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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.




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Yup. Meant to ETA this just before you replied:

If the story ITSELF is the tamer, and if Willow is aware of this (this is the season where we get "Normal Again", where we get "Dawn's in trouble, must be Tuesday", where Anya comments on there only being three walls in their apartment, where writers appear on-screen several times, where Dark!Willow explicitly comments on what the character of Willow would do (and pretty much calls her tamed)), then it follows that she can only be free by breaking the story.

And if we add another level of metafiction, though I'm not entirely sure this one works - almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

And if we add another level of metafiction, though I'm not entirely sure this one works - almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

Yeah, I mean, I'm not quite sure what I want to have happened. With BtVS, and this is perhaps intellectually bankrupt, but I go with it anyway, I sometimes just decide that the story I like best is the one that happened, so that I save myself sleepless nights. So, there's a lot of story breaking going on. Because Buffy is not only sidelined- but super-sidelined in the finale. (Post-s6, I jokingly think of Buffy Xander and Willow as rock, paper and scissors: Buffy beats Xander, who beats Willow, who beats Buffy....) In keeping with the deconstruction, Willow is stopped by purely non-supernatural means by Xander, once she's started her destructorama. At any rate, I think that to get to Chosen, it's important that Willow basically unseats Buffy as the show's essential protagonist for a few episodes. And you know, she *does* succeed, in that the slayer cannot stop her, and Buffy doesn't. And the fact that Buffy doesn't stop her is I think what sets Buffy free from her constraints of being, you know, the one who has to stop everything.

So: does Xander tame Willow (or allow the narrative to tame her)? And if so, why should we be cheering? I think for me, I identify with Willow's destructive impulses and so recognize that it's good for her to be "tamed"; like Oz being caged on full moon nights (he's probably our most obvious "wild man", a few nights a week), it's better for him and for all of us if he controls himself a bit. But you know, we're all men in this particular subthread, so maybe my (our) identification is not a sufficient explanation. Think think think.

Yeah. Briefly, I guess the problem - and my problem with this reading of the story, as brilliant as it is, so I'm using the word "problem" very loosely - is that in order for us to care about the story in the first place, the characters must be more than mere representations of one of two sides. Ie: how do you write a story that breaks the very story it tells, while still telling it (and not alienating or boring the audience)? Especially if you're postmodern enough to think that the story exists in the reading (or in this case viewing) of it rather than as an immutable object.

But that's a slightly different question, I guess (not to mention a massively analytical lot-of-filing-and-giving-things-names take on it) and it's late. Will sleep on it.

Edited at 2012-01-18 12:06 am (UTC)

I just ETA'd on an earlier comment. (Well, I don't have editing capabilities, so just added a new comment.)

Maybe here we can parallel Willow with the story itself. The writers can push her very close to the edge of breaking out of the role given to her, but if they push her far enough then the story just *is* broken, forever. I mean, you can keep the tension in a story if you're doing "Duck Amuck," but it's much harder in BtVS where ultimately we ARE supposed to care about the characters as people and as people-representatives as well as abstractions. The show is postmodern, but not THAT postmodern, you know.

So OMWF precurses the Willow/Xander ending with Buffy/Spike. Sweet wants to see Buffy dance till she burns, and Buffy does, because life is but a song. But Spike tells her it isn't a song, and he sort of sings it but sort of speaks it. LIFE isn't a show, but the show is a show. So the show both reaffirms itself as being nothing but narrative, and then reaffirms that it is narrative which is about life, and not about narrative. Something similar happens, I think, with Willow and Xander: the (for lack of a better term) most abstract and most concrete characters come together, she recognizing the boundaries of the program itself closing in, and he affirming that real emotions are possible within the closed boundaries. Interesting too, since Xander and Spike are probably the most TV-savvy of the cast. I lost track of where I was going. It is late for me too, and it's only 7 p.m.! So maybe the process for Buffy and Willow is:

1) it's life! (yay)
2) no, it's only a story, and an unpleasant one! (end the misery!)
3) but it's a story about life! (uh...okay, I guess let's keep going).

Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

I think for me, I identify with Willow's destructive impulses and so recognize that it's good for her to be "tamed";

But then, you and me are able to discuss this while sitting in the comfortable arm chair - it is not you or me who are chained down, enslaved, beaten and killed by patriarchy.

While we might shriek back from the radical solutions - we also lack a certain insight into the graveness of the situation. What beer_good said above: just because we don't like the solution, it might be a solution nonetheless.

"Dos lid geschribn is mit blut un nischt mit blej,
’s nit kejn lidl fun a fojgl ojf der fraj,
dos hot a folk tswischn falndike went
dos lid gesungen mit naganes in die hent."


(Song of the Warshaw Ghetto Uprising, Hirsh Glick, 1922-1944)

"This song is written with our blood and not with lead,
it's not a little tune that birds sing overhead.
this song a people sang amid collapsing walls.
with 'naganes' in hand they heeded he call."

The "lead" he sings about is the lead of the pencil. A story is a story - but real life is different.




That's true, and I think that Willow remains particularly sympathetic in these episodes because we are supposed to recognize that she (and Buffy) have few options.

I know too that you are not really talking about Willow here -- and in that sense I have to say that I agree with you, and that I am not sure I can argue against some abstract radical solution that is obviously unpleasant on some way but may be a solution.

But while we are on the subject of Willow, here we come back to the fact that the text is polysemic. There are other reads as well, in which case Willow is not so much a righteous avenging angel. In which it is not the patriarchy that she is trying to hurt, but the concept of life itself. They are related, because life includes the patriarchy; but while Warren the misogynist may be the instrument through which it happens, the thing that triggers Willow is simply *the finality of Tara's death*. That just *is*. This *is* a world where no matter what, we can't stop death from happening; we can't stop loved ones from leaving; we can't put all our faith in anything external to resolve all our inner conflicts. And yes, it matters a lot that Warren was the one to shoot Tara, but Willow's reliance on Tara to make her life bearable was something that would have become disastrous anyway -- we saw that at the beginning of the season anyway.

As I see it, the most primary argument that season six makes is: there are some things about the world that we cannot change. Some maybe not within our lifetime; some may just be endemic to life. But life is still worth living. It's something that cannot even really be proven (within the season), but something the characters choose to put their faith in: there is love even when there is no hope. In season seven, having established that life is worth living in and of itself, the possibility of hope returns, and so the ending and its revolutionary flavour.

ETA: of course, the line between author and character is the last wall to come down.

You know, the Osiris or whoever that demon is supposed to be in Villains feels a lot like The Author, doesn't it? "I am here to remind you of the arbitrary rules that we writers have set forth for you." Willow screams, destroys it. Since Tara's death is arguably the "price" for Buffy's resurrection, and since it doesn't actually make direct sense in-story -- why would Warren's bullet follow that trajectory -- there is a sense that SOMEONE stepped in and MADE the story such that Willow got punished good and proper. And she is not pleased.

almost all heroes' tales, at least from the last 2,500 years or so, rotate around self-sacrifice and catharsis. Willow explicitly rejects that. She breaks not only the Buffy story, she breaks (or tries to) the very purpose of the story is supposed to do (the Slayer cannot stop her). In a sense, though as a BtVS fan I'm glad she could come back from it, I'm a little disappointed that she did - but there's only so much deconstruction you can do within (!) this type of story, I guess.

I really like the direction you're taking this, but I actually go a little further. I think Willow surviving to come back from it completes the deconstruction. Because if she remains in stasis as Dark Willow, she'll die there - and on the rare occasion we get female characters who aspire to be wild women, they're almost always punished with death, or at least, rendered separate from all of us by dehumanization and othering. For Willow to come back from it more powerful than ever - powerful enough to be essential to the destruction of the enforced self-sacrifice of the Council's regime - that validates her ambition rather than reviling it.

That is a very good point.

Mmmh, your thoughts smell of roses and other good things.

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