Monday, February 18, 2013

30 Days of Buffy and Feminism Day 7

Day 7: Least Favorite Male Character

I'm warning everyone right now: THIS IS THE MOST CONTROVERSIAL POST I WILL WRITE.  This will wound a lot of you, I am sure.  But I have to say what's true to me, and though you may close this tab with disgust it must be said.  I await your fiery feedback.

Xander Harris

Almost everyone's answer for this is Warren Mears.  And that's understandable.  Warren is a misogynistic, sociopathc piece of shit.  But let me put it this way: A lot of times my male roommates will make misogynistic comments and jokes just to get me riled up because they know how feminist I am.  Eventually this stopped working on me because I got used to it, it was boring and I knew they didn't mean it.  This is kind of how I felt the writers were playing Warren.  He was so one-dimensional and misogynistic that he was simply there to rile up the fans and you were SUPPOSED to purely hate him.  He never did anything redeeming, he was just there to be a woman-hating asshole.
Xander, on the other hand, is the everyman character.  The audience is supposed to relate to him.  And there aer things about him that are relatable.  Who among us has not felt the anxiety of not knowing what we want out of life while all of our friends are off doing big, important things?  Xander also does some things that are brave and useful--he saves Buffy's life twice--and he does grow and develop in some ways over the course of the series.  BUT--and this is a but the size of Greenland--he also does some terrible things that he never sees consequences for.

This link is full of a lot of fantastic examples of why I dislike Xander.  It is not a complete list, but I would advise reading it.  I'm going to start in broader terms before I get into any examples (either used a that link or on my own), so here we go.

Xander is a Nice Guy.  He is attracted to Buffy right off the bat and for the entirety of the series he disapproves of her sexuality whenever it surfaces with anyone else.  Except when she dates Riley.  Remember that, we're going to come back to it.
Xander is paternalistic.  He bitterly judges Buffy's choices--and the choices of his friends--all the time because of the fact that he feels inferior.  He also treats Anya like a child a lot of the time because of her lack of awareness of social customs.  He does not recognize that she is likely smarter than he is, he simply takes the opportunity to feel superior to someone.
Xander is slut-shamey, not just to Buffy but almost constantly to Cordelia both before and during their relationship.  And when pointed at Cordelia it is almost always played off as a joke.

So let's get down and dirty here with some examples.  These are not in chronological order.

First of all, we hate Warren right off the bat when we find out he made himself a robot girlfriend/sex slave in the Season 5 episode "I Was Made To Love You."  But look at the way Xander responds after the gang finds out about April the robot girlfriend:

XANDER: She's a sexbot. (to Giles) I mean, what guy doesn't dream about that?
Giles walks off to help the customer.
XANDER: (wistfully) Beautiful girl with ... no other thought but to please you ... willing to do anything...
He looks up. Shots of the four girls staring at him. Xander laughs nervously.
XANDER: Too many girls. I miss Oz. He'd get it. He wouldn't say anything, but... (clears throat) he'd get it. 

Xander does seem to have a propensity for fantasies in which girls bend to his will, hence his spell in "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".  I'll just leave this here.

A love spell?

Just the basic. You know - can't eat,
can't sleep, can't breathe anything but
little old moi.

That kind of thing is the hardest. I
mean, to make someone love you for
all eternity -

Whoa. Back up. Who said anything
about eternity? A man can only talk
self-tanning lotion for so long
before his head explodes.

Then - I don't get it. If you don't want
to be with her forever - what's the

The point is - I want her to want me.
Desperately. Then I can break up with
her and subject her to the same hell
she's putting me through.

I don't know, Xander. Intent has to
be pure with love spells.

Right. I intend revenge. Pure as the
driven snow. Now are you going to
play or do we need to chat some
more about invisible homework?
Gross, right?
Now we come to the most damning moment in all of Buffy for Xander.  First, let's talk about the Season 5 episode "Into the Woods" (why does such a crappy episode have to be named after such a good musical?).  In this episode we find out that Riley has been "cheating" on Buffy by paying vampire women to suck his blood for money.  Buffy is, entirely reasonably, upset.  Then Riley blames her, saying that she hasn't been emotionally available enough and doesn't "need" him enough.  Let's keep in mind that she is not only dealing with having a sister that is actually a giant amalgamation of energy and not a real person but her mother was also just in the hospital with a brain tumor.  Anyway, on top of all this Riley says that the military wants him back and unless Buffy gives him "a reason to stay" he's leaving, right away.  Obviously Buffy does not take too kindly to this, and he leaves.

And then fucking Xander shows up.

This is gonna be a long excerpt.

Nobody told me anything, Buffy.
It's been right in front of my Xander
face. The guy would do anything
for you-

(cutting him off)
The guy got himself bit by
a vampire!

He lied to me. He ran around
behind my back and almost got
himself killed. And now he has
the nerve to tell me that he's
leaving with some covert military
operation at midnight, unless
I convince him not to.
No tell me you "understand" -
because I sure as hell don't.

Are you going to let him go?

It's not my decision if he wants
to take off--

Of course it is.

Well, that's not fair!

Who cares if it's fair? In about
twenty minutes Riley's gonna
disappear -- maybe forever --
unless you do something to
stop him.

What am I supposed to do?
Beg him to stay?

Why wouldn't you? To keep Riley
here, you wouldn't --

I don't even know who he is!
I mean he's... I thought Riley
was dependable --

Dependable? What is he, State Farm?

You know what I mean.

Yeah, I think you mean convenient.
I think you took it for granted that
he was gonna show up when you
wanted him to and take off when
you didn't.

Look who's talking! You've got
Anya following you around like a
love sick puppy --

Oh boy is this not about me --

Is she more than a convenience?
'Cause that'd be kind of a surprise.

If you don't want to hear what
I have to say, I'll shut up right now.

Good. 'Cause --

I lied. See, what I think?
You got burned with Angel.
Then Riley shows up-

I know the story, Xander.

But you missed the point. You
shut down, Buffy. And you've been
treating Riley like the rebound guy,
when he's the one who comes along
once in a lifetime. He's never held
back with you - he's risked it all -
and you're about to let him fly
because you don't like ultimatums?
He then proceeds to tell her that if she feels anything real for Riley she should go after him.  And then she does.  One of the worst moments of the entire series.
I've heard people posit that Xander's defense for Riley here--being extremely out of character for Xander--is because he sees Riley as a substitute for himself.  Angel was a vampire, a superhuman, something that Xander could never be.  But Riley is the same guy-next-door type.  Perhaps Xander was living vicariously through him.  
When Buffy and Riley are arguing she states that she is who she is and he's getting the package.  This isn't enough for Riley--he needs her to be different.  And it seems that Xander agrees with that assessment.  

I have heard the argument that Xander is the embodiment of why masculine gender roles hurt men, and that's a pretty interesting thought.  He did have a tough upbringing, and I get that his father was a scary figure for him and that's part of the problem.  But again, Xander is a character that we're supposed to celebrate and see as one of the main heroes.  

 There are a million other examples of Xander being a jerk, and there are examples of him not being horrible.  But these are some of the biggest reasons I have a problem with the characterization and framing of the resident Nice Guy of the Scooby gang.  Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong, I'd love to hear it. 


  1. Hi Alexis,

    I know you probably thought more people would disagree; while I think that Warren is a misogynistic jerk who doesn't understand propriety and how to be a decent person, Xander gets the 'good guy' who does react like America wants to see its male leads: gawky and awkward, objectifies women, but still very intimidated by their power (Buffy, Anya, and basically everyone he falls for is demonic in some way!).

    Great post - I just finished Buffy again and am looking forward to keeping up the next month on your blog :)

  2. I don't disagree, I was just eagerly anticipating you addressing the Spike issue...maybe in a later post?

    1. Oh yes, I will definitely be addressing Spike soon. Don't worry!