The Slut Shaming of Buffy Summers

It’s my day off! Gourmet breakfast and a Buffy minimarathon ensues! This show is jam packed with problematic nonsense. I know, I like this show, too, but it’s true. Don’t get so defensive.

Before we begin: What is a “slut”?

No one seems to actually come up with one cohesive definition of what is and is not “a slut” factors can vary because of age, social circles, class, religious belief, the season, the fashion. Whatever. A slut is someone who “sleeps around” but how many people is required to be considered “sleeping around”? Is it based on relationship status? People will call a female “slut” not only because of real, perceived or rumored sexual prowess but because of how they look in leggings, what color shoes they have on or if they are wearing “too much eye make up” or the size of her breasts.

 What is “slut shaming”?

Harassing, insulting or judging a woman, labeled a “slut” by the afore mentioned waffling definition.

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 The whole plot of Buffy Season 2 is an anti-teen-sex PSA. Let’s just get that out in the open, in case some how you didn’t get that. The episode where Buffy has sex with Angel (Season 2 Episodes 13 and 14), he loses his soul, and becomes a whole different person. Literally “men treat women differently after they have sex.” Then her mother says she seems “different” just by looking at her.

The virginal Willow repeatedly calls Cordelia a “skank.” Because let’s face it, when a woman goes after what she wants, and what she wants is a man, even if he’s without relationship status, she must be a skanky slut whore. But that’s not who I’m here to talk about. While Cordelia may or may not have even slept with anyone, Buffy slept with exactly one person before she was slut shamed, judged negatively, deemed inferior and deemed unable to make competent decisions.

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In Season 2 Episode 17

This is the most egregious of the examples. Angel is breaking into Buffy’s house at night and drawing creepy pictures of her while she sleeps, petting her hair and leaving notes on her pillow. Creepy stalker abusive exboyfriend behavior x4. When Buffy discusses with the Scooby Gang how to revoke her invitation and keep him out, Xander says, “That’s what you get for inviting strange men in.” Then later, after Angel creeps out her mom and tells her that he and Buffy ‘made love’ her mother says “He’s too old for you, and obviously unstable. I expect you to make better choices.” Really? Are 16 year olds well known for good choices? A teenage girl should obviously realize that men turn into stalkers and psychopaths as soon as they let the man “get the milk for free,” it’s clearly her own fault. Yikes. This is what girls are told. Buffy’s friends and her mother blame her for getting stalked. They blame her for getting stalked! And no one points out how effed up this is!

And I would like to point out also, not that I needed to, but Angel was a creepy stalker when he still had a soul. He stalked Buffy before she even came to Sunnydale. And then he pops out of the shadows throughout the first two seasons. He follows her because “she’s going to need help.” Yeah… help to get away from you, creep.

 In Season 2 Episode 18

This one’s light on the meta plot, Buffy’s in the hospital with the flu. Xander stands watch to make sure Angel doesn’t come by, being a public place he needs no invitation. Angel calls Xander out on still being in love with her. Xander tells him, “You’re going to die and I’m going to be there.” Angel calls Xander “Buffy’s white knight.” Xander, even though he’s with Cordelia, is still mad he got “relegated to the friendzone” and incessantly stakes his claim on Buffy. Xander, who last episode blamed her for getting stalked is now her protector. Because he’s such a “nice guy.”

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No. Fuck you, Xander Harris. 

In Season 2 Episode 19

Buffy dates a guy on the swim team, he gets pushy with her and she bashes his head into the steering wheel. The school officials are all “poor this guy” and then when Buffy says he deserved it, and it was just a sprained wrist and a bloody nose. Everyone gives her the side eye and then she says “granted there’s not a scratch on me, that doesn’t help my case.” So Buffy should have allowed a man to force himself on her and leave marks before she defended herself? This reeks reminiscently of “forcible rape” dialogue and victims being interrogated when they bring abuse/rape charges against someone, which happens in the real world too damn often.

15 thoughts on “The Slut Shaming of Buffy Summers

  1. Interesting perspective. Gotta say that Buffy is still my favorite show of all time, but I can see the point that you’re making.

    • Whatevs, I like it, too. It’s more of a society problem than a Buffy problem. the episodes were written by 3 different people and they all thought this was the appropriate way to address Angel breaking into Buffy’s house and threatening her and her mother, without even having, ohhh let’s say, my homegirl Cordelia tell everyone how jacked up they were acting. “Nice guy” Xander is really the worst though, there’s no excuse for victim blaming. Some friend right there. But this is so normalized that most people watch it and don’t see anything out of the ordinary, someone wrote it, someone directed it, someone edited it and none of them said “Oh hey, this is fucked up because…”

  2. Interesting comments! A few months back I wrote a meta on my LJ re: the episode Ted, because I found a very similar pattern in terms of “blaming the victim” re: domestic violence, both in the episode itself and in fandom. (Joyce’s relationship with Ted is something of a parallel and foreshadowing of Angel(us).) Buffy defends her life from an abusive man (he’s threatened her with violence, institutionalization, and even has his hands around her throat at one point.) The assumption is made that she was “out of control”; the police questioning her afterwards point out, in Go Fish, that she has no bruises and assumes she couldn’t have been attacked by Ted. the emphasis in fandom tends to be the same, without considering that Buffy had a right to fight for her life and protect the life of her mother. (in this instance I honestly think that the show wanted us to see her as being threatened, but that’s not how it’s generally read.)

    Anyway I think your essay is right on the money; the very same pattern will continue all the way to season 7 (Selfless); and it happens not only from Xander but in a “milder” form with all the men in her life, who see her as something to be possessed and are incredibly jealous of one another. She’s a prize to be won, and I’m not sure the show ever quite solves or corrects that. Riley Finn cheats on Buffy with vamp whores and violates her body and her love/trust in S5, but in S6 she’s the one apologizing to him for “driving him away”. WTF?

    I do love the show btw – Buffy is my Big Damn Hero – but that’s an area where I think the writers never quite examined their assumptions and prejudices entirely. Buffy is continually punished for her sexual and romantic choices.

    • Sadly, I’ve come to expect portrayals of “love” as men fighting over a woman as if she were property. *sigh* I think the “friendzone” BS bugs me so much because it’s happened to me and close friends of mine so many times. In this case Buffy could not have been more clear that she was not interested in him. So he disrespects her choices. But the way it’s written you aren’t supposed to think he’s a total douchebag, you’re supposed to be all “poor Xander he really loves her” puke.

      I totally agree with what you brought up about Ted! And Joyce/the Scoobys/everyone says: “But I love Ted! Ted wouldn’t do that! Ted’s such a nice guy” until you find out he’s a cyborg who’s drugging everyone’s cookies!

      I missed a lot of the Riley episodes. I’ll get there, though.

      • Oh boy, do I have ISSUES with Riley and his treatment of Buffy, and how the show’s writers side with him. (“He’s such a great guy!” Whatever.) I expect you will to. Its not surprising Xander identifies with and likes Riley quite a bit. (I actually liked him too, sometimes but – ugh. I’ll say no more about that.)

        //But the way it’s written you aren’t supposed to think he’s a total douchebag, you’re supposed to be all “poor Xander he really loves her” puke.//

        EXACTLY. And this at a time when the show writer’s were still on the fence as to whom Buffy would “end up with.” I don’t think they totally eliminated Buffy/Xander as a “endgame” (creepy term) until S3.

  3. OH my freaking goodness! Seriously completely changes just cause they have sex? what the frick. You know – I have to admit I’ve NEVER seen this show. I don’t know why I never did – maybe I was too obsessed with Iron Chef at the time haha. and Charmed I think.

    • What?! This show was so great… for a while anyway. Buut yeah, she sleeps with him and he loses his soul and starts torturing and murdering. And it’s a big metaphor for all the disaster that will happen if you have sex as a teen. the worst. The her friends act like its her fault. Especially Xander… who I think you’re meant to feel sorry for because Buffy doesn’t like him back? it’s cracked.

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  6. I haven’t really watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer because during the times that it was aired, I was always facing my computer blasting pixelated mobs. >,< What I really appreciated on this post is how you defined slut shaming. I admit that the word is kinda new to me. This is perhaps my 3rd time to come across the term and I was really baffled upon reading it for the first time. I am naive(?) that way. Hahaha.

    Thank you for adding another word to my very limited vocabulary, Brit. :D

  7. I haven’t watched season 2 in a while, but I seem to remember Giles saying that he doesn’t blame her and nobody ought to. Do you think that maybe they were having everyone be like “I expected you to be smarter” because they were trying to portray them as wrong? The same goes for Xander really. He’s not supposed to be perfect. At one point he gets a witch to attempt cast a love spell on Cordelia and it’s portrayed as incredibly wrong and Giles puts him in his place.

    And as for your last point, I think the guy deserved it, but I think their point may’ve been that she used excessive force rather than that she fought back. Buffy’s got superpowers, so she didn’t need to Even if that’s what they’re doing, I still disagree since he was asking to get his head bashed, but I doubt they were saying “she shouldn’t have fought back”. I do agree with you that they handled it wrong and should’ve explained it better if I’m right about their intent though.

    • After Xander cast the love spell and all the girls went nuts for him, Cordelia thought it was romantic that he would go through all that trouble for her (all the trouble of taking away her ability to have a consenting relationship). Giles did say he wasn’t upset and that there was no way she could have known. I understand that characters aren’t supposed to be flawless, but Xander was a terrible friend. I think he’s a bad person parading as a “nice guy”

  8. I agree with your points, except for season 2 being a PSA against teenage sex (Giles never blamed Buffy, although there is no excuse for what her friends and mother said to her). Sex was used as a plot device to get Angel to lose his soul, but I don’t think sex itself was meant to be seen as a bad thing. By having sex with Buffy Angel experienced true happiness, something he had never felt since the curse that gave him back his soul. The curse said it would be broken if he ever achieved true happiness, and he had that with Buffy. If the curse had not worked that way, obviously Angel wouldn’t have acted as such.
    There was some sexism in Buffy, as there unfortunately is in almost every show. I think you made some great points, but I do have to disagree with that specific one you made.

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