I've reading Allecto's analysis of Firefly, latest installment here, and find myself reluctantly agreeing with a lot of what she has to say. I say reluctantly because I love Buffy and Firefly and am rather gutted that there is so much wrong with it.
When I read the first installment of Allecto's analysis I was rather taken aback. I didn't understand where she was coming from and as the piece was not intended as a radical feminist 101 it took me a while to understand it. Although I don't agree with everything she writes she makes a damn good argument for all of it.
I do believe that men can be feminists. I do not think that they are well placed to pick up on and recognise internalised misogyny and societal sexism because by and large it doesn't affect them. But men can identify as feminists. They cannot however preach to women about how the bets way forward to advance women's rights. They will never know what it is like to be a woman and to be treated as a second class citizen. When I went to get my mortgage with my boyfriend the mortgage advisor directed 90% of his spiel to my boyfriend. Despite the fact I was asking the questions, despite the fact that I earned the most. The boyfriend did not notice this, because he has never had to, because he's never been in that position. However, he fully supports feminism. This is fine. He, and all the other men out there, just don't notice 95% of the crap women deal with.
Anyway, I'm slowly going through all my Buffy videos, (I know, videos, get me not with the technology), and am currently on season 2. Bearing in mind what I'd just read from Allecto certain things, say, problems, were occurring to me whilst watching it.
During Innocence, where Angel loses his soul after he's slept with Buffy. The blame for this is put squarely on Buffy's shoulders. By Giles, by her other and by Buffy. By the time Willow tells her it's not her fault in I only have eyes for you, several episodes later, Buffy is thoroughly convinced it's all down to her. She's completely internalized the guilt and won't give any of it to anyone else.
She had been in a relationship with Angel for a pretty long time now. 6, 8 months, a year? She's 17 years old. In the UK, it's legal to have sex when you're 16. I'm not sure about the law in America. She knew she couldn't get pregnant, he couldn't give her STDs cos he's dead, they loved each other. She knew nothing about the curse. Jenny knew something, but couldn't tell anyone. What exactly was wrong with them having sex?
Giles later said to her "Do you want me to say you acted rashly and wag my finger at you? You did and I can." Buffy then looks destroyed. This is her one trusted and knowledgeable authority figure in her life, her stability, and he tells her that? She did not act rashly. Having sex is not a crime. Later on her mother finds out about it and is unimpressed. But that makes more sense, mother's don't like to hear about their daughter's having sex. But then in Passion Joyce puts the blame on Buffy again for Angel changing. How is this Buffy's fault? How is it ever the woman's fault? Angel's behaviour reads like a stalker. Yet this isn't picked up on, Joyce doesn't help Buffy stop it, just blames her. The two people Buffy cares most about have told her it's her fault that her boyfriend changed after sex. If she hadn't had sex with him everything would be still be all honey and roses.
Why is Joyce not showing her it's Angel's fault he's changed? Did he not have anything to do with it? Why is Giles not placing the blame squarely on the Romany tribe who put the curse on Angel? Everyone hates Ms Calendar but I get the impression that's because she wasn't open with them about spying on Buffy and Angel. Not because it's her tribes fault he's changed. Jenny calls her uncle out about the curse, but that's the only time it's mentioned.
This whole storyline makes a pretty shit morality tale - it removes all culpability from the man. I understand that maybe Whedon wanted to show how teenage girls feel after sex when their boyfriend turns into a jerk, but it could have been down without everyone blaming Buffy. She didn't know. How could she have known? And as such, how is it her fault? Angel wasn't raped, it was fully consensual.
Maybe there's other reasons the story was written this way. Maybe instead of intending to show how it's always the woman's fault and that sex for teenagers is bad, Joss wanted to show the difference between teenagers and authority figures (Buffy and Joyce/Giles) as opposed to peer to peer relationships(Buffy/Willow). Maybe.
Still, it's not all bad. Although in Firefly's Our Mrs Reynolds, Mal is obviously taking advantage of and abusing Saffron, in the Buffy episode Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Xander cast a love spell and inadvertently makes every woman in Sunnydale want him. Including Buffy. He doesn't however take advantage, and he clearly states that it would be wrong and he does the right thing. So, I am thinking that Mal's behaviour in Our Mrs Reynolds is not symptomatic of Joss being a misogynist.
Mal is a bit of a grey area when it comes to morals. He happily kills people, he steals and he beats people up, and he enjoys it. His behaviour with Saffron then indicates further that he is a jerk. Contrast this with Xander, who is most definitely a good guy, though a bit of a sleaze, he generally does the right thing. Ergo, Joss can write good feminist texts. Except that the Buffy episode in question was written by Marti Noxon, and Our Mrs Reynolds was written by Joss. Damn.