’t love Buffy Anne Summers. She had to endure so much and deal with so much and loved those in her life so much. If anyone encompasses the quote I put in this post, it’s her. She can kick vampire ass, but is still an emotionally vulnerable person. She wants to find love, but knows that there are times where family comes first. I cried with her, stood by her side when she gave epic speeches, identified with her reluctance to love, and loved her from beginning to end, even when she was bad.

There’s a famous quote from Joss Whedon in which someone asked him why he always wrote strong female characters. He replied “because you’re still asking that question.” The women from Buffy the Vampire Slayer stand out amongst female characters because they’re not just defined by who they’re in a relationship with, but for who they are as people.

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