The Buffy Standard

In an essay posted at The Mary Sue, novelist Kelly Thompson discusses the influence Buffy had on her, both as an author and as a teenage girl.  Read the essay here.  In the essay, Thompson addresses Buffy as a "strong female character," and discusses the issues that come with that title.  She writes:

“Strong female characters” as a shorthand for what characters like Buffy represent has gotten an odd reputation of late, with people both innocently and not so innocently misunderstanding the shorthand. When we use that shorthand we’re of course not talking about physical strength, although that’s sometimes part of it, but rather the strength and complexity that comes with any well-defined character."

Thompson makes an interesting point; as of late, the term "strong female character" has come under fire.  I can't help but think of Sophia McDougall's op ed piece for The New Statesmen, strikingly titled "I Hate Strong Female Characters."  McDougall is quick to point out that it is not female characters she has a distaste for, but their critics.  She believes that "strong female character" is a term created out of a double standard, that we expect a certain level of strength out of our female characters that determines whether or not they are well written.  Yet, even McDougall takes a moment to bask in Buffy's brilliance.  She says:

"I love it when Angel asks Buffy what’s left when he takes away her weapons and her friends and she grabs his sword between her palms and says “Me”. "

This seems to be a general consensus; Buffy Summers is the highest bar, and we should all strive to write characters like her.  As Thompson says:

"Buffy was the definition of a “strong” character, female or otherwise, not because she was an ultimate badass when it came time to kick ass, but she was complex and real. Buffy simply was. She was girly and also tough. She was witty but not always wise. She was a clothes horse and romantic, sometimes a flake, but she was also strong-willed and righteous."

A quote has been floating around tumblr, used in graphics like this one and this one.  As I'm sure you can note, the second graphic is actually done as a critique of the first one, which furthers the very notion that no one can seem to agree with what a "strong female character" is supposed to be, or look like, or act like, despite the fact that they are using the same quote.  The quote was written by the blog user Lori, who said:

"Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.”

It would seem that both Thompson and McDougall can agree that Buff Summers fits into these catergories without trying.  She simply is all of this and more, a multi fascited, interesting, well rounded character.  She inspires us to write more in depth characters, both male and female.  The world of fiction deserves characters with as much depth as people in real life.  No one is a cutout of a character, and so characters themselves should not be so simple.

The Buffy standard should not be seen as unattainable.  As Thompson said, "Buffy paved the way for so many heroines that followed her and to this day she remains that inspirational template and touchstone of feminism."  We should not look at Buffy as a oneshot of perfection, but instead see her as an inspiration and guide.  Ask yourself, "What Would Buffy Do?"  Ask it often, of yourself, of your characters, of each other.

Make Buffy proud.