Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy

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Title: Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy
Creator: Kristen Smirnov
Date(s): not dated, but likely 2002
Medium: online
Fandom: Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
External Links: All About Spike - Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6 by Kristen Smirnov, Archived version
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Domestic Abuse and Gender Role Reversal in Season 6: My Letter to Mutant Enemy is a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer essay by Kristen Smirnov.

This essay was posted to the All About Spike website.

Introduction: "Since this issue has come up again recently, I thought I'd share the letter I recently sent to Marti and Joss regarding different kinds of sexual abuse as portrayed this season. I'm aware that this might anger some people, and that's truly not my intention. I'll just say that, as a college student on a liberal campus, I've been exposed to a staggering wave of excused or ignored domestic abuse doled out by females that seems to increase with every semester. I'm hyper-sensitive to it, and that's the stance where I'm coming from with this."


I read interviews done by the Mutant Enemy writers and have noticed a disturbing trend. To say that Buffy's treatment of Spike was not domestic abuse is disingenuous at best and dangerous and immoral at worst, and to see it excused the way it has been turns my stomach. The gender roles were so thoroughly reversed this season that the stereotypical "bad boyfriend" actions were nearly drowning me as they rolled off Buffy. Yet, we were constantly told that she was simply coming from a confused place, not a bad one, and that there was much angst from her resurrection that she was trying and failing to deal with.

In my world, overriding someone's clear and unquestioned revocation of sexual consent is rape. The gender of the attacker doesn't matter, nor does the gender of the victim. How upsetting was it, I thought as I watched this, that clear sexual assault was being presented as nothing more than a throwaway joke?

The same issue arose when Willow wiped Tara's memories of an argument in All The Way, only to engage in sexual relations with her in Once More, With Feeling. This was clearly a blatant and purposeful bending of someone's wishes in order to keep the target in line with their own desires. Later, Tara would say that her mind had been violated; no, it was more than her mind. She did the right thing and separated herself from her attacker, but then returned to her later in the season with a desire to get "right to the kissing." This was, to say the least, highly distressing.

I watched two women not only commit sexual assault this season, but have it excused either in the show or in writer interviews. Worse than that, it was never even acknowledged as anything akin to rape, it was just another vague "bad thing" they'd doled out that seemed to be beyond their control.

It has been said that Spike and Buffy cannot be compared to a real life couple, being supernatural creatures, yet that seems to be exactly what the audience has been encouraged to do through the events of this season. The issues faced by them may have had their supernatural origins as catalysts, but are based in simple human emotions. We're seemingly invited to bring our own interpretations to the table for their interactions, and I have obviously done so above. By making two simple changes (gender and humanity), my friend suddenly changed his tune about whether or not Buffy had been a cold-hearted, remorseless abuser; now there seemed no question of it.

That this so easily changed in his head is what worries me about what the audience is expected to take from this season. Buffy knew Spike wanted to talk about what was going on and that he'd never said no; her overpowering him was presented as a joke. Spike attempts to stay away from Buffy after being dumped by her, is twice made to feel guilty for daring to direct his attentions towards another woman, tries to rip out his own emotions so he can stop hurting so much, and then attempts to "communicate" with the person who has denied him any other means of doing so, and we're expected to see rape.

Sorry. I don't buy it. I don't buy that Buffy directing abuse towards someone innocent of her resurrection was just a sign of her "wrongness" and nothing more to be concerned about. I don't buy that she didn't force Spike into actions and roles he didn't want to play. I don't buy that forcing someone weaker into patterns of behavior and communication carries no weight when it ultimately results in a terrible moment between the two.
If sexual assault had been presented in a consistent manner throughout the season, perhaps the scene would have been believable as what it's promptly labeled as... but this falls firmly in third place behind the sins perpetuated by Buffy and Willow in the same arena. More than that, Xander immediately assumes rape... why? As far as he knows, Spike can't hurt Buffy. All I can see is a sign of a mindset that men rape while women are victimized. And as Buffy was portrayed as the victim during it, all I could think yet again was that this was absurd. She's supposedly injured enough to compensate for her much greater strength, yet this incredible injury is gone by the time she goes to fight Warren in the next scene. The drama of the moment is emphasized by a complete lack of background music, yet Buffy ignoring his "no" was accompanied by a wacky score.

Meanwhile, Spike is convinced he's committed a far worse crime than he did, and this soulless creature felt so much remorse than he sought to change his entire metaphysical structure to avoid a repeat. This is amazing: we've been told time and time again that vampires cannot feel guilt without a soul, that his shiny soul is how Angel realizes his crimes and seeks to make amends for them. Spike did so without one... this is epic stuff. He's far better than he should be, while Buffy is far worse. But he'll return to a group of people convinced that he did indeed victimize this "helpless" girl, in actuality a dangerous abusive user whose sins they know nothing about.

Some fans have raised the question of how these two could ever get back together with an attempted rape overhanging them; I have a different question. How can this dramatic work show a person changing themselves for the better for the sake of someone who abused and assaulted them without one moment of demonstrated remorse, and then return to them? It was distasteful when Tara did so with Willow, and would be just as much so if Spike does so with Buffy. I can only hope that these issues will indeed be addressed next season, that Buffy's staggering patterns of emotional and physical abuse will be addressed so the audience is not expected to root for a supposed hero who is in actuality morally bankrupt.