I’m not always sure how much to accept Joss Whedon’s deification as the feminist face of male SF television. I don’t think strong female characters is actually the same thing as making a feminist statement, though occasionally, his grander acts have an undercurrent of something bolder.
And often it’s contradicted by a subversive reading.
Example: The empowering of the slayers at the end of the final tv season can be read as symbolic of the empowerment of women everywhere. We could even ignore the whitewash of the implying that this is a fait accompli by saying that it is a possibility. Women CAN be empowered, is the message.
But of course, this is both the most inneffectual embracing of feminism ever (equal rights could/do exist! Woooooo feminism!) and the weirdest one. Is Joss implying that we need magic to upset the status quo? That women already have it in them? (patronising much?) or that Buffy the show (as symbolised by Buffy the imaginary figure) the driving force that will affect the complete restructuring of the patriarchal hegenomy?
I’m more impressed by the reading of Dollhouse as an actual abstract exploration of the nature of this hegenomy. And thankfully the authorial intention behind it is of no worry to Barthes.
But we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about Xander.
I find it hard not to think of it as a structured thing. A choice that has been made. Xander is the foil to the strong women around him. He is the weak man. The one who no longer has the power behind him.
It adds contrast and conflict and change to the situation. Although his character arguably evolves the least throughout the series.
His jerkiness is perhaps down to his inability to fulfil the ‘male’ role when surrounded by strong women. He has been usurped and becomes useless. He spends his time trying to find a place. This is covered in several episodes. It’s vaguely stated that he’s there to ‘keep an eye on things.’
I don’t think it’s addressed well enough in the series, and it’s a shame. I can understand that it isn’t the most action packed of narratives, a man coming to terms with the ‘loss’ of ‘masculinity’. But it could have been dealt with at some point, rather than skirted around.
Why does Xander run away from his wedding? Is he just terrified of taking a patriarchal vow when he’s already lost his patriachal role? Is he actually finally rejecting the system that he seems so upset to be losing touch with? What is he scared of?
My main problem is that it is suggested that he simply is a douche. He is too weak to assume the new patriarchal role. He is presented with the typical rite of passage of learning to stop being a boy and start being a man.
The patriarchy is left unquestioned, unsurprisingly.
Illustration by Maria who has never seen Buffy the vampire slayer, but seems to get the gist of it pretty well.