Tag Archives: feminism

How My Husband Got Me Hooked on Buffy

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a TV show with a target audience of teen girls. My husband, despite not being a teen girl,  turned me (also not a teen girl) on to the show and got me hooked.

I had seen the movie and wasn’t that impressed. It was silly fun, with a classic over-the-top death scene acted by Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman). There was also an appearance by a very young Hilary Swank, and Donald Sutherland played the Slayer’s mentor. But not anything I’d ever want to see again.

So when a television series appeared, I ignored it.

But my husband didn’t. He became a fan.

He wasn’t one of those fans who sits people down in front of a TV and says, “Here! You have to watch 15 episodes of this amazing show!” (This would be appropriate for Firefly, another show that, like Buffy, was the brainchild of Joss Whedon, except that it never made it to 15 episodes.)

No, he was more subtle than that. He’d be watching the show and invite me to join him. “I don’t think so,” I would reply. Still, I would see a few minutes of the show as I passed through the living room.

And then one day I caught a scene from an episode in which Buffy was working at a fast-food establishment where employees had been disappearing and the food had a “secret ingredient.”

“Hah!” I thought. “This is so predictable!”

Then the top of a little old lady’s head came off, a monster emerged, and tried to eat Buffy. The secret ingredient in the meat turned out to be meat flavoring, which was being added to non-meat patties.

That sharp left turn caught me. Maybe this show did have some wit and style.

I still didn’t pay a lot of attention until the show went off the air. When it went into reruns, I could watch one episode a day and follow the story arcs (yes, it had them) and found out that Buffy was more than just teen-girl-kills-monster-of-the-week pop fluff.

It had bite. (Sorry.)

Joss Whedon has said that the show was about female empowerment. Instead of being a stereotypical victim-of-a-vampire, Buffy is the strong, capable hero who defeats evil, aided by her “Scooby Gang” of mostly female sidekicks.

Except those sidekicks have story arcs of their own. For example, Willow is a witch who dabbles in black magic in addition to the good kind. But magic, it seems, can become an addiction. Multiple episodes follow Willow as she goes from magic tweaking, to heavy involvement, to jonesing, to a destructive habit that wrecks her relationships with those around her (and almost destroys the earth).

Buffy used the basic vampire/monster plot to comment on common events in a young person’s life – high school, dating, freshman roommates, binge drinking (which turned students into cave people) – as well as topics like the aforementioned addiction, teen suicide, performance-enhancing drugs, and various shades of morality.

And the dialogue! I’m a language junkie. I don’t deny it. And in addition to the then-current teen slang, the show had its own idiom, known as “Buffy Speak.”

TV Tropes describes it thus:

[It] can give the sense of a teenaged group’s special jargon or argot without necessarily imitating anything actually found in the real world. Slang language, especially for the younger set, tends to change at warp speed. Buffy Speak allows a level of timelessness…. http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/BuffySpeak

And here’s a scholarly article about it: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/08/buffy-the-vampire-slayer/

(Speaking of dialogue, Buffy also featured some break-the-mold episodes, including one in which no one can speak and one in which everyone sings their lines, musical-style, with dancing.)

Was it the feminist subtext? The busting of stereotypes and tired plots? The playful language? The hunky vampires? Perhaps the secret to my eventually becoming a fan of Buffy is the fact that, despite my chronological age, I’ve got a 14-year-old living inside my head (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-g1). And maybe my husband knew that.

Although I don’t want to speculate who’s living inside his head.

Post-Feminism: Back to the Future

Now that we’ve got the marriage equality question settled for all time (1), I think it’s time we turned to a brand-new, never-before-contemplated issue of social concern – women’s rights.

That’s right. We women want rights.

What rights, you ask?

Well, I dunno. There are so many.

The right to fair wages. The right to be believed when reporting a rape. The right not to be abused by a partner and to get something more than a restraining order that doesn’t work. The right to affordable, good-quality child care. The right to be represented in groups that make decisions about women. The right to have children or not, as we decide. The right to health care, mental health care, places in homeless shelters. The right not to be assaulted by fellow service members.

I could go on. So could you, I bet.

But, just as we’re now living in a post-racial society (2), I’m told we’re living in a post-feminist society.(3)

I’ve also heard that one of the reasons the Terrifying Gay Agenda (4) is having such current success is that they found a specific issue to organize around – marriage equality. Not “Treat Us Like Human Beings” or “Don’t Discriminate in Jobs and Housing” or “We Want Equal Rights.”

And those are some of the problems with the women’s movement – we’re not organized, we don’t have just one issue that we can knock off the list above, and “Change Society” is too vague.

So let’s narrow it down to one. For myself, I’d like to be mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. And that means the Equal Rights Amendment.(5) All we have to do, according to the experts at http://www.equalrightsamendment.org/, since the one proposed in 1972 was passed (6), is just get enough states to ratify it to put us over the top – three whole states.

The ones that haven’t ratified are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia. I figure Illinois is a good place to start. Then, I don’t know – Nevada? North Carolina? Virginia? What do you think?

But let’s do it. Then see what happens with all those other issues. I’m betting the ERA will have a good effect on many of them, and more besides.(7)

What’s that? It isn’t a good time to bring up women’s rights? The climate in the country isn’t conducive to the issue? There’s no chance of it happening?

Well, was it a good time to bring up marriage equality? Was the climate of the public discussion in favor of that? Was the country ready for it? Take a look at all the strict constitutionalists scrambling to figure out a way to defy the Constitution (8), and you tell me.

And to those who say that it’s an empty gesture, that an Equal Rights Amendment will make no real difference in women’s lives, think about what happened once black people were mentioned in that foundational document. No, it didn’t change everything for the better right away. But it sure got the ball rolling.

And I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to see some ball-rolling on behalf of women.(9)

(1) *snerk*
(2) *snerk* again
(3) I had a t-shirt that said “I’ll be post-feminist in the post-patriarchy.” My husband and I both wore it until you couldn’t see the letters anymore. I’d get another one if I could remember what catalog we found it in.
(4) As the joke goes, it includes brunch at 11:30, decorating committee at 4:00, and a dance at 9:00. It’s probably the dance that terrifies people.
(5) Here’s the full text:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Fifty-two whole words. Scary, isn’t it?
(6) Yes, the ERA actually passed, although almost no one remembers this. It was the ratifying that did it in.
(7) Back in the day, when the ERA came around the last time, it was sneeringly referred to by some as the Equal Restrooms Amendment. Which is actually a topic that still needs addressing. Women’s bathrooms in public buildings need more stalls than men’s to achieve parity. Women need a stall for each excretory (and hygiene) function. Men conserve space using urinals; for some unfathomable reason, they’re willing to pee without walls and doors.
(8) And/or the Supreme Court. And/or the President, for that matter. Anything mentioned in the Constitution, really, except the Second Amendment.
(9) yet more *snerk*

Books, etc.: Remembering Suzette Haden Elgin

A few days ago a friend informed me that Suzette Haden Elgin had died. This was not unexpected. She was almost 80, and had been in ill health for a while, and suffering with dementia, along with other disabilities.

I never met her, except through her work, but I mourn her passing.

Suzette was a trained linguist, a language maven, and a writer. She is perhaps best known for her books in the Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense series. Though not as well-known as Deborah Tannen’s or John Gray’s works, Suzette’s are practical, straightforward, and supremely useful.

She was interested in many aspects of language. She thought and wrote about language and religion, language and politics (especially framing), language and women’s issues, language and perception, language and culture, and more.

For many years she kept up a Live Journal and two newsletters. Under the LJ name Ozarque, she stimulated thought and discussion of her many fields of interest. These were lively, educational, interactive, and fascinating forums in the way that Live Journal blogs are meant to be and seldom are.

She was a writer of science fiction novels, stories, and poetry. I was astounded by her Native Tongue series. (Who besides me could possibly be interested in feminist linguistic science fiction? Many people, it turns out.)

In the Native Tongue series, Suzette described a newly created “women’s language” called Láadan. She and others pursued the idea and constructed a grammar, a dictionary, and lessons available online – way before anyone tried to do the same with Klingon.

She worked on new fiction until the dementia descended. In her LJ, she would sometimes post poems and songs (particularly Christmas carols) and solicit feedback from her audience, sometimes incorporating their suggestions into the piece. The Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Elgin Awards are given in her memory.

She attended science fiction conventions, where she could meet and interact with her readers. One she often attended was WisCon in Madison, WI, the premier feminist science fiction convention, and in 1986 was one of their Guests of Honor.

On a more personal note, she once took the time to give me feedback on a piece I was writing about bullying, also a concern of hers.

She was a kind, humane, quirky, quick-witted, creative, varied, engaged, humorous, brave lady and a brilliant scholar and writer. I will miss her and her work. The world is poorer for her passing, but richer for her legacy.