Trigger Warning: This post discusses rape.
There are pros and cons of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the first time as an adult. Some effects fall into both categories, like knowing Joss Whedon’s power to make me love attractive, blonde-haired blonde men. A con is having all my Whedon and Buffy obsessed friends saying all these things I don’t understand, especially about Spike. How great he is, how awesome, how much I’m going to love him. While I’m watching this awesome show with this amazing, layered, intricate female character, I don’t understand the peroxide blonde vampire who everyone swoons over. Spike is spoken of with almost reverence, with fangirl excitement, and I just don’t get it. I see this vampire, this creepy, evil blood sucker, and after the sparkling, brooding vampire I grew up with up, Spike is fantastic because he is evil. He’s raped and pillaged entire cities with his insane vampire girlfriend, Drusilla. But no one likes him because he’s evil. A few admit their love is because of James Marster’s undeniable nearly flawless physique, but others say it’s because of his character, of everything that makes him Spike.
I’m left wondering if we’re watching the same show. Really? This is the guy you love? The Big Bad? The guy trying to sabotage all of Buffy’s plans? Then, he gets the chip, and I start to see his appeal. Then, I find out the true story behind his nickname of William the Bloody. I’m pretty sure the text message to my best friend went something like “SPIKE IS WILLIAM THE BLOODY BECAUSE HIS POEMS ARE BLOODY AWFUL! BAHAHAHAHAHAHA! THIS IS BEST THING EVER!” at about three in the morning. I’m basically on the insane, Spike bandwagon now.
But then, out of some sort of morbid fascination, I search for Buffy on Pinterest, and up comes a pin about Spike and Buffy. This is before there’s anything remotely close to romantic feelings on either side. I’m already shocked enough that Buffy and Spike become a Thing (how on Earth is that going to happen?) and then there’s the comments. The online comments you should probably never read. At this point, I didn’t know Spike almost raped Buffy. I didn’t know that someone online would try and justify such an action. The one Pinterest comment that went something like “But Spike didn’t know what he was doing. Buffy had said “no” so many times before when she didn’t mean it, when they had sex anyway, how was Spike to know this time was any different?” stays in my head. It’s still in there, and I read it months ago.
I was furious. I was outraged that anyone could think a woman ever deserved rape, or asked for it, and that men don’t know that they’re doing anything wrong.
Then, after weeks of binge watching on Netflix, I finally get to season six, the Buffy and Spike season, the season of assault on women (Warren’s spell on his girlfriend who he then kills, anyone?), and the comment on Pinterest is right at the front of my mind. And trying to excuse that scene away, to excuse Spike’s actions when he himself doesn’t? I don’t even have the words.
Now, maybe you’re thinking, “It’s just one comment. You should get over it.” Yes, it’s just one comment, but it’s one comment too many, and since we live in culture where a girl was drugged and raped at a party and then made fun of for the pose she was in, this one Pinterest comment is not a shout into the void. It’s part of a larger conversation we should be having. It’s part of a conversation about the prevalence of rape culture stemming from a show that had its last television episode eleven years ago. It’s part of a conversation in which Buffy and Spike are uniquely situated to show that sexual assault can occur within a consensual relationship.
Buffy does tells Spike “no” quite a bit, and he ignores her quite a bit. But all the times she said no, when she pulled away, and he touched back, she caved. She stopped protesting (even if it was for a few seconds), and responded to him. But the attempted rape scene is different from all the others, from all her others “no’s”. She doesn’t cave, and she’s also told Spike it was over, told everyone is was over between her and Spike. This isn’t just no. It’s not just Buffy knowing it probably isn’t the smartest thing to sleep with someone she doesn’t love, but who loves her. She’s fighting, and hurting, and begging him to stop. With her superhuman strength, she throws Spike off of her, and Buffy’s in tears.
On the rewatch, I honestly don’t know if Spike did realize what he was doing, how much he wasn’t listening, but that doesn’t change that fact that it was wrong. It doesn’t change the fact that Buffy, and every person has the right to tell a man no, to have their no respected. Better yet, to be with someone who knows that yes means yes. It’s not even like Spike tries to completely reason away his actions. He knows what he did was wrong (weirdly enough since he raped and pillaged with the best of them in years gone by), so why would someone on Pinterst try to? Why would anyone in real life try to excuse or justify rape or any form of sexual assault?
Buffy and Spike are fictional but sexual assault is not. Since the school year started in August, there have been five sexual assaults on my university’s campus, four of which were committed by nonstrangers. Just as Spike was a nonstranger. Are we to tell those people who have lived through sexual assault that their experiences don’t matter, their voices don’t matter? Because by trying to excuse the perpetrator, we are saying that the survivor is at fault. That someone who was assaulted asked for it, which is the opposite of the truth, and opposite of everything we should be telling teens and young adults, and, well, everyone.
Sexual assault, in all its forms, is something for which we shouldn’t make excuses. Everyone should know they have a right to say no, to only engage in sexual activities when they want to, to not take advantage of a individual who is passed out. Buffy even quips while Spike has her and Dru chained up (which is completely disturbing as he professes to love her during this scene, but that’s a whole other blog post), that the only chance he has with her was when he was unconscious. Even Spike finds this repugnant (and he’s frustrated with Buffy), yet it’s an assertion we have to make.
Maybe you’re wondering how I feel about Spike about now after having watched the whole series and read through volume one of season nine in the graphic novels. The answer? It depends on what episode I’m watching. His attempted rape changed how I viewed him because no matter what he does after, even sacrificing himself to close the Hellmouth, I can’t forget that he tried to rape Buffy. He only didn’t because Buffy pushed him off her, right? Right? See, it’s complicated. Cognitive Dissonance is probably the best term to describe my feelings for Spike. At times, I love him as a character, and I will never tire of looking at James Marsters, but Spike tried to rape Buffy, and I can’t forget that. I have too many friends who were raped by then boyfriends and trusted figures in their life, I think of them every time I hear about sexual assault and rape.
But my mixed feelings show the brilliance of the show, the importance of it. The fact that it brings this into the open, to the forefront of people’s mind this many years later. The power of the show, the power of the writing, is that it makes us think and sparks this kind of conversation and applications to real life.
Meet Our Guest Poster!
Bridgette Johnson works in Youth Services as the Teen Volunteer Coordinator at her local public library. She is pursuing a MLIS from the University of Tennessee. She loves all things geeky, watches entirely too much British television, and can often be found writing. You can follow her on Twitter and visit her blog.
Want even MORE Buffy goodness? Then be sure to check out our co-host Teen Library Toolbox’s blog for their take on the show, and additional guest posts. You can also journey back through the archives of previous renditions of the Sunnydale Project! Also, we’d love to interact with you in the comments, or on Twitter – unlike vampires, we don’t bite.