Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Troubling Misandry of Buffy The Vampire Slayer

So here's the thing: Buffy The Vampire Slayer is possibly my favourite TV show ever, equalled only perhaps by The Sopranos for its grand scope & depth, its balance of humour & pathos. Always surprising, always inspiring, always human & humane - "talking about monsters to talk about people" is how its creator, Joss Whedon once described it.

Joss Whedon is the Charlie Kaufman of television - the most brilliant single mind of that particular medium. And he does what he does there better than anyone else has ever done, I would say.

So what's the problem? Well, the problem is that Buffy is a show that even its creator describes as having an overtly feminist agenda, & in fact that is true, it does. And feminism is a hate movement. Which inevitably leads to misandry - a contemptuous disregard for men's suffering & humanity. So you see my problem.

Paul Nathanson & Katherine K. Young define a misandric film or TV show as one in which the men are all depicted as being either evil (Spike, Angelus, Oz-when-werewolf, Warren, The Master, all the bad guys) or inadequate (Xander, Riley, Oz-when-human, Giles - how many times does Giles get knocked over the head, by the way?).

There are no 'empowered' men in Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The only male characters that are strong & self-possessed are monsters & demons, & so, by definition, evil. Angel, the wettest & most self-flagellating beta-male in all sci-fi & fantasy, only comes alive once his soul is returned to him & he becomes the murderous Angelus. But of course then he is, again, Evil. The message being, to be a strong man makes you the bad guy. Oz & Angel & later Spike have to struggle constantly to remain 'good', to behave themselves for fear that their innate, true 'evil' [male] self will escape. A man is defined as good only to the extent that he helps & facilitates the needs of a woman, in this case Buffy, the entitled centre of this world, that all of the other characters flutter around like butterflies.

There is also a third category, of 'honorary women', granted to a very small number of men, usually black, or gay, who are given a little more leeway because they're seen to be from another 'victim' class, & so similarly oppressed by The Patriarchy. True to form & by the book, the only human male in the entire seven year run of the show who is shown to be physically strong, confident, self-possessed yet good is the black principal Robin Wood, who appears in the final season.

The women, on the other hand, are all basically good-to-go: they start from a position of presumed innocence, & are not required to work on themselves or accomplish anything to earn our (the audiences) concern & empathy. If in the unlikely event that they do do something 'bad' (Faith murdering people, Willow trying to end the world) there's always an understandable reason why, & we want them to be given a second chance, we want them to be looked after, & helped. Even the 'bad gurls' like Drusilla & Darla are given terrible backstories of victimhood (at the hands of men, of course) that led to their evilosity. No woman, it seems, is simply born bad. That's something that can only befall a man.

Warren, a human male we are told is a hater of women, is presented to us as an irredeemable monster. Anya, a female demon who has tortured & murdered men for a thousand years, is shown as light relief. As always in the feminist narrative, male violence against women = Horror. Female violence against men = comedy.

Buffy & Faith & all the other slayers have their superpowers, Willow (the most powerful witch in the world, let us not forget) & Tara have their magic. What do the men have? Even such lightweight characters such as Cordelia or Dawn are shown to be as good at fighting as the male 'scoobies', though this bears no resemblance to the reality of any known human society.

So, for instance, the 7-stone stick insect that is Sarah Michelle Gellar routinely beats to a pulp burly men literally twice the size & weight of her, laws of physics be damned. And without ever picking up even a scratch on that perfect face.Yes I know that it's a metaphor for grrrl power & taking back the night & blah diddy blah blah, but what kind of message is that sending to young girls? That if you pick a fight with someone twice your size you're not going to get hurt? That you should pick a fight with someone twice your size?

One of the scariest things about telling girls it's okay - 'empowering', even - to hit boys is that in our society, girls greatest defence against boys is that Boys Don't Hit Girls. And that's a good thing, because boys can hit a lot harder than girls. But the more that girls get told it's ok for them to hit boys, the more that girls are taught to behave like boys, the less likely that golden rule is to hold. If boys get punched in the face by increasingly aggressive females enough times, eventually those boys will hit back. And that's not good, a genie that would be hard to get back in the bottle.

Whedon has carried these ideas of The Überwoman over into his other shows, such as Firefly (Zoe), & Dollhouse (Echo) - human women who can kickbox all comers in high heels & leap a tall man in a single bound. Mortal women as physically strong as any man.



These women don't exist, nor will they ever - not as long as they are women, not without a ton of steroids or genetic modification. It's wishful thinking, & a very strange kind of wishful thinking: the idea that you can or should want to change the laws of nature to fit in with the perceived reality of a presently fashionable ideological movement.

Men the world over are bigger, stronger & faster than women, more heroic & self-sacrificing in an emergency. Every society encourages the sacrifice of the men on behalf of the women, & always has.

If you were to examine all Olympic times for men & women since records were first kept, you would see there is a reason why men & women are not made to compete against each other: if they did, no woman would ever win anything. The times of the guys who come in fourth or fifth will still trump whoever gets the gold in the women's events. Men can jump higher, run faster, throw further.
 

These are innate & immutable physical realities. Men are stronger than women. That's simply how we're built, & any healthy society would see that as a good thing. A strong man should be a good thing to find. If you were trapped in a burning building with a broken leg would you rather have Sarah Michelle Gellar (who plays Buffy) or Nicholas Brendon (who plays Xander) try carry you down a three storey ladder?


In addition to this insistence on the physical supremacy of women, the smartest, most technically minded characters in the Whedon-universe are female too (Willow in Buffy, 'Fred in Angel, Kaylee in Firefly, Claire Saunders & Bennett Halverson in Dollhouse). Again, this bears no relation to the world as it is: women as a group have very little interest in higher mathematics or engineering, as reflected in the percentage of course enrollments at universities.

At Harvard University, there is a class widely held to be the hardest undergraduate maths class in the country: 'Math 55'. Every year around 50 students enrol & more than half of those drop out within the first 5 days, it's that hard. After a couple more weeks the class settles down for what it will be for the rest of the semester: 45% Jewish, 18% Asian, & 100% male.

Now, there is nothing stopping any woman from signing up for that class, & with the present education gap, more women are leaving higher education with degrees than men by a large margin, so either women are choosing not to do higher mathematics, or are trying & can't. Either way, the portrayal across the board of the greatest mathematical or engineering minds being female is (again) a case of wishful thinking on the part of an ideological position that bears no resemblance to the real world young women have to go out & make their way in. As with the depictions of female violence, I don't see how this helps anyone.

The times we live in are the water we swim through: we can't see them, & even the best minds bend to them & obey, at least some of the time. The nineties was a feminist age - Whedon probably believed when he made Buffy that rape was a major epidemic; that 1 in 4 women were being dragged into bushes & raped daily; that domestic violence was a crime that only men inflicted & only women were the victims of; that women were getting paid 70¢ for every dollar a man made working the same job & so on & so on. He was wrong but he meant well, & was just trying to do the best he could with the information he was provided with, so it's hard to think bad of him. And for all I've said here he made a great show.

Aww, maybe I just think too much. Breaking Bad is nice, too.

30 comments:

  1. You forgot to mention Buffy fucked Spike (a mass murderer) but it was all OK because after sometime she realized how wrong that was. Also this trend of "inadequate men and empowered women" is present in other shows like CSI or Bones although not as marked as Buffy's case, let's look at CSI for a simple example:

    CSI (Vegas)
    1)Gil Grissom: mature man with fear of intimacy issues and "emotionally unavailable"
    2)Warrick Brown: Man overcoming gambling addiction
    3)Greg Sanders: porn loving, immature, childish man
    4)Catherine Willows: former stripper and single mom that managed to graduate with a degree in medical science.
    5)Sara Siddle: victim of an abusive father, cheating boyfriend (and in general attracted to "emotionally unavailable" men) and wronged when Grissom chose Nick over her for a promotion.

    Bones? all i need to say is that the one of the insecure, geeky, uber intelligent men was made into a serial killer apprentice for no apparent reason.

    In essence women are victims or empowered and overcoming while men are riddled with issues from addictions, insecurity, good ol' Peter Pan syndrome, serial killer tendencies or emotionally unavailable.

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  2. Hmm...I saw the title then saw you were a fan and was thinking oh this is going to be the best post I've ever seen in the 'manosphere'.

    Unfortunately not :-(

    Admittedly it started when I saw you called Angel a 'self-flagellating beta-male' (!!) but just some points:

    Willow wasn't the most powerful witch in the world, she had to tap into the coven etc. She gets a break only because she's Willow not because she's a girl, e.g. if it had been Xander it would have been the same.

    Faith never got a break. Whatever she did. Buffy got away with blue murder and she was still the blonde hair blue eyed girl, whilst Faith was bad girl from day 1 (partly because of her background) and never shook that. She never had the friends (uncool as Buffy's were) or more importantly a Giles in her life. Giles was the father figure and Buffy had him (as well as her own father a little bit) and the boyfriend. Faith had nothing. Even her watcher when she got one was an evil woman.

    Anya was a funny character but she didn't get the acceptance of the others (only Xander liked her and later Giles respected her) and that scene in the frat house was chilling.

    Cordelia is never as good at fighting as the others, it's never indicated that she is, if anything the very opposite. Xander got better (with that army stint) but she was most likely the most useless. Even in Angel she just runs the office really.

    Buffy is shown to be weak sometimes (and in the end they had to harness her power and spread it) it's all about the super powers. We see this in Angel as well when he loses his powers. (and Buffy loses him..again)

    She doesn't have luck with men (some self induced) first Angel (has sex turns evil), then that other guy who said 'girls are like toilets' or something like that (has sex turns evil), Riley (not evil but turned beta), Spike (started off evil I suppose).

    You can't 'have it all' girls!

    So many great characters but Oz is brilliant 'huh' (even when he finds out he's a warewolf, I hope one day Willow does turn a corner when she's a blue haired lady and he will be there) and Drusilla. She is evil but so funny. But I think she was a bit deranged before Angel turned her.

    I never liked Darla, actually on the theme of your post, not sure she's got an excuse for being evil. She just was and then turned Angel who turned Drusilla who then turned William/Spike.
    So she was the origin of that evil line.

    Oh I think it's not 'turn' but 'sire. Sounds patriachal, evil vampire patriachy lol.

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  3. iirc Claire Saunders is actually a man. They imposed Dr Saunders into the doll Whisky after she'd got the facial scratches so they couldn't 'doll' her out anymore (I mean 'doll' like 'pimp').

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  4. Oh dear, the first of many no doubt..

    For the record though:

    Willow is referred to in the show, by Anya, as "the most powerful Wicca in the Western Hemisphere" (the episode called 'Two To Go'). Not the whole world but not far off.

    Darla started out a 16th century prostitute but contracted syphilis (obviously from a man, or several men) before being turned into a vampire by The Master.

    Dru: "Angelus tortured and killed Drusilla's entire family, causing her to flee to a convent in Prague. On the day she was to take her holy vows, Angelus made her watch as he killed every person in the convent and engaged in sexual relations with Darla. The trauma of Angelus's atrocities drove Drusilla insane, and Angelus chose to turn her into a vampire, as he considered her a masterpiece, a testament to his talent." (wikipedia)

    Faith: "Coming from a traumatic and abusive background, Faith ... becomes increasingly isolated and bitter" (wikipedia)

    And etcetera etcetera, you see where I'm going with this.

    As for Cordelia, I'm sure there's at least one episode where she knocks out the bad guy with a vase or something after oz & xander have been knocked unconscious, can't remember where, sometime 2nd or 3rd season. But the male scoobies are never shown to be any better fighters than the females.

    Oh & Claire Sauders/Whiskey is quite obviously not a man, she's a woman who has had her memory wiped & some of her personality traits taken from the previous (male) Dr Saunders.

    I don't really want this post to descend into fanboy half-life minutiae, so I'll leave it at that. I hope you don't think I'm attacking the show though - Spike is my favourite character in any TV show ever (with the possible exception of Dr Sanchez! in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace..) & I love Dru & Oz, & Anya & Giles & Willow & Xander too. Lots. Sarah Michelle Gellar's a bit annoying as Buffy, but the lead is probably the hardest role of them all to play.

    Welcome to the site, anyway, & thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Having been a huge vampire fan when I was a kid, I thought this show would become one of my favorites. I never watched a full episode. I wasn't into the whole MRA thing back then and didn't know much about feminism, but this just seemed like one of those grrl power shows that turned my stomach. But I do know what you mean about having to put up with misandry in your favorite shows. My favorite at the moment is Criminal Minds. I've devoted a whole series of posts to discussing the misandry in that show.

    "These women don't exist, nor will they ever - not as long as they are women, not without a ton of steroids or genetic modification."

    "Either way, the portrayal across the board of the greatest mathematical or engineering minds being female is (again) a case of wishful thinking on the part of an ideological position that bears no resemblance to the real world young women have to go out & make their way in. As with the depictions of female violence, I don't see how this helps anyone."

    I don't have much of a problem with the "wishful thinking" characters that step out of standard gender roles or who seem to be "superhuman" in some way. But when a show portrays only women in these roles and the women are consisently better than the men it is both ridiculous and misandrous.

    Since my grandkids live with me I watch a lot of children's tv. There is a formula that nearly all the shows follow. Female heroes overcome all obstacles (including boys who are supposed to be their friends) to become heroes. Male heroes require the help and support of girls to become heroes. Female heroes frequently have to defeat males, though sometimes their adversary is female. Males heroes are always pitted against other males unless the female adversary is a romantic interest. Then the male heroe is defeated or nearly so because he is blinded by love.

    The message is that boys need girls to succeed, but girls don't need boys to achieve success.

    TDOM

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  6. Always good to see you here, Old Man.

    I really hated Buffy when I first saw it too, thought all my friends had gone mad, then gradually got hooked myself. It does start quite weakly - the first season's a bit 'monster of the week' - but after that it went from strength to strength. By the fourth season, which is when it first got its claws into me, it had become as original, well-written & well-acted as pretty much any film out there.

    Maybe you should do a piece on any good non-misandric children's films/shows you come across while watching with the young 'uns?

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  7. Thanks.

    It tok me a little while to get into Buffy but when you do that's it :-) Spike and Dru were the best.

    If I were to blame anyone for Faith I'd blame women, her alcoholic mum and her evil watcher.

    Funny that Dru went to Prague. A working glass girl from London in Victorian times. Ok she was Catholic but Ireland would have been a lot closer!

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  8. Oh and what about when Dru and Spike. Running off with a Chaos demon. She likes the bad boys lol.

    I did a post about Angel a while ago.
    http://lilylivinglife.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/a-proper-love-story-with-a-vampire/

    I always loved the bit when he came back and was in the mansion and was all vulnerable.

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  9. Stephenie Rowlings22 August 2011 at 22:29

    Wonderful comment I loved Buffy but I agree the males all had problematic portrays. I most say that I prefer Spike over Angel all the time, mostly because I can't get pass the idea that Angel as a human (Ian) was a good for nothing alcoholic womanizer, then a murderous sadistic vampire and magically given a soul by the gypsy curse he becomes a good man???!! He was born with a soul and he didn't do any good with it, where all this came from?I don't know I liked him, but he was not my favorite.
    Now Spike, from mama's boy poet with a terrible luck with women, possibly a virgin to William the bloody as vampire to the Spike we know and love. I totally preferred him :)
    I know I'm weird like that. But I could say Spike born a good man, and go back to that Angel...not so much but you know from HUS that I can't stand womanizers so that might be it ;).

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  10. I'll probably get banned for this...oh well


    I think you're no worse than feminists for looking for hidden misandry. There are a lot of books that I read that I could easily see feminists going crazy over, becuase they're "misogynist." Modern novels too. (Read Homer & Langley, seriously, read it). In all likelihood, the feminist agenda in Buffy is to have a female hero, a "strong woman." I don't think the men are evil to show that men are evil, but to show that Buffy, though a woman, is strong, and can take on men. Basically they created a female hero and made her a little overboard. IMHO, I prefer female heroes that gain strength from their femininity and compassion (ie Candy Quakenbush from Abarat) but whatever. I don't know any girls who watch Buffy, ironically, but almost all my guy friends do. WTF? So much for misandry...

    In the typical archetype of a hero's tale, everyone's going to flutter around the hero. Because they are a HERO. Look at Harry Potter, or the Inkheart trilogy, or LOTR. They are three series that follow the typical hero's tale more or less. Also have similar endings (Well, I don't know about LOTR, but Inkheart and Harry Potter do...heh).

    Harry Potter does have a lot of different characters that fit different molds. But there is no question of evil being evil. Voldemort doesn't have any motives, any humanity. In fact, he's hardly human from splitting his soul.

    The thing with hero's tales is that they follow the normal dynamic.

    1) Ordinary boy/girl receives a higher calling (letter from Hogwarts). They also usually have a marking that shows that they are better in some way (lightning bolt on forehead).
    2) They complete a series of tasks with the help of others and luck. They have an older mentor (Dumbledore).
    3) The mentor dies.
    4) The hero is left to fight the villain one on one, and at the end, he will win, because good only wins over evil.

    Every hero's tale is going to have people worshipping the character. That's because they're a fucking hero. And they're the only ones who can defeat an all powerful villain.

    And it's not sending a message to pick fights with people twice your size. People aren't fucking stupid. I'm not going to carry a wood stick around and actually expect to shoot magic from it, anymore than I'll expect to defeat zombies the day the apocalypse comes the way Alice does in Resident Evil. It's just fun to watch a hot chick kick ass. Seriously.

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  11. I used to be a big Buffy fan. The script was so good. So good. Too bad the misandry would make it unwatchable for me now.

    I think there was one strong male though, some guy who was a SWAT and was Buffy´s ex?

    BTW the most evil guy in Dollhouse (another excellent story) is called Alpha.

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  12. BTW the Willow / Tara relationship is the only true, pure love there is in the series.

    Makes sense right? how could you have pure, true love with a man, if men are either inadequate or evil? lesbian love must be the true love.

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  13. Hey Yohami, grand to see you here.

    "I think there was one strong male though, some guy who was a SWAT and was Buffy´s ex?"

    Riley. Yeah, he was but then as soon as we know his secret & he starts seeing Buffy, he is shown to be struggling because he is weaker than her, then he leaves The Initiative & becomes sick from stopping taking the steroids they were feeding him, then he starts frequenting vampire whorehouses to let himself get fed on... just a long slow falling apart. So for most of his time on the show he would very much come under the category of 'INADEQUATE'.

    "BTW the most evil guy in Dollhouse (another excellent story) is called Alpha."

    Best character too!

    "lesbian love must be the true love."

    That would seem to be Joss Whedon's take on this - I understand that in the 'season 8' comic book Buffy starts a girl-on-girl relationship too. I guess she's finally seen the light.

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  14. LOL I forgot about that. Riley struggled, was weaker, was on steroids, and frequented vampire whores because he wanted to be "needed". He ended up being weak and repulsive. All ashamed he needed women to want him.

    Buffy doesnt need a man, you know.

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  15. Harry Potter doesnt have the regular misandry / myso thing. There are both female evil and good characters, female and male prodigies.

    I used to not understand Harry though. He doesnt have anything special, all the stuff either happens to him or he gets away from situations because someone else is whiteknighting him.

    At the ends he surrenders defenseless and gets fucked in the Ass by the evil. Then I got it.

    The Harry Potter character is a girl.

    The whole story is about this girly innocent HP character and the marvellous garden around her. Strong forces from evil and good will come torment her and want something from her. Great heroes and villains will come to her rescue or to her dimiss. She possesses something sacred that is worth protecting and destroyed.

    Her virginity?

    At the ends, HP even destroys the fucking phallic wand. She doesnt want the power. He just wants to have a family. Leave her alone and have kids. Get things back to normal = happy ending.

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  16. Never got into the Potter saga but that's a most interesting take on it.

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  17. Stephenie Rowling25 August 2011 at 21:40

    That would seem to be Joss Whedon's take on this - I understand that in the 'season 8' comic book Buffy starts a girl-on-girl relationship too. I guess she's finally seen the light.

    Don't remind me, the whole cliché that strong girls end up attracted to other girls. Because unless you share some men's appetites you are not that strong...ugh!

    @Yohami
    For all the pure love between Tara and Willow that didn't saved her from dying. Joss Whedon doesn't believe in happiness on love either way.

    Interesting take in HP being a girl. I don't know if I agree, after all Harry is a kid raised without a father figure, his masculinity could had been growing.

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  18. Excellent article.

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  19. I have a friend who said that Harry Potter isn't a real boy (or rather, isn't realistic as a boy character), but what a grown woman with no sons imagines a boy is like.

    There's another school of thought (to which I myself subscribe) that the real protagonist of the Harry Potter series is Hermione Granger and the real hero is Neville Longbottom.

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  20. Stephenie Rowling1 September 2011 at 00:54

    There's another school of thought (to which I myself subscribe) that the real protagonist of the Harry Potter series is Hermione Granger and the real hero is Neville Longbottom.

    Heh funny reinterpretation. I'm a Snape girl so I have an entire different reading of the events of the books, specially about the Slytherins.

    I can imagine that HP is not realistic for some males, god knows that half sci-fic books written by men have men with boobs and vaginas and no real women, but then maybe there are not a lot of real women in USA for them to write about them at this point who knows...

    I'm going to start reading YA books for boys written by men (Bram Hambric and Danger Boy to be exact) and see if I can spot the differences with Harry. Will report later, hopefully in my own blog :)

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  21. @yohami:

    That's how the traditional hero tales go. Even Star Wars follows that pattern on some level.

    The hero faces a series of trials but gets through them with the help of friends and others. They are lucky. Because they are the hero. The chosen one.

    AT the end it's just him and the enemy. He doesn't get fucked in the ass by evil. He defeats evil, and purges himself of the evil within. How badass is that?

    Your story interpretation is cute but it's largely inaccurate. The story pattern I descrabed has been around for ages and has been covered in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

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  22. Stormy,

    Harry Potter doesnt walk the Hero path, that´s what Im saying.

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  23. Yohami,


    Yes it does.

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  24. ' I understand that in the 'season 8' comic book Buffy starts a girl-on-girl relationship too. I guess she's finally seen the light.'
    It's just a one nighter with another girl.

    Angel comes back (look up Twilight). They get busy and somehow spoil the world/open another dimension etc. Sigh. Good storyline though.

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  25. "girls greatest defence against boys is that Boys Don't Hit Girls"

    That's falling rapidly by the wayside as girls are now assaulting boys frequently. The sick part about it is that they rely on the boys not hitting back as they are 'girls'.
    I recently had two lesbians attack me in a club and they were definitely aiming to do me serious damage. My crime was talking to one of them at the bar. It took me about twenty seconds to realise these girls were going to seriously fsck me up if I didn't do anything. I warned them verbally that I was about to respond if they didn't back off and was spat on and punched in the face yet again. I responded by breaking one nose with a headbutt and pulling the others arm out of its socket. The police arrived arrested me and after viewing the tapes dropped all charges and arrested the girls.
    If you are a guy and you are attacked by women and at risk of physical damage to your person fight back and don't pull your punches.

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  26. I truly have enjoyed reading this post and the following comments. It is refreshing to read your viewpoint on my favorite show.

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  27. I think you didn't watch Buffy very well if you think Anya is regarded as engaging in "humorous" violence. On the contrary, Buffy regards her as evil and dangerous and suspect through the entire series - ultimately culminating in Buffy's unfettered belief that she must kill Anya when she massacres a fraternity that viciously bullied a young woman by one of the frat boys inviting her over and dumping her in front of the frat and them all mocking her.

    Anya massacres the fraternity and Buffy decides she must kill her.

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    Replies
    1. But doesn't.

      And then everything goes back to normal and she is light relief again until the entire show ends. My point was she murders thousands of men and is accepted and considered cute. Whereas the Bad Man Warren kills one woman (well, two eventually) and he is treated like the most evil creature to ever breathe air - he deserves to be flayed alive. If you swop the sexes of these two characters and observe how they are treated, and your own reactions to how they are treated, you cannot help but note a pronounced double standard, and one which is reflected at every step of the entire show.

      I haven't gone back to Buffy for a few years now, but I watched it very well when I did.

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