Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Giles and the "Wild Woman"
WCH
norwie2010
Giles and the „Wild Woman“

Preface 1: No fic, sorry. These are some meta-y thoughts about Giles, his role on the TV show and his relationship with different women. It is a bit incoherent, jumping from point to point and not restricted to Giles-thoughts. The Master, Wesley, Angel/us, Caleb, Snyder, … all make a short appearance. Oh, and the women, of course: Buffy, Jenny, Faith, Willow





Preface 2: Instead of getting riled up on comics!Buffy, i thought a bit about gender roles in BtVS (the TV show). You know – stuff i love, instead of stuff i despise.



So,to begin with, i state the obvious, just as a remainder. BtVS is a show about women, mostly and how they relate to the world and the overwhelming presence of men in that world – men who rule that world. As i'm sure everybody is aware of, the roles of women in literature are quite a bit more limited than the roles for men – this is especially true for movies and TV shows.

In the beginning, there was man. And then the whore and the virgin. As times went by, a limited scope of other archetypes cropped up, like the femme fatale, the flapper, and then, unfortunately, Maryln Monroe. Now, don't get me wrong – Marylin Monroe is a tragic hero of the real world. Abused, mistreated, cheated on and ultimately destroyed by the surrounding society and work place.

I mention Marylin Monroe since the characters she played exemplify the the break between „the cult of woman“ and the cult of misogyny in pop culture. From sexy to sex bomb. From subject to object. Without the male gaze, Marylin Monroe is nonexistent.  The opposite of her is the „wild woman“, who exists completely without the male gaze – or even male interference or interaction. The „wild woman“ reaches back into time and myth, albeit her male counterpart is more well known, think Enkidu of the Gilgamesh epos, who is untouched by civilization (until he meets Gilgamesh and – consequently – dies). Modern incarnations of the „wild woman“ include „Tank Girl“ (the comics! NOT the movie – blech!), or, in the subject of matter at hand: Faith. Glory.  Willow (fully realized as „Dark Willow“). And, maybe, Buffy. These women (let's exclude Buffy for a moment here) are fully realized without male interference, male guidance or male sexuality.


("Wild Woman with Unicorn", painter unknown, ca. 1500, now Historical Museum Basel, Switzerland)

They are confident, self-reliant, powerful and own their own sexuality. And ultimately brought down by men or their female helpers. Their self-reliance, confidence and power and sexuality is depicted as something to be feared and controlled. To achieve this and lure the audience into conspiracy with the author, the show implements several devices and depicts their strengths in certain ways:

Self-reliance becomes selfish egocentrism, confidence becomes mental illness and psychosis and power becomes a source for and of destruction. Their sexuality becomes a danger to themselves and others.

These are „tricks“ to get the audience to root for the destruction, or at least the taming, of those „wild women“.

Now, when does Norwie start up with Giles? Wasn't this supposed to be about Giles?

So: Giles. Giles role in this play is that of a „tamer“ of the „wild woman“ - sometimes he succeeds, sometimes he doesn't and in the end he is conflicted about his own role in the play, which makes him a very sympathetic character in my book and the reason why i tackle this subject with Giles in mind.
Now, first we have to differentiate between the „tamer“ and the „destroyer“. The „tamer“ became necessary when women got more powerful and self-reliant in pop culture. Think flapper comedies of the 20s.Katherine Hepburn. Oh heck! Go back to good old misogynist Shakespeare: „The Taming of the Shrew“!

Unfortunately for women, there are some of them who are deemed unworthy of taming, and, consequently, have to be destroyed. Think about all the femme fatales of the cinema who end up murdered. Being a woman in pop culture ain't easy folks! Enslaved or murdered, men don't do it otherwise!

There is a whole host of famous destroyers in BtVS:

The Master, Angelus, Caleb. The Master and Angelus cross the border between tamer and destroyer quite fluently, depending on the woman in question and their own outlook on society (The Master tames Darla and tries to destroy Buffy. Angel tames Faith and tries to do the same to Buffy earlier, as well as he tries to destroy Buffy once he becomes fully realized as „Angelus“).

There are also a lot of tamers on the show, who don't cross the border: Snyder, Wesley, Xander. Out of these, only Xander succeeds with Dark Willow – but that scene can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, so i call him an unsuccessful tamer, too (like the other two).

(I left out Spike – not because he doesn't belong here, but because his story is more complicated, since he questions his own role at the end of season 6 and revolutionizes himself to not partake in one of the roles anymore, to become subservient to the female narrative.)

Out of all these male characters, i think Giles is the most interesting, because he IS „The Tamer“ (capital T).

Now, why does the „wild woman“ needs taming? To make her pliant to the male power and world view, to make her a companion to the male ruler, a servant to the male desire. Men, it seems, fear independent women, but suspect that women are individuals, too. Thus the trope of the tamed women is born, and repeated ad nauseam in literature and pop culture. They know that there are „wild women“ out there and turn them into unlikeable villains, or (self-)tamed companions („Valeria“ of Conan the Barbarian fame).

But the free and wild, independent, powerful female is nearly non-existent in pop culture. Whenever such a woman enters a male mind (or play), she has to be the villain or she has to be tamed, to wield to the male desire and power.

This is very apparent in the relationship between Giles and Buffy. Buffy has power, Giles tames her and uses that power for how he sees fit. Buffy is an interesting character in that respect, as it is hinted at that Buffy could be a „wild woman“, too. It is teased in her rebellious streak, but is more „flapper“ than „wild woman“: She is halfway self-tamed by having internalized patriarchal structures. Nonetheless, her narrative is often depicted as the fight against her tamers, destroyers and her internalized self-taming. (Just to pre-empt the happy ending: Buffy runs wild and free at the end of her seven seasons long arc! Yay! Buffy!) Along the road, she meets the temptation of the „wild woman“ in form of Angel, Faith and Spike. Angel is introduced as the temptation, changes into the destroyer and leaves the show as an unsuccessful tamer (but fear not, dear reader: whereas he failed in taming Buffy, he is allowed to succeed with „wild woman Faith“. Poor Faith!). Her adversaries in the form of tamers are Snyder (who obviously fails on a spectacular level), Xander (who equally fails, and becomes content with his failure), Angel (who only succeeds in breaking her heart), Wesley (see: Snyder), The CoW represented by Travers (who is openly rebuked) and, first and last, Giles. And, Giles succeeds for a while, he implants his ideas very successfully into Buffy so that – when confronted with the reality of her inner „wild woman“ represented by Faith, she becomes the destroyer herself, destroying the „wild woman“ in the name of her male superiors. (Tangent: I personally consider Buffy's betrayal of Faith – on the meta level, in-story-wise, there are a lot of „good“ reasons for her to stand against Faith in the end, and please remember what i said about „tricking the audience“ above! - as her gravest misstep on her way to become a self-reliant, independent, powerful woman owning her own sexuality apart from male desire, male guidance, male gaze, male power and male sexuality. Since i'm on a tangent here anyways, i want to reference the blackout scene between Buffy and Spike at the end of season 7: Shrouded from male gaze! Yay!)

So, Giles. What? Of course this is about him! (Just kidding.)

I just love the interaction between „conflicted woman“ Jenny Calendar, and Giles. She is – like Buffy - on the verge of breaking out of her inner tamed status: She tries to escape the patriarchal system of her clan, she is self-reliant, independent, powerful in knowledge (a teacher! Information Technology!) and mystic power (Witchcraft!). While her sexuality is centered around Giles, the tamer – she is the one who initiates the contact, expresses her desire. She is not a fully formed „wild woman“, as she still answers to Enyos and Snyder (as representatives of the patriarchal order) and – sadly - ultimately ends as a typical dead woman in pop culture. But, she is enough of a self-informed person, has enough of a wild streak in her to seriously rattle Giles, as well as being a dangerous opponent to Angelus, who therefore decides to destroy her (a femme fatale, a villain in his eyes). We don't know if Giles would have tried to tame Jenny, as she unfortunately dies before they make any meaningful headway in their relationship in that regard. But i think what we see here is a crack in Giles' armour: Before Jenny, we have seen Giles as the typical tamer, the representative of the patriarchal order, trying (and succeeding) to break up the matriarchal home of Buffy Summers (by excluding her mother from Buffy's life on purpose). Giles is the male stand-in for the male need to control female power, female individuality and self-actualization. Jenny Calendar rattles Rupert Giles – and instead of being revolted, he is intrigued! This woman, who is maybe not everything he stands against, but at least a good chunk of it, gets under his skin. We see that Giles is maybe not entirely comfortable with his role, or at least he is curious, seriously curious about The Other, the female not as a means to his ends, but to understand and form a companionship on a level of equality.

Alas, it is not meant to be. And so Giles stumbles through this play, and his challenges as the tamer. And Buffy is difficult to control, to tame. He hasn't got the time and will and capability to tame the other wild streaks in other women, namely Willow and Faith. He looks away: Someone else should tame these women! He's doing as best as he can in the way patriarchy asks him to do! With Willow, i think he is blind to see that the male narrative asks (him) to tame her, because Willow is a master deceiver. With Faith, he is willfully blind, maybe because he sees her as too far gone to be tamed, but since he isn't a destroyer, nor wants he to be a destroyer, he neglects his male role in the subjugation of women (and thanks for that!).

Once Buffy becomes more self-reliant after high school, he starts to flounder. Was he successful, can he be successful in the taming of the shrew? He thinks he wasn't, and he thinks he cannot control Buffy. But fear not, dear Giles! You were very successful! Buffy totally internalized her own taming. Your work is done here, tamer! But still, Giles doubts (himself). And he tries to change his role: From tamer to tutor, to guide. Of course, these roles are intertwined and we see Giles going back and forth between these roles, unsure of what to do, unwilling to be a tamer again, but also not able to fully embrace his new role without relying on the former role. He was never a tutor before, just a tamer. He doesn't know how to relate to women on a level of equality. On we go to the two seasons, when his inner conflict breaks out fully, when both his best sides, as well as his worst, become fully realized: Season 6 and 7. In season 6, at last he is willing to let Buffy go, to be whatever she wants to be, even a feared „wild woman“, if she desires so. He leaves Buffy to her own devices, he doesn't try to control her anymore. Go! Giles! I knew there was a human being behind that role! Of course, the tragedy here is that Buffy wants a tutor, after her resurrection. And Giles, not knowing how to be a tutor – all he ever was, he has learned to be was  tamer – cannot respond to her call. In the end though, he makes the right call. Since he only knows how to be a tamer, but since he doesn't want to be that anymore, he rather withdraws than staying the oppressor.

For Buffy, this is a cast of fortune. Depressed, desperate and nearly broken she now has the chance to become, to free herself of her chains and run wild! And she tries. Oh how does she try. She goes to the one creature she knows who has no restraints (apart from some tiny clockwork orange problem...). Who seems to be free (Haha! as if!). And Spike is eager to please: He wants Buffy to become a „wild woman“, without (moral) constraints, full of power, confidence and sexuality. Well, he nearly wants that... deep down, of course, he hopes to be able – maybe not to control Buffy – but to steer her, participate in her sexuality, her power. And of course, he is an amoral ass. So, Buffy's first steps onto the road to freedom are difficult. She has her own deep problems, and her chosen companion has a whole set of other deep problems. But, this phase does something wonderful for Buffy: She discovers her inner „wild woman“, something the show describes as „inner darkness“ (and again, gentle reader, i want you to remember what i said about „tricking the audience“ in this play). She becomes Faith and anticipates Dark Willow, so to speak. She's torn between her internalized taming and the things her companion offers. This inner conflict cannot turn out well. Since the show is eager to describe „wild women“ as insane and dangerous, it cannot allow Buffy to break free in this manner. But, Buffy lucks out again: Her companion gets that he is not a fit companion to a „wild woman“ - he is a controlling, needy freak! The miracle that is the diversity of male roles in pop culture strikes again: Spike revolutionizes himself! He transforms himself from destroyer and tamer to supporter. (Well, he goes through that tiny phase of insanity, of course, and needs rescuing on a really grand scale....)

But back to Giles. A shitstorm is brewing, Buffy is trying and there is another „wild woman“ on the loose back in sweet old Sunnyhell: Willow Rosenberg, self-reliant, knowing, owning her sexuality apart from male control and desire, POWERFUL. Willow wants to change the world – and conflicted or not, Giles cannot let this happen! Those women! The world will be destroyed when they try to come into their own! One mustn't allow women independence and power (and just think of  the sexuality – it is unnatural, it is!).

So, The Tamer comes back with a vengeance!  Fortunately – powerful entrances not withstanding – the Tamer actually doesn't succeed fully. While he is able to implant a doubt in the mind of the „wild woman“, he is unable to tame her (that role falls to Xander, of all male characters! Ick!).

And so „wild woman“ Willow is tamed, and brought back into the benevolent hands of patriarchy (or not – but that is a tale for another time).

Where does Giles stand now? Last we've seen him, he tried to give up on his role as the tamer. But now, the narrative asked him to don that mask again. This is rather unfortunate for Giles, since all the progress he made is undone. While he acknowledges that he cannot be the tamer of Buffy anymore, he is further away from being a tutor than ever. And thus comes season 7 and the last act of this play and his role.

Giles tries to be supportive of Buffy, he tells her she is the one who counts, that she has to make her own decisions and shape this world in her image. But, deep down, he cannot trust her: Those women! Better not left to their own devices. He has one last lesson to learn, and he cannot learn this by himself (the history always happens behind the backs of the people involved in it). Buffy, in her generous way, teaches him this last lesson: „No, i think you've taught me everything I need to know“. He either can fall back on his role of tamer, maybe in the more defined role of the manipulator – or he can accept this, Buffy doesn't need a tamer nor a tutor. He chooses the latter, and good for him! Giles ends the play as a human being, instead of a misogynistic jerk.

Buffy is finally free, she has taken the necessary steps to become – a „wild woman“. She has defeated everyone who tried to destroy her and tame her, the destroyers and tamers she thought of as her allies (-> internalized self-taming) have finally reformed and accepted that she is free (and i want to take this moment to remind everyone of Spike, who gave up his own narrative so that Buffy's narrative can continue. The male narrative vanishes, the female narrative stands and goes on. Go! Spike! Err, well. He's not going anywhere, actually).

I have so many more thoughts on the “wild women” of the show, how they are depicted, where the show falls victim to misogynistic clichés in storytelling, where it succeeds in telling a wonderfully different narrative: Faith, Glory, Willow. The best and the worst moments of the show.

But that's for another day.




  • 1
On Willow: first off I hope that Willow is counted among the "best" rather than "worst" moments in the show. :P I also want to note that the seven-season story ends with an affirmation of Willow's power and willingness to change the world and reject existing institutions -- even her willingness to change other people's bodies for the better. [[ Second of two comics asides in this post: And I am so excited and scared for what her story will be in the comics I can barely stand it. My feeling is that in the end it will be ambivalent-positive, which suits me fine. ]] But in any case, Dark Willow really does need to be stopped for people who care about whether or not Dawn gets a say in whether she turns back into a Key, whether Jonathan and Andrew really deserve death, or who think genocide needs to be stopped. That said, it is interesting that the last one happens as a result of Giles’ arrival and the accompanying power-up, so that there is in the text perhaps a criticism of Giles’ arrival. But I don’t think it’s just a matter of the text tricking us. Willow really does need to be stopped, for her sake as well as for others.

But the real problem with Willow is not that it is dangerous to have her near power. Power is dangerous and corrosive, yes, yes. But the real issue is that she has no model, whatsoever, for how to be powerful and “good.” Indeed, her entire conception of goodness is largely patriarchy-influenced. Flossing, doing what Giles says, following Snyder’s arbitrary rules, etc. She thinks that this is what morality is, because she is not animated from the pit with an instinctual ethical sense; she is animated with a desire to be good, but it is clear that it is impossible for her to do so with her power. She thinks she’s found a way, leading to early season six: she can make her friends and lover happier! But this collapses, and makes them more miserable and angry at her. Finally her power turns on her, she decides the power must be bad, that she is a bad girl, and that the way to be a good girl again is to reject her power entirely. This happens at the same time Buffy indulges her “wild girl” phase; Willow tries to be as normal and conventional as she can possibly be. But she still wants power and she still dislikes the role that she has to play, especially when the patriarchy ALSO tells her that she is uninteresting and undesirable because she is boring and mousy. She can’t win. So when Tara dies, she decides that being good is impossible, with the meek, ideal female role model Tara's death, Willow's mirror of "goodness" is obliterated. (Tara is an _extremely_ tamed woman, especially in Willow’s idealized conception of her, and while she has many extremely positive qualities she should not be a role model for Willow.) And it’s at this point that Willow feels, because she’s been taught this, that she has to try to kill herself (and possibly take the world with her) because the world leaves her no options to live successfully. In season seven, she has a relationship with someone who is less “tamed” than Tara -- though she has her own issues, of course, tied as she is to wealth -- and finds a way to reapproach her power without feeling that she has to be ashamed of herself. So I think this reading allows us to see why the show’s “tricks” are in place: they are the very tricks that society plays on the characters.

As far as Xander, as ever I think you are too harsh on the boy. ;) But regardless, here is my read of Xander at the end of Grave. Well, I have many thoughts about that, as you know. But I think what is IMPORTANT for your analysis here is this. Giles intends to Tame Willow. I don't think Xander does. I think he goes to her because he recognizes that she is in the most pain and needs to be there for her, so that *someone* can be there for her at the end of the world. Buffy has Dawn, he doesn't know what to do with Anya, and Willow is his oldest friend. Does he hope he can talk her down from destroying the world? Yes. But I think he is sincere in expressing his love for her *anyway*. He does block her from firing at the statue, but he opens himself up to her killing him if she wants to. He can’t stop her: all that he can hope to do is to remind her that she is loved and hope that she chooses not to save the world after that. And ultimately, I don't think Willow wants to destroy the world. She wants to live, she wants to be able to forgive herself. But she can't do that -- and it takes affirmation that she is lovable to do that. Is it unfortunate that it comes from a man? ...Perhaps. But as with Spike’s similar transformation in Grave, I consider it very uplifting. He is the one person who could convincingly say that they love “scary veiny Willow,” in addition to loving “crayon-breaky Willow”: Buffy can’t allow herself to love that much “darkness”, for the same reasons she couldn’t allow herself to love them in Faith, Giles HAS to try to tame her, Dawn has to work to preserve herself and her own life and Willow is a threat to her, Anya is deeply confused about who she is and can barely love anyone until she figures that out a little bit more. Like Spike for Buffy, Xander submits to her, and as a result is a conduit for her own self-acceptance, here platonically rather than sexually. There is an edge to that submission, because he still has some story left -- which is told in Selfless and the episodes afterward -- but it is mostly a submission to her Will, letting her know that she has alternate paths available (that she need not hate herself entirely) rather than telling her what to do or forcing her into it.

(Disclaimer: this might be my favourite scene in the series. I’m not joking. I’m such a sap. It is also one of the least action-oriented climactic moments in the series.)

(And you know, I guess I shouldn’t keep pushing here, but: if Spike is so admirable for changing himself and subjugating himself to Buffy’s narrative, surely Xander, who does *not* get a big flaming-hands incredible death scene but recedes further into the background, coming forth primarily to offer consolation to Dawn, a female character who loses her place in Buffy and Willow’s story with the arrival of the potentials, and will have to find her own narrative after the show ends? I suppose the differing reads on Grave contribute to our differences once again! :) )

In vague response to your comment to Emmie above, a few more Willow thoughts! The one other thing worth noting about Dark Willow is that I think, deep down, M.E. are ambivalent about _the world itself_, and recognize that we all on some level are tempted to destroy it or our little corner of it, _ourselves_. Or maybe that’s just me. But more to the point: Willow, in expressing the desire to destroy the world because it is so painful, losing hope that it can bring anything but misery, gives voice to one of the show’s most central questions in a way that Buffy—who on some level, is perhaps *constrained* to be the hero—cannot directly, though she does indirectly in “The Gift,” “Once More, with Feeling” and “Normal Again.” Angel arguably is motivated by some of the same reasons in Becoming, Part 2, but is certainly *not* concerned about anyone but himself (and the woman he can’t destroy). Willow begins with herself, and then extends her own feeling to the whole world, and, interpreting the whole world through her own understanding of life, concludes that life itself is untenable and must be wiped out. Buffy’s inability to stop her is because, I think, Buffy hasn’t yet figured out consciously what it is that makes life worth living for her, though she has gotten to the point of wanting to live through Dawn.

Anyway, I do agree with most of what you say here, but I do also look upon Giles’ role in Grave a little What Giles does for Willow is the other thing he gives for Buffy. He doesn’t merely tame her, but he does give her a mission. It’s not much; he is not particularly good at being a tutor. But he tells her: this is what you can do. You can save people from vampires. He frames it as things she must do, and this is bad. But I think the show ultimately comes down on the side that it is good for Buffy to slay vampires and help people, and that it is good for Buffy to do so, and that she enjoys it. That service to the community, acts of love for other people, are ultimately good. Giles recognizes this, and he passes it on to Buffy, inexpertly. He passes it onto Willow even more directly, by allowing her direct access to the connectedness of the world and the feelings of other people. His power source is from a mystical Coven, which is a power structure but one explicitly female-coded (though sadly, we never meet anyone working there). He can’t quite get past the idea that there has to be a power structure, but he is moving toward accepting matriarchal rather than patriarchal ones.

I think it’s remarkable and a little heartening that Giles’ answer to Willow’s power-freakout is to give her *more* power, rather than less. It’s not his first choice, but it’s one of his choices. He doesn’t hold anything back. He gives her all the knowledge he has, all the power, and hopes that with it she can make the right decisions. It does have the effect of taming her, but it’s more by imparting on her a sense of responsibility. This is still something to be ambivalent about—should Willow, who took years and years to come to the point where she didn’t have to feel “responsible” at every moment, really be saddled with more responsibility?—but the positive read is that she is given opportunity to understand more clearly the way people are connected to each other in a visceral manner, rather than being given a set of contradictory, unhelpful rules that she must abide by in order to be a good girl. This is why I think while Giles isn’t entirely there at the end of season six, it does reflect a step forward, rather than a step back. To the best of his knowledge, he gives Willow everything he knows, all in one fell swoop.

Anyway, back to Giles and “the wild woman” more generally. Giles’ commitment is to “the world.” That is how he states it in _The Gift_. Like Buffy, Giles is given no choice but to fulfill his role in the patriarchal system. And his role is not entirely a bad one. It is perhaps because of the patriarchy that Wild Women are so dangerous -- but ultimately, as articulated before, they are sometimes dangerous. “The world” includes the patriarchal order, and that is probably what the Watchers Council most badly wants to protect. But the world also includes people of both genders, of all walks of life. It includes Buffy. So what is interesting then is that Giles fulfills a role he actually *needs* to fulfill, on some level. Ordinary citizens -- both men and women -- should be protected from any super-powerful individuals. The Watchers Council tells him this part of his mission and he believes that is his entire mission. It isn't. The rest of his mission is to maintain the current order, which is the Patriarchy, as you say. But he believes, and he is not entirely wrong, that he is doing good works. The Watchers Council appeals to his sense of right as well as his sense of order. It appeals to his desire to help people as well as his fear of a demonized other. In a world where Buffy never came to Sunnydale in The Wish, he is tremendously valuable in the fight against evil. So what fascinates me most about Giles is that tension.

Speaking of Giles: his role in Anya’s story is subtle but huge. He is the one who depowers Anyanka; and he is the one who later gives her a job at the Magic Box. The Magic Box is interesting and representative of Giles’ attempt to bridge different worlds. He attempts to use capitalism to connect people with magic, which is coded-feminine, and thus to empower people. It’s a mixture of the (from your political perspective, which I somewhat share but I’m young and can change my mind on a whim) oppressive with the freeing. Anya stands with him right on that border, but he keeps her somewhat subjugated. As with Buffy and Willow, he both offers her the possibility of power, and restricts her growth. While it’s very tempting to view him as entirely a Tamer of her, we also learn as early as Doppelgangland (which is probably the first episode written with Anya as a recurring character in mind) that she was not a “Wild Woman” but had a place within a patriarchal power structure, headed by D’Hoffryn. Anya and internalized patriarchy/misogyny, even while she rails against patriarchy explicitly: such an interesting story!

OK, I'm done. Really, gender is not my primary lens to look at BtVS -- I think, for one thing, that I would have a hard time being objective, especially because of my close identification with Willow and Xander influencing my takes on them to a large degree. I identify with Buffy a lot too, obviously, though later-series Buffy more so. But gender probably really is the central lens for the show, even if it is not one that 'comes naturally' for me as much. I think, in the end, the show is all "about power," as Buffy says, and it favours taking power away from highly entrenched institutions, and favouring giving it to love-based, female-headed communities. Wow, why I am I telling you this? :)

First things first: When i said this would be a story about Giles – i was kidding! I even wrote so much. I thought you of all people would get it. :-P

What i'm writing about is our world, our reality, the human condition: The stories our so-called cultural industry tells us about women, and how men relate to them (and vice versa).

So, the writers writing this play as Willow trying to destroy the world – they unmask themselves. The don't have the courage to tell a story about „wild women“ - they fear the „wild woman“ the same as Travers.

When Willow becomes, realizes herself as „Dark Willow“:

Dark Willow becomes the „negation of the negation“ (→ Adorno), she utterly and completely rejects the patriarchal narrative, she tries to undo what the patriarchy and the male narrative did: She tries to set the key free. And really, the key to all the dams breaking, realities bleeding into each other, creating new and wild worlds* is the Innocent, constructed by the patriarchal order (monks!) to keep the „wild woman“, the femme fatale (Glory) in check. This is a rather thinly veiled virgin – whore dichotomy, the male narrative invents the virgin, to keep the „wild woman“ at bay.

Dark Willow tries to raise the temples of the old goddess, female power incarnate: OF COURSE this will destroy the patriarchal world! OF COURSE it will destroy the male narrative! OF COURSE it will destroy the patriarchal world of the storyteller!

I don't think Willow is trying to kill herself: She's trying to change the world. Yes, i agree that she doesn't know how to live in the patriarchal world which leaves her no attractive options – but she actually has power! Only when Giles plants doubts into her mind, Willow thinks the world should die - and here i actually agree with you: Willow, confronted with the male narrative of Giles -WHO STOLE IT FROM THE COVEN OF WISE WOMEN (ah! Such rich soil here...) thinks there is no place for her in the world, and sees suicide as the only option.

* i would laugh my ass off if it weren't so tragic: The story of Glory, who breaks all the dams is fascistic psyche 101 (go forth and read Theweleit's doctorate thesis! „Male Fantasies“! Best book on – fascist - male psyche ever!). The fear of the female flood, menstruation, female ejaculation, breast milk, all the juices flowing – men fear that stuff. They need armor against it. Steel. (Troll) hammers! Robots! Construction vehicles! I mean – Dawn bleeding on the tower, to open the doors: She's becoming a woman! Of course the patriarchal order cannot have any of that.


Well, I knew you were talking about our world -- but that doesn't mean I can't disagree with you about what the stories are. :)

OK, so first of all, Willow, in rejecting the male cultural narrative, still embraces it to some degree. She is playful with it, of course, and wants to use the tools of men against men: the bullet is turned against Warren, the male fantasy/fear of the absolute powerful woman and magic is used against Jonathan and Andrew. She uses it all against her oppressors, and she is rage, and she is revenge. BUT, she is also hatred of herself. Warren is Willow. He is misogynistic, and we can read Willow as being internalized misogyny, but Willow *is* killing herself when she kills Warren, and that is what is required in order to free herself afterward. But it begins with the suicide, the harsh burning off of the view of herself that she hates. And that view includes things that Willow has done *to* other women -- to Tara, especially.

The thing is, as playful as Willow is, her understanding of power is heavily, heavily influenced by a destructive, rather than generative, conception of power. And that is basically the same type of power as Warren. She can turn the tables on Warren. But what actually distinguishes her from him?

You argue that the writers unmask themselves. Possibly. I can understand that interpretation. But mine is that as brilliant as Willow is, she only knows what she has been taught. And the universe does conspire against her: the resurrection spell is Willow's attempt to be GENERATIVE, rather than destructive, to bring life rather than death, and that fails entirely. The reason that fails, it could be argued, is that Willow is an Affront to nature, that this narrative does not permit strong women to shake up the boundaries of narrative. But I think it's simpler: the storyworld, which is still ultimately patriarchal, represents OUR WORLD, which does not allow strong women to shake up the boundary of the narrative. This distinction is crucial. I don't think that the issue is that the writers are afraid of strong women -- or, whether they are or not, I'm not even sure is relevant. (Don't quote me on that.) I think that the writers know that in *this* world, there are consequences to transgressions against what is perceived as natural order. It is why an imposing MALE demon reaffirms to Willow that she cannot resurrect Tara; it is why MALE demon bikers interrupt the resurrection spell. Willow and Buffy pay the price for her "transgression," but it's not about fairness, it's about the way the world just is.

Willow sees herself in Jonathan and Andrew. She sees herself in Dawn. She wants to kill them because she wants herself to be set free of life. She wants to kill Buffy to undo her "mistake" of resurrecting her. She wants to kill Giles to punish him. But mainly I think she wants to destroy everything. You may be right that killing herself is not what is primarily on her mind. But I don't think Willow can even begin to imagine anything other than destruction at this moment.

In narrative purposes, though, this moment is Willow's nadir; she is climbing her way back up. In Chosen, she is generative. Everything that she uses right now for destruction -- which is still, despite her playfulness, patterned after, and running along side, Warren-type behaviour -- is used in that moment to change the world for the better, to give women access to the power that she fought so hard for without the crippling guilt and insecurity that she had to face along the way.

Season six and seven inform each other. Willow goes dark in season six because she literally cannot imagine the power going any other way. But she DOES find another way to use the power. Really and truly. The fact that her first instinct is to use the power badly is BECAUSE she has been trained in-universe that there IS no proper way to use the power -- and that training exactly mirrors the way the world operates. The writers' primary assumption is that the models the characters have to follow are *the same* models that exist in this world, and, since they primarily know their own craft, the models that exist for storytelling.

Well, i actually agree with all of that. It is what's so fantastic about BtVS - whenever you peel off a layer, there's another one beneath. :)

But I don't think Willow can even begin to imagine anything other than destruction at this moment.

Especially this. While i twisted the words a bit to make Willow's actions seem more, hm, just and "good" (yes, i'm mean and devious like that ;-)) - i actually think that "the negation of the negation" is fighting Warren with Warren, so to speak. Willow, without Giles interference, would probably not destroy the whole world - but she would flex her muscles, try that power. It is reasonable to assume that this wouldn't be very pretty. Possibly lots of destruction and death.

* i would laugh my ass off if it weren't so tragic: The story of Glory, who breaks all the dams is fascistic psyche 101 (go forth and read Theweleit's doctorate thesis! „Male Fantasies“! Best book on – fascist - male psyche ever!). The fear of the female flood, menstruation, female ejaculation, breast milk, all the juices flowing – men fear that stuff. They need armor against it. Steel. (Troll) hammers! Robots! Construction vehicles! I mean – Dawn bleeding on the tower, to open the doors: She's becoming a woman! Of course the patriarchal order cannot have any of that.

The other read -- from Spring Summers' review of The Gift -- is that it is explicitly about childhood vs. adulthood, in particular female childhood vs. adulthood. Buffy needs to prevent her adulthood, through the proxy of Dawn: worlds being torn apart, uncontrollable sex, violence, blood everywhere. Rationality (the robots, steel etc.) are used to combat it. And she succeeds in keeping the universe neat and tidy and together for now -- but Willow (who parallels Glory) will bring Buffy back, and the tower will crumble, Dawn will continue bleeding, Buffy will have uncontrollable sex which is messy, all the walls will come down. Buffy believes she can't let the worlds come down, but she does, and Entropy comes next year.

Oh, will have to come back to that in an hour, or so. All work and no fun Norwie for the next hour. (Also: I have some more on my HD in response to some of the myriad of good points you make - later!)

A bit more before I forget (I know you won't respond until tomorrow):

With Giles and the Coven's power, the text we are given (by Giles, of course) is that the Coven willingly imbued him with their powers. Giles thus agrees to be a conduit. So there are multiple ways we can read this:

1) Giles takes on/steals female power at Willow and uses it to subdue her -- he uses female power to manipulate, tame the female, supplying her with a male narrative -- we can add more to this, but as you can probably guess this won't be my argument;

2) Giles allows himself to become a vessel for female power and wisdom to reach Willow -- he incurs all the risks (and nearly dies to carry the message), and what he brings Willow is as feminine conception of power: connectedness, not separation. In a sense, this is the end that Glory's Apocalypse seemed to have promised: Willow feels everything, the boundaries between the different worlds collapse. But while the immediate impact is negative -- so far gone is Willow at this stage -- the long-term impact is positively. Willow can no longer reject her power, but she can use it. He supplies her with a female narrative.

Now, (2) is still not 100% positive, of course. Giles still tricks Willow; he still doesn't go to giving her power as a first option. Lots of badness. But he also gives her female wisdom and female connection. At first, because she is still caught in her own pain, and in the Warren-tinged destructive impulse, she has no idea what to do with it, and must eradicate emotion (ack! "are we going to talk about our feelings," as Warren derisively said) from herself and the world. While the temple Willow raises is of a goddess, it also is very phallic and features a snake as well: a male tower of power, etc. But she also is offered an alternative to male conception of power, for the first time since (arguably) her resurrection of Buffy seemingly went so badly.

When the narrative goes in this direction -- where men use traditionally female-coded power in some way or another (see also Spike and his "Liz Taylor necklace") -- I'm not sure how to distinguish between men supporting female power (good) and men taking on and abusing female power (bad). I think that Giles straddles the boundary here, recognizing that the Watchers Council should be done away with, and leaving himself hope that Willow can use the (huge) dose of power he gives her wisely; but also blasting her, condescending to her, and tricking her. He still has a long way to go, but I think that he is making progress here. And of course, when I say "he," I mean "the show," as Giles and the show's presentation of "the Tamer" moves toward season seven.

(I can see the argument that Giles is supplying a male narrative in that it is a male narrative that women must be empathetic, must feel things. And yet...I think that the argument is that *no one* should try to dam the feelings of the world and themselves so strongly. You know? But ultimately I think that the story in Grave CAN be read either way, partly because it is still an intermediate step for Giles and for Willow -- and Xander and Buffy and Spike and Dawn -- who still have to get to Chosen.)

I just love all of this.

(I am just catching up on this conversation now so apologies if you all got there already?)

I also want to note that the seven-season story ends with an affirmation of Willow's power and willingness to change the world and reject existing institutions -- even her willingness to change other people's bodies for the better.

I think it's pretty key to this that Willow's reformation comes after her time at the coven, which is implied to be a feminine and more power-diffuse space - the opposite of the rigid patriarchal Council, and a foreshadowing of the Slayer community she'll help Buffy build. There's something extremely powerful in that, in how people can sometimes use whatever privilege as a tool toward facilitating others' empowerment.

I think that relates, a bit, to what you say about Xander below. He's really offering himself up as a safety net so Willow can make her own decisions about her power - possibly I also just enjoy the scene, but I think I interpret it more as communitarian pooling of talents and resources, rather than the allegedly individualist sink-or-swim mentality.

I think it's pretty key to this that Willow's reformation comes after her time at the coven, which is implied to be a feminine and more power-diffuse space - the opposite of the rigid patriarchal Council, and a foreshadowing of the Slayer community she'll help Buffy build. There's something extremely powerful in that, in how people can sometimes use whatever privilege as a tool toward facilitating others' empowerment.

Oooh, yes. And I mean, well, I think that Dark Willow and White Willow are very intrinsically linked; and I'll add that, you know, Willow's status as having power that is separate from Buffy's -- the pooling of more than one female resource -- is sort of essential to both. (She wins against Buffy! Yay Willow! Except wait, no, boo Willow, wait, I'm confused as to what I am supposed to want.) But anyway, Willow first strikes out with her power as a solo person, and it's destructive as most solo power sources are, and only in season seven uses her power as part of a female-centric community, which men can join if they want to -- as Xander and Spike do in their own way, and Giles and Wood as the reformed Watchers (or Watcher-coded dudes) do in another way. Also, Andrew. (I don't know what metaphor to use there.)

And of course, while Giles is trying to be with the coven, he still has a sink-or-swim mentality. And "synchronized swimming" is a complete mystery to him! Heh.


Random aside: I didn't comment on it at the time because I was busy and I didn't read it until like yesterday, but I agree with your statements about DW season 5 down the line, except that I like the finale less than you do and also while River Song SHOULD be awesome to me, I can't quite get my head around her. (Apparently I am an RTD person?)

Willow first strikes out with her power as a solo person, and it's destructive as most solo power sources are

ooooh, true. This series takes collective action a hell of a lot more seriously than you usually see.

COME AND VENT WITH ME WHENEVER RE: DW5. What a great discussion for River Song to come up in! Because, such a fierce wild woman! She's the lady-Jack in a lot of ways. But she DIES IN HER FIRST EPISODE, oh my God, while Jack gets to be eternal.

Haha, I also was thinking about you when I wrote the Tara thing, and I want to specify now that the read of Tara as fully tamed/meek is mostly a Willow POV thing, and certainly not the full story: as we know, Tara is strong like an Amazon, but the way in which she keeps her power locked in is not necessarily the model Willow should follow, even if it's not actually bad for Tara to do so. Or, I forget what I said, but I want to jump in right away to say that whatever it was, I probably don't agree fully! THIS IS MY META-WRITING ETHICS FOR YOU, I FORGET WHAT I SAID BUT I ONLY MEANT WHATEVER PARTS OF IT I STILL AGREE WITH, I'll be quiet now.

  • 1
?

Log in

No account? Create an account