itsnotmymind (itsnotmymind) wrote,

Some Thoughts on Gender Double Standards and Violence (BtVS)

I've seen many Spike fans argue over the years that there are gender double standards in how Buffy treats Spike in S6.

For example, that the writers and fans would have handled it differently if a male character shoved a female character into a wall and started having sex with her, or if a male character beat his lover as badly as Buffy beat Spike in Dead Things.

I agree with some of these arguments, and not with others. Here are my current thoughts about gender double standards and violence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A lot of this is about Buffy/Spike, but also some other characters and situations. Sometimes Spike fan criticisms are on the nose. But sometimes, as I'll show you below, the gender double standard actually seems to be the opposite of the one that the Spike fan is arguing. And even when they are accurate, when there is an undeniable gender double standard where female violence against men is more acceptable, I can't help but notice that these criticisms seem to only come up when the victim is Spike. When a less sympathetic character is the victim of gender double standards about violence, you can dance in the silence.

My first exposure to fannish criticism of gender double standards about violence in Buffy was before I saw a single episode of the show. A feminist comic blogger I used to read argued that Mutant Enemy had double standards because Buffy giving Spike a blow job over his objections was treated humorously, while his attempt to rape her in Seeing Red was portrayed as horrible. Having not seen the show, I had no opinion at the time.

However, I somehow managed to stumble upon some Spike fans who had linked to the post and were engaging in the nastiest commentary on Buffy, bile to such a level that I decided that even if Buffy were the most horrible person on earth, she couldn't possibly deserve that. It didn't help that it was coupled with comments praising Spike and his vitues to the sky. After all, the blog post I had just read told me he was also an attempted rapist.

Having watched Buffy season 6, I strongly disagree with the idea that the blow job in Gone was a sign of gender double-standards. Yes, Buffy jumps on Spike mid-fight in Smashed and initiates sex with him. Yes, Buffy takes him unawares while invisible in Gone and initiates sex with him. Yes Buffy starts a blow job later the same episode in hopes of appeasing Spike into not kicking out, after he has told her to leave. But from the other side, Spike pulls Buffy into his lap and fondles her in Wrecked, even though she initially verbally and physically resists. Spike initiates sex with Buffy in Dead Things against her objections, and despite her obvious unhappiness and discomfort.

None of these examples are exactly the same as the others. You could compare and argue for months, and maybe reach the ultimate conclusion that Buffy is worse than Spike, or Spike is worse Buffy. But it's hard for me to look at the relationship over all and think that the way sexual consent is handled in Buffy and Spike's relationship demonstrates gender double standards on ME's part.

(If you care, this post about consent in S6 Buffy/Spike has been very influential to my thoughts on that matter.)

When it comes to fandom's reaction to these sort of scenes, the gender double standard seems to be the reverse of what these Spike fans argue. As I said, I saw complaints about Buffy's behavior in Gone being raped before I saw a single episode of the show. Since watching the show and delving into the fandom, I have seen the balcony scene in Dead Things characterized as rape on one or two occasions. But in addition to the many complaints about Gone, I've heard many complaints about how the fannish reaction to Buffy violently initiating sex with Spike in Smashed would be viewed very differently if the genders were reversed.

And yet when Angel hit Darla through glass doors in Reprise while initiating sex with her, I don't remember hearing a peep. Admittedly, I never delved as deeply into AtS fandom as BtVS fandom, but I've still had many encounters with it. I heard many peeps about Gone when I wasn't following Buffyverse fandom, or any other Whedon show fandom for that matter. Yet nothing about Angel/Darla?

I was actually a bit bothered about consent issues myself while first watching the Angel/Darla sex scene in Reprise. However, I concluded from Darla's eventual reaction that it was fine. Yet it seems that the overall fannish reaction signifies a double standard on the part of fandom--a double standard that favors sexually aggressive men, while a sexually aggressive woman in a similar situation is violating her partner's consent.

There is another major criticism about Buffy/Spike and violence against men being treated less seriously than violence against women, and this is a criticism I have to agree with. Specifically, the alley beating scene in Dead Things that leaves Spike with bruises the next episode. On his commentary for Smashed, during the scene where Buffy and Spike were hitting each other, Drew Greenberg comments that it's okay to hit Buffy because she's not like other girls. As far as I can tell, the folks at ME did not seriously ask themselves whether it was okay for Buffy to hit Spike. I cannot imagine they would have written a male protagonist beating his female lover that badly, much less never mention the incident again. And while many fans were completely pissed off about the lack of follow-up to the alley beating scene, I imagine if a male protagonist had done that to a female character, the fall-out would have been even more intense.

That said, it's pretty telling how some examples of gender double standards about violence get outrage, while others are ignored. The first time I watched Beer Bad, I thought the scene where cave Buffy knocks Parker unconcious to be highly unfunny. I had no idea then how fandom had reacted, because I wasn't doing much exploring in Buffy fandom at that time. All I knew is that if a male super-powered character had knocked out a female civilian, it would never have been played for laughs.

Now that I am more familiar with BtVS fandom, I have heard no peeps. None. Zero. Parker's an asshole, I guess, and Buffy wasn't fully herself, so since it's not relevant to any argument over the morality of our favorite characters, we can move on.

Faith and Xander is something that does get talked about. Faith tried to rape Xander. It's never mentioned again. When Spike, a male character, tries to rape Buffy, he has to go on a quest to fundamentally change himself in a way no real person can. Only then does he get his redemption. And even then, the would-be rape remains a huge issue. Faith gets to have a redemption arc and crack jokes about having had sex with Xander before Anya did and the attempted rape is never addressed.

My last example of gender double standards and violence is Anya. Anya is a very gendered character. She grants the--usually vengeful--wishes of scorned women (a pretty gendered descriptor). The men she goes after can be anything from teenage boys who are too immature to be monogamous to abusive adult men. The metaphorical nature of the show makes her power, granting wishes, seem less harmful than that of a vampire who kills people directly. Even still, I have a hard time ignoring the strong contrast between her and Spike. From S4-S6, they are both mostly unrepentant murderers restrained by some force that renders them powerless. Spike tries to rape Buffy after they break up--but an episode earlier, Anya tried to trick Xander's friends, one of whom is underage, into helping her torture Xander to death. One of these crimes is treated much more seriously than the other, and of course it is Spike's. In Never Leave Me, Spike and Buffy are in the basement talking seriously about the horrible things he's done to teenage girls. Xander and Andrew are upstairs discussing Anya's past. Despite the references to torture and death, the tone is light and humorous. Xander's example of Anya's bad deeds is to describe the way she broke his heart.

The Scoobies have a very different attitude towards Anya than towards Spike. During the period when Anya is dating Xander, they don't seem to be particularly concerned about her past and whether she's trustworthy. Her death count is treated as a joke. Even in episodes like Triangle, where Willow does express concerns, it's not treated with the seriousness you would expect. Compare that to their attitude towards Spike.

It's part of why I've always had a hard time liking Anya--she's funny, sure, but I have trouble taking her seriously as a character when the show itself doesn't seem to take her seriously.

In terms of how fandom views her: Well, is there a way to measure how much louder and more intense the reaction I've seen to Xander's verbal abuse of Anya in Entropy is than the reaction I've seen to Anya's attempt to torture Xander to death that very same episode? It's not pretty, that much I can say.

Here's a thought game: What would Anya be like gender swapped? A male demon who grants vengeance for men scorned by women? What would be the implications of that? How would male Anya be different?
Tags: btvs

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