Monday, August 25, 2014

SA in BtvS Part V: Buffy and Spike

Trigger warning for discussion of abuse, rape, attempted rape, rape culture, sexual assault, and sexual violence.

This is part five in a series about sexual violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - you can read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here and Part IV here


Last time I (hopefully) established beyond any doubt that Buffy and Spike were in an abusive relationship.  Anyway, let’s move on.

Eventually Buffy realizes that the things she's doing and allowing Spike to do to her are not okay.  Part of this revelation comes when she realizes that she is, in fact, all the way human.  Spike had her convinced that she was somehow less human than before her death, and that allowed her to tolerate the relationship.  This really echoes how a lot of people feel when they're on the receiving end of abuse.  Like maybe they're not good enough or whole enough to deserve better treatment.  Once she recognizes that, it becomes a little easier for her to move on.

And she does.  But Spike doesn't like that.  He continues to stalk her, tries to manipulate her, and eventually, he attacks her.  Despite what other people have argued, it is not like their previous sexual encounters.  There was always an aspect of violent sex in their relationship, but not like this.  Buffy had firmly shut down the relationship and Spike had tried his darndest to start it up again.  She made it clear that she wasn’t okay with what they’d been doing and that she also didn’t feel right using him anymore.  

This is NOT a situation of a guy who didn’t realize he was going too far.  Side comment - the "he didn't realize what he was doing" is a pretty standard argument against believing women about their own rapes, so maybe we need to put that to rest all together.   This scene is shot to incontrovertibly establish that Spike was purposefully assaulting Buffy.  He was acting like a monster selfishly taking what he can, and what he believes he is entitled to.  This is the same monster who, not more than a few weeks prior, thought for a moment that his chip was broken and immediately went out to kill people.  He has feelings, sure, but he has the same range of feelings he had when he was with Dru.  And he doesn’t have a conscience the same way ensouled persons do.  

I want to make it clear that the fact that he doesn't have a soul does NOT excuse his behavior.  At several points throughout the series he asks to be held to the standard of “a man.”  He wants Buffy to treat him like a person, not a monster who can’t be held accountable for his actions.  Spike can’t just pick and choose which actions should be held to a standard for humans, and then say, “Well I’m a vampire,” when he falls short.  And even if we're going that route, I'm a bit uncomfortable with this sudden shift to moral relativism.  If you're going to say, well he's a vampire he's not responsible for those actions, then you would need to justify that it's cruel to kill vampires since their feeding habits are morally justifiable since they don't have souls - and I don't think anyone is going to take that position.  And either way, Spike's cultivated the skills necessary to interact regularly with the humans, so it's not like he didn't know any fucking better.  

Buffy is able to fight Spike enough during the attack that he stops.  He realizes that he’s crossed a line there is no way to uncross.  She will never be able to see him as anything but a monster, ever again.  All the work he put into their relationship (the “Nice Guy” stuff, like protecting Dawn and helping slay demons) are down the drain.  She flat out tells him that she can never love him because he is capable of doing things like this.  So I don’t think it goes too far to say that his decision to seek out his soul is an inherently selfish act.  

The show uses a nice bit of misdirection, making the viewer think Spike is seeking to get his chip out, to “make him like he was” so that he can “give Buffy what she deserves.”  All of this comes from an angry, vindictive, and violent place.  The audience is meant to assume he’s seeking revenge – and he is.  He’s not looking to better himself as an individual because he committed a terrible act and feels guilt or remorse, he’s acting like a 5 year old child, with the logic of, “I’ll show her!”  He just attempted to rape Buffy to get what he wanted from her, but she stopped him, so now he’s changing his game plan, but it’s still just to get what he wants from her.  This much, if nothing else, should prove to viewers that Spike knew what he was doing.

But I don’t really want to dive into Spike, I want to focus on Buffy.   Spike is straight up and inexcusably an attempted rapist. Rape is disgusting and terrible.  But here's the thing: the world isn't just this black and white place where you're either a rapist or a saint.  People are complex and are capable of growing and learning and showing remorse.  Survivors of violence are entitled to decide how to respond to his or her attacker.  If they decide to forgive their attacker, that's their right and their choice.  If they wish their attacker would die and burn in hell, that's also their right and choice.  The point I'm hitting at is that we don’t get to tell a survivor what he or she has to do.  We're allowed to be concerned if we think our loved ones are in an actively dangerous situation, but we cannot control their actions and we certainly can't control their emotions (nor should we want to!).

Buffy has already experienced a ton of shaming and judgment from her friends (mostly Xander).  This is really reflective of the experience of lots of survivors, and it echoes her own former experience with Angel.  Xander never trusted Angel and he was very I-told-you-so when Angelus popped up.  Xander certainly had far less trust and respect for Spike, and he just told Buffy how disgusted he was with her, so my guess is that Buffy isn’t feeling like confiding in him very much.  Unfortunately for her, Xander shows up in the immediate aftermath of the attack and figures out what happened. 

And here’s another mini-rant about her good pal, Xander.  Instead of offering her comfort, or asking her what he can do, or telling her he loves her, or any of that – he goes to storm out, bursting with masculine anger at Spike.  Sigh.  This is not the way to handle this situation.  Acting like that means he's making Buffy's experience about himself.  About his own feelings and what he can do to feel better.  Instead of, you know, making it about Buffy.  

Also (and I find this almost unforgivable), Xander tells Dawn about Buffy’s assault.  Here’s the thing: if someone confides in you about their experiences of sexual violence, you don’t fucking divulge that information, especially to people in their lives.  Buffy should have been allowed to talk to Dawn about it if, when, and how she chose.  Instead Xander felt entitled to do that.  Once again Xander felt that Buffy wasn’t doing what she “should” do (tell Dawn, and kill Spike).  When Buffy choose a different course of action, Xander did what he could to redirect that course to what he felt it should be.  Man, Xander is the worst sometimes.  

Xander being a judgmental jerk, and Buffy being a cool,
forgiving and empathetic friend (via)
Back to Buffy.  First off, Buffy isn’t very used to “being a victim.”  She’s literally the strongest human in the world, and she “should” be able to protect herself.  Notice I’m using lots of quotes here.  This is a really classic victim-blaming trope that’s being played up on a superhero-scale.  The idea is that if we women follow “the rules” we won’t be assaulted.   The “rules” for us normal women are the tips and advice you might find posted on a university wall, “Don’t drink to the point of excess, don’t walk to your car alone, don’t leave your drink unattended, be aware of your surroundings, wear comfortable shoes you can run in, don't be female.  For Buffy the rules are something like, “always be strong, emotionally and physically; always put the needs of humanity before your own human needs for intimacy and connection; always protect yourself; vampires are the enemy, don’t get close to them.   

There are lots of terrible, god-awful issues with this idea of "rule following", one being that following the rules is about decreasing the likelihood of attack against one person and not about eradicating sexual violence.  Another issue is that it’s total bullshit and plays into a false rape narrative (most people don’t get attacked walking to their car alone, they are attacked by friends/acquaintances/lovers); and one of the worst things is that it blames the victim instead of the perpetrator (if you were attacked, you must not have been following the rules!).  

According to Buffy's rules she should be smart enough, and strong enough to defend herself.  Once again we get a reminder that even the most powerful woman on the planet isn’t immune to the violence that hurts so many of us.  On top of that, she’s still feeling disgusted with herself for being involved in such a twisted relationship to begin with, both her abusive actions and her acceptance of his abuse.  She obviously is having a hard time confining in her friends and she needs to start to build up those bridges of trust and support again.

And it really sucks that Spike is still strong enough to help fight against evil.  Buffy is charged with the greater good of the world, and the protection of Dawn.  She doesn’t always feel like she can put her personal feelings before that.  So, even though he’s an abusive, scumbag, rapist, she still feels like she needs to use him in her battles to save the world (we know this because she immediately consents to let him watch Dawn).

But one of the major things about their relationship is what happens next.  Lots of people are really angry about the fact that Buffy not only saves Spike in season seven, but she forgives him and eventually establishes a relationship with him again.  Even after his insanity and killing spree and all that, she still chooses him in an important way.  That’s not to say that she thinks of him as her boyfriend, or even that she loves him, but she trusts him.  She forgives him, and she cares about him.  Guess what?  These are Buffy’s choices to make. 

Some people feel that Buffy’s choice is justified because Spike with a soul is a different person than pre-soul Spike.  But a) I don’t really think that Buffy requires a justification for her choices in how to deal with her former abuser, she gets to make whatever decisions she wants; and b) I don’t totally buy this.

Spikes re-ensoulment feels really different from Angel’s.  Angel was cursed with a soul, the whole point was to bring a conscience to a truly evil entity and ensure that both parts of him would suffer eternally.  Spike’s cure is a cure.  We don’t have solid answers but we do know that there’s not the violent personality dichotomy we know with Angel/Angelus.  It’s not William/Spike, it’s just a new, changed, Spike.  Spike sought the return of the soul, he opened the gate (true, he didn’t do it with pure intentions and really wasn’t prepared for the consequences) and it seems like the two parts of him meld together more than Angel/Angelus.  People can point at writing discrepancies but I don't think it's that.  It seems like the ensoulment is fundamentally different for Spike.  This is just my theory, and admittedly I only watched Spike-episodes of Angel way back in the day so maybe I’m way off here and I’d be happy to hear what other people have to say, but this has always been my take.

So, I think the argument that souled-Spike is a different person than original Spike isn’t the best way to go.  Sure, souled-Spike doesn’t necessarily need to be held responsible for all the things Spike did, and yet, even when there’s a clearer separation between Angel and Angelus, Angel felt guilty as shit for the things Angelus did.  What I'm saying is that the pre-soul/soul Spike seems like more of an ambiguous continuum than Angel/Angelus, and we still have precedent from Angel/Angelus that there is crossover guilt, leading me to believe that Spike would feel it even more profoundly.  

I will eventually write about Spike's messianic storyline in S7, but now I just want to
point out that he and Jesus both had interesting hair. (via)

The truth is that Buffy had every right to write Spike off forever.  To let him fester in insanity and death, and whatever else.  She had no obligation to save him, forgive him, trust him.  But Buffy’s story has always been a story of growth.  Seasons 1 through 5, Buffy kept growing stronger and stronger, both as a slayer and as a human.  Season 6 was all about backsliding. She fell into depression, abuse, addiction, violence, and even went briefly insane.  Season 7 is about growing by leaps and bounds to be more than she ever was.  And it’s awesome.  And part of Buffy’s growth is embracing the growth and change of others.  

By the end of season 2, she’s already given Xander two free passes on attempting to sexually assault her.  She also forgave Angel for the actions of Angelus.  She has a strong track record of giving people more chances and turning their growth into her own.  Her mercy is a major part of who she is, and although she could have taken a different path with Spike, she didn’t.  Buffy has been through major, terrifying ordeals.  And only she (and the writers who orchestrate her actions…) gets to decide how to move forward from there.  I understand the indignation about writers having a young woman form a relationship with her attempted rapist, I do.  But I also don’t think the violence that Buffy experienced was downplayed or trivialized.  It’s always a minefield when you try to present things like this on television, but I think that her decision to forgive Spike was a slow and deliberate one and was done tastefully.  I also like that we get to see a character deal with this, because it’s so rarely talked about, and when it is seen on television it’s usually as a quick backstory to inspire sympathy, or a plot device (all of which is revolting).  Buffy consistently proves that she’s strong and in control of her actions, time and again she establishes that she can be trusted to make her own decisions.   So why are we, as viewers, second guessing this decision?

I want to take a time out to say that I don’t necessarily think it’s “strong” to forgive your attacker.  I think each individual finds strength in different things and they need to figure out which course is right and healthy for them.  And I think strength is a misleading word when it comes to recovery.  There are a lot of connotations with the word strength (especially in the context of a show about a superhero), and those connotations maybe aren’t well reflected in lots of journeys through recovery.  It’s even more confusing since I’m talking about strength of character and strength in recovery almost interchangeably with Buffy (since this is the shape her journey takes).  

I don't want people to read this and think I’m saying that Buffy’s strong because she quickly recovered and went so far as to forgive her attacker.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.  Strength in recovery comes in all different forms.  What actions give one person strength may be terrible and counterproductive for another.  Buffy’s a fictional character that’s a hero for the world, therefore her strength in recovery is something that aligns with the traditional sense of the word; and  since Spike is an interesting character on the show who inspires conflict, Buffy’s choices involve keeping him around.  

The truth is that due to the nature of the show her character would never have been allowed to just write him off completely.  She was probably always going to have to work with him, and that’s generally going to mean forgiveness, or at the very least some kind of tolerance.  Overall, the show did a good job getting us there in a reasonable way.  Buffy has a long history of experiencing violence, many instances of which were sexual in nature.  The show isn’t perfect and doesn’t handle each situation well very, but that’s why we have these conversations.  I’m okay with the way she came to that decision.  It felt realistic for her character.  It didn’t feel like an easy decision she just switched on.  I don’t think Spike was her “soul mate” and I don’t their relationship was, at any point, a totally good one.  It was a complicated mess at the best of times, but that's okay because the show never portrayed at as a perfect love story (which is sorta did with Angel, which is problematic).

Buffy isn't defined by her relationships with men.  Not with Angel/Angelus, and not with Spike. Not even with Giles or Xander or the Watcher's Council.  All of these things are important aspects in her growth and development, but none of them define her (that's kinda the whole thing with her rejection of the Council).  Buffy builds relationships with friends, family, lovers, and students (the Potentials) and according to a lot of the show's themes, that's the source of her strength.

Buffy quite literally drawing strength from her friends (via)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

SA in BtVS Part IV: Buffy and Spike

Trigger warning for discussion of abuse, rape, attempted rape, rape culture, sexual assault, and sexual violence.

This is part three in a series about sexual violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - you can read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here

Last time I wrapped up talking about the individual instances of sexual assault in Buffy.  There are a LOT more, but I am obviously terrible at updating and it would take forever to dissect them all.  Here are few more that I think are really important, though:
  •  There's Buffy's experience in Helpless where she is drugged and left--well, helpless--against an insane vampire (at the hands of someone she loves and trusts, btw)
  • There's her experience in Something Blue where Willow accidentally casts a spell on Buffy which causes her and Spike to plan their nuptials 
  • There's the whole Faith-body-swap, which is an expression of rape/bodily violation itself but which is further compounded by the fact that Faith uses Buffy's body to have sex, and which is even more complicated by the fact that the sex is with her current boyfriend/lover (lots to unpack there, I'll undoubtedly post about this at some point)
  • There's her experience with Dracula, which is a confusing, unhealthy and dangerous relationship
  • There's her ongoing relationship with the Watcher's Council, which seeks to control her and regulate her power for itself
  • And then there's all the stalking, obsessing, kidnapping, sex-robot-using, and other creepy, dangerous and violent behaviors that Spike throws her way
So, on to Buffy and Spike.

How? What? How?! (source)

Buffy and Spike started off as sworn enemies – both too strong to be killed by the other.  Not that Spike was physically too strong, he was just too smart, lucky and cautious.  Buffy is certainly physically stronger, and she had very few weaknesses because she surrounded herself with friends and family who always have her back and her blind spots.  

We actually learn a lot about Spike in the early seasons that explains his behavior once he has the chip in his head.  Namely, we learn that Spike is all about the fight.  He's not about the cause at all, he just wants to do things his way and enjoy a nice spot of violence.  This is partly why he can't stand Angelus or the Anointed One, since they're all about plans and bigger goals and other such bullshit.

Interestingly Spike is one of the only enemies I can think of who Buffy ever teams up with to fight a common enemy (that time Spike helped save the world and also stole his girlfriend back from Angelus).  He didn't have a problem making an alliance with his enemy when it worked for his interests.  All of that lays a good foundation for his post-chip choices.  He knew he could be protected by Buffy and company if he was an asset to them, so he takes that route.  As soon as he discovers he can inflict violence he "helps" them even more, since he'd rather be fighting for the side of good than not fighting at all.  We also see what his idea of a great, functional relationship is.  And it's not very healthy.  His love for Drusilla is weird, obsessive, kind of father/protector-y, and deeply possessive. All of this is to say that we have a general understanding of who he was before he started working closely with the Scoobies.

Buffy and Spike had a complicated relationship way before Spike showed up at Giles’ door begging for help.  He’d been obsessed with killing her for a long time.  As mortal enemies they already had a good chemistry and rhythm to their relationship and understood each other really well.  Probably because they spent a lot of time evaluating each other .

By the by, I've already discussed how vampire feeding habits are sexual in nature and are a form of implied/alluded to sexual violence.  So in a way, Spike’s always had a sexual obsession with her.  It’s just that the form of desire for consumption transforms over time.  Previously he was obsessed with literally consuming her flesh in an eating way; eventually he wants to consume her flesh in a sexual way.  And, fun fact, the shift really happens when he is no longer capable of actually eating flesh.   

By season 5, Spike's behavior toward Buffy is just straight-up alarming.  We see him start off with things like following her around, role-playing that his sexual partner is Buffy, and stealing her clothes to enjoy her scent #justvampirethings (please note that all hashtags in my blogging are sarcastic).  It escalates to him waiting outside her home for hours, kidnapping her and holding her hostage while trying to force feelings from her, and commissioning the creation an identical Buffy sex robot.

I'm gonna need to take a second to talk about the sex robot.

The only other character we know of who uses one is Warren (though I do have a lot to say about Ted, Joyce’s robo-boyfriend, which is an interesting inversion of a sex robot).  Anyway, Warren tries to rape and actually succeeds in killing his ex-girlfriend.  Obviously the creation of an object that is supposed to approximate a woman but have none of the qualities that constitutes a person (free will, emotions, independent thought, etc.) is a literal form of dehumanization and objectification of women.  I’m not in the least surprised that the two characters who use the robots end up attempting to assault actual women later, since they obviously view women as subordinate to themselves, especially in the context of sex.  In Buffy’s case, Spike has a robot designed to specifically replicate her.  It’s a gross, selfish, violation of Buffy’s autonomy.

In all seriousness, it'd be pretty cool to have a robot double of yourself (source)
But throughout all this violating behavior, their relationship progresses in other ways.  Spike also tries to demonstrate that he cares for Buffy by doing things like offering her comfort when she is sad, helping her fight evil, and protecting Dawn.  Buffy comes to rely on Spike in a lot of ways.  She uses him for information and for back up in a fight.  She ignores his crush (until she no longer can) but she continues to use him because in a lot of ways he’s a good ally to have.

Now, let’s talk about how Spike is fundamentally different from Angelus.  Spike got a chip in his head and quickly realized he should offer something to Buffy and her ilk if he wanted to survive.  He immediately put precedence on his own survival over the goal of killing Buffy.   Since he was always more passionate about the fight rather than the cause, he was happy to fight against evil, seeing as it was really the only game open to him (the guy just likes killing).  As his obsession over killing Buffy gradually morphed into an obsession of being with her, his attitude changed from self-preservation and monetary gain to a much different kind of gain.  Spike pretty much exemplifies the idea of a “Nice Guy” who expects that once he does enough nice things for Buffy, he’ll be able to have her.  Pretty messed up, but let’s keep going. 

Unlike Spike, Angelus wasn't passionate about violence (though I'm sure he enjoys it), he was all about causing pain and torment.  He once arranged the dead bodies of children to make it look like they were sleeping just so that he could enjoy the look on the father’s face when he realized the kids were dead.  If Angelus had a chip it may have prevented him from killing people, but that wouldn't have significantly decreased his danger.  He would have lashed out in other ways to cause the pain and devastation he loved and would probably have found some flunkies to help him with the killing and stuff.  Spike was much less dangerous with the chip because his loyalties and motivations were easy to understand and possible to control. 

Also, I want to point out that Spike was not in any way rehabilitated because of his chip.  When he first discovers he can hit Buffy without experiencing pain, he immediately goes out and tries to kill someone.  That means that S6 Spike has as little regard for individual human life as S2 Spike did (who was willing to stop a planet-wide annihilation of humans, but in the same breath was looking to kill and eat a police officer).  He may care specifically about Buffy or Dawn, but that’s a value he’s assigning to them as individuals, not because they’re human.  

After Buffy’s return from death there were new levels to her interactions with Spike.  For one, he had grown very close to Dawn and had protected her in Buffy’s absence. This can’t undo any of the creepy, violating things he did before, but it does demonstrate that Spike was willing to take care of Dawn even though there was no chance of winning brownie points from Buffy.  It hinted at some kind of selflessness, however small.

And here we have Spike relating to Buffy better than her human friends,
which sets the tone for their messed up relationship (source)
Secondly, and more importantly, Spike is now the only person around her who has experienced death.  He is fundamentally different, not just because he’s without a soul (though that’s huge), but also because he’s dead.  Angel was the same way.  Even though they are “on the team” so to speak, there’s a massive disconnect between the vampires and the rest of the Scooby gang.  Given the fact that Buffy was ejected from heaven and sent to earth, she’s probably feeling pretty confused, discombobulated, and disconnected from the others.  In early season 6 she starts spending increasing amounts of time with Spike and away from the others.  Spike is the only one she confides in about where she really was.

Also, Buffy's struggle with depression would have deadened a lot of the emotions and instincts she felt so sharply before.  So, in early season 6 we have a Buffy who's a lot more vulnerable than she's ever been, who feels she can relate to Spike in a way she can't to her friends, and who perhaps feels that Spike has demonstrated a modicum of selflessness in his care for Dawn.  Spike is the recipient of this new, slightly more trusting and time-spending Buffy. 

But Spike also knows how to push her.  He manipulates her and tries to get her into even more vulnerable and compromising positions.  After a few make out sessions he ramps up the stalking and starts in with the mind games.  A few days after their second kiss he proposes they take it further, and she flatly rejects him, even going so far as to say she was vulnerable and depressed and knows that's not what she wants.  He says, "Only a matter of time before you realize. I'm the only one here for you, pet! You got no one else!"  Basically, he's using textbook techniques to make her feel worthless and alone, so that he can take advantage of her.

Let's talk about their first sexual encounter.  It starts off as a fist fight--both beating on each other quite a bit, which is the definition of an abusive relationship.  It doesn't matter that they both have super strength—they're trying to beat the shit out of each other.  Also, they're really hitting each other way below the belt with their words:

SPIKE: You came back wrong. [referring to his ability to hit her] It's just you, that's the funny part. You're the one who changed, that's why this doesn't hurt me. Came back a little less human than you were.
SPIKE: She doesn't fit in anywhere, she has no one to love.
BUFFY: Me? I'm lost? Look at you, you idiot. Poor Spikey. Can't be a human, can't be a vampire. Where the hell do you fit in? Your job is to kill the Slayer, but all you do is follow me around, making moon-eyes --
SPIKE: I'm in love with you.
BUFFY: You're in love with pain. Admit it. You like me because you enjoy getting beat down. So who's really screwed up? 

[And then they bone]

The intensity of their fighting and fucking actually demolishes the house they're in.  Get it?  Their relationship is destructive.  Get it?!?! 
So, Spike knows how vulnerable and alone Buffy feels, because she's told him.  He preys on that to further isolate her and picks at her wounds to drive her into his arms.  This is, once again, classic abusive behavior.  Trying to wear down your partner's emotions and make them feel as though they have no other options.  Spike does all of this which means, and I really hope everyone in the entire world gets this, this is an abusive relationship.  In one particularly disturbing scene, Spike finds her when she's feeling really isolated from her friends (a pretty common experience for people experiencing depression) and then makes her watch them dancing and laughing while he has sex with her and whispers about how different she is from them. 

The only thing I like about this is that Buffy is wearing Zoe's necklace (source)

Look, people get to define their own experiences.  Maybe Buffy (and/or Spike) would look back on this later and feel that it was just unhealthy but not classify it as abusive.  That’s her choice (his too, but if someone says, "Hey you were abusive toward me," you pretty much have to engage that conversation).  I would say it was abusive, especially emotionally, but also sexually and physically.  The entire basis of their relationship was sexual and it was about hurting one another.  And of course people can be into whatever they’re in to, and I'm in no way me condemning the BDSM community or kinks.  But this isn’t coming from a healthy place of, “This is what I’m looking for right now and fulfills me.”  This is coming from a place of, “I am falling apart and I will let you do these things to me and I will do the same or worse to you.” And even worse, there were plenty of instances where consent was definitely not enthusiastic and on-going, meaning that Spike's attack of Buffy is probably not the only instance of sexual assault in their relationship (I actually have a lot to say about this in Part II).

And though I know that Buffy perpetuated violence as well, I have a hard time seeing her as the abuser in the situation.  I think she's a victim to Spike, who has been plotting, pining, and planning to "get" her for years.  She's extremely vulnerable and Spike's taking advantage of that.  He's manipulating her into a this role and she's lashing out in ways that are harmful to her, and to Spike as well.  Spike happily takes her violence along with everything else because he has no model for a healthy relationship.  He thinks that good love should burn and consume and hurt.

I think it’s also worth mentioning that her past two serious relationships had instances of sexual violence.  I went into depth about the Angelus thing, but there’s also an incident with Riley that I skimmed over, where Faith, in Buffy’s body, has sex with him.  This is a pretty clear-cut “magical” instance of sexual assault.  Faith uses Buffy’s body to have sex.   That would mean that Buffy’s body is experiencing sexual contact with her knowledge or consent (which = rape).  I’d argue that instances of possession and magical body-swapping in horror/fantasy/sci-fi can pretty consistently be read as instances of sexual assault, and the Buffy/Faith switch takes it a step further.  

The point I’m getting at is that Buffy’s first relationship was totally unhealthy, even when her boyfriend wasn’t trying to murder her.  Her second relationship was very complicated for lots of reasons, including the power dynamic (both physical and emotional - Riley was a total chauvinist), and the whole he unknowingly sexually assaulted her body while cheating on her mind/spirit thing #SunnydaleProblems.  It just doesn’t surprise me that when she is vulnerable and depressed she finds herself in a toxic relationship, trying desperately to feel something, emotionally and physically, and that she doesn’t immediately recognize how abusive the situation is.

This is about the halfway point for my essay on Spike/Buffy, so I'm gonna split the post here.  The next half will be up tomorrow and then I we’ll be done with this series for a while.  But don’t worry, I have some awesome Firefly stuff in the works and some ideas about Xander and Giles I want to flesh out.  I’m also finishing up my reread of the Animorph series so I’m letting that ruminate.  PLUS I’ve been doing a SPN S4/5 rewatch, so there’s loads of stuff there.  I feel like the next 6 months will involve lots of posting, so be ready.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or sexual violence there is help available, RAINN is an excellent resource

Friday, July 11, 2014

SA in BtvS Part III

Trigger warning for discussion of rape, attempted rape, rape culture, sexual assault, and sexual violence.

This is part three in a series about sexual violence in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - you can read Part I here and Part II here

Yikes, it's been a while, folks.

Before I continue with this essay, I want to reflect a little on what the sexual violence in the Angelus plot line did.  Whedon gave us a sanitized situation in which to examine a violent ex-lover.  I say sanitized because the viewer and the characters understand that Angelus is not the same person as Angel (excepting the willful ignorance of Xander). There is a clear divide between the two, despite the fact that they share a body. Buffy wasn't manipulated and lead into a violent relationship like so many people are - she was the victim of a magical curse (or more like a bystander, I guess).

Whedon dips his toes in what he'll fully dive into later with Spike.  The Angelus/Angel divide was a bold line in the sand and Buffy experienced torment and violence at the hands of one she'd loved, but only in a disconnected sense.  With Spike she slowly establishes a relationship with him, which is built on deception and more classic abusive/obsessive behaviors.  When the relationship turns more physical she tries not to lose sight of the monster she knows is there, but still develops emotional and physical bonds with him.  When he does attack her there's no easy (yet horrific) explanation that this is a different man than the one she's shared a relationship with.  This is the same guy.  

I have more to say on this but first I want to hit quickly on a two more points of sexual violence in the show (one in particular) and then take a look at the broader Buffy/Spike relationship.

Season 2 - Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

Xander performing a love spell (source)
This is a huge thing for me.  Though the sexual violence in this episode clearly falls under the "magical" category and no one is sexually assaulted, the violence and violation here is huge, overt and real.  For a recap, Xander's girlfriend Cordelia breaks up with him on Valentine's Day and totally breaks his heart.  She breaks up with him due to the pressure from her friends (he's in a different social caste than she is) rather than anything to do with their actual relationship.  But whatever, she made a choice that hurt Xander but that's life.

So Xander decides to magically roofie her with a love spell.  This spell would make her completely, head-over-heels infatuated with him.  This is a gross and terrifying violation.  I guess it's supposed to make us feel better that he doesn't plan to rape her once the spell sets in, just emotionally humiliate her.  So, to reiterate, Xander uses a sort of magical drug that removes Cordelia's free will and makes her completely susceptible to his whims and wishes (much like Warren does with his ex-girlfriend in S6, though Warren did plan to use the mind-control for sexual assault).  Xander sees nothing wrong with what he's doing.  He knows that he's erasing her free will in order to harm and humiliate her emotionally, but he think it's fair since she broke his heart.  What the fucking fuck fuck, Xander?!?!  This is not okay.  This is bad, bad, violating behavior. Yecck.

The spell backfires and somehow affects the entire female population of Sunnydale with the exception of Cordelia.  The women quickly become violent and try to kill him.  Whatever.  Yada, yada, yada, by the end of the episode, Xander hasn't really learned his lesson, and he ends up with Cordelia.  Even though everyone knows what he did is totally fucked - no one really calls him on his shit.  Giles is pretty pissed off but more about the danger in the situation than Xander's gross, rapist-esque behavior.  Buffy explicitly gives him props for not raping her.  See for yourself: 
Buffy: She loved you before you invoked the great Roofie spirit. The rest of us...
Xander: You remember, huh?
Buffy: Oh, yeah. I remember coming on to you, I remember begging you to undress me... And then a sudden need for cheese. I also remember that you didn't.
Xander: Need cheese?
Buffy: Undress me. It meant a lot to me what you said.
Xander: C'mon, Buffy, I couldn't take advantage of you like that. Okay, for a minute, it was touch and go there...
Buffy: You came through. There might just be hope for you yet.

What exactly did Xander say to her? Oh you know, just stuff about how raping her just wouldn't be as fulfilling as having an emotionally fulfilling relationship:

Xander: It's not that I don't want to. Sometimes the remote impossible possibility that you might like me was all that sustained me. But not now. Not like this. This isn't real to you. You're only here  because of a spell. I mean, if I thought you had one clue what it would mean to me... But you don't. So I can't.

A magically roofied-Buffy, and apparently amazing Xander,
who is somehow heroic for not assaulting her. (source)
 This is all really terrible. How telling is it that Buffy is actually pleasantly surprised that her friend didn’t have sex with her when she was magically roofied? How about being pissed off at your friend for trying to enchant anyone like that in the first place?   And furthermore, Cordelia is touched by Xander’s attempt to win her back. How messed up is that?  Dude just tried to magically control your mind and emotions to take revenge on you. That’s not touching, that’s fucking scary.

I’m going to go ahead and say that this episode has lots of cognitive dissonance happening when it comes to dealing with rape culture. One the one hand, this episode is in the midst of the Buffy-Angel plotline, where Buffy’s violent ex is actively putting her in danger. So Buffy discovers that not only does she have to beware of ex-lovers, she also has to be wary of self-congratulatory nice guys (something real women know all too well). The episode also does a good job with the role reversal of Xander being sexualized and frightened by the violence his would-be lovers unleash upon him when he rejects their advances. These are all good things, I think.

But then episode completely falls apart in holding Xander responsible for his actions, and it totally downplays how bad it really was. I guess you could read these as symptoms of the larger rape culture. Willow is obviously still very hurt and won’t talk to Xander, because she gets how bad this was. Buffy, meanwhile, thanks Xander for not raping her. Maybe it’s a nice way of showing that our culture is so messed up that two reasonable responses to being roofied by a friend are outrage at what happened and gratitude that it didn’t go further.

Season 3 - Diner Patron and Lap Dance Guys

This is a quick little thing, but I think it's worth mentioning.  In the S3 opener we see Buffy disguised as Anne, a normal girl, running away from her slayer duties.  She's working as a server in a diner and in her first scene we see some guys being obnoxious to her (asking if they can "work her off") and then one of them actually slaps her ass (which in California is misdemeanor sexual assault). 

In that scene Buffy sort of takes a second to collect herself before continuing on like nothing happened.  This is really contrary to the Buffy we know, who usually hands out an ass-kicking in response.  But her silence makes sense since she's on the run from being that girl. She could roundhouse kick this guy through a wall if she wanted, but she makes the choice to put up with this behavior because the disguise is more important to her than teaching this guy a lesson.

This is Buffy's "I could kill you with two fingers," face (source)
This is actually a pretty important moment in the sense that most women, and a lot of guys, have faced something really similar.  When someone violates you like that (whether physically or verbally) but in a relatively safe environment where you're pretty sure it won't escalate too much further - what do you do?  Sometimes you call them on it, sometimes you just move on with your life.  How often have you been groped or pulled or grabbed while out at a bar or club or on public transit and instead of yelling a string of obscenities or educating the offender on why what s/he's doing is inappropriate, you just walked away?  Probably at least a few times.  Because it's exhausting to do anything else.

It's also potentially dangerous.  The situation could escalate.  Sometimes it feels easier to just to walk away and move on with out lives, than to raise the stakes.  When Buffy is in these situations we get a form of wish fulfillment.  Like when she breaks Fish-Freak's nose.  Most of us can't do that.  Instead we'd take the safe option of getting out of the car (if we could), or maybe flagging someone over.  Buffy just breaks a dude's face.

In this scene she's pretending to be one of us, so she reacts the way many of us would.  It's a subtle scene, but it always really stuck with me.  Most women don't have the brute strength to be assured we can outfight any guy that gives us trouble.  Instead many of us feel compelled to handle this situations quietly without getting ourselves harmed.  When I see this scene, I want to yell for Buffy to do something because she's someone who can.  I don't know if the writer had this in mind when they wrote that scene, but it always helps me reaffirm that I need to continue to do work to help prevent sexual violence, because I can.  I have a voice and I'm armed with a certain amount of knowledge, I can talk back to rape culture, and I should.  Because there's nothing more disheartening than seeing someone who's so tired that they're just pretending they can't even fight it anymore.

Next time I'll be talking about Spike and Buffy's relationship and fucked-upidness of that!