Buffy and the Amazon Princess – Holy Men in Tights: A Superhero Conference, 2005

Buffy and the Amazon Princess
Presented at the conference, Holy Men in Tights: A Superheroes Conference; University of Melbourne, Australia.

Abstract:

“Man’s use of force without love brings evil and unhappiness. But Wonder Woman has force bound by love and with her strength, represents what every woman should be and really is.” – William M. Marston

“Love will bring you to your gift” – The Spirit Guide to Buffy Summers

Men have long had examples of the hero to model themselves after. Is it possible for women to look to modern mythology for empowering representations of themselves? Do the superheroes available to women reinforce stereotypes rather than break them? What defines a female a hero in ways which are similar to or different from men?

This paper will investigate the relationship between two 20th Century female heroes, Wonder Woman, created by William Moulton Marston in 1941, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon in 1992. Both women, born of mythological lineage and endowed with superpowers, were envisioned by their makers as catalysts for upending constrictive or stereotypical views of women. Marston, with his two simultaneous “wives” led an unconventional lifestyle, whereas Whedon is a family man. The contradictory positions of these two men certainly influence their relative creations. While Whedon’s sensitive intelligence may be more in line with 1990’s “grrl power” influenced feminism, Marston required a more open-minded approach than most men of his day in order promote a female hero in the comic book genre. Although in retrospect we may not see Marston as leading a life that corresponds with a feminist agenda, Wonder Woman might in fact be more feminist because of his “radical” behavior.

Both Wonder Woman and Buffy have a strength that is rooted in their ability to love. Does the suggestion of love-as-strength embrace innately female characteristics, infusing what is powerful about women into a liberating archetype? Or is the assumption that “love” is inherent in women a sticky concept? The idea that a female superhero must embody a nurturing temperament might reinforce stereotypical and oppressive feminine ideals. But there is also the possibility that Wonder Woman and Buffy could represent a liberatory reimagination of femininity. With their exquisite femininity they certainly offer an alternative view of the female hero who has often had to appropriate masculine attributes in order to be seen as heroic (for example, Joan of Arc, Xena Warrior Princess or Ellen Ripley of the Alien films). They may in fact transcend gendered boundaries altogether, offering up a 21st century model for an inclusive heroism.

In comparison, male superheroes have also been traditionally been motivated by the power of their emotions. Batman seeks vengeance for the murder of his parents and evolves into a vigilante. Spiderman is motivated by his commitment to his “great responsibility,” which can also be viewed as guilt, rather than a devotion to something larger than himself. For both men their motives are largely selfish. I believe that Wonder Woman and Buffy Summers offer an empowering feminist response to these and other male heroes in that they exhibit selfless love and a genuine devotion to the safety and happiness of others. Each is compelled by a power greater than their own psyche. Their “Love” becomes integral to their strength.

Using the works of modern feminist pop culture writers such as Sherrie A. Inness, ElyceRae Helford, Rhonda Wilcox, Frances Early and Trina Robbins, I seek to address the comparisons and contrasts between these two female superheroes. One could argue that Buffy is the latest warrior in a long matrilineage, and it is my belief that Buffy is a modern day evolution of the Amazon Princess, known as Diana, a.k.a. Wonder Woman. The correlations between the two women are implicit in their just actions as well as in their mythological representations. Just as Marston believed that a strong female archetype could exist to counter the male-dominated realm of fantasy comics, Whedon believed that it was time for a feminist just warrior to grace our television screens. Although their creation by men rather than women may be problematic, we can still read these characters as having awesome feminist potential.

Special Thanks:

  • Ruby Blondell – for convincing me to submit a proposal to the University of Melbourne — I’ll toast you while we’re there.
  • Phillip Thurtle – for taking the time to do independent study with me two quarters in a row. Our discussions have both focused my topic and taken it in unexpected directions.
  • Kate Noble – for believing in the cultural power and the spiritual necessity of the female hero, and for believing in and nurturing me.
  • Amy Peloff – for being my co-Slayer-in-training.
  • The Undergraduate Research Program – for honoring my project with an Undergraduate Research Award which will help fund the trip to the University of Melbourne to present my work.
  • The Program in Comparative History of Ideas – for encouraging us to explore unusual ideas and teaching us to make careers of them.
  • Angela Ndalianis – for organizing and hosting the “Holy Men in Tights” Conference.
  • To my art director and husband, Ryan – thank you for being my partner in life. If it weren’t for your supportive love, I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of so many amazing opportunities.
  • Stella Stuller, and Sharon & Bob Jacobson – thank you for always keeping me chic.

 

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