I admit it. My dark secret. I am a Buffy fan.

I discovered her when I was pregnant with my first. I don’t do pregnancy very well, and throwing up 7 times a day while working full time tends to make a girl exhausted. Which means I would come home from work and immediately collapse in front of the TV. Buffy was in her last season, with re-runs every night on TNT or something, and I discovered that I could watch two hours of Buffy every night if I timed my work schedule right. On Wednesday nights, it was three hours. I quickly learned that the later seasons aren’t worth the trouble (seriously, Season 6 has but one decent episode), but I was oddly fascinated by the first seasons, and found myself, at age 26, hooked to a show about vampires.

When my son was born, we lived in an apartment complex with another mormon family. The wife and I were both academic widows, meaning we spent many nights alone with our babies while our husbands were studying or in class. She and I spent a lot of time together, and I still treasure that bond of friendship forged in those long lonely days.

She wouldn’t watch Buffy with me, though.

We talked a lot about it, and she said she couldn’t understand why I liked it so much. After all, it is a campy horror show with bad effects and some not so understated sexual innuendo, and not a show one could call family friendly.

I thought about it and finally told her I liked it because Buffy was a superhero, a girl who was strong and powerful. I decided I liked watching shows about powerful women, women who could kick some serious butt. Back then, there weren’t a lot of women like Buffy on the small screen.

A lot of people think that because I like Buffy, I must like violent shows. I don’t, not really. I tried to watch 24 with my husband, but couldn’t take the cruelty. I tried to watch The Walking Dead, because everybody is talking about it on FB, and just couldn’t stomach the gore. My husband got into the show Prison Break a while back, and I had to leave the room during a riot scene.

So really, it’s not that I dig on violence. I think I just dig powerful women. There is something there that fascinates me. Or motivates me. Or makes me think that if there were more Buffies in the world, it would be a safer and happier place.

Recently, somebody expressed concern about some behaviors my son is exhibiting. It’s a long and painful story that I won’t get into now, but the word “aggressive” was used. And then that person told me that since he had never seen my husband be aggressive, my son must be getting it from his mother.

I was mortified, horrified, embarrassed, and hurt. It reminded me of a time in high school when, after a particularly acrimonious debate round, the judge pulled me aside and told me that he had found my aggression towards my opponent unwarranted. I was confused, as debate is sort of, by definition, an inherently aggressive activity. I asked him why he thought I was too aggressive, and he said (and I will never ever forget this), “You defiled your femininity.”

Because girl debaters are supposed to be feminine, dontcha know.

But then I decided I don’t have to apologize. I shouldn’t have to apologize for a show of strength, just because I’m a woman.

I don’t want my children to hurt or humiliate or bully other children. I want them to be kind and considerate and supportive of others. Since the above mentioned conversation, my son and I have had lots more conversations about treating people with respect and love, and dialing back physical play. But I also want my children to stand up for themselves, to use their voices, to make sure they are heard when they need something, to fight for justice when they are wronged, and to go for things they want, despite the obstacles.

And I don’t want other people to think my kids are easy targets. When a bigger kid put my son in a head lock on the playground with no adult in sight, it was hard not to applaud his actions when he defended himself by smashing the kid’s nose with his head. Both children were sent to the principal’s office, both were reprimanded by the teachers, and both got notes and phone calls home.

My son, however, has never been put in a head lock again.

Getting back to the Buffy example, I also want my daughter to feel she can act in a way that won’t “defile her femininity”, to know that being strong doesn’t mean being masculine, that she can be beautiful and lovely *and* have the strength to take care of herself, to defend herself against others, and, heaven forbid, have the wherewithal to fight like a demon if she is ever attacked. She may not be the Chosen One, but I’d sure like her to think she can fight like she is.

So how do we do this, moms? How do we strike this balance of teaching our kids strength without teaching them to hurt, teaching them to be feel powerful without putting other people down? How do we teach them that being strong doesn’t mean making other people look weak?

It’d be so much easier if the world was just made up of slayers and demons.


  1. Andrea R.

    March 20, 2013

    Being feminine doesn’t mean being weak, docile, or submissive. These are other peoples’ definitions of what it means to be a woman — not ours.

    I have always admired strong, powerful women, and had a number of role models growing up: Margaret Thatcher, Sally Ride, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Hilary Clinton. Keep on being your strong, powerful, “aggressive” self. It’s time we redefined “femininity.”

  2. JennR

    March 20, 2013

    Holy cow! I can’t believe those things people have said to you! I’d way rather you BE Buffy than let such awful comments cow you.

    I think we are capable of a balance. It makes me think of God. He is all-powerful, yet he is the most loving parent in the universe. He is filled with wrath; he is filled with mercy.

    I think there are erroneous masculine roles out there too. Men have to be macho to have worth. Tenderness in men is often seen as weak as “aggression” in women is seen as “unnatural.” It seems to me that if we want to be like God, we need a balance of both strength/power/aggression and mercy/tenderness/meekness.

    As with many things, it looks like Satan is trying to push us toward one extreme or another with half lies in order to draw us away from God and godliness. If being “feminine” means being powerless, then we can’t make any contribution (and we all hate a totally wrong world like that!). However, if in order to be strong women we have to be ruthless and unfeminine, that’s a loss too.

    I believe that men and women can be strong, powerful, capable, contributing, and limitless as well as loving, kind, compassionate, meek, and peace-loving. God is both. I believe our Mother in Heaven is both. And so can we.

  3. Anne F

    March 20, 2013

    you “defiled your femininity”???? whoa I would have been stunned.

  4. Jessie

    March 20, 2013

    I have never watched Buffy but I’ve heard good things about it. I also find it interesting to think about how people perceive behavior based on the gender of the person–like JennR’s comments I hate it when my little boy gets told he shouldn’t do certain things because they aren’t ‘masculine’. Nope, my little boy can cry sometimes if he wants, because boys can cry too. I have a job where I have a supervisory role, and sometimes I find that I can say the same thing as one of the male supervisors and get a very different reaction to it from some people just because I’m a woman and trying to be assertive.

    I think the difference between assertive and aggressive is on that is hard for many people to learn; I wasn’t really taught it well in my childhood and I am still learning how to stand up for myself in appropriate ways. Children can be aggressive if we don’t teach them correctly, but I am going to teach both my boy and my girls to be properly assertive.

  5. Smee

    March 20, 2013

    I’m going for the “Primary Answers” here. We teach the balance through constancy, with example(s), service, and communication. Children are literal beings, which means they learn best from clear lessons.
    Mom and Dad set the initial role model and then can point out others modeling the behaviours they deem positive or negative. Little children wish to please their parents, so we need to begin this teaching as early as possible, and keep it going even after they leave home.

    When we involve our children in serving others on a regular basis they learn that they are both more than others and also less than, they have more, they have less, they know more, they know less…etc. It gives them a proper perspective of their place in the world. Both blessed and needy, both gifted and lacking. Eventually they will understand that everyone is in the same boat, which creates an awareness of justice and strength, confidence and humility.

    Constant (as corny as it sounds) affirmations and encouragement will build the proper esteem (just make sure you are honest in your assessments, build esteem, not ego), which lends itself to not taking “business” from anyone, and also helps our kids see when someone else needs their (appropriate) help.

  6. Kris

    March 20, 2013

    I LOVE Buffy. I am a little too young to have watched it when it was on TV, but we discovered it last year and I am obsessed. Giles is my very favorite. I love him so much.

    I can’t recommend the show to many people past season 4 though. Because of Willow. I love Willow but I thought she went crazy out of character after season 4.

    I have nothing really to add to this convo except that I love Buffy so much and I am actually getting ready to write a paper about Buffy and feminism for my Critical Literary Theory class so… good timing with this post 🙂

    We can slay it!

    (Buffy pwns Bella forever.)

  7. Rosalyn

    March 20, 2013

    I really love this post–on so many levels. As a rhetorician, I have to note that there’s a long history of women being called out for being masculine when they speak in public (esp. in masculine ways, and debate is–by its nature–considered a “masculine” activity). Nineteenth-century women who spoke in public (at all!) risked charges of immorality. Deborah Tannen has done some great work on the ways that female bosses are perceived differently when they use a leadership style that gets applauded in men.

    I’m proud of you (and your son) for standing up for yourselves. I don’t think cultural norms like this change without being challenged.

  8. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    March 20, 2013

    I lOVE the Chief (of police) in “Psych” because she is a powerful woman leader, but not in a masculine way. Almost every time I watch that show I laugh a little–when the Chief gets riled and after someone I visualize myself going after one or another of my children for something or other. One of my favorite authors is Robin McKinley. She always seems to write powerful female protagonists. I don’t like ALL of her books but The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword and Sunshine are among my favorites.

  9. Dinosaur

    March 21, 2013

    Buffy + Bullying…

    1st Buffy, I loved the show from the first time I saw it during season 2. I would set up the VCR to tape it on Tuesday nights when I was out and invariably someone would not switch the cable box and I’d be stuck with 1/2 7th Heaven and 1/2 Buffy. 1/2 of the way through 7th Heaven someone who loved me would remember that I wanted Buffy taped… I have no opinion about the issues raised with Buffy, I just loved Joss Weadon’s writing, the cool sci-fi concepts, the fear of death etc. Basically the Buffyverse!

    2nd Bullying, I’m interested in this. Its not a new thing. Cain really would rather Abel just gave him all his stuff (I’m sure) rather than having to kill him to get it. I (and most of our children) are “large of stature” but that doesn’t mean we weren’t or aren’t targets. What your son did was right. The true bully’s aren’t really in this for anything significant. They are just like thieves who giggle the door handles to see what they can steal. Fight back to any degree usually means you aren’t going to have to deal with this again. That’s got to be done mano – mano, or womano – womano not with parents, the school or the man getting involved.

  10. annegb

    March 22, 2013

    LOVE Buffy! And I’m an old lady. I love that she’s true to herself.

    Also, my favorite movie line: “I just want to graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.” It’s a great line to pop off in a Relief Society dinner when people are getting too self righteous or boringly positive.

    I, however, want to marry Tim Robbins.

    Anyway, thanks for validating my love of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer!

  11. Dalene

    March 22, 2013

    Amen, Heather. I love this. I discovered the same thing about myself–I don’t enjoy violence, but I am highly entertained by shows (campy or not) in which a female lead or character is capable of defending herself and even humanity if needed.

    I used to worry that I wasn’t “teaching” my kids everything I feel compelled to impart to them. In recent years I have come to appreciate the quiet power of a good example. What we model does sink in.

    In terms of being strong but kind, my kids tease me about what they call my “assertive thing.” I am not afraid to ask for what I want or expect. But I try to always be courteous and respectful in the asking. My kids pretend to be embarrassed, but when they need an advocate they are not afraid to ask me to “do my assertive thing.” I hope they are learning from that that you can be firm and kind at the same time. I believe that’s an admirable train in both genders.

  12. Gine s

    April 1, 2013

    Watching old movies of he helpless girl a nd the the power dynamo who self reproduces makes think there needs to be a balance, duh, just like most things….

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