[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. 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.]
EPISODE: “Bargaining, Part 2″
INCIDENT: Threat of rape
PERPETRATOR: Razor and the demon bikers
INTENDED VICTIMS: Willow Rosenberg, Tara Maclay, Anya Jenkins, Buffy Summers
The specifics: The Scooby gang brings Buffy back to life right as a gang of demon bikers comes rolling into town, wreaking havoc on Sunnydale. They corner Willow, Tara, Anya, Xander, and a recently-resurrected Buffy. The head demon biker, Razor, threatens to rape the women and wants to start with Buffy. He punches her in the face, but then Buffy’s Slayer instincts kick in and she successfully fights him off. She and the Scoobs eventually fight off and kill and/or scare away the demon bikers.
The mind of the perpetrator: Razor, as he says, is only interested in one thing – destruction. “Of course we want trouble. We’re demons. We’re really all about trouble.” Only a few scenes ago, he and his demon buddies chained up the Buffybot to the ends of their motorcycles and tore her apart. Wanting to rape the women is part of his general love for destruction, but it’s also about specifically punishing strong women. (He doesn’t threaten Xander with rape.) After all, when he asks who wants to go first and Buffy moves forward in her still half-dead state, he says, “I was really hoping it would be you.”
The victims’ perspective: Obviously none of them want to be raped (or in Xander’s case, watch his friends be raped), but they take different approaches to dealing with Razor. Xander and Tara threaten him, Anya tries to reason with him, and Willow does both. Buffy is still half-catatonic and doesn’t say or do anything until Razor punches her in the face.
What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?
This episode shows us how certain groups of violent men are particularly violent and hostile towards women, especially strong women. Many demons, vampires, and evil humans have wanted to kill the Slayer, but not all of them attacked Buffy out of misogyny. (Ethan Rayne, for example, set up Buffy to die purely out of self-preservation, and I think the Mayor half-admired Buffy for being a strong woman and thought it was a shame she didn’t turn out like Faith.) These demons, however, are of a different breed. They take joy out of ripping the Buffybot into pieces, even though she was already injured and not much of a threat to them at that point.
Now let’s look at the language he uses when he threatens them with rape:
“RAZOR: Now let me tell you something, children. We’re not gonna fight you. We’re just gonna hold you down and enjoy ourselves for a few hours. You might even live through it. Except that certain of my boys got some…anatomical incompatibilities that, uh, tend to tear up little girls. So, who wants to go first?”
There’s no grey area in this threat of rape. Like in most instances, this threat is much more about power and control than sexual desire. Rape is a weapon to harm and humiliate and even kill.
On one hand, this rape threat is a responsible portrayal of sexual violence in the media, showing that rape is a violent crime and that rapists are not overwhelmed with passion or desire. They just want to hurt their victims.
On the other hand, I find the inclusion of this threat completely gratuitous and gross in what is already a depressing, bleak episode.
Now, I happen to be a fan of the controversial sixth season of Buffy. I wouldn’t be a fan of the show if every season was as depressing and dark as season six, but I liked seeing the show explore the darkest, least pleasant aspects of its heroes and shining a giant spotlight on their flaws. I like a lot about the “Bargaining” episodes, as it combines truly scary imagery (Willow vomiting up a snake wtf?!, Buffy coming out of her grave), scenes that are both strange and oddly touching (Dawn crawling into bed next to the Buffybot) and weird humor (the Buffybot’s marzipan line and the vampire in the Hanson T-shirt), but I thought Razor’s line about “anatomical incompatibilities tearing up little girls” was gratuitous and unnecessarily brutal. It felt like the writers were using a rape threat as a cheap way to show how edgy and dark the sixth season was going to be – and, dudes, you had Buffy crawl out of her grave and Willow vomit up a snake. You wanted to show us edginess and darkness? WE GOT IT.