[Note: I'm writing a series about consent issues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will post a new entry in this series every other Tuesday - or perhaps on a weekly basis, if I have the time. In this series, I will look at an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that deals with rape, sexual assault, or consent issues as a main plot point or as a featured event of the episode. I will examine these episodes in chronological order. If, in my writing of this series, you feel that I have skipped an episode that should be a part of this series, feel free to submit a guest post, and I will consider publishing it.]
INCIDENT: Sexual assault followed by attempted murder
PERPETRATOR: Faith Lehane
VICTIM: Xander Harris
The specifics: Two episodes before “Consequences,” Faith and Xander had sex, after which she kicked him out of her apartment. In the episode after, Faith accidentally killed the Deputy Mayor while she and Buffy were out patrolling and slaying vampires. She tried to blame the incident on Buffy, but Giles, Willow, and Xander saw through that defensive lie immediately. Xander, thinking he had a connection with Faith due to the fact that they slept together, showed up at her apartment and tried to offer her his support. He even says he’ll testify for her in court if she gets into trouble over the Deputy Mayor’s murder. Faith rejects his offer of help and aggressively kisses Xander, who shows considerable less enthusiasm than he did when they first slept together. She pushes him onto the bed, holds him down, in a way that suggests she might try to rape him, but instead, she puts her hands around his throat and begins choking him. She almost kills him, until Angel comes up behind her and knocks her unconscious.
The mind of the perpetrator: Faith, still in deep denial over having taken a human life (by accident), responds to Xander’s offer of help with disgust, defensiveness, and sarcasm. She assumes he’s come over for a second round of sex, even though he insists several times that he hasn’t. She thinks that Xander wants to defend her so that he can use the opportunity to tell everyone that they slept together:
“XANDER: See, you’re trying to hurt me. But right now, you need someone on your side. What happened wasn’t your fault. And I’m willing to testify to that in court if you need me.
FAITH: You’d dig that, wouldn’t you? To get up in front of all your geek pals and go on record about how I made you my boy toy for a night.”
She laughs at him when he tells her that he thought they had a connection, kisses him, throws him onto the bed, using her force and sexuality to keep him in his place. Now, Faith is a Slayer, and Xander is probably the physically weakest male character on the show at this point, so if she wanted to kill him, there’s no reason why she couldn’t have, say, broken his neck or beaten him. The fact that she combines sexuality with force makes it clear that she wants to taunt him and hurt him emotionally before hurting him physically. I still can’t tell, though, if she thinks Xander is lying and feeding her another line, or if she knows he’s sincere when he talks about their “connection.”
Later, Angel talks to Faith about the incident. She tries to play off the incident as meaningless:
“FAITH: The thing with Xander; I know what it looked like, but we were just playing.
ANGEL: And he forgot the safety word. Is that it?
FAITH: Safety words are for wusses.”
She also makes a sexual joke about Angel “tying her up.” This exchange of dialogue is one of many that makes me believe that Faith is a survivor of sexual abuse as a child or young adult, even though the show never stated this explicitly.
The victim’s perspective: Xander is sincere when he says he felt a connection with Faith (or at least he thought he felt it). After they slept together in “The Zeppo,” we saw a brief shot of them lying side-by-side as he stroked her hair and shoulders, looking at her with tenderness. He was never in love with her, but he felt something for her. Even though Buffy told him that Faith doesn’t take her sex partners seriously, he didn’t believe her, and he goes to Faith out of a sincere desire to help, and to maybe find some validation that the sex does mean something to him. Instead, she throws him onto the bed and tries to kill him.
Later, after Faith escapes from Wesley and the Watcher’s Council and the Scooby Gang gets together to discuss the problem, Xander is leaning against the wall on the top of the stairs, shrinking away from the rest of the group, not looking or talking to anyone, with a haunted look in his eye. Chatty Xander doesn’t say a word for the entire scene, making me think that it was probably Angel who told Buffy and the others about Faith’s assault.
What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?
This is the first (but not the last) time that Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a female perpetrator – or male victim – of sexual assault or consent violation on the series. Of the incidents I’ve written about so far, this one is (to me) the most disturbing to watch and the hardest one to write about. The previous incidents were also disturbing, but this one is the most “real-life” representation of sexual assault so far, where no one was under the influence of a spell or any supernatural forces. There’s a lot to unpack with this one, so I’ll do my best to cover what I think are the most important points.
To me, “Consequences” is significant in that it shows how sexist stereotypes can be just as damaging to men as they are to women.
One of the most pervasive stereotypes about men and sex is that men always want it, whenever they can get it, no matter what. They’re horny, sex is always on their minds, especially when they’re around pretty girls, they can’t help themselves, yada yada yada. The “men are horny dogs” mindset is often used to excuse or dismiss men who rape women, but what happens when the rape victim is male?
First, let’s look at how the other characters react when they find out that Faith and Xander had sex. Willow, knowing Xander better than anyone else, realizes it before Xander says it directly, and then Buffy and Giles follow shortly.
“BUFFY: Alright. Look, I know that you mean well, Xander, but, um, I just don’t see Faith opening up to you. She doesn’t take the guys that she has a… ‘connection’ with very seriously. And they’re kind of a big joke to her. No offense.
XANDER: Oh, no! I mean, why would I be offended by *that*?”
Buffy doesn’t expect Xander’s feelings to be hurt by this, but the quick look Xander gives to Giles, and the bitter, sarcastic tone in his voice, indicates that he is hurt. Because Xander is on the receiving end of the “big joke” comment, he’s the only one who seems to think that it wasn’t a nice thing of Buffy to say. But can you imagine if the situation had been reversed, if Buffy had slept with a man, assumed they had a connection, only to have Xander reply that “the girls he sleeps with are kind of a big joke to him?” Willow and Giles would have jumped down his throat. But Xander’s not expected to be offended, because he’s a guy – he doesn’t care if Faith doesn’t take him seriously, because he still got laid, right?
Next, let’s look at Xander’s interaction with Faith. She assumes he’s there for sex, even though he sincerely assures her that he’s not. She thinks all men only want sex. Again, I believe that Faith was sexually abused, perhaps repeatedly, so her perspective on men is bound to be skewed. Even when Xander tells her that he would stand up for her if necessary, Faith assumes that he wants the opportunity to brag to all his friends about sleeping with her. The viewers know this isn’t true, as Xander didn’t tell anyone about sleeping with Faith until he thought the information was necessary (when she got into trouble and he wanted to help her).
Finally, let’s look at how the others react to the information about Faith and Xander. Angel, to his credit, is the only character who even hints that it was a sexual assault, with his “safety word” comment. Willow only says that Faith “hurt” Xander, and Buffy and Giles don’t comment on it at all.
Earlier, I wondered if Angel was the one who told the gang about the assault so that Xander wouldn’t have to, but now I’m wondering if the rest of the gang didn’t even know about the sexual assault – maybe they only know that Faith tried to kill him.
Anyway, when Willow points out that Faith has done a lot of damage and perhaps should be locked up, Buffy only agrees that Faith is “out of control.” Her primary concern is to help Faith. I think she’s right to want to help Faith, both for Faith’s sake and for the sake of anyone who gets on the wrong side of a mentally unstable Slayer, but she doesn’t address Xander’s feelings on this at all. In fact, she tells Willow and Xander to look for Faith in her haunts and to “be careful.”
I can’t imagine that, if Willow or Cordelia had been assaulted by a man, Buffy would have ordered either one of them to then go looking for their assailant with a perfunctory “be careful.” That would never have happened in a million years. Xander is expected to actively seek out the woman who sexually assaulted him and tried to kill him.
But I want to know why. Does Buffy think assault is less of a big deal because it was her male friend who was attacked? Or is she afraid of insulting Xander’s masculine pride even further by suggesting he stay behind and recover?
Personally, after watching this show several times, I believe the latter option is more likely. I think if Buffy had advised Xander to stay behind, he would have aggressively insisted on helping.
I also don’t believe that Xander, insecure enough in his masculinity, would ever describe himself as a victim of sexual assault or attempted rape. There’s a poisonous belief that a male rape victim is “less” of a man, especially if his rapist is a woman. Xander’s utter silence on his own sexual assault is proof of that.