A Musing About Buffy The Rape Culture Slayer

TW; Rape, rape culture
Fran and I have been watching a marathon of the full series of Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Netflix. And we all know it's an excellent, well-written series often dismissed as schlocky sci-fi fantasy that is far better than it has any right to be. Hell, the season 5 episode "The Body" alone was some of the single best (and most heart-wrenching) TV ever. Incredible acting all around, emotional weight, gravitas that eclipsed some Shakespeare stories.

But after watching the entire series something very interesting has occurred to me. It's not a new theory that Buffy may be an allegory for rape. A lot of folks have posed that idea. But I think it's a lot more complex than that. I've come to the conclusion that it's an allegory for rape, rape culture, rape privilege, and how to fight back, stand up, be strong, and accept responsibility for rape culture being perpetuated. And it was a subtle allegory, and I never realized it until near the very end, and then I looked back over the series and it smacked me right in the face as if to say "Hello? I've been standing right here the whole time?"

It occurred to me when it reached near the end of Season 6. Spike, a vampire for those unfamiliar with the series, has spent a season and a half in a mutually
abusive sexual relationship with the show's titular lead. Near the end of the 6th season,  he becomes so miserable, so lost in feeling hurt that Buffy just uses him for angry sex, that he feels entitled to just do the same thing and tries to rape her, and she fights him off, and he leaves the country and no one tells Dawn (Buffy's younger sister, sort of, who idolizes Spike), because they don't want her to think less of her friend Spike.

And that all makes a sad sort of sense, because that's how rape culture works right? Rapists feel entitled to rape and people want to protect the rapist from the repercussions. We see examples in real life all the time. Such as a case in a rural Texas town where a dozen men ages 15 to 28 gang-raped an 11 year old girl, and the general reaction among the town was A) The child was "asking for it" by dressing past her age and acting older than she was, and B) to fret about how the charges could ruin the lives of the men who raped a child.

Infuriating, sickening, sad fact of life. And of course TV shows frequently reinforce this stereotype. So I expected Buffy to do like most TV does in that regard.

So after the almost rape, Spike goes off to Africa, (while everyone else goes on about their lives like nothing happened), to undergo a horribly painful ritual to regain his soul so Buffy will love him, and goes insane from the guilt he can now feel over everyone he's ever hurt. At this point it seems like it's going to end up being the cliche romantic happy ending ala Luke And Laura where Hey! He feels really really extra bad about almost raping her so now everything's awesome again and she'll fall madly in love with him because OMG U GUYZ he's SOOO sensitive now! And they live happily ever after!

Except that wasn't what Joss Whedon was ACTUALLY doing. Whedon is the guy who created Buffy, and he had other plans here.

So season 7 begins and during the course of the episode, Buffy finds a disheveled Spike living in a high school boiler room, eating rats, self-harming and rambling incoherently. She leaves him alone.

In season 7 episode 2, Spike has cleaned himself up and tries to help Buffy and friends deal with the Monster Of The Week. After a lot of conflict, near the end of the episode, Spike starts acting loopy and erratic again and runs away, into a church. Wanting answers for his confusing behavior, Buffy chases him and finds him wandering around in the darkness inside. He's rambling and confused, and he misunderstands her thinking she wants to just use him for sex again, she pushes him away, he mumbles something about "No, right, she doesn't want that, she shouldn't be made to right right" and he starts wandering around again, rambling about his guilt. He talks as if there are other people in the room, ghosts of his past victims, and seeing death all around him. He talks about overwhelming guilt driving him insane.

It's at this point that Buffy remembers Angel, (another vampire with a soul who got a spin-off series and had left Buffy itself at the end of the fourth season), describing to her how he had spent a lot of time immediately following his soul being restored feeling overwhelmingly consumed with guilt, remembering all the people he'd hurt or killed. With a look at shock and almost revulsion at the thought, Buffy realizes what Spike has done and asks him incredulously, almost horrified, why he would do that, subject himself to that kind of torment. Why do that to himself?

Because of how TV reinforces Rape Culture, plus how Whedon's played this story arc so far, you'd be justified in assuming as I did that Spike is going to say something like "So you could love me" right? That's usually how these things work out on TV. On the soap opera General Hospital, the couple of Luke & Laura, (whom I previously alluded to) are still to this dy hailed as being among the greatest TV romances of  all time. Except no one ever wants to remember that their story arc on that soap began with Luke RAPING her. Rape Cultures teaches people that rape is just a really passionate forceful expression of true love in these situations. It's ridiculously common in fiction for rape victims to fall in love with their rapists.

But Spike didn't say that. Whedon had other ideas. Whedon knows about Rape Culture, and he goes out of his way to write strong, 3-dimensional female characters who never just allow themselves to give up and be victimized.

So then what DID Spike say to make me realize what Whedon was really doing?

He said "To be the kind of man who would never.... to be a kind of man..."

An unfinished sentence yes, but you it was telling in what he WASN'T saying out loud. The point where he paused. "To be the kind of man who would never...." tells you, yes, he loves Buffy, he wants her to love him. But he didn't endure all that pain just so she would forget what he'd done and magically love him.

He did it to punish himself for assuming he was entitled to her body, for hurting her, and to forge himself into someone who could never again do THAT to a woman. To be a man who DESERVED her love rather than just take it, to be a man who could EARN her love rather than just believe she owed it to him. And to be a man who was better than the behavior that Rape Culture teaches men is okay.

And that was the moment it hit me, and I started going back over the whole series in my mind. Analyzing story arcs, themes, character evolutions, and realized that, yes, the underlying theme of Buffy is about rape, but not, as many believe, a straight up "Staking the vampires who maul her physically is a visual rape allegory" way. It's more subtle than that. Whedon's characters exist and survive in a world with creatures that want to hurt them in ways that would make them feel weak and powerless, just like a rapist wants to have power over his victim. But they survive by refusing to ever BE the victim, by standing up to the monsters and saying "No, this is NOT okay, you have no right to do this to me if I don't want you to and I WILL defend myself". And while dressed in anything ranging from "Borderline Hooker" to "Nun-In-Training", from various walks of life.

Buffy teaches it's audience that it's okay for a woman to decide for herself who my or may not touch her, no matter how she's dressed or how she acts or where she comes from.

I wish more TV would follow that example.


  1. Some interesting thoughts, but to me this feels more like it's your own personal projection than the reality of what was happening in the shown.

    The only part linked to rape was the part they clearly labelled as rape in the dialogue and plot, when Spike attempted to take Buffy again.

    The issue with this is that she was happy to use him on her terms, get violent with him, and even let him get violent with her - it was explosive. But the moment she's not interested anymore and Spike plays her game as usual it's suddenly rape instead of violent foreplay? Buffy was at fault for leading Spike on, then changing the rules without telling him. This all rejects the idea that it's ok for the victim to fight back, as Buffy is too powerful to be the victim and more importantly it's clear here that Spike was the victim, as he was being used. Not to mention the fact that domestic abuse works both ways - it could be argued that Buffy was abusing Spike.

    Spike explained why he went to get a soul - because he knew Buffy would never love him without one. It wasn't anything else but the rejection and realisation that he could never have her if he remained soulless.

  2. Er.... no, I'm not projecting anything, I'm basing this entirely on what I watched and what Whedon wrote. Your rape apologism though tells me exactly why you disagree. Educate yourself, your mindstaggering ignorance only contributes to rape culture. Beliefs like yours are a huge part of the problem.


Thanks for commenting, try to NOT be crude or mean-spirited. You can disagree with me without calling me a fat bitch etc.