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From feminism to self-belief: the powerful life lessons Buffy Summers taught us

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Ah, the 90s – what a time to be alive.
 
We had the Spice Girls spreading the message of “girl power” across the world, SATC’s Samantha Jones taught us that we can be as promiscuous as we damn well please, and Clueless’s Cher Horowitz blazed a trail for feminine feminists everywhere
 
But we were still lacking something – or someone – very important; the ultimate girl hero.
 
At the time, it was all about those horror movies which focused primarily on frightened females; they were cringing in corners, squealing in the dark, being chased down by monsters, and, if they were lucky, being rescued by muscle-strapped men.
 
If they weren’t so lucky? Yeah, you guessed it; they died. Usually horribly, in scenes which, nowadays, would be termed as gratuitous horror porn.
 
Joss Whedon famously said: “[I was bored of horror movies in which] bubblehead blondes wandered into dark alleys and got murdered by some creature.
 
“I [wanted] to see a movie in which a blonde wanders into a dark alley, takes care of herself and deploys her powers.”
 
Enter Buffy Summers.

On 10 March 1997, the world changed forever when Buffy the Vampire Slayer kicked down gender barriers and (literally) handsprung into our lives.
 
Whedon, who penned the cult TV series, explained that Buffy – played by Sarah Michelle Geller – had a mission far bigger than saving the world from vampires.
 
She was there to school teenagers all over the world about gender equality, too.
 
“If I can make teenage boys comfortable with a girl who takes charge of a situation without their knowing that’s what’s happening, it’s better than sitting down and selling them on feminism,” explained Whedon.
 


The Bechdel Test

1.      The movie has to have at least two women in it
2.      … who talk to each other
3.      … about something besides a man


Buffy the Vampire Slayer may have been a television series, but it passed the Bechdel Test – designed to call out gender inequality in movies – with flying colours.
 
Sure, Buffy had boyfriends, but she didn’t sit down and talk about them all day long. She was too busy discussing more important things, such as homework, career prospects, vampire tendencies, the ever-looming apocalypse, and, you know, how best to prevent it.
 
She also had a whole host of inspiring gal pals to help her out with all that saving the world fun, including Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan), Cordelia Chase (Charisma Carpenter), Anya Jenkins (Emma Caulfield), Tara Maclay (Amber Benson), and Faith Lehane (Eliza Dushku).
 
Together, these women – along with the likes of Xander (Nicholas Brendon), Giles (Anthony Head), and Spike (James Marsters) – kept us entertained each week with their demon-busting exploits.
 
But they also found time to teach us some seriously important lessons about life, love, and liberation.
 
Check it out…


1) Never judge a book by its cover

Buffy is a blonde teenager – AND a cheerleader – but she’s quick as a whip, sassy AF, responsible for the lives of everyone around her, and ridiculously, ridiculously strong.
 
So, no, she’s definitely not the “dumb blonde” that a lot of people – including her school’s principal – take her for.

Women, don’t let anyone tell you that you have to look or behave a certain way, and never let anyone pigeonhole you based on your gender or appearances. You can be whoever you want to be. And if that’s an ass-kicking demon slayer who can rattle off the world’s most popular nail varnishes at the drop of a hat, so be it. 


2) Stay true to yourself

Whether that’s standing up to the bully, recognising your own worth, honing your special talents, wearing what makes you feel good (even when it’s not on trend – hello, Will’s eskimo ensemble), embracing your sexuality, or doing something completely different, just be you. Life’s too short to waste time pretending to be anyone else.


3)  Embrace each others’ differences 

Willow was a lesbian, Oz was a werewolf, Angel and Spike were vampires, Xander was a ‘nerd’, Anya was a vengeance demon… the list goes on and on. But did any of that matter? Nope.
 
They were all beloved members of the Scooby Gang, and that was that. Seriously, it’s what’s on the inside that counts in this game.


4)  You don’t have to do it alone

Buffy may be the Chosen One, but all of her friends are equally important when it comes to saving the world – and they each fulfil a key role in their anti-apocalyptic exploits.
 
This is made abundantly clear when the core four members of the Scooby Gang – Buffy, Willow, Xander, and Giles - perform an extra-special enjoining spell, which combines all of their core abilities and allows Buffy to harness them for a battle against a really Big Bad.
 
“We implore thee: Admit us
Bring us to the vessel.
Take us now!
We are heart…
We are mind…
We are spirit…
From the raging storm…
We bring the power of the Primeval One.”

 
Through this ritual, Buffy temporarily absorbs Willow’s spirit (aka her magical prowess), Giles’ mind (aka his intelligence), and Xander’s heart (aka his ability to love) – and became even more badass than ever before.
 


5) Because remember: we are all equals

Everyone has the potential to make a difference, regardless of their gender. 


6)  Let go of your grudges – and forgive

“To forgive is an act of compassion. It’s not done because people deserve it, it’s done because they need it.”
 
Buffy and co may have been focused on bashing monster heads together, but they also taught us a lot about compassion, love, and forgiveness. It takes a helluva lot more effort to nurse that grudge – and vengeance is so overrated, anyway (just ask Anya). 


7) Women should never feel guilty about having sex

In the second series of the show, Buffy loses her virginity to her vampire boyfriend, Angel (David Boreanaz) – because, yes, sometimes relationships are complicated. However, due to an ancient gypsy curse, Angel loses his soul after experiencing this moment of pure happiness – and he… well, he turns into a fanged monster, like all the other vamps in Sunnydale.
 
Like we said, complicated.
 
Buffy is, understandably, distraught, and blames herself and her sexual urges for what happened. However, when she turns to Giles, her watcher and mentor, for a suitable lecture or punishment, his response leaves her surprised.
 
“If it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is my support, and my respect.”
 
Preach on, Giles.


8)  It’s okay to be scared sometimes

Life is full of twists and turns, hurling us headfirst into moments of pure happiness or tragedy with just a click of its wily fingers.
 
Should we feel afraid of what’s to come? Should we constantly try to prepare for the worst case scenario?
 
Well, yes – and no.
 
As Buffy herself explains: “Bottom line is, even if you see 'em coming, you're not ready for the big moments. No one asks for their life to change, not really. But it does.
 
“So what are we, helpless? Puppets? No.
 
“The big moments are gonna come. You can't help that. It's what you do afterwards that counts. That's when you find out who you are.” 
 
You can be afraid, sure, but you’ll find the courage you need to face your fears head on. You just need to believe in yourself. 


9) It’s more than okay to cry

Seriously, it really is; it’s not a sign of weakness – literally every character in Buffy has shed a tear at some point in the series. And they always come out the other side of their sobfest feeling better for it.
 
Why? Because confronting your feelings helps you to move on, helps you come to terms with loss, and helps you to feel better.
 
All big wins, if you ask us. 


10) And it’s even okay to be angry

Ever heard of righteous fury? We thought as much.


11)  Nobody has it all figured out

When you feel alone, or like the world is against you, remember that you’re not the only one who’s struggling.
 
As Buffy puts it: “My life happens to, on occasion, suck beyond the telling of it. Sometimes more than I can handle. And it's not just mine. Every single person down there is ignoring your pain because they're too busy with their own.
 
“The beautiful ones. The popular ones. The guys that pick on you. Everyone.
 
“If you could hear what they were feeling. The loneliness. The confusion. It looks quiet down there. It's not. It's deafening.”


12) Because life – and death – does not discriminate

When Joyce tragically lost her battle with cancer, we watched as the entire group fell apart – and, surprisingly, none more so than Anya.
 
“I don't understand how this all happens,” she said. “How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's- There's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid. It's mortal and stupid.

"And-and Xander's crying and not talking, and-and I was having fruit punch, and I thought, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why.”
 
Her words struck a chord with many viewers struggling to deal with their own grief, and they reminded us that life really isn’t fair. But it isn’t necessarily unfair, either. Bad things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people, and that’s all there is to it.


13) So on that note…

Remember that life is short – and it’s the things we didn’t do that we’ll come to regret, not the things we did.
 
As Buffy puts it: “Why waste time being all shy and worry about some guy if he's going to laugh at you? Seize the moment 'cause tomorrow you might be dead.”
 
Nice.


14) … and celebrate the little things in life

More importantly, appreciate all those special moments with the people you love.


15)  Because love – real love, that is – is bigger than any of us

We’ll let one of the Scoobies explain this one for us, in his own words.
 
Take it away, Spike…
 
“When I say ‘I love you,’ it’s not because I want you or because I can’t have you. It has nothing to do with me. I love what you are, what you do, how you try. I’ve seen your kindness and your strength. I’ve seen the best and worst of you. And I understand with perfect clarity exactly what you are.
 
“You’re a hell of a woman. You’re the one, Buffy.”
 
Exactly.
 
Love isn’t about you, or your wants, or your needs. Love is about seeing someone for who they are, warts and all, and still recognising that they are the most awesome person in the entire universe. 


16)   … although true love can be (and often is) completely platonic

Remember Grave? Aka one of the greatest episodes in the history of television?

In this episode, we watched as Willow – driven mad with grief – overdosed on black magic and decided to “kill the world”. Which, let’s face it, was a terrible idea.
 
Nobody could reach her, and nobody could tap into her sense of humanity – until her childhood BFF Xander tracked her down.
 
“The first day of kindergarten, you cried because you broke the yellow crayon and you were too afraid to tell anyone,” he told her.
 
“You've come pretty far. Ending the world - not a terrific notion... But the thing is... yeah, I love you. I love crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary, veiny Willow. So if I'm goin' out, it's here. If you wanna kill the world, well, then start with me. I've earned that.”
 
Friendship can be just as powerful as any romantic relationship – and love really can work miracles.
 
NOTE: It’s worth pointing out that this is one of the very few episodes where Buffy plays no role in saving the world; it’s Xander, the ‘heart’ of the group, who puts an end to Willow’s plan. However, in keeping with the show’s gender role reversal, he doesn’t use any physical strength or powers to defeat Willow – he relies solely on his words and feelings.


17)  You don’t need a man to be happy

“You know what? I don’t need a boyfriend. To rescue me or for any other reason.”
 
Yeah, that’s right; Buffy knows the importance of being her own woman. And so what if she had three long-term boyfriends during the show? When the finale rolled around, she was single, unwilling to ever let a relationship define her, and very much in control of her own destiny.
 
You go, girl.


18)  Look after yourself

Are you ready for an inane cookie analogy from the Buffster herself?
 
Here you go:
 
“I'm cookie dough. I'm not done baking. I'm not finished becoming who ever the hell it is I'm gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I'm ready. I'm cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that's fine. That'll be then. When I'm done.”
 
Wise words, as we're sure you'll agree. Be patient with yourself, cookies of the world.


19) Look after each other

Your friends are the family you choose – so treat them that way. 


20)  We all have the potential to do something incredible

“In every generation, one Slayer is born, because a bunch of men who died thousands of years ago made up that rule. They were powerful men. This woman is more powerful than all of them combined. So I say we change the rule. I say my power, should be *our* power.
 
“Tomorrow, Willow will use the essence of this scythe to change our destiny. From now on, every girl in the world who might be a Slayer, will be a Slayer. Every girl who could have the power, will have the power. Can stand up, will stand up. Slayers, every one of us.
 
“Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?”
 

For the season finale, the Scoobies had one last trick up their sleeves; they cast a spell which gave every single girl in the world the power to summon her inner strength and join the fight against the patriarchy… ahem, we mean the vampires.
 
What are you being called to do? Are you fulfilling your potential? It’s time to listen to your inner voice and act upon it – because you are, we promise, ready to be strong. 

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