Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and to a lesser extent its spin-off Angel) is a feminist show intended to have an inspirational message about young women being strong, but I sometimes see male netizens claiming the show is hatefully anti-male. They say that Joss is a misandrist who uses the show to make women hate men to the point of enacting violence against them. This, however, is a complete misunderstanding of Buffy, Joss, and feminism in general. While there are some individual feminists who are misandrists, feminism is not misandristic in and of itself, and mainstream feminism strives only for gender equality. Joss is not a misandrist, and Buffy represents mainstream feminism’s goal of gender equality by honoring its male protagonists just as much as its female protagonists. Claims about the Buffyverse’s supposed misandry include that there is a double standard with the misandrist character Anya, the Angel episode “Billy” says all men are misogynists, Buffy has a matriarchal message, and that Buffy’s execution of Caleb is a call to violence against men.
The interpretation of Buffy as misandristic probably stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of just what feminism is. When most people think of feminists, they think of angry man-hating women advocating a female supremacy over men. Well, there are certainly some feminists who behave that way, but they are really just the vocal minority rather than the voice of the movement. What feminism really is, is a movement that promotes the rights of women and girls in an unequal patriarchal world. Feminism is aggressive, but its target is patriarchy rather than individual men.
When people who don’t understand feminism hear talk of ‘the patriarchy’, they come to the conclusion that feminists have deluded themselves into believing that all men are conspiring against all women in a secret society called The Patriarchy, like some people believe in The Illuminati, but this is another misunderstanding. All a ‘patriarchy’ is, is a society in which men have power. Judeo-Christian fundamentalism, for instance, advocates that men be in charge of women. It would be completely factual to refer to a societal that lives by fundamentalism as patriarchal.
If we look at the modern United States, men occupy most positions of power by a wide margin. Sure, women are technically allowed to enter powerful positions, but there is a ‘glass ceiling’ effect where very few women are actually able to become powerful. It is a fact that the United States is a patriarchy. Its modern laws give women essential liberties such as the right to vote, but its culture is still patriarchal and it hasn’t entirely caught up to the idea that femininity should be valued as highly as masculinity. It is this culture of patriarchy that feminism fights, not a conspiracy theory, and not individual men.
With that in mind, let’s address some of the claims that Buffy is misandristic:
Anya is a misandrist who commits horrible crimes against men for a long time, and she is forgiven, while misogynists like Warren are condemned
Anya isn’t exactly forgiven, so much as given another chance at being human. Though Buffy eventually willfully kills a human (Caleb) in the last episode, for the majority of the series humans are strictly off-limits to the Slayer and the Scoobies, who are only authorized to dispatch demons and vampires. When Anya is first introduced as the vengeance demon Anyanka in season three’s episode “The Wish”, she is an evil misandrist whose powers are taken away by Wishverse Giles. When she then becomes human, she is still an evil misandrist who ruthlessly tries to get her powers back in “Doppelgangland”, and is left alone only because Buffy et al. don’t kill humans.
It isn’t until “The Prom” that Anya starts to falter in her misandry. For the majority of the episode, she is a source of comic relief simply because her beliefs are so absurd. She hates men but wants a date to the prom and asks out Xander, who accepts out of desperation. At the prom, she regales Xander with stories about misandristic vengeance, which clearly makes him extremely uncomfortable. This is humorous because she doesn’t understand why this is inappropriate subject and because this is the best date Xander could get. At the end of the episode, we see a glimmer of Anya’s redemption when she admits that a close dance with him “isn’t bad”.
The next episodes, the two-part season finale “Graduation Day”, show Anya actually caring about this one male human. She first wants to continue dating Xander, and then when she hears the Mayor is going to Ascend she gives valuable information and tries to help Xander survive by asking him to run away with her. From her description of how she feels, it is clear to the audience that she feels real compassion, her infatuation making her more than just a misandrist. The season ends with hope for Anya.
As the seasons go by, Anya becomes a greater part of the Scooby Gang and finds her place among them. Though she might reminisce about her days as a vengeance demon, it’s unclear how much she really retains her misandristic philosophy, and she becomes so human that her previous life eventually becomes alien to her. Then in season six, where everyone’s morally grey, Xander leaves Anya at the altar, and she accepts an offer to become a vengeance demon again. Her motivation for this is personal, as she just wants vengeance against Xander. In “Entropy”, she tries to get Spike to wish some act of vengeance against Xander by getting drunk with Spike, and ends up sleeping with Spike. When she sees how much this has hurt Xander, she stops Spike from making a vengeance wish because she still cares about Xander. In later episodes, she uses her demon powers to help the Scoobies when Willow turns into Darth Rosenberg, which helps save the world. Buffy does not consider Anya a threat because Anya hasn’t done anything evil despite now having the body to do so.
Then in season seven, Anya is pressured to get back to work in the vengeance trade, and she pops back on Buffy’s radar. Anya resumes her previous misandristic philosophy, but it’s clear she has some serious doubts about the whole thing. She turns a stalker ex-boyfriend into a giant worm demon in “Beneath You”, but Xander is able to convince her to undo the spell. This is a point where Buffy et al. could and probably should take action against her, but they don’t want to because Anya used to be a Scooby and they all like her. When they learn in “Selfless” that Anya’s vengeance resulted in the slaughter of a fraternity, Buffy goes to either kill her or turn her back to good in a parallel to her assault of Angelus in season two’s “Becoming”. It goes better than that fight, and Anya chooses to resurrect the men she killed and become human. This is her redemption and even after this she’s not well-liked by all the Scoobies.
In contrast, Warren is just a misogynistic creep without any hope of redemption to him. He’s introduced as the creator of creepy sex dolls that parody strong female personalities, and then he just gets worse in the Trio. He wants to kill Buffy and take over Sunnydale, and he leads the Trio on a date rape mission that culminates with him murdering his ex-girlfriend while trying to rape her. It’s implied that he pretends to love Andrew so he can manipulate him against Jonathan. He finally shoots Buffy with the intent to murder her, and inadvertently murders Tara. This is a thoroughly despicable person. It can’t even be said that it’s misandristic to depict a man who can’t be redeemed, because on the other hand we have Spike who does horrible things and is ultimately redeemed. Willow hunts Warren down and tortures him, but she has to turn evil to do so, so it’s not depicted as the best course of action.
Angel’s “Billy” says all men are misogynists, perpetuating feminist misandry
A lot of men hate this episode because of the explanation given for the effect of Billy’s power. “Billy” is a very strong anti-misogyny episode with the misogynist villain Billy having the power to make men act like violent misogynistic maniacs when he touches them. Lilah explains that his power “brings out a primordial misogyny in them”. Billy affects Wesley and Gunn, but fails to affect Angel because misogyny is a human thing he as Angelus got over a long time ago. Vampires aside, it seems clear that Buffyverse men have elements of misogyny in their psyches; however, it is not clear that this misogyny is dominant or even natural.
First of all, there are elements of evil in everyone. The whole concept of the vampires and souls explores this. Is it that hard to imagine that everyone has a dark side specifically related to sexism? “Billy” is about repressed misogyny rising to the surface, but there’s nothing to suggest there couldn’t be a female Billy who brings out primordial misandry in the women she touches. It’s just that Joss wants to tell a feminist message specifically targeting misogynists, and Anya should be evidence enough that that’s not his only target.
Second, it’s discussed in the episode that people affected by Billy have had something done to them and are not themselves. At the end of the episode, Wesley’s in a depression because of what he did while under the influence of Billy’s power, and Fred assures him that what he did wasn’t him but rather Billy. He denies that, saying that the misogyny came from inside him. Fred asks him if he still feels it and wants to kill her, which he ardently denies, and Fred feels that proves it was something done to him. Wesley still isn’t sure and is really shaken up over the whole thing. Writers Tim Minear and Jeffery Bell discuss in the commentary that it’s an open-ended question about the nature of brutality. Are humans naturally beasts or is it something else?
Third, Joss doesn’t believe misogyny is a natural state. In his speech at women’s rights organization Equality Now, Joss said very plainly that “the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.” His point with “Billy” could be, not that all men are really misogynists, but that patriarchal human culture imbues (that’s the word) men with a subconscious misogyny. Angelus could have lost that misogyny by living outside of human society in his vampire whirlwind with the equally strong Darla. In this scenario, the target of hate would not be men but patriarchy.
Buffy is trying to take power away from men by showing them as weak and submissive while women take control
If I may quote Joss’ Equality Now speech again: “recognizing somebody else’s power does not diminish your own.” What Joss is after is gender equality, not female domination. Male power is the status quo and it came about after ages of domination. It is not necessary, and Buffy shows how the world could be better where women have the potential to be respected leaders. When male characters follow female characters, it is not a perversion of masculinity because masculinity is not inherently tied up with being in power.
In Buffy, things are more or less a reflection of the real world, so things aren’t perfect but Joss shows that people of either gender can potentially be a good leader. At the start of the show, Giles is a respected leader of the Scooby Gang, and then when Buffy outgrows him, he accepts her and later Willow and Faith as Scooby leaders. Everyone is fallible, though, and the all of the characters are respected enough to be realistically flawed leaders. Giles and Wesley depend too much on Watcher tradition, Buffy and Faith have trouble thinking strategically, and Willow becomes too manipulative and dismissive of people she should care about. Among the villains, we’ve got the creepy fatherly-type Mayor Wilkins, and we’ve also got the creepy ‘mother’ Maggie Walsh of the Initiative. Off in Angel, male characters Angel and Wesley get to be in charge of Angel Investigations. I’d say things are pretty equal opportunity for the leaders of the Buffyverse.
When Buffy kills Caleb by splitting him in half from the crotch, this is an expression of anti-male rage telling women to hate male sexuality and to attack men
This is usually connected with the idea that Joss says through “Billy” that all men are misogynists. The thinking goes that if all men are misogynists and Buffy kills misogynists in an expression of girl power, then Joss is a misandristic feminist trying to get women on the hate train and to attack average men on the street. This is not even close to accurate.
Caleb: “You think you have power over me? Stupid girl. You’ll never stop me. You don’t have the ba—”
(Buffy slams the scythe up into his crotch)
Buffy: “Who does nowadays?”
(Buffy guts him the rest of the way)
(Buffy slams the scythe up into his crotch)
Buffy: “Who does nowadays?”
(Buffy guts him the rest of the way)
First of all, whatever “Billy” might say about misogyny, it’s not that all men are the Caleb-type. Caleb is an extreme example of misogyny: a woman-hating serial killing ex-preacher following the closest thing the Buffyverse has to the Devil. There are plenty of male characters on the show who are appreciated and respected, like Xander, Giles, Riley, Oz, etc. While they’ve all got their flaws and possible internalized misogyny, they aren’t anywhere near the extreme represented by Caleb.
Second, Caleb is just so extreme that I believe he is more than just a male character and is a symbol of religious patriarchy. Caleb regularly references Judeo-Christian mythology as providing the basis for his misogyny, saying that women are tempters and all women are dirty, just some really vile stuff. He is an over-the-top extreme expression of the misogyny of religious fundamentalism, and I find it notable that his rhetoric echoes that of the misogynistic Wesley in “Billy” because that seems to hint about what Joss is targeting with these characters. As Joss was bringing Buffy to a close, he wanted to bring it back to its feminist roots and have the finale be about the triumph of women over a bunch of men trying to keep them down. The Shadow Men/Watchers’ Council was a good general enemy, being the ones who imposed order for the whole series, but Caleb made for a good monster to physically fight.
Caleb is evil, specifically evil in a misogynistic way, and it makes perfect sense that Buffy should kill him in “End of Days” and “Chosen” when he confronts her. He’s a serial killer working for the First Evil, supercharged with its essence, and has just killed the source of exposition. He’s hurt her people, including Xander, and he needs to be eliminated.
The sexual component is tied to his misogyny in that men have used sexuality to keep women down. In a society like ours, which values masculinity over femininity, the male sexual organs are considered indicators of strength and power. The fertility of men is associated with the ability to dominate women, and the functionality of sexual organs is valued in the male social hierarchy, which is why we colloquially use words like “balls” to indicate strength of an individual. Caleb uses the term to explicitly reference his maleness over her femaleness, and Buffy proves that she doesn’t need balls to be stronger than him.
As I said before, I think Caleb is a symbol of patriarchy that goes beyond his physical humanity. So, when Buffy targets his sexual organs, she’s really targeting misogynistic sexual violence. Men have used sexuality to dominate women for ages, and Caleb’s statement is an expression of that. Buffy sharply (pun intended) rejects the whole paradigm that one needs to have male sexual organs to have power. Even if my suggestion of Caleb’s symbolism isn’t right, he’s so evil that I don’t think there’s any way that Buffy killing him is an expression of misandry and the desire to hurt men (rather than patriarchy).
To conclude, Buffy and Angel and Joss are not misandristic. The people who leap to this conclusion do not have the best grasp of what is mainstream feminism. Nor are they paying attention when Joss mocks the vocal minority with characters like Anya and Sheila Rosenberg (Willow’s mom). Joss’ brand of feminism is not hateful, but empathetic and empowering to all his characters, female and male. To quote Joss’ Equality Now speech once again: “We need equality. Kinda now.”