Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered. A blond assassin of the undead, an older white guy who wasn’t in charge, crushes, bullying, inter-species romance. Buffy had it all. Two decades on, the show is still a go-to reference when you find yourself looking around at the intersection of feminism and pop culture.
Today’s young girls, a full generation behind the vampire slayer’s fans, have grown up in a post-Buffy world. A world in which the Hell Mouth is sealed and all the demons are safely tucked away in their graves.
So twenty years on, do we still need Buffy?
I was an adult when the series premiered back in 1997, well past the age of breakouts and quarterback crushes, yet I loved it from the start. It was clever and bitingly funny. Many of the issues tackled were problems which follow you from the hell of high school hallways right into the abyss of adulthood. Plus, you know, Angel was a good looking guy. And if nothing else, I’m a sucker for a slayer-vampire Romeo and Juliet story arc.
The show blew a Buffy shaped hole in pop culture and through that opening, a slew of female protagonists marched. Xena, Katniss, Tris, Rey, Jin. Today’s girls have grown up never questioning strong female protagonists–slayers of the undead, leaders of rebellions, warrior princesses. Today’s girls are living in a post-Buffy bubble.
But that bubble? It’s in a world which is most decidedly not post-Buffy.
Girls may take strong female leads for granted nowadays. Princesses who insist upon saving themselves. Star Wars heroines who tell the guy to let go of her hand. Teenagers like Buffy and Katniss who are doing the saving, the sacrifice, and still finding time to fall in love on the side. A steady diet of girl power, fed to them by mothers who have often witnessed the double standards women face in the world themselves and are determined to show their daughters something different, and by fathers who are woke enough to realize how much representation matters.
But I worry that some of these young women, many of whom have yet to face workplace discrimination, the unfair burden that parenthood places on one parent, the systematic drip-drip of micro-aggressions that eventually wear a groove in your soul–those young women may think they are living in a world in which all the problems of sexism have already been slayed with a sharpened stake and biting wit. A world in which the Hell Mouth stays sealed and life is sunny in Sunny Dale once again.
But just because there was a Buffy doesn’t mean all the monsters are gone. All those nasties? They are still sulking around just under the surface. The vampires? It’s things like harassment, all the indignities which can suck the life out of many working women, everything from being overlooked for promotions, to being groped at the water cooler, to being talked over and interrupted. The demons? There’s the motherhood penalty, in which even women who aren’t mothers often make less money than their male peers, regardless of the male’s parenthood status. The Gentlemen? Well, several of them occupy the current White House administration. The ghouls and devils and masters? Double standards, double binds, the lock-step of a patriarchal system.
A sharp stick is only going to go so far. A biting wit is great for Facebook, but it’s not going to do much to slay years of ingrained attitude. We still need Buffy, or the idea of her anyway. We still need someone to show us how to slay the monsters with a roundhouse kick and a chair leg, how to be vulnerable but not allow that vulnerability to get in the way of taking action when action is needed. What we really need is a whole generation of Buffys. Forget the ‘into every generation a slayer is born’ stuff. Right now, the Hell Mouth is yawning and the Capitol from the Hunger Games is staring up at us.
I don’t know what’s coming, but I can tell you that in my many years, I’ve never seen so much focus on women, women’s lives, and women’s issues as I have in the last year. I’ve never seen the coordinated resistance, the anger and organization, the push back–from women–that I’m seeing now. And if something big is in the air, a seismic cultural shift, we’re going to need all the Buffys we can get.
The show may have ended thirteen years ago, but the need for a slayer never really goes away. Not really.
So, do we still need Buffy?
Hell Mouth yeah.