The very first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I ever saw was “The Witch” on March 17th 1997. I was eleven years old. My parents had caught the two-hour premiere the week prior and thought my brother and I might like it. To say they were right would be an understatement.
The show quickly went from a one-hour block of family viewing, to much much more. It’s not that I wasn’t an avid TV viewer before, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer became the first show I obsessed over.
I recorded episodes on VHS so I could rewatch at will, gobbled up magazines with Sarah Michelle Gellar on the cover, cherished my free book cover from The WB promoting the channel’s “New Tuesday” line-up, bought unofficial fan guides to learn more about the show, pored over the credits to figure out who did what, eagerly consumed DVD bonus features and commentary tracks for even more insight, listened repeatedly to the series’ several musical albums, used a line from the show for my yearbook quote, wrote about the series for class assignments in high school and college, and spent many a days and nights pondering what was in store for the Scooby Gang.
While the frequency in which I watch the show has waned over the years, my love for it has not. Which is why, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary, I found myself thinking a lot about what Buffy the Vampire Slayer has meant to me. You see, I don’t have a “Buffy saved me” story or a come to Jesus moment per se, but the show has been a part of my life for almost two-thirds of it. As such, it’s not an exaggeration to say the series influenced my entire worldview growing up. What can I say, my adolescent-self was quite impressionable, thank god I had a good role model.
Thanks to Joss Whedon and co, I grew up believing that having super strength was not a prerequisite for being a “strong woman”. While Buffy, Faith, and Kendra kicked ass literally, plenty of other female characters exuded strength in their own ways.
Tara: We can be strong.
Willow: Strong like an Amazon?
Tara: [Laughs] Like an Amazon.
“The Body” (5×16)
Joyce singly handedly raised a daughter, or two depending on what season you’re watching, balanced a full-time job, and could wield an ax when needed. Before Willow became an all-powerful wiccan she was still plenty crucial in thwarting the bad guys with her brains. Cordelia stood up to Harmony at the risk of social suicide to be with Xander and to hang with the Scooby Gang. (She also had one hell of a hero’s journey on Angel.) And Anya went from powerful vengeance demon to a mere mortal, yet she willingly made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
I also grew up believing in my potential and the potential of other women. After all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show where women could not only be heroes, but also villains. And for those who lived in a more grounded universe, Buffy also showed that women could be computer nerds, scientists, and leaders of secret military organizations. Whatever you wanted to do, you had the power to do it.
Buffy: I say my power… should be our power. Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of the Scythe to change our destiny. 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. Slayers… every one of us.
Perhaps even more importantly though Buffy singlehandedly dispelled the “one girl in all the world” notion. Even before Willow cast the final spell in the series finale, Buffy’s momentary death in the first season caused a new Slayer to be called and threw a monkey wrench into the original design. No longer did someone have to die for the next person to have power.
Translate that to the real world, and the takeaway is that one woman’s success does not limit the potential of others. Success and power are not a one-at-a-time thing (unless you’re related to the Queen, then you do have to wait your turn). But Buffy shared her power because she understood that empowering others was the only way to win the war, and that metaphor works both literally and figuratively. It’s why we celebrate Galentine’s Day, it’s why the She Believes Cup was created, and why so many people participated in the Women’s March.
Which leads me to my next point, I grew up believing that it was important to fight for a better world. Much like ours, the world of Sunnydale was not perfect, I mean it literally sat atop the Hellmouth, but it was still a world where the good guys kept on fighting even in the face of impossible odds. And often times won, because it was a TV show after all.
Anyanka: You trusting fool. How do you know the other world is any better than this?
Giles: Because it has to be.
“The Wish” (3×9)
Cliche or not, that’s still an inspiring message. And it’s one that’s repeated over and over again throughout the show’s seven seasons.
In the first season finale, “Prophecy Girl” (1×12), Buffy actually tries to quit her Slayer gig after discovering that her death at the hands of the Master was prophesied. Never one to let her friends, family, or the world down she ultimately goes after the Master on her own to prevent him from starting the apocalypse.
In the third season episode “Gingerbread” (3×11), Buffy questions the effectiveness of her own efforts to stem the tide of evil after her mom calls her slaying fruitless. To which Angel tells her, “There’s a lot I don’t understand. But I do know it’s important to keep fighting. I learned that from you.” Spoiler alert: They both kept on fighting, albeit in different cities and on different networks.
Two seasons later Buffy faced off against a god in “The Gift” (5×22). This time winning wouldn’t come without a price. Unwilling to sacrifice her sister, much to the dismay of many fans, Buffy had no choice but to jump into an interdimensional portal to keep our world safe from yet another apocalypse.
And just when you thought a god was the biggest of Big Bads, The First Evil popped up in the seventh season to stir up a world of trouble. It was an all hands on deck kind of fight, one where everyone had to make a choice. Unsurprisingly, all of our heroes suited up and entered Sunnydale High School one last time for an epic final showdown in the series finale “Chosen” (7×22). And sure, Buffy made a rousing speech beforehand, see above, but I think a smaller and more lighthearted exchange between Anya and Andrew better sums up the series’ sentiment on the matter:
Anya: …And yet here’s the thing. When it’s something that really matters, they fight. I mean, they’re lame morons for fighting, but they do! They never… they never quit. So I guess I’ll keep fighting too.
Andrew: That was kind of beautiful. You, you love humans.
Anya: I do not.
Andrew: Yes you do. [singing] You love them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have debuted 20 years ago, but in this current political climate, the show’s just as relevant as it ever was, fashion choices excluded. So I’m going to take the advice of Buffy, Angel, Giles, Willow, Tara, Xander, and Anya and fight. Fight for myself, fight for others, and fight for a better world because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not going to be easy, but it’ll be worth it because I want to live in a world where a girl can walk down a dark alley and not become a victim, a world where others can recognize and respect the strength women possess, and a world where we don’t just accept the status quo because a bunch of men thousands of years ago made up the rules. It’s a good thing Buffy divvied up that power, because we’re all gonna need it, there’s a lot of work to do.