[Note: I'm writing a series about consent issues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will post a new entry in this series every month. 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: Violent sex
PARTICIPANTS: Buffy and Spike
The specifics: Before “Smashed,” Buffy kissed Spike twice. She kissed him at the end of “Once More With Feeling” and “Tabula Rasa.” In the beginning of “Smashed,” she swears to never kiss Spike again. By the end of the episode, Buffy and Spike are having sex in a dilapidated building. They quite literally fuck a house down.
The specifics, from Spike’s perspective: Spike thinks Buffy is leading him on – she kissed him twice and pretended it meant nothing. He tries to physically restrain her so she’ll listen to him. She hits him. He hits her back and realizes that he felt no pain from the chip in his head. After a conversation with Warren, he finds out that the chip is fully functional and just doesn’t work on Buffy. He calls her out, and when she doesn’t respond, he follows her and goads her into hitting him. He hits her back and informs her that the chip doesn’t work on her because she “came back wrong.” They fight, and he taunts her about being a “little lost girl” and being “less human” than she thought. He asks Buffy if she’s afraid of “giving him the chance” to hurt her. Before he can finish asking the next question, she’s kissing him and initiating sex.
The specifics, from Buffy’s perspective: Spike won’t leave her alone. She’s told him several times that the kisses meant nothing, but he still follows her around. She rejects him when he tries to call her on the phone. When he shows up, she tells him to get out of her way. He doesn’t listen, so she hits him. When he hits her back, she’s horrified that the chip doesn’t seem to work on her, and repeatedly insists that he’s wrong. They fight, and it isn’t long before she’s kissing him, pushing his back against the wall, and unzipping his pants.
What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?
You’ll notice that I didn’t post my usual “victim” and “perpetrator” labels in this edition of “BtVS and Consent Issues.” That’s because I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here in terms of consent. The relationship between Buffy and Spike in season six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes consent issues very murky.
On one hand, I feel that Spike is taking advantage of Buffy’s extremely vulnerable state to get what he wants. Buffy is obviously clinically depressed, and her decision-making skills are not great. He claims to be in love with her, and yet he takes entirely too much pleasure in informing her that she came back “wrong,” that she’s warped and strange and not entirely human.
On the other hand, Buffy is the one who turns the violent fight into a kiss, and she’s the one who shoves Spike against a wall, unzips his pants, pulls her skirt to the side, and starts riding him.
Is Spike violating Buffy’s consent by manipulating her when she’s particularly vulnerable? Or is Buffy violating Spike’s consent while initiating sex during a violent fight? Can both of these things be true at the same time? Or, is it possible that neither is true – that even though the sex is angry and violent, there is no violation of consent on either side?
I’m not sure how to answer those questions. I’ve watched the last few minutes of “Smashed” more times than any other single scene in Buffy the Vampire Slayer history, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.
I tend to believe that Spike provoked Buffy with the intention of making her emotionally vulnerable, or at least with the intention of proving her wrong, but that he was completely surprised (though not unhappy) when she initiated sex. I also believe that Buffy was attracted to Spike for a long, long time before the “you came back wrong” speech, and that she used the “you came back wrong” doubt in her mind to have sex with him – but I still don’t know exactly when and how she made the decision to stop fighting and initiate sexytimes.
What do you all think?