We’re currently watching Buffy with the Kid, one or two episodes per night. That’s what inspired me to write, as it’s been over 10 years since the show ended, and while much of it holds up, some of it is remarkably dated.
Like “Ted,” which guest stars John Ritter. The episode holds up fine, but boy did it make me sad.
The one that really got me thinking, though, is “Phases.” (I’m going to go ahead and include spoilers here, since the show ended over ten years ago.) This is the episode in which we learn that Oz is a werewolf. The main plot involves Buffy and the Gang trying to track down a werewolf to imprison it and keep everyone safe from harm before a werewolf hunter catches him and sells his pelt. In a subplot, there is a bully who aggressively sexualizes all the girls in school. At one point, Xander surmises that the bully must be the werewolf, and Xander confronts him. The bully mistakenly thinks that Xander has come out to him, and so he comes out to Xander.
In 1997, this was forward-thinking stuff. Once the bully comes out to Xander, he no longer feels the need to overcompensate by objectifying women, and he becomes friendly and helpful. But Xander is horrified at the thought that this boy thinks he is gay. Now, of course, Xander is an insecure character who doesn’t deal well with sexuality. But in many ways, Xander is Whedon’s proxy on this show. He’s the kid who’s on the losing end of everything at school, except that the coolest girl in school is his best friend, the smartest girl in school is in love with him, and the most popular girl in school can’t keep her hands off him.
In 1997 terms, Xander is a great, feminist guy. He’s not afraid to let Buffy fight the battles (as long as the cool boys don’t see), he respects Willow’s intelligence, and even his relationship with Cordelia, though embattled, includes a respect for her boundaries. But in today’s terms, we can see a certain misogyny in him that bothers me a bit as I watch with the Kid. In “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” Xander casts a love spell so that he can get revenge on Cordy for dumping him. He wants to humiliate her. Instead, all the women in town fall in love with him and he has to chase them off. He gets more great guy points for refusing to have sex with Buffy while she’s under the spell, but his argument is that she doesn’t know what it would mean to him. I get it, I guess–it’s another version of Oz’s “In my fantasy, you’re kissing ME.” But somehow it feels like Xander feels entitled to something he’s not getting.
To be fair to Whedon, I think he presents the misogyny as Xander’s flaw. If I remember correctly, Xander grows out of this problem and is rewarded with a demon of his own with whom he enjoys a fairly equal relationship. But as of this point, I’m finding myself wanting to explain to my Kid that being gay is something everyone should be able to talk about, that people don’t date you just because you want them to, and that a man who tries to control you for revenge may be demonstrating the depth of his love, but he’s doing it in a way that screams crazy.
But I’m too busy telling her that everything coming out of Angel’s mouth is a red flag, and if a boy ever says those things to her, she should run straight to us.
I’ll be interested to see how Xander matures.