Buffy and Her Journey as a Heroine

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Guest Writer Valerie Frankel talks about Buffy and her journey as a heroine. 

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There are so many hero’s journey epics: Harry Potter, Star Wars, Game of Thrones. Among these, Buffy is unique. She’s not the only epic heroine: Coraline, Katniss, Susan and Lucy Pevensie all cross into a new world of magic and danger where they sacrifice themselves to save loved ones. What makes Buffy special is the amazing independence and humanity she brings to her role. She isn’t a wooden archetype of a figure with little character development, like Eowyn. She isn’t a violent, man-hating psychopath. She’s a real teenager, who makes mistakes and sometimes hurts her friends as she struggles to grow up.

Nineties girl power, also known as third wave feminism, saw a new kind of heroine arriving. This was Disney’s Ariel, who sneaks off to go treasure hunting; Belle, who likes to read; Pocahontas, who talks sense into the warring men; and Tiana, who faithfully saves every penny so she can achieve her dream without a godmother. And all of them save the prince. Today’s girls are multicultural, smart, and down to earth. And they’re still allowed to be girly. Though Buffy must explain this to Giles on more than one occasion, she can be a warrior and still enjoy cheerleading, shopping for pink prom dresses, or campaigning for homecoming queen. It doesn’t make her any less strong as she clobbers vampires and saves her friends in every episode.

In fairytales, many heroines are silenced, forced to knit coats from nettles or have their tongues cut out like the classic Little Mermaid, Greek Philomela, or the Japanese Tongue-Cut sparrow. Around the world, millions of women suffer in just this way, unable to vote or voice their grievances, suppressed by the men of their culture. Buffy, once again, rewrites this trope. She’s brilliant, hilarious, and quick. And she always gets the last word.

“In a culture that for decades had told young women to be soft-spoken, always tactful, deferential to men, and thus to self-censor their feelings and desires, hearing an adolescent girl mouth off like this to powerful males was, yes, liberating,” Susan J. Douglas notes in her book Enlightened Sexism (90). “I may be dead, but I'm still pretty. Which is more than I can say for you,” Buffy says in Prophecy Girl (1.12), owning her traumatic experience and mocking the Master before she slays him. “There are a lot scarier things than you. And I'm one of them,” Buffy says in Nightmares (1.10). As she takes control of every fight with her puns and quips, she establishes herself as the most powerful person in the scene…it’s fantastic!

Buffy follows the heroine’s journey arc, like all her sisters already mentioned. But as she faces her shadow twin Faith, evil matriarch Professor Walsh, evil sisters Glory and Dark Willow, and the First as the ultimate evil—despair, she journeys through a story more nuanced than that of a monster-slaying hero. Buffy truly learns that the feminine powers of death and the unconscious world outweigh the superficial power of the everyday world. She learns that a gift of love, given in defense of another, is the greatest gift of all. And she learns to slay vampires while being far far more than “just a girl.” In a word, she’s a heroine.