Sexuality, Consent, and the Buffyverse
Here it is:
It is horrid but their sex brought on the end of the world so it was never meant to be a positive development. It’s already happened to her once before in Where the Wild Things Are when something urged Buffy and Riley on and they were turned into mindless sex zombies who had "no control over themselves." This time it's only has larger and more disastrous consequences.
It may be squicky but I’d still prefer that story to a story where Buffy knowingly jumped the bones of Twangel and didn’t care that the world started crumbling down around her.
There are about seventy places I could go with this (like, how very, very much I hate WtWTA), but what I really want to get to is this:
Why does questionable sex have to be at the heart of this at all? I hated WtWTA; I hate this. I'm so incredibly over Joss's whole SEX LEADS TO BADNESS thing. And reducing the entire plot of the season to Who Buffy Boinks...seriously?
So let’s talk about consent and sexual punishment in the Buffyverse. I don’t have any deep insights into it; I haven’t really done enough thinking about it for that. But I would like to start up some conversations about it.
And it’s all gonna be behind a cut for the sake of mollivanders, as not to spoil her, and for the sake of the portion of my flist that could care less about my natterings about BtVS
1. Rape. And attempted rape. There’s lots of it on the show. More than you’d likely think. These are the ones that came to mind:
A. Hyena!Xander tries to rape Buffy, pretends he doesn’t remember doing so after he’s no longer possessed
B. Angel(us) rapes the Romani girl he kills; it’s strongly implied (I believe? It’s been a while since I’ve seen it) that rape was part of the torture he and Darla used to break Drusilla (as was slaughtering her entire family. Hey! I wrote fic about that!).
C. Faith tries to rape Xander in “Consequences”
D. Faith does rape Riley in “Who Are You?”*
E. Buffy and Riley are taken over by a poltergeist thing and made to have sex for hours
F. Willow rapes Tara by altering her mind with magic.**
G. Spike attempts to rape Buffy (and later heavily implies that he raped others pre-soul)
H. The Universe makes Buffy and Angel have sex; how much of it was their choice is very, very, very unclear
I. Katrina. Warren completely controls her mind and attempts to rape her.
J. As this has no real-life equivalent, it's murky, but you can definitely argue that by having sex in Buffy's body, Faith is raping Buffy as well.
K. Buffy keeps going after Spike tells her to stop in "Gone." Spike keeps going after Buffy tells him to stop in "Wrecked." Repeat ad nauseum.
L. Angel(us) rapes Holtz's wife. "Repeatedly."
M. Cordy is possessed when she has sex with Connor--how much of that was Cordy and how much of it was Jasmine is entirely subjective and unclear.
N. Angelus threatens to rape both Fred and Buffy; he tells Lilah he'll "rape [her] to death": his modus operandi seems to be the threat of sexualized violence.
O. The Slayer's power was forced on her by a group of powerful men without her consent in one of the skeeviest of rape metaphors. Then they threaten to do the same to Buffy in "Get It Done," adding some absolutely appalling racist overtones to the whole thing.
P. "In Epiphany Cordelia is held down by the Skilosh demons, screaming "no, no" while a phallic-shaped object protruding from one of the demon's mouths, is forced into the back of her head to "impregnate" her with the Skilosh "young" (the creepy, icky third eye) - all this while her menfolk are racing to save her. I swear, I get so damned uncomfortable watching that scene - if it weren't the back of her head, but lower down her torso, it wouldn't even be a question of whether she was raped. She was." - samsom
Q. "Also, I consider her encounter with Wilson Christopher to be rape because he was acting as a 'substitute' or conduit for the demon that impregnated her - both without her knowledge or consent." - samsom
R. "I'd include Angel throwing Darla through and glass door, pushing her onto his bed on a rape list. While she wasn't fighting him the way Buffy fought Spike, it wasn't totally consentual either; she looked scared after he threw her through that glass door."> - menomegirl
S. In "Go Fish," the swim team captain comes on to Buffy several times, she tries to defend herself, and she is victim blamed by Snyder. (suggested by scarfman)
T. Angel and Eve have sex while under the influence of whatever's wrong with Lorne in "Life of the Party" (that's the episode title, right?). We have every reason to believe that Angel would not choose to have sex with her if he weren't under that influence. This is played for laughs.
U. via on Spider and Spike in IDW's comics: "Having taken a fancy to Spike, she 'visits' him in the cell: crawls onto his lap, forces a kiss on his mouth, unzips his pants, and demands that he get an erection so that she can mount him. He's both drawn and written as showing disgust, and tries to kick her away. He asks her to help his suffering human companions, and she scoffs that they're dead already. He demands to know if Fred is all right, and Spider pouts, 'Stop thinking about her! Think about ME!'" More here.
More wonky consent, suggested by prophecygirrl and local_max:
V. "Him" - All of the women are completely overtaken with love for RJ because of his stupid lettermen's jacket (that is just a dumb metaphor. There's some super-funny parts of this episode, but seriously?). Buffy either ends up having sex with him or almost ends up having sex with him. Shady consent. Plus: teacher/student relationships have such an inherent power imbalance, especially in high school situations, that the consent was shady from the other direction as well.
V. Buffy and Spike in "Something Blue"--they definitely wouldn't be kissing each other under other circumstances; it's played for laughs.
X. "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered" - All of the women are completely overtaken with love for Xander because of his spell backfiring. Thankfully, no actual sex happens, but Buffy and Willow both come on to him. Shadiness abounds.
Y. Times when sex isn't the point, but mind-control is played for laughs and then physical intimacy enters the equation. None of these are particularly horrible in and of themselves. i) Joyce and Giles in "Band Candy." ii) Giles and Anya could have ended up doing much more than kiss in "Tabula Rasa." iii) "You could (I don't think I would--but pattern) argue that people being swept up with the emotion of the OMWF spell constitute some tricky consent stuff. (We only know about Willow/Tara, which has other issues.)" - local_max (I agree. I probably wouldn't argue that last one, though I'm including it here.)
*I’m not arguing about this one. We have every reason to believe that if Riley had known that was Faith, he wouldn’t have slept with her. By withholding such vital information, it negates consent. Yes, that was rape. If you want to argue about this, do it elsewhere—not in my journal.
**Once again, I’m not arguing about this. Not only is the magic clearly a metaphor for “date-rape” drugs, but, again, we have every reason to believe Tara would have refused sex (out of anger at Willow) had Willow not used the magic. That was rape, too. Again: if you want to argue about this do it elsewhere—not in my journal.
It’s entirely possible I’m forgetting something. Surely there’s something on AtS? I’d be shocked if there wasn’t.
So what we see is lots of issues of rape or shady consent (WtWTA). And how many of them are taken seriously? Well, “Seeing Red” certainly is. A lot of people have problems with it (including me—I don’t have a problem with it from the perspective of Spike’s story, but I do from Buffy’s: it makes her a victim and reduces her story to something to serve Spike’s story, and on a feminist show that’s All About Buffy, this is problematic) and think it could be handled better in the aftermath (including me), but there’s never any doubt that this is both Bad and a Major Thing.
The rapes of Dru and the Romani girl are there to show how bad Angelus is and to show why Angel needs a soul. Since they take place in the past, there isn’t a whole lot of delving into them, though I think that both Dru’s mental fragile state forever after and the Romani’s commitment to watching Angel prove that those instances are taken pretty seriously.
But I really don’t think Willow ever realizes just why Tara is upset; I really don’t think she ever realizes it’s rape. So I have a lot of problems with the writers having Tara go back to her. I’m pretty sure that Faith’s treatment of Xander is never mentioned again and her treatment of Riley isn’t really examined, either. Hyena!Xander is mentioned again, and yes: there really were extenuating circumstances, but nothing? Really?
As for Space Sex, we have yet to see how it’s gonna be handled, but I don’t have much hope at this point.
2. Sex Leads to Badness. Now, some of these work quite well, plot-wise. I don’t have a problem with most of them on their own; it’s only when they’re located within the context of all the others that they become problematic. So don’t tell me about how awesome the Angelus plotline in S2 is; I think so, too. I’m not talking about isolated incidents: I’m talking about the pattern of the show(s). And I’m listing these in the order they come to mind.
A. Buffy sleeps with Angel; he loses his soul, becomes evil, terrorizes Sunnydale, kills Jenny Calendar (sob!) and Willow’s fish, then Buffy has to send him to hell.
B. Buffy sleeps with Parker and is used by him. (And gets her revenge by going all Cave!Buffy on him in a scene of awesome.)
C. Buffy sleeps with Spike, becomes even more self-loathing, beats him in an alley, then he nearly rapes her. The cause and effect doesn’t have to be there, and obviously, Buffy is a complete victim and nothing she did caused the rape. Still, there are enough people who feel like something she did led to the AR that I feel comfortable with having it on this list. Also, rough sex is depicted as something only bad people do, something Buffy would never, ever do while in her right mind. There's the (really, when you think about it, quite horrifying) "Tell me I'm bad" scene with Tara. prophecygirrl has more on that here
D. Buffy sleeps with Angel, causes earthquakes, tsunamis, and horrible loss of life on earth. Also: ascends to a higher plane, then comes back within one issue. WHAT.
Compare this to: Buffy has sex with Riley; their relationship ends as most relationships do (except that in this case the guy acts like a horrible passive-aggressive douchebag before he leaves. I recently rewatched “Into the Woods” and am bitter). There's loads of bad things going on with their breakup talks way more about this here and pretty much sums up my feelings, but there's no literal repercussions, so we'll be generous and put this in the "good" column. Buffy has sex with Satsu; it’s depicted that she enjoys it, but everyone is very quick to reassure each other and the audience that she’s not at all gay. *eyeroll* 4 out of her 6 sexual relationship have negative consequences beyond just the “We eventually break up” variety. That’s 2/3, right, mathly people?
E. Xander sleeps with Faith; she later tries to rape him. (It’s been a loooooong time since I’ve watched S3, so this isn’t quite clear in my mind. I reread transcripts, but that’s not quite the same as watching the episode. Any elucidation would be appreciated.)
F. Veruca sleeps with Oz, gets torn apart. Literally.
G. Tara sleeps with Willow; Willow rapes her to keep her sleeping with her. (Uh, pronoun stuff going on there.)
H. Tara sleeps with Willow (without resolving the earlier rape issues) and is murdered by Warren. (In an interesting have-sex-and-then-die moment much like the very horror movie tropes Joss claims to subvert.)
I. Cordelia sleeps with that random guy, gets supernaturally pregnant. So do a bunch of other women.
J. Darla sleeps with Angel, gets pregnant, then must sacrifice herself for her child in a very Motherhood Will Save Her kind of moment.
K. Cordelia sleeps with Connor, gives birth to Jasmine, goes into a coma, “comes back” for the space of an episode to “get her guy back on track,” then dies.
L. Anya gleefully and healthily embraces her sexuality and is constantly told to be more appropriate because it makes those around her nervous and/or uncomfortable. (Yes, I think there’s a time and place to talk about sex and Anya needs to learn that. But this is within the pattern/context of the show.)
M. Giles and Jenny are about to consummate their relationship and OH GUESS WHAT SHE’S DEAD AND LAID OUT ON YOUR BED, GILES. (I’m still bitter about this.)
N. "Dawn doesn't sleep with Kenny - she sleeps with his roommate (because her feelings for Kenny were too intense and so it's less pressure to sleep with his roommate - IDEK) and then Kenny gets pissed and curses her." - from eowyn_315 So this guy punishes her by turning her into a centaur, a giant, and a doll. WHAT.
O. Dawn's first kiss turns out to be a vampire and she has to stake him.
P. The frat boys in "Selfless" are vengenced by Anya after (if I remember correctly) humiliating some girls.
Q. Katrina breaks up with Warren; he mind-controls her; he attempts to rape her; she dies.
R. Xander and Ms. French in "Teacher's Pet." Sex was going to involve having his head bit off. Yeah.
S. Xander making jokes about bondage in "Him"...and then he is tied up, but not for fun: his date goes after him with a knife.
I’m fairly sure there’s more. Anything you can remember, let me know: I’ll add it to the list.
Then there’s a pregnancy metaphor dealing with bodily autonomy in which Fred’s body (and it has to be a woman, doesn’t it?) is taken over by an entirely different entity which kills her and destroys her soul. (Really, Joss? Her soul?) “A Hole in the World” is a well-written episode with some great moments (Spike’s little speech in the Deeper Well is one of my favorite moments on the show), but there’s some annoying stuff going on here: she’s the only woman left, and all the menfolk stand around her bedside and then decide They. Must. Save. Her! Not to mention that she’s just entered a romantic relationship and that she seems to have lost her personality in S5 and is just there to serve the stories of men (Wes and Spike, in particular). Something about the whole thing just skeeves me out. More about that here and here (for some reason, the filter at my work has blocked this, but I remember it being really awesome).
Plus, Joss doesn't really handle pregnancy in all its complexity. I was just talking with xlivvielockex about Charisma Carpenter (among other things), and she said, "Not to mention S4 and Expecting seemed very...anti-pregnancy to me." Yeah. Anti-pregnancy without realizing the complexity of the situation for a woman. He's looking at it from a privileged position, just like he's looking at prostitution from a privileged position on Firefly and Dollhouse, and he seems completely unaware of it. But that's a whole 'nother issue. For way more of her thoughts on pregnancy, see the comment here--it's quite excellent.
I really don’t know where I’m going with this. I just know that seeing 34/35 of the S8 comics made my stomach sink: more questionable consent? More Sex Is Bad-ness? Do we really need that? Does the entirety of the plot for S8 really need to be reduced to the Universe wanting Buffy and Angel to have sex? Really? I’m not a fan of Shag or Die in fanfic (except for botias’s Persephone, but there are exceptions to every rule, right?), much less in canon, and the whole thing feels unnecessary. Do we really need another plotline boiled down to Who Buffy’s Boinking?
Making it worse, we have confirmation that 34 for was the first installment all plotted out and that everything was building up to that (as this is the case, it makes the pacing of the season even worse and even more nonsensical, doesn’t it?). The whole thing makes me headdesk. (Who's got a link for this interview? Help me out, please.)
I want to know what y’all think. I know there are some positive depictions of sex on the show and and that just showing women embracing their sexuality was new and different for TV when the show as on the air. But I don’t know. I just feel sick of all this stuff, and I want to have a dialogue with y’all about it. Share your thoughts. Let me know what you think.
But do not argue with me about what constitutes rape above (I don’t expect this from my flist, but who knows who’ll wander in here) and do not try to defend these things in isolation. I’m looking at patterns and context. That’s what we’re talking about. If you want to talk about those things go somewhere else. I’ll give you a warning, then delete your comment if you don’t listen. Okay? Okay!