Buffy’s It-Girl Problem & Intersectional Feminism
As a feminist, I hate that I love the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford feud so much. I’ve read articles and books about it, and I’m of course watching the FX series, Feud. It’s sad, yet so intriguing, to see women fight over scraps of power. It reminds me of the cookie joke: A billionaire sits with a Tea Partier and a poor person. There are ten cookies; the billionaire takes 9 then says to the Tea Partier, "Watch that guy -- he's after your cookie!"
We see this dynamic with Buffy and Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There is supposed to be only one slayer at a time; the next one is called up when the current slayer dies. Because Buffy technically died for a minute (even though she was revived by Xander’s tremendous power of breathing - you have to give it up to Joss Whedon for making even the mundane feel special), the slayer line has a crimp in it. Kendra, the next slayer, doesn’t last long enough for a true slayer feud (RIP Kendra, your terrible accent, and your one shirt).
Enter Faith, next in the slayer line. Buffy and Faith’s relationship is complicated, to say the least. They have great affection for and understanding of each other, but their bond is marred by jealousy, betrayal, and Faith choosing to channel her pain into destruction. In season 7, Faith captures the crux of it when she says “There's only supposed to be one. Maybe that's why you and I can never get along. We're not supposed to exist together.”
Whenever a woman gains enough power to be on equal footing with Buffy, she is knocked down. As long as they are relegated to sidekick, there’s no problem. But when another character, Willow, becomes too powerful as a witch, it’s portrayed as an addiction that must be controlled. When the ex-demon Anya regains her vengeance demon powers, she must relinquish them to rejoin the group. “There’s only supposed to be one.”
Besides Bette and Joan, this relationship is seen over and over again in real life. There could only be one black supermodel at a time, so Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks feud. There can be only one person of color on a TV show. There can be only one woman in the boardroom. There can be only one powerful person with “other-ness” at a time.
But who says there can be only one? The men - and I do mean men - in charge say so. In the finale, Buffy finally gets that her female empowerment has been lacking. In her speech that makes me tear up every time, Buffy says: “In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. [points to Willow] This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power should be our power…From now on, every girl in the world who might be a slayer, will be a slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power, can stand up, will stand up.” Buffy finally acknowledges that not only is it okay to have multiple powerful women exist, but that it’s necessary in order to truly change the world. The current “it girl” must empower others, like the saying “empowered women empower women.”
Buffy doesn’t diminish her power by allowing others to reach their potential. That’s how our feminism and all activism must work. Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectional feminism, writes: “The failure to embrace the complexities of compoundedness is not simply a matter of political will, but is also due to the influence of a way of thinking about discrimination which structures politics so that struggles are categorized as singular issues.” Our intersecting identities (gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, abilities, etc.) cannot be singled out. That’s why all oppression is linked as is our liberation, so we all must fight for reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, religious freedom, racial equality, gender equality, economic equality, immigrant rights, disability rights, and recognize the disparity within these groups. Not one issue at a time, not one slayer at a time, but all together #StrongerTogether. Oppression works by dividing us, trying to pit our differences against each other, so that we’re fighting over scraps and letting the real power continue unchecked.
So what does practicing intersectional feminism look like? For me, it’s volunteering with Planned Parenthood. Reproductive rights affect us all, but in different ways and to different degrees. According to the latest PPNJ Access at Risk report, blocking access to family planning services has a disproportionate impact on communities of color. In NJ, Latina women are three times more likely than other women to be diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer. If I’m not fighting for racial equality, my fight for reproductive rights is incomplete. Remember, Buffy and Faith are far more dangerous to evil-doing when they join forces than when they’re separated. That also doesn’t mean we disregard each other’s differences, but work through them and apologize for the hurt we have caused, even if unintentional.
We can’t keep fighting each other for crumbs; we must rise up together to take back our cookies. Let’s all be slayers!