Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre! High school is a battleground. It certainly was for me anyway and honestly, I’ve never been able to trust those for whom high school was anything less than horrific. Buffy the Vampire Slayer understood this better than perhaps any other show in the history of television. Joss Whedon took the idea that everything feels like it’s life or death in high school and literalized it. Sunnydale High was sitting on top of a Hellmouth, which is a center of mystical convergence that attracts all manner of supernatural elements. This allowed the show to use demons, werewolves, and witches to explore themes of addiction, desire, and female empowerment. Whedon personified all those feelings of isolation, alienation, and demoralization, grounding extraordinary situations in these very real emotions. The implication of the Hellmouth is clear: Most teenagers feel as though they are entering the mouth of Hell every single day that they attend high school. The show resonates with people of all ages because although we leave those experiences in our wake, they are never truly forgotten. Perhaps this is why my sixteen-year-old self latched onto this show and is still holding tight almost twenty years later. Taken at face value, BtVS is the story of a girl fighting monsters and saving the world. This alone was groundbreaking for 1997. Underneath its monster movie veneer though, was an allegory about growing up. Buffy the Vampire Slayer didn’t just influence popular culture: It shattered the illusion of what we thought television could do. The show not only subverted expectations but also challenged gender stereotypes and cut a wide swath for the generations of television that followed. The funny thing is, Buffy should never have even been a TV show. The 1992 film was not well received by critics and certainly did not accomplish what Joss Whedon had set out to do. The director, Fran Rubel Kuzui, took Whedon’s feminist horror movie script and turned it into a campy comedy. Whedon jumped at the chance to see his vision fully realized as a television show that he would be able to run. The pilot aired on the WB in 1997. When the show premiered, TV’s only real female hero was Xena and no offense to fans of the Warrior Princess, but she lacked relatabilty. From its opening scene, Buffy the Vampire Slayer established itself as something different than its predecessors. We assume that Darla (Julie Benz) will be playing the part of the victim. She seems so innocent and her male companion looks like bad news. However, as soon as she reveals her true vampire visage and tears out the bad boy’s throat, Buffy’s mission statement snaps into focus. The thing is, this scene is no longer shocking. Twenty years later, this plot development is downright predictable. While BtVS remains thought of as essential television, without historical context, it is easy to overlook its cultural impact. The pilot’s opening scene, however cliché it might seem now, was indicative of Buffy’s entire rai·son d’ê·tre. Joss Whedon had grown tired of watching that helpless girl play victim time and time again in pretty much every horror movie ever. With Buffy, he placed the power in the hands of the small, flaxen-haired damsel, creating a lion where there was once a sacrificial lamb. While this may be a familiar television trope today, it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer that proved that mold breakable. The pilot and series finale are perfect bookends, because while “Welcome to the Hellmouth” introduces us to the chosen one, “Chosen” sees Buffy sharing that power with women all over the world. Buffy was more than just feminist in intent, but also in execution. The slayer isn’t perfect. No one on the show is. That is what makes them all so human. Buffy Summers was a sixteen-year-old girl struggling to support the weight of the entire world on her tiny shoulders. She faltered, but she never gave up, no matter how unwinnable the battle appeared to be. Buffy fought and defeated demons, a god, and even the root of all evil. Some of these fights were large scale, while others were painfully personal. Taking the idea of, “I slept with my boyfriend and now he won’t speak to me anymore,” but adding a healthy dose of Hellmouth, Buffy and Angel’s story wasn’t just tragic: It was empowering. In the aftermath of killing the man she loved, Buffy realized what we all do after high school: the hits just keep on coming. However, Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t a meditation on misery. It’s an honest look at life and how we survive it. Buffy may have often felt alone, but she never truly was. She also wasn’t the show’s only prominent female figure. So many amazing women populated the Buffyverse! They were each of them unique, with their own important parts to play. Whether we are looking at Willow’s painful struggle with addiction or Anya’s desperate attempts to become more human, there is no shortage of unforgettable character arcs. While the writing from story to dialogue was stellar – with a few exceptions – those roles would not have been the same had lesser actors played them. Aside from the many strong women featured throughout Buffy’s seven-season tenure on television, there were also several lovable male characters. These men were not only appreciative of the incredibly strong women in their lives, but completely unthreatened by their strength. The role models on BtVS extended beyond the amazing women portrayed. From Xander to Giles to Spike, the series encompassed male roles as diverse as the female parts. There was not a single throwaway character – although they weren’t all likeable – and ultimately, there was someone for every viewer to relate to. 1998 was the year that I first tuned in to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As a teenager, there wasn’t much on television that I could relate to, but meeting the Scooby Gang changed all that. High School was a tumultuous time for me, so I felt a sort of camaraderie with this band of misfits. They were not only fighting for their lives but also fighting their way through their teens and everything that comes along with that. Of course, the show resonates with me on an entirely different level as an adult. For one thing, its genius is much more apparent, as well as its cultural impact, which is still felt so strongly all these years later. At the time, though, the show meant so much more to me than mere entertainment. Buffy the Vampire Slayer became an integral part of my survival. Buffy is unequivocally one of the most important feminist icons of my generation. Thematically, self-acceptance has always been at the heart of the series. Buffy had a clear sense of who she was and over the course of seven seasons, learned to embrace that person. She has been a student, a single mother, a general and a one-woman army. Lest we forget, she is also just a girl. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has endured for twenty years and these stories are just as relevant and necessary as they were when the series first aired. Buffy was and always will be, not only the kind of hero that we want but also the kind of hero that we need. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response LauraAkers March 1, 2017 I like that you point out that the series has great male characters, because I think that that’s often overlooked. Men need role-models for positive, affirming behavior as well, and they get as few as we women do. And a huge part of that, as Whedon has been forced to repeat, ad nauseum, is that strong men aren’t threatened by strong women; they are inspired by and attracted to them. So in a show that could have just focused on the women and have them be the only interesting or dynamic characters, Joss went one better: his men are strong, fascinating, loved by and loving these women. And they are given the dignity women have had to fight for: the right to have their own stories. The Xander of the first season is not that of the eighth–not by a long shot. Giles becomes more complex and conflicted as the story moves forward. And there is a very good argument to be made that Spike’s journey and his eventual redemption–without ever ceasing to be essentially Spike–is the most dynamic storyline in that universe. As you point out, it’s easy to create a Xena–the “strong woman”–but it’s much more difficult to to make her relatable or attainable. Joss gave us an entire universe of people–of both sexes–in whom we can see ourselves. The best part of ourselves. Not in terms of achievement, but in never giving up trying to be better. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.