Buffy Vs. Bella by Anjeanette LeBoeuf

In the past four years I have become overwhelmed by society’s thirst for vampires. The introduction of True Blood, Twilight, and The Vampire Diaries has marked a downright fervor for anything and everything “vampire.” Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good vampire story now and again. One of the first books I remember reading solely on my own was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I grew up watching the WB show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was a coup d’état that I got to watch a show that had very visible scenes of violence, evil, and death, but I’m pretty sure that my parents thought that if watching this show was my only act of rebellion, they were in good shape. What I remember most about watching Buffy wasn’t really that it was a show about vampires, but that it was a show about a strong high school girl that had to save the world — which is exactly what I wanted to do.

I have always gravitated towards the mythical and supernatural, which is one of the reasons I study religion in the first place. Society uses vampire stories as a way to transmit social critiques. Vampire stories began to expand on the common idea that women were easily seduced by the “dark side” and that a strong male would need to swing in to save the day. Women were either being tricked by the allure of vampires or they were the ultra -seductive vampires luring the “good old boys” into mortal danger. I would say that it wasn’t until Buffy Summers hit the halls of Sunnydale High that the winds of change shifted. 2003 took the strong woman figure to the big screen with the development of the Underworld movie saga. The main character was a seductive but fierce fighting female vampire. Both males and females flocked to watch Selene save the human and vampire race.

Then Twilight happened. It made vampirism safe for young girls to read since it didn’t feature overtly sexual tones and depictions. People have flocked to the books and the movies, yet I wonder at what cost? With Buffy and Selene, I was taught that one can be feminine and fierce. We can worry about what to wear AND save the world all in the same breath. Twilight’s heroine pales in comparison to her predecessors. It makes me wonder what we are trying to tell our girls. Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries are all successful books that have been adapted for television and movies. All three have human females struggling to decide between two supernatural men. These books reaffirm the notion that women need to be saved by men. The three main heroines might have found strength and power, but they have molded their identities into that of their male counterparts. Bella has the daunting task of choosing between the vampire Edward and the werewolf Jacob. The choice is weighted by Edward’s ability to grant immortality but not until Bella almost kills herself and then begs to be turned into a vampire. Gone is the imagery of capable fighting women.

Twilight has created quite a stir and not just because of the shift on the depictions of girls. Every genre now seems to want to include vampires. It has even infiltrated historical figures. The last scene of the trailer Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter pretty much sums it up: “Are you a patriot or a vampire?” Where you stand on vampires transmits to society your political, national, and gender ideals. It carries significant meaning and status to know what “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” mean in both the Twilight community as well as society as a whole. Team Edward is the quintessential girl falls for “bad boy” and helps bring him to salvation. Team Jacob is the typical boy next door who offers safety and security. Both perpetuate the idea that women need to choose a man in order to survive in the world. All I know is I’m thankful for growing up in the halls of Sunnydale High, where a girl can expand her mind AND kick some butt, so I’m Team Buffy.

Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a M.A. student in Women Studies in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. Her focuses are in comparative religions, death practices, gang culture, and the representation in pop culture of iconic religious women like that of Lilith and Esther. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it.

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Categories: Fiction, Film

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7 replies

  1. Great piece! And a salutary warning for anyone who thinks that women in US society have made all that much progress in the last 50 years…. Capture the imagination and you’ve got someone forever.

  2. The vampires I more or less grew up with weren’t female, but in the 1990s I was inspired to write a novel about one. This is Isolde Bell, who is smarter and more passionate than the little-girl vampires and those hunky vampire guys. Here’s a bit about my novel, Quicksilver Moon http://www.barbaraardinger.com/quicksilvermoon

    The cover shows Brother Mudge, Isolde Bell, and Loretta, Patsy, and Tammy. I lived with those characters for a couple years while I was writing their story. I watched Brother Mudge preach, I watched his captive women suffer, I watched the horrendous, black, Beelzebub thoughtform grow on the roof of Mudge’s storefront church. I watched the vampire prowl around real locations in Orange County, like the Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland. The vampire lives in the condo a friend of mine owned. She also drives my friend’s car. In my imagination, I watched the women of the Quicksilver Moon coven coping with their lives. (Loretta lives in another friend’s house.) As I keep telling people, this book is very realistic … except for the vampire.

    The story is narrated in the voices of the participants. It opens with Isolde Bell introducing herself.
    Isolde Bell, Vampire

    My name at present is Isolde Bell, though I have of course had other names, other identities that I picked up and used and threw away when I was finished with them.

    I remember where I was born, though not necessarily when. It seems to have been between 1375 and 1425, though the date is uncertain because our remote land had no use for the official calendars of church and empire. The Crusades had passed and the Inquisition was yet to be proclaimed, though freelance terrorists were always abroad in medieval Europe, and the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the horrors of the religious wars they set off were also still to come. But I knew them all. I knew them all.

    Do you know what Transylvania’s claims to fame are? Vlad Dracula and Countess Elizabeth Bathori, the world’s best-known children of the night. King John Sigismund (flourished circa 1568), the world’s first Unitarian king. Transylvania is where I was born, some time between the ages of Dracula and John Sigismund.

    I started writing Quicksilver Moon (under an earlier title) about the time the Far Right took out its Contract On America. Vampires are, so to speak, eternally popular, and though I’d written other (so far unpublished) novels, I wanted to work with an edgy, ambiguous character as protagonist. Seeing the world in fundamental black and white has always seemed boring to me, and as Isolde and her friends of the Quicksilver Moon Coven and Brother Mudge acted their story out in my head, and then on paper, I began to see how good and evil come in every shade.

  3. While I understand the critiques of the series that many have, I tend to disagree overall. This disagreement is partly informed by a spiritual/dream experience that I had at 16 and partly inspired by the idea of transformation.

    The story of Bella is not of her choosing between Jacob and Edward, but of choosing to embrace her chance to grow into the person she was meant to be. Yes, this is tied up with the love triangle, but Bella’s choice is clear the moment she understands what is possible. Edward just symbolizes that transformation; he is the one that can transform her. He does not want to take mortality from her, and instead encourages her to choose mortality (Jacob) instead. All of his attempts fail and Bella does achieve her goal of immortality. This is the story of a young woman who knows what she wants, and succeeds at getting it, and more.

    I will grant that it is not necessarily inspiring to read of a girl who is so certain she was not made for this world (mortality). But I know growing up, I felt that way. Reading stories of already talented girls doing great things were hard to identify with. Bella, on the other hand, is comically clumsy, disaster-prone, and fragile. This is exaggerated in the first book to better highlight her transformation. Even before her becoming immortal she proves to be stronger than she gave herself credit for, by not only surviving, but overcoming the attacks against her. Her transformation inspired me at 24 when I read the books, I can only imagine what reading them at 14 would have done.

    The lesson that Bella learns in the end is that by embracing change and by trusting in her abilities (even strange ones) she can overcome anything. Yes, her transformation is made highly visible with her becoming immortal, but any ritual could serve here; she also became a mother at about the same time, another powerful moment for her.

    I admit I never watched Buffy, I was too busy climbing trees and reading books to watch much tv. But based on what my friends told me, I always wondered what the appeal was to watch a girl beat up and kill strange monsters and vampires? It sounded like a “boy’s show” but with a girl. I’d much rather identify with Bella, who was able to prevent harm to her loved ones in non-violent ways, once she accepted that she does have the power, and indeed has always had it.

    My own experience is very personal, but I relate Bella’s success in creating her ideal reality to what I experienced. I hope that the meaning of my dream is never lost to me, that we live lifetimes in dreams and books, and sometimes forget the meaning we once found from them. Bella was able to find meaning in her own existence, something that I think we all should strive for.

    I am not trying to change your mind, just offer my own experience with the story. This also ended up a little longer than I meant, but I feel it best expresses how I see things.

  4. I am hands down a Team Buffy womyn! Not just because I grew up “with her”, but because I have read the Twlight books and seen most of the films,I will admit I let people spoil the rest for me. I can’t fully agree with this idea of Bella as a feminist or girl on a mission to find herself and transform through her desicison to pick a man. (Sorry Brenna, still love you…). The question about if Bella was a good role model and or a feminist or not came up in a Feminist pedegogy class I took a few years ago, at first we found it as a laugh but then once really looking into the books and many of scenes (the sex scene for one) we found this problematic. Edward, and Bella destroy the bed and she ends up with brushes on her body. Edward up til this point would not have sex with her until they were married because he was “afraid of hurting her”. Well, the hurt happened and was made glorified and romantic in the films, which quite frankly shows young girls, that sexual abuse is okay and glamorized (we can also thank Rhianna the singer here in the states for this perception). I say this because, Edward makes it out to be her fault and then what does she get in return a blooody and painful, and violent child birth experience and all at what 19 or something! No thanks, I would much rather, kill “the man”, or be alone.

    I realize more than you want to know that some people are into certain types of sexual acts, but these should only be taught and used in the right ways. They need to be expalined, and the people need to be educated so that stereotypes, assumptions, and hate does not keep spreading. Mis-education, and miscommunication is flying abound with reckless abandon in these books. Plus, I am shocked no one has talked about the fact that Stephanie Meyer is Mormon, and that the story is a fantasical version of the story of Adam and Eve, and various other Morman morales…but that is just what I have heard not necessarily what I believe… I will agree that Bella does do some serious transforming in the series, it is just sad that it had to revolve around the men in her life (I include her father in this), and the use of the supernatural in order for her to get there, be it her choice or not.

  5. This honestly just made my day.

  6. You made a really good point Anjeanette! I never thought of it this way! I really admired Buffy growing up for her independence! It was really empowering to see a strong woman on television.

  7. “With Buffy and Selene, I was taught that one can be feminine and fierce. We can worry about what to wear AND save the world all in the same breath.”

    I *love* this line. Femininity is not for every girl (nor should it be required to be), but nor is a crime. The idea that femininity and strength/power are not mutually exclusive is one of the great aspects of Buffy; being a “girly girl” doesn’t mean you can’t kick some major arse.

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