Buffy: female empowerment never gets old

Buffy the Vampire Slayer sounds a bit ridiculous, if we’re being honest. It comes across as  campy, childish, and the makeup consists, in the beginning seasons, of masks and yellow contacts. Even the name “Buffy” is fictional and entirely 90s.

But it’s also one of the greatest television shows of all time. It features, as promised by the title, Buffy Summers (played excellently by Sarah Michelle Gellar) as the aforementioned vampire slayer, ridding the world of evil while trying to graduate high school. Buffy is the chosen slayer of her generation, sworn to protect the world from all evil. It’s a full-time job. Buffy has faithful sidekicks Willow and Xander and a Watcher, her slayer-mentor. The series focuses on various apocalypses and how the gang juggles real life with demon slaying. And however much the show was meant to entertain, it also supported, educated, and strengthened its viewers. Buffy faces incredible adversity, through loss, love, and learning her place in the world, and goes through this journey with her closest friends.

I finished the series last Monday night after a panicked binge. Netflix got rid of the show on April 1, so I moved fast, sailing past seasons six and seven with a determined mindset to finish it all. The Buffy cast also had a 20-year reunion at Entertainment Weekly in January, appearing in a photoshoot and interview, so I don’t think there could have been a more timely moment for me to finish the series. I was brought me back into Buffy’s complex and beautifully imagined world, and its end made me sit and think.

Buffy is one of the most iconic female leads in a television show: she’s strong, smart, kicks ass multiple times per episode, and wants to rid the world of evil. She does this even when demons snarl at her size, at her femininity, her blond hair, and proves that she is powerful. It’s a message that applies to women everywhere. Life is tough, but women are tougher.

I started the show during a period of transition. After watching Joss Whedon speak at Wesleyan, his alma mater, during my sister’s graduation, I began Buffy with a simple interest. I’d seen the guy speak, so why not watch his work. I was finishing high school, just as ready to leave as Buffy is at the end of season one, and I sympathized with what the Scooby gang (the crime-fighting group, called so affectionately) was going through. They were dealing with typical teenage angst and discomfort. “It think it was the ultimate metaphor. It was utilizing the horrors of adolescence manifested through these actual monsters, and I think for everyone going through that it’s the hardest time of life,” said Gellar during the Buffy reunion.

While I watched the show mostly for entertainment, for the beautiful young David Boreanaz and the campy 90s atmosphere, I felt better after watching it. It was an escape from my own world, sure, but it was one with its own complexities and problems that had resolutions. It was empowering watching Buffy and her friends conquer evil season after season, while also experiencing heartbreak and hurt. You grow to love Buffy (and her wardrobe), rooting for her as a hero and watching her pitfalls of love.

The final seasons are much more complex. “In the beginning, the world was very clear with what was black and white, and as Buffy grew up, the world became much more gray,” explained Kristine Sutherland, the actress who played Buffy’s mother. But this made sense: as Buffy matured, so did the problems she faced. She fights with friends, makes decisions to protect or include people, and grapples with her own self-doubt.

Warning: spoilers ahead, so feel free to skip this paragraph. In fact, if you haven’t seen Buffy, I’ll require that you do. In the last season, the gang battles The First, the final and most ancient evil, so evil that it can’t take corporeal form, but tortures people by appearing as the dead and speaking to them. This is the ultimate fight, the real apocalypse. The gang calls potential slayers (young women who can be slayers if called upon, but aren’t yet) and as many allies as they can find to help fight. Buffy battles self-doubt, a coup when the women confront her leadership as flawed, and the weight of the world on her shoulders. But at the very end, The Slayer’s power is transferred to all potential slayers all over the world. Girls and women alike find sudden strength and power; playing baseball, sitting up from dinner, or just walking on the sidewalk, these women suddenly find empowerment within themselves. It was amazing to see. The slayers fight together with Buffy and her friends, watching each other’s backs and looking out for the others, and I’ll leave the end unspoken. Buffy, however, has shared her power, so the Slayer burden is wielded by not one, but hundreds.

I thought about the ending for a while after I finished. I felt empowered, felt the Slayer strength coursing through me (even though I’d completed several hundred hours of television rather than fighting demons) and felt proud. I felt immense admiration for Buffy herself and the creative minds behind the show. In the current climate, where so many of us feel weak and powerless against the oppressive powers of evil (and evil has a terrible haircut), it reminded me of the need to work together and believe in each other. Not just women, but all people.

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