Buffy Newbie – Journal 3
December 5, 2012
So I’ve started Season 2 and the first episode surprised me.
I thought they would just pick up where they left off, but instead they dedicated the whole episode to Buffy dealing with her issues from the last season.
They had great scenes of her staring into space, answering every question with ‘fine’ and generally just being ‘meh’.
The episode was dedicating time to the astonishing realistic idea that she went through some serious shit in the last episode of the first season and you know, maybe that actually took a toll, you know, emotionally. Because actually people are emotional creatures. Who knew?
And it dawned on me. Joss Wedon’s true genius is not that he created a strong female character, it’s that he created a whole series that tells the story of a female character.
Let me explain.
I’m often struck by the fact that even when I watch strong women characters in film and TV I’m still watching a woman in a man’s story. I don’t care how strong the female character is, most of the time, she is still a component in a man’s story.
For example, Farscape. (Yes, I’m a geek, moving right along).
Farscape features a couple of awesome female characters, including Aeryn Sunn, a skilled soldier, expert pilot and just generally pretty kick-arse independent woman. She usually has the biggest gun.
But the whole series is about John Crighton.* It was John Crighton’s story about his coming-of-age. Aren’t they all?
In itself this isn’t the problem. If it was only half the time.
But so many of the stories featured in film and TV are about men, things that happen to men, things that men experience, their adventures, their journeys of self-discovery.
That’s why so many of them fail the Bechdel Test. Women are often just added as an afterthought, eye-candy or fit some other extremely narrow stereotype**.
Rarely do we get to see big budget films and TV series which are about the things women experience, their adventures and journeys of self-discovery. Where women play meaningful roles and which aren’t rom-coms or negative bitchy portrayals of female rivalry. But that’s exactly what Buffy does.
I am gobsmacked by how many films of fiction still don’t feature a 50/50 ration of men and women. I found myself yelling at the screen during The Avengers, ‘They’re made-up! Invent another female character, dammit!’ (Even though Joss Wedon did liberally sprinkle female characters among the secondary characters.)
To illustrate I quickly checked our biggest local theater and checked to see what is playing and grouped them into mostly about men, mostly about women and inbetween. There were 10 mostly about male characters, 3 mostly about female characters and one I couldn’t place. (Full list below, please note I haven’t seen any of them so can’t be 100% sure.)
Not good enough Hollywood. Not by a long shot.
Mostly about Male Characters (10 in total)
Argo, The Hobbit, Skyfall, Killing them Softly, The Life of Pi, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Loopers, Taken, Hotel Transylvania, The Inbetweeners,
Mostly about female characters (3 in total)
Pitch Perfect, The Sapphires, Twilight (I suppose)
Not sure how to characterise Wuthering Heights. I read the book 20 years ago and promptly forgot it. I’m still surprised I didn’t fail that class.
* (and yes I thought it was spelled ‘Kryten’ like the android in Red Dwarf, but I digress)
** for excellent analysis on the handful of reoccurring female stereotypes see any of the Tropes vs. clips by Anita Sarkeesian