Around two years ago, at the onset of spooky season, I decided it was about time that I sit down and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time.
I’d been told by countless people that it was a phenomenal show and that it was right up my alley, but even with all of the hype and expectation, I was still surprised by the effect this show had on me. As many people will tell you, BTVS takes a little while to work its magic. I was enjoying it well enough, but it wasn’t until around the third season that I realized, quite suddenly, that I’d fallen in love with this show. By the time I reached season 7, almost every episode made me cry. I think I’d gotten the idea that by not watching BTVS while it was on television, I would never be able to connect to it in the right way. Obviously, I was wrong.
For a while, I’ve been planning to write a blog post about this show. There is a lot of excellent writing out there about BTVS already, and I became obsessed with figuring out a unique perspective to present. What is there about this show that people haven’t considered and written about ten thousand times before? Should I write about how the trio in BTVS presents a perfect parallel to the trio in the Harry Potter series? How about an examination of the loneliness of the ‘chosen one?’ A listicle about Buffy’s trench coats? There were a lot of different angles I considered, some of them more ambitious than others, but ultimately I decided that sometimes the best place to start is the simplest.
So, without further ado, I present: Seven Lessons Buffy the Vampire Slayer Can Teach You, Even as an Adult Woman in 2018. (There are seven because the show has seven seasons, but I didn’t correlate each lesson to a season because what do I look like, a professional? Cut me some slack, guys.)
#1: You can be whatever kind of woman you want to be and still kick all kinds of ass.
I know you’re shocked that I’m starting this list out with a feminist principle, but hear me out.
One of my favorite things about Buffy Summers is that she’s not your “typical” female action hero — especially not at the beginning of the series. She’s a teenage cheerleader who loves to daydream about boys. She has stuffed animals on her bed and butterfly decals on her bedroom walls, and she’s also the fucking SLAYER. So, while Buffy embraces much of what we consider to be “traditionally” feminine, she’s also a master at hand-to-hand combat and can expertly wield any weapon you throw her way. She will kick the absolute shit out of you, and she’ll do it wearing a shimmery lip gloss. At no point in the series is she required to sacrifice her “girliness” for the sake of the fight, and while it might seem a trivial part of her character, it sends an important and powerful message. As women, we’re so often told that the best way to find success is to suppress the parts of ourselves that others might see as feminine and therefore weak. Buffy Summers is a ‘fuck you’ to every single person who’s ever used the qualifier “like a girl” as an insult.
Of course, Buffy is far from the only kick-ass female character on the show. BTVS is held up its cast of strong, capable women with unique personalities, interests, and skills. From Willow to Faith, from Cordelia to Anya, we see that there are a lot of different ways to be a woman, and that none of them will stop you from successfully dusting a vampire.
#2: It’s okay to not know what you want.
One of Buffy’s plights is that her dedication to being the slayer keeps her so busy that by the time she gets to college, she has no idea what she wants to do with herself. Several characters on the show experience this kind of uncertainty — Buffy’s best friends Xander and Willow also find themselves struggling to figure things out post-high school, Xander with his career path and Willow with her sexuality.
On network television, we’re used to seeing high school characters who know exactly what they want to do with their adult lives, and who grow successfully into those roles with minimal effort. In reality, however, I know more people who still haven’t figured out what they want to “be” than people who have, and I really appreciate this show’s willingness to delve into uncertainty without punishing its characters for not having their shit together.
#3: Men are pretty much trash.
Remember when a certain someone on this show left his bride-to-be at the altar? Or the time one of Buffy’s boyfriends lied to her about his identity for half a season? How about that dude who wormed his way into Buffy’s heart with some tragic story about his deceased parent just so that he could sleep with Buffy and then immediately ditch her? Or the one who made a robot girlfriend for himself using Buffy’s image (the same one who later shot and killed one of their group)? Remember Willow’s werewolf boyfriend who couldn’t resist cheating on her with the other werewolf? Or that group of frat boys who were capturing women to be part of some ritual sex sacrifice in their basement? Remember when Spike… well, remember basically everything Spike did before season 7?
Oh, also: Angelus.
Men are trash, y’all! Even the good ones probably have something evil lurking inside them! Watch your backs!!!!!!!!!!!!111
#4: People can change.
Piggy-backing off of that last point: awful people don’t necessarily have to stay awful forever. This show sees the transformation of several truly despicable characters — villains, even — into people we end up rooting for. There are the smaller-scale redemption stories, like that of Cordelia: the popular mean girl who turns out to be more intelligent and compassionate than anyone gave her credit for, or Anya, who changes from freak-of-the-week demon into a mostly-human person who is more-than-capable of love.
Then, on a grander scale, there’s Spike: a man who is literally soulless when we first meet him in Season 1, and who grows and changes so much over the course of the series that we somehow learn to forgive him for the multitude of horrible things we’ve watched him do. I think that’s an essential lesson of BTVS: forgiveness, and the way it can help to heal even the worst of people.
#5: The hardest thing in this world is to live in it.
This is a piece of advice that Buffy gives to her younger sister, Dawn, when she thinks it may be the last time they ever see each other — this after they’ve suffered through an unspeakable amount of hardship together. Maybe I’m corny as hell, but reading this line always brings me a profound sense of comfort (and I know I’m not completely alone, as this is one of the most popular lines from the show to get as a tattoo, and fandom tattoos are NOT CORNY, trust me, I have one. Oh wait).
Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but I can’t help but feel that this line speaks specifically to people who struggle with mental illness. To me, it’s a reminder that what we’re doing right now — being here, being alive — is really fucking hard sometimes. There’s no shame in admitting that. But even when it’s hard, it will always, always be worth it.
#6: No woman is an island.
One of the major themes of BTVS is loneliness. Buffy is the chosen one, and because of this she knows that when it all comes down to it, she has a responsibility to make choices on behalf of humanity. She constantly struggles with the fact that getting close to anyone automatically puts that person in danger, and she often tries to isolate herself, pulling back from her friendships and casting aside the idea of a romantic relationship altogether.
However, as the series progresses, Buffy learns more and more that it’s okay to lean on her friends. As much as rationality tells her she should be alone in the world, she also still happens to be a human being, and human beings aren’t made for complete solitude. Eventually, she learns to let others share her burden, and the show pays off on that concept in a big way in its final season.
#7: If you don’t like the rules, change them.
If you haven’t watched this show, I don’t want to spoil the finale for you, because it is truly delightful. All I’ll say is that all of the show’s themes culminate beautifully in its last episode, and that the speech Buffy gives before their final battle is incredibly stirring. Here’s a taste:
In every generation, one slayer is born…because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined.
Omg, I have goosebumps. Do you have goosebumps? If you don’t, you can leave now. Or, you know, do yourself a favor and watch this show from beginning to end. You’ll see what I mean.