Xander is wrong, of course – Oz never took the bait when another man invited him to sexually objectify a girl. But he’s also wrong about himself. Xander may talk a good game about wanting a submissive woman to serve him, but his dating history points to an opposite trend of being attracted to assertive – sometimes even aggressive – women. His first girlfriend is Cordelia, the former queen bee of the high school, a girl who defeated a vampire simply by threatening him. His second girlfriend is Anya, a former vengeance demon who spent one thousand years eviscerating men, a woman who never shied away from expressing an opinion even if others found it rude. He’s attracted to both Buffy and Faith, Slayers with physical strength who also know how to fight with their words, but any attraction he had to Kendra died when she couldn’t look him in the eye while speaking to him.
There’s a part of Xander that wants the stereotypical male fantasy of a girl who will serve at his whim, but the larger part of him seems to crave a woman who will speak her mind and banter with him. If he ever did find a girlfriend who only wanted to serve and please, he’d be bored within a few hours, though I’m not sure he has the self-awareness to realize that yet.
Real men always want sex. Xander can be gross when it comes to women. He makes sexually objectifying comments about his female friends. He thinks about sex all the time, as confirmed when Buffy gains the ability to read minds and gets wind of his inner monologue. He sees nothing wrong with making comments about women’s bodies in front of his female friends, and fantasizing about Willow and Tara’s sex life in front of Buffy and Dawn.
Yet there’s another side of Xander when it comes to sex, one that doesn’t come out as often: he values and craves intimacy. When he dreams about Joyce Summers in “Restless,” he confirms that he’s more interested in comfort than in conquest: “I’m a comfortador.” After he has sex with Faith, he doesn’t brag to his friends the way we’d expect him to, but tries to prevent Buffy from finding out and only spills the beans when he thinks the information might help – and he’s crushed when Faith dismisses their one-night stand as meaningless to her: “I thought we had a connection.”
It’s clear that intimacy is more important to Xander than merely getting his rocks off, but the side of him he chooses to show with his friends is the side that’s gross and reducing women to sex objects – even though his friends like the sweet side of Xander a lot more than the pig he often lets out.
Real men get into fights. Real men want submissive women. Real men want sex. These are the lessons that Xander internalizes, and where does that leave him? It leaves him feeling inadequate. It leaves him feeling unloved. It leaves him angry, and when he’s angry, he uses his words as weapons and cruelly lashes out at the people he loves the most – in short, repeating some of the behavior he learned from his father.
The worst part is that Xander often isn’t self-aware enough to see what he’s doing, even as he can recognize this detrimental behavior in other men. He criticizes his friend Riley for acting too macho and blowing up a crypt without waiting for backup. He’s disgusted with Spike for creating the Buffybot. He thinks Warren, Jonathan, and Andrew are creepy and gross. He’s right about all of these things, but if someone were to point out the similarities between his behavior and theirs, he’d be in deep denial to hear it – because as much as Xander wants to be like other men, he wants even more to not be like those men, those jerks who take advantage of women and try too hard to wow people with their macho behavior.
Xander has many wonderful qualities. He can be very brave, loyal, selfless, and loving, and the boy knows how to turn a phrase. He can also be insecure, angry, sexist, cruel, and judgmental. Close to the end of the series, he becomes more at peace with himself and lets go of much of his anger and judgment, but if we didn’t live in a culture that fetishizes and celebrates the most aggressive and disgustingly macho versions of masculine behavior, maybe he would have reached that point much earlier in his life.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Xander becomes more at peace with himself – and becomes a better friend – when he gets over the need to be our culture’s definition of a man and instead does what he does best: take on the more traditionally feminine role of comforter and emotional support for the people he loves.
(Bless you if you read this far. I know the formatting is effed up but if I spend ONE MORE MINUTE trying to fix it I will punch my computer.)