I was having a conversation about women’s rights with three other people. They were girls, and one of them (the annoying one) suddenly asked me “Giovanni, why are you such a feminist?”
This question surprised me, I never thought of myself as a feminist and in that occasion, I couldn’t find the right words or even the right ideas to explain my thoughts to them. I just said “I don’t know”.
A while later, I was explaining to the same person who asked the question (yes, the annoying one) why I like my favourite show so much, and how it affected my personality and perception of the world growing up. As I was talking about it, I had a realization: I am a feminist because of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
It’s a statement, I know. Saying that my moral compass was shaped by a TV series from the 90s about vampires and monsters could sound weird. But I am here to fight stereotypes, exactly the way Buffy did.
First episode. First scene.
It’s a classic horror film situation: there is a couple, a self confident guy with a scared blonde girl. They are breaking into the local High School during the night and the corridors are silent and creepy. Suddenly the girl hears a sound somewhere, she asks the guy to check but he is sure nothing is happening, most probably because he is a vampire. I mean, we expect him to be, we are watching a show about monsters after all, and the poor girl will be killed soon, we are sure.
Except that suddenly the girl’s face changes and she is revealed to be the true monster, she was the hunter and not the victim all along. She is now sucking the blood of the guy, killing him.
This is how Buffy the Vampire Slayer starts, with a clear manifesto: to flip gender stereotypes, fighting the prejudice and revisiting the role of women in pop culture.
Fighting the patriarchy
In the mythology created by Joss Whedon for the series, the slayer is the only one who can defeat evil:
“In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer.”
The feminist intent is clear from the slogan, but it’s not that simple. During the seasons, we will find out more about how and why the first slayer was created: a group of men, in prehistoric age, decided to give this power to a girl whose destiny would be to fight this never-ending battle, alone. She was just a tool in the hands of someone else. And that’s where the series is really interesting; Buffy strongly reclaims her independence and identity, making this power her own and ceasing to be a product of that same patriarchy that created her. She starts to make her own choices as an individual, not just as “the slayer” anymore.
But Buffy is not invincible, she is not the classic perfect heroine. She is full of flaws, she is powerful but sometimes defenceless, she is smart but sometimes makes stupid decisions, she is annoying and charming, she is all these things together because she is a human being. She is a common girl with uncommon responsibilities. She is trying to deal with every-day teenager problems, and the series uses fantasy tropes as a metaphor for real life: the worries about the first sexual experience becomes Buffy’s tragic love with Angel; drug abuse becomes Willow’s addiction to magic; and even more: friendships, death, mourning, toxic relationships, abuse, homosexuality, redemption; these are only few of the themes that this amazing and layered TV series deals with.
When I was a kid…
…I didn’t realize that I was probably relating to the character of Xander. He doesn’t have magic powers, he is not special in any way, just a common man whose best friends are the Vampire Slayer and a powerful witch, and whose girlfriend is an ex vengeance demon. To be honest, I didn’t even like the character when I was younger, he was just a normal guy, like me. A normal guy, but surrounded by incredibly powerful women.
All my life I always preferred female friendships, all my best friends during the years were girls and I don’t know exactly why. I usually say that boys are more superficial, less insightful and empathetic, but I am aware that this is also a stereotype, a stupid idea that I was implanting in my brain. I can only theorize that i was influenced by my environment and my environment was influenced by pop culture.
The main characters in my High School class were girls with strong personalities. Most of us had similar interests, so every morning before the lessons or during breaks, we would talk about the things we were passionate about. This created a very cool atmosphere of confrontation and debate. We would discuss about characters arcs in TV shows, plot holes in a movie, we would wait for the new Harry Potter book, theorizing about what was going to happen, we would borrow each other’s new manga or comic book, trying to convince everybody to read them.
I strongly believe that all this made us develop critical thinking, maybe more then the things we were studying during our lessons. For me, this was a formative and educational experience, parallel to the official educational system, led by ourselves using our own passions (and maybe it’s not a coincidence that I chose to graduate in Cinema afterwards).
And Buffy was a huge conversation topic.
Since I was surrounded by charismatic women, both in my real life and in my passions, and since these two worlds were colliding all the time, it was never even an idea in my head to consider to treat women differently. It’s not something I force myself to do or not do, it’s just the way it is.
And all these female figures (from reality and imagination) were really important in my growth as a person. Today my best friend is still one of those girls in my high school class, 15 years later.
So I can say today that I was impacted by these entertainment products during my formative years and that I was impacted by my friends.
But while probably that was the best and most important moment to be influenced like this, I also think it’s an endless process.
I am still being impacted by people, even now, during this experience in Greece.
I’m the oldest volunteer in the organization, but living and sharing so much with incredible young women which I truly admire made me understand that I can take them as life example, even if I’m 5, 10 or 13 years older than them.