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'Choose a text featuring vampires to analyse - it could be a film, a television programme, a novel, a short story, a cartoon, a comic book, a toy or even a news story. Then offer a feminist reading of your text, discussing how femininity is portrayed'

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Introduction

Buffy the Vampire Slayer In this essay, the popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer is explored through the intersections of post-feminism and post-modernity; and the manner in which this television narrative appropriates body rhetorics and narrative agency from traditionally masculinist meta-narratives in the horror and mystery genres. Moreover, how the fictional characters negotiate the politics of feminism and post-modernity in contemporary American suburban life is examined. Social and mystical powers (on the side of good) are matrilineal in the series: only females can be vampire slayers, only females can have supernatural powers, and only females can discern who the predators are. (The sole exception is the "Watcher," Giles, a decidedly femininised male.) Through the narrative frame of the series, each episode is grounded in the tension between the embodied female heroine and the varied embodiments of evil she and her friends encounter. Each encounter requires the heroine to count the costs of leadership (primarily for girls and women). The narratives illustrate that friends are family, because the traditional family unit has fragmented. Ironically, the story lines are steeped in television nostalgia, the public forum in which the idealized American family was imagined and perfected. (Owen, 1997, 81-83) ...read more.

Middle

The feminized adult female is well intentioned but largely ineffectual; her efforts to nurture and instruct frequently are framed as misguided or naive. For example, in the final episode of the first season, she mistakes Buffy's apprehension about death at the hands of a powerful vampire as teen angst over going to the prom. Giles hones Buffy's physical and mental prowess in preparation for the showdown; Buffy's mother buys an expensive (white) prom dress to boost Buffy's confidence. Throughout the episode, the dress draws ironic commentary from all the characters, including the murderous vampire king. "Nice dress," he sneers. Buffy's mother (known occasionally as "Joyce") functions as a measure of Buffy's struggle to conceal her identity as a slayer, and as an exemplar of how clueless suburban parents (especially mothers) are about the dangers their children face. Willow is conventionally gendered in most dimensions of her character: She is an excellent student, non-assertive, and concerned with the feelings and perspectives of others. She is the moral voice of the group, although she stutters and stammers through much of her dialogue. Her mode of dress and grooming is more childlike than any of the other teen characters. Significantly, however, Willow is re-gendered as a creative and fearless computer hacker; later in the series, she discovers additional creative powers through witchcraft. ...read more.

Conclusion

Buffy's power is domesticated by her oft articulated longing to be "normal"--to have a steady boyfriend (with all that entails) and to consume life uninterrupted by the demands of civic obligation. The narrative opposes the costs of leadership and political potency, with intimacy, stable relationships, and material comfort. The quality of a woman's private life is diminished by the burden she bears to participate in civil society. Moreover, in spite of Buffy's narrative agency and physical potency, her body project remains consistent with the re-scripted body signs of American commodity advertising. In other words, political potency is both imagined and reduced to matters of consumer style. A post-feminist perspective is constructed through Buffy's relationship with her mother, Joyce. Although Joyce and Buffy clearly enjoy benefits from the first and second waves of the American feminist movement, little is ever said about the history of women's struggle in American culture.(Bordo, 1992, 283) More to the point, Joyce is emblematic of parental and feminine limitation in the series. Buffy's strength and confidence are not learned from the vast experiences of past generations of women; rather, they are her mystical birthright as a slayer. The series plays at transgression; as such, it is quintessential television. But it remains to be seen whether transgressive play can challenge institutional relations of power. ...read more.

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