When Joss Whedon bought Buffy The Vampire Slayer[i] to the screen way back in 1997, it was to become an iconic feature that he could never have expected. He twisted the convention of the weak blonde girl (always the victim in horror movies), and instead made her a strong, fighting, independent character, still relatable through her teenage troubles and problems. Whedon made Buffy into an incredibly powerful force of the time, and the popularity of the show, both at the time and still continuing today, proves the longevity of the series.
Literature abounds regarding Buffy and her role as a feminist character, which is undeniable, and tantamount to Whedon’s excellent writing skills through seven years of TV. However, she has been gone from our screens for ten years now, and for a while there was no clear successor to her crown as Modern Feminist Icon. However, possibly in a sudden rebound against the Twilight movement, film and TV is suddenly flooded with characters snapping for a chance at taking up her mantle.
The most obvious (and likely the most popular) successor is Katniss, from the massively popular Hunger Games [ii] series. In many senses, she is the perfect fit to take up the throne. Her determination to save her family, her friends, and ultimately her country, along with her immense independence, make her ideal. She has been heralded as a modern feminist icon in many senses, particularly the way she has been noted to use her relationships and bonds with others to strengthen herself throughout the series. Katniss changes and grows over the course of the books, and learns to be both fighter and carer, realising the strength and benefit of allowing herself to be emotionally attached and bonded. She upholds De Beauvoir’s[iii] ideas of women refusing themselves to be defined by their male counterparts – if anything, Katniss defines Peeta, keeping him alive, defending him, and using him to her advantage in the Arena. Katniss holds on her femininity strongly, but she is unafraid to take on male roles as well, particularly seen in Mockingjay[iv], when her leadership and more ‘male’ aspects of her personality come across, still combining with her feminist side. Combining her strength drawn from relationships, and her fierce fighting nature, she is a natural fit to take over Buffy’s throne. However, she is not the only contender.
Warm Bodies[v], both the book and the film, features Julie, the female protagonist as an incredibly strong willed and practical character. At the death of her boyfriend Perry (by the hands of R), she is accepting of it, realising that trying to maintain the relationship was beyond her. Instead, she begins to look ahead, wanting to keep protecting her friends, and later, wanting to help R rediscover his humanity. Julie, in a sense, does not really act as a female character. Although she and R undertake a romantic relationship, in a way they are both gender neutral. Julie makes places little emphasis on her femininity, and combining her strong independence with her willingness to do what she feels is right, rather than what others want her to do. Like Katniss, she refuses to take a path she does not want to, and the strength of her relationships – from Perry, to her father, to R – are used to her advantage, never to her detriment. As proof of this, she accepts Perry’s death, she defies her father and his ideals, and while she maintains a strong relationship with R, she is prepared to leave him and send him away. Julie, while perhaps not as dominating or immediately obvious as Katniss or Buffy, she is still a feminist icon, taking on a subtler role than these two trailblazers.
Decidedly one of the far less known feminist icons is Vin, from Brandon Sanderson’s The Mistborn Trilogy[vi]. Vin begins her journey as a scrawny 16 year old girl who has suddenly discovered her immense and rare magical talent. Over the course of the three books, she becomes a powerful and determined fighter, more feared than any other magic user, and often takes massive risks to help save others or to aid their rebellion. Sanderson develops her as a character through her relationships, just like Julie and Katniss are. She learns to embrace her feminine characteristics and stops fearing that side of herself, instead realising that she can be both feminine and a fighter, and that she does not have to compromise in order to personify both. Her relationships with Elend and with Kelsier allow her to draw strength from them, to develop herself as a character – it enables her to ‘come of age’ and to finally discover who she wants to become as a person. Vin is a definitive feminist character, and her relative anonymity in mainstream media is a shame, as she fully embodies the modern feminist principles seen in the other examples here.
Of course, these three examples are only a selection of many. In deciding whom to choose to write about, I drew up a list of more than ten popular icons, and had I taken the time to explore, I am sure I could have come up with many others. It is refreshing to see feminist icons becoming so prominent in modern media, and the variety and abundance of them means there will soon be more and more choice for fans. Such a range of feminist characters could well shape the next few years of popular media, and finally sweep away the remnants of the Twilight movement, to replace them with more positive, realistic and frankly, exciting characters and texts for the next generation.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, Ed. James B South, 2003, Open Court Publishing Co.
‘Why Katniss is a Feminist Character (and it’s not because she wields a bow and beats boys up)’ Rachel Stark http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/03/why-katniss-is-a-feminist-character-and-its-not-because-she-wields-a-bow-and-beats-boys-up
‘Feminist Icons’ http://www.mookychick.co.uk/feminism-politics/feminist-icons/
‘The Problem with Katniss’ http://www.shelaughsatthedays.net/2012/03/problem-with-katniss.html
‘Top 12 Characters who should be considered Feminist Icons in Comic Book Movies’ http://www.comicbookmovie.com/news/?a=66184
[i] Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon, 1997-2003, Kazui Productions, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox
[ii] The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins, 2008, Harper Collins and The Hunger Games, Dir. Gary Ross, Lionsgate, 2012
[iii] The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir, Trans. H.M. Parshley, 1949, Everyman’s Library
[iv] Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins, 2010, Harper Collins
[v] Warm Bodies, Isaac Marion, 2009, Vintage, and Warm Bodies, Dir. Jonathan Levine, 2013, Summit Entertainment
[vi] The Mistborn Trilogy, Brandon Sanderson, 2006-2008, Tor Fantasy