Tuesday, February 12, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 4

Day 4: Favorite Female Character

This was not easy.  There are very few female characters in this show that I don't love at one point or another.  The character I'm going with may surprise you, but hear me out.


Honorable mentions go to Jenny Calendar, Tara, and Katrina Silber (remember her?)

First and foremost, Anya is hilarious.  She has some of the best one-liners in the entire series, and I never get sick of the running joke of her hating bunnies.  She's also one of the most sexually liberated women on this show, though the reason for that is debatable.

Anya starts out, interestingly, as an example of two anti-feminist paradigms.  When we first meet her, she is Anyanka, a millennium-old vengeance demon who specializes in helping women scorned get back at their exes (always male, the heteronormativity of which bothers me but that's another post for another day).  This character is practically a caricature of the man-hating, ball-busting feminist.  She believes that men get what they deserve when they're horribly disfigured for hurting women, and she's the strong female demon who's going to dish out that retribution.  Thus, she learns to hate men--in fact, her own revenge against her philandering husband back in the ninth century gained her the demon job in the first place.

After Anya becomes human and mortal, she does a kind of 180.  She pursues Xander, first asking him to the prom at the end of Season 3 and then approaching him for sex in season 4, pushing until she becomes the archetypical clingy girlfriend.  She becomes obsessed with being his girlfriend and connects with his friends and his life without much of a live for herself outside of him.  Of course, circumstances prevent much else--she's been literally living in different worlds for centuries, and Xander is the eyes through which she sees the human world (what a shame that he abuses that power and trust by treating her like she's an idiot so much of the time).  At the beginning of Season 5, in the episode "The Replacement", Anya has a bit of an existential crisis--realizing that she is now mortal and only has a finite lifespan she realizes that she wants a very traditional life with a house, a marriage and children.  But there is something here that I think gets overlooked.

Anya is a perfect example of patriarchal socialization.  She came from a different culture--before she was a demon she was apparently Viking--and when she became mortal again she was a blank canvas.  This is why Xander had to so frequently condescendingly coach her on what to do in social situations.  In the episode "Real Me", Anya is playing the Game of Life with Xander and Dawn when this exchange occurs:
Look at this. Now I am burdened with a
husband and several tiny pink children and
more cash than I can reasonably manage.

That means you're winning.


Yes. Cash equals good.

Oh, I'm so pleased! Can I trade in the
children for more cash?

Is it a coincidence that "The Replacement", where Anya realizes that she is mortal and suddenly wants to have children and a home, is the very next episode after this one? Having just become a human a year and a half before, Anya absorbs knowledge about what is expected of her and not necessarily what she wants for herself.  But at the same time, she also becomes independent--in Season 5 she starts to work at The Magic Box and even becomes a part owner of the shop later on in the series.  Despite this, her identity still revolves around Xander.  Could this be a comment on societal expectations of women?

Everything changes at the end of Season 6 and beginning of Season 7.  When Xander leaves her at the altar she is once again left without an identity, and so she goes back to being a vengeance demon.  Only this time her heart isn't in it--after spending time being human a part of her as become empathetic and compassionate.  This all comes to a head in the Season 7 episode "Selfless".

This episode is interspersed with flashbacks.  The first is to back to the 9th century where we see her as Aud, married to a man named Olaf. He clearly gives her an identity here, saying that she will "always be Aud, my beautiful girl."  In the next flashback we see Aud again after she has turned Olaf, who cheated on her, into a troll.  The ruler of the vengeance demons, D'Hoffryn, shows up and tells her that she isn't Aud, she is "Anyanka, a vengeance demon, her true self."  She resists this at first but then succumbs to it, accepting her new identity.  The last of these identifying flashbacks comes as a return to an unseen moment in "Once More With Feeling".  And yes, I am psyched that I get to use this video (once again, couldn't find one with the actual video but just imagine Anya going around doing domestic things like turning down the bed and removing a sleeping Xander's shoes and hat).

Here she identifies herself as "Mrs. Harris".  In fact, she doesn't even care about her own name--"Mrs. Lame-Ass Made Up Maiden Name...Harris."  She doesn't even seem that thrilled about the idea of marriage--the whole second verse of this song comes off as her trying to convince herself that it's a good idea--but she is thrilled at the idea of having this solid identity. 

Anya is now too human to be a vengeance demon.  After massacring a room full of frat boys she is so alarmed and sickened by what she did that she is practically depressed.  But if she no longer has Xander to give her identity, and she can no longer cut it as a vengeance demon, what is she?  

Xander -- You can't help me. I'm not
even sure... there's a "me" for you
to help.

But in the end she does accept the price of death to undo what she did to the frat boys and to make herself not a vengeance demon anymore.  Unfortunately D'Hoffryn kills Halfrek instead--something I'm going to come back to later--and Anya lives.  The end of this episode leaves her aimless and uncertain as to who she is.  And yet, she does not turn back to the safe and easy arms of Xander so that she can once again define herself as his partner.  She wanders off into the darkness alone--a pretty blatant metaphor.

And she does develop a self for the first time really in this season.  She and Xander have one more passionate romp on Buffy's kitchen floor later in the season after which they agree they have finally moved on from each other.  And then in the final battle she fights, instead of running away the way she did at the end of Season 3.  She truly becomes a part of the group on her own terms and her own merits.  She even stands up to Buffy at the end of "Empty Spaces."

There's a prompt later on in this series that asks for a thing that happened that you wish didn't.  I'm going to give my first choice away right now and write on something else then.  I wish Anya hadn't died.  I wish that the writers would have left open the possibilities for her finding herself and doing big things in the world.  I feel that, given some time to find herself, Anya would have been quite a force.  It wasn't that she was without talents--she was always far more intelligent than anyone gave her credit for, she had financial drive and sense, and she obviously has a wealth of experiences--she just didn't have any reason or confidence to do much with her gifts.  I think she got shortchanged in the end.

I will leave up to you, dear reader, to decide whether or not Anya can be seen as a personified metaphor for the difficult road women have to walk to find themselves in a world where they are expected to define themselves by the men around them.  I think she can be read that way. I also think she deserved better in the end.

I'll be back tomorrow with my Least Favorite Female Character.  Which means I have 24 hours to decide who that is.  A March Madness-style bracket may be in order for this one.

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