Buffy, Superheroes, and Raising Young Feminists

Last week we all started watching Buffy together. After mocking Chef for a couple of years for hiding his Buffy fever from me, he finally suggested we watch it as a family thing. Although we all watched Firefly and Serenity — thanks to my sister who is deserving of the credit for assuring me that Joss Whedon does not suck — it’s Ethan’s first exposure to the series, as well as mine. So far we like it, but I’m told it’s going to get better after a couple of seasons.

One of the things that’s difficult about raising school age kids is the dearth of female and minority representation in age-appropriate venues — often what representation does exist is tokenism. With some searching beyond the old classics, you can find some really cool stuff for kids, but you usually have to take what good you get along with the bad. When girl children are present, children of color are not, or the girls are silly, consumerist-driven, and boy-crazy. When children of color are present, they are usually boys, and they often hew close to tired stereotypes about minority culture. Exceptions exist, of course, and we aim to find them. As a politically-minded parent, I am conscious to try and discuss what we watch with Ethan during and after we watch it, see what he thinks, and reinforce our pro-feminist, anti-racist, anti-consumerist values.

Chef yesterday had one such conversation with Ethan.

Chef: So, E, what do you think of Buffy so far?

Ethan: It’s pretty good. Buffy kicks serious butt.

Chef: What do you think of the fact that Buffy is a superhero that is also a girl?

Ethan: That’s part of the reason that I like it!

Chef: Me too. I think it’s great that there is a superhero that kicks so much butt that girls can identify with. Really, that everyone can identify with.

Ethan: What do you mean?

Chef: Part of it is that she’s a young person and young people don’t get a lot of power and attention. Like, what other kinds of superheroes are there that you can think of?

Ethan: Oh, Spiderman, Batman, Superman.

Chef: What do they have in common?

Ethan: They all end in -man. But there’s Superwoman and Batgirl, too. And Wonder Woman.

Chef: Do you think any of them are going to have a big summer blockbuster movie like Batman does?

Ethan: Like, never. But I really like Buffy.*

I do, too. And halfway through Season One I’m enjoying the sight of Buffy “kick serious butt” but I could do without the ever-constant threat of rape against her person. I know there’s a huge number of Buffy-loving feminists in the femosphere, ahem ahem, so I’d love it if you’d point me toward some cool Buffy analysis online.

Any other feminist-friendly movie and TV suggestions appropriate for school-aged children?

* Ethan also seems to like that one of the major villains of Season One is a boy about his age.

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80 comments for “Buffy, Superheroes, and Raising Young Feminists

  1. AndersH
    July 20, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Oh, Buffy. I like it a lot, but it’s one of my main “buuuut”-series. As in, I have a lot of problems with it, and I really hope people aren’t content with Buffy. I’m positive we can get something better from a feminist perspective, and I think we should demand it.

    For that age, I don’t know. Possibly the Justice League cartoon. A bit man-heavy, certainly, but I really enjoyed Hawkgirl and Wonder Woman in it.
    In the case of Xena, one of the reasons I like it more than Buffy is also what probably makes it less appropriate for school-aged children, namely that Xena is an adult, not a teen.

  2. Catnik
    July 20, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    I just saw it today – but Penelope, with Christina Ricci, is really charming, child friendly, and has a female lead who takes steps towards independance, self-acceptance – it is heavy on fairy-tale romance, but she saves herself.

    Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle are also a lot of fun, with strong female leads.

  3. July 20, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    For TV I’d suggest Bones, not only is the main character a woman but she’s also a scientist, which is even less common.

  4. July 20, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    My most Buffy’d-out friend suggests that Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies is a good place to start for Buffy analysis.

  5. SarahS
    July 20, 2008 at 10:16 pm

    For Buffy criticism, I’d suggest:

    Fighting the Forces : What’s At Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Rhonda Wilcox

    Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale by James B. South

  6. Jamie J
    July 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm

    For TV, one series that I enjoyed watching just for pure fun and women kicking butt is Totally Spies. It may have flowery, girly gadgets, but on the upside, the men in the spy organization also use the same gadgets.

    Still, the main characters are all brave, smart, and love what they do.

  7. July 20, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Oh, Buffy. The love/hate relationship I have with Buffy is legendary ’round some parts.

    That aside – how spoileriffic are you wanting your analysis. Cuz Joss’ skeevy race issues are might in Buffy.

    Also, do you want your meta all in words? There are some very good fanvids taking apart the skeevy race issues in Buffy round Season 6/7.

  8. SarahS
    July 20, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    Also, if you want cool girl comics that are beyond the superhero genre, I can’t say enough about Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh enough. The main character is like a snarky nine year old goth Daria. It completely fucks with the expectations for young girls, although sometimes she does need her mean badass uncle to bail her out of trouble.

  9. shah8
    July 20, 2008 at 11:16 pm

    There’s always The Physics of the Buffyverse by one of them science popularizers…

    Buffy is really fun to fanwank metaphysics. I should know…Love to daydream there…

  10. Lis
    July 20, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    I am not really answering the question posed but I just got so excited when I read this post and thought, perhaps, it might be okay for me to share my experience:

    When my daughter was little there were shows that I thought okay for her to watch… Sesame Street, Blues Clues etc.. but as she has gotten older I have found almost everything aimed at her age group atrocious. So we got rid of tv. Kind of. Now we just Netflix shows and we end up watching them together which is way better anyways. Limiting access to the tv has been really helpful in insuring that I can get my daughter really thinking about what she watches.

    Our current favorite tv shows are Buffy and Xena and while neither are perfect and do not always portray feminist ideals, I think that they are still okay as long as my daughter is thinking about what she is viewing instead of passively taking it all in. After reading the post I asked my daughter which show she thought was more feminist and she, to my surprise, unhesitatingly said Xena. Apparently, Buffy’s mooning over boys on occasion (particularly Angel) is seen as unfeminist. Xena’s attire, however, is acceptable due to her hands-off attitude.

    I really can’t think of a lot of other shows that are feminist per se. I do know that after we exhaust our supply of Xena and Buffy episodes we are planning on moving onto the X-Files. Scully is a pretty strong woman and while she is kind of the sidekick she is the more intelligent and rational person. And, unlike some sidekicks, is totally developed character-wise.

  11. Axelle
    July 20, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    I suggest Avatar: The Last Airbender.

    Yes, it’s a Nickelodeon cartoon, but it is fantastic. It has some great character development, some amazing action, and a bunch of kick-ass female characters.

  12. July 20, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    Lis, I am with you on shutting off the tv. When I read this post I questioned as to why this was not such an issue when I grew up. There was not much on TV even though I will admit it was white male dominant. There were some exceptions such as The Cosby Show, Punky Brewster and Kate and Allie. Head of the Class was one of my favorites because it was some type of attempt at diversity of race, culture and class. My child is leaning towards gender based cartoons and at the age of 3.5 started informing me which ones were for boys and which ones for girls. I assume she will flow right into Hannah Montana and things targeted for girls, but I hope I am wrong. I think movies have to be worse than tv in terms of cultural diversity and representation of women. But I tend to watch foreign films more than homogenized blockbusters.

  13. July 20, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Watching foreign films might be a nice option to educate kids about culture and situations people deal with around the world.

  14. Janus Daniels
    July 20, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    You would enjoy:
    All Things Philosophical on BtVS and AtS
    Your complete compendium to all things mystical, good, and evil in the Buffyverse
    by MASQUERADE the Philosopher

  15. crow
    July 20, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Note: I am not a “troll.” I really like to hear what other people think.

    Does anyone else think this type of portrayal of women is wrong? It’s one of the few things that makes me really angry. I hate it when people try to make women equal by showing them beating up men. This model is basing a person’s self worth on their physical ability. In real life, it is nearly impossible for a little skinny woman to beat up a man. Creating a fantasy world in which women are equal because they can beat up men is only reinforcing the fact that this is nothing like real life.

    I’m aware that these people also have strong personalities or whatever, but it still irks me. The ability to be violent should not be how you judge somebody’s worth as a human being.

    There is such a thing as a strong women who isn’t some sort of warrior.

  16. William
    July 20, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    I’m probably outing myself as an insufferable nerd here, but I’d really suggest giving Farscape a try. It was a series on Sci-Fi a few years back that ran for four seasons and a movie. Interesting things are done with the concepts of race, gender, and class, character development is strong, female and male characters are about equally represented and even the characters who seem to be fairly traditional in their gender roles surprise you as the series moves on. The two major female characters in the beginning of the season are strong female soldier from an extremely racist society and a political dissident. The major male characters are a scientist, and a man who became a political prisoner because of racial issues. Despite being a science fiction series the first season mainly deals with culture shock and different characters struggling with their prejudices. Also, the make-up and creature effects were done by the Henson Company and are positively amazing.

  17. July 21, 2008 at 12:05 am

    Feminist TV? It’s so damn sad that I can’t think of anything to point you to, really… Veronica Mars has some good elements to it, but those were overshadowed for me by the way the series dealt with rape, which was problematic at best (even more problematic than the way the Buffy series deals with rape… I won’t spoil, but somewhere in there the series deals with rape, so be ready to splain a highly skeevy “now we’re friends again” situation to your boy). Veronica Mars could be good for an older kid, as long as you spoke to them about the representation of sexual violence–so they’d have to be old enough to understand a conversation about rape drugs and consent.

    To get kind of retro, I think I learned my feminism from the Cosby Show. I used to watch it with my mom when I was about your son’s age.

  18. Lis
    July 21, 2008 at 12:06 am


    I guess, honestly, it’s not really about whether or not a girl is being violent towards men. I don’t think these shows get translated as literal “women can take men on physically”. Part of it is about how these shows don’t constantly portray women as only interested in relationships or as only worrying about clothing… you know all the stereotypical behavior that you see in most shows. But it is also about how women characters are generally kind of flat and undeveloped… they don’t have have any contradictions or flaws because they are just a caricature. Buffy and Xena are both flawed and human and strong and complicated. They are more developed and interesting. Also, I guess to some degree the idea of being strong and empowered gets translated into physical prowess. I think that has to do with tv being primarily a visual format. Also, Buffy and Xena are not about beating men up. Buffy beats up Vampires and Xena beats up other evil warlords and mythological monsters. That is WAY more believable then women beating men up, right ;) ????

    And, Xena is always telling Gabrielle that Gabrielle, as a non-warrior, is much stronger than Xena will ever be.

  19. July 21, 2008 at 1:25 am

    He’s a little young, but DeGrassi is really good. If they have the old episodes available, even better. Maybe a year or two from now Ethan will be ready.

    And I watched the first two seasons of Buffy religiously, and then let it go. Giles was the man.

  20. JohnM
    July 21, 2008 at 1:55 am

    As Axelle says, “Avatar: The Last Air Bender” is an excellent television show. Not only does it have strong female characters, but it has strong characters of varying ages, skin colors and disabilities.

  21. July 21, 2008 at 2:19 am

    Well, Wonder Woman does have a movie coming out I believe. Hopefully it will be good and a big hit. Maybe a little less bondage.

  22. Annamal
    July 21, 2008 at 3:26 am

    It’s Disney, and there’s some subtext that probably isn’t so great but I quite like Kim Possible and even better than that is Juniper Lee.

  23. July 21, 2008 at 3:34 am

    I love Buffy – I’ve been watching it again, lately – but the second time around, five years on, the race stuff is looking even worse. I’m glad your son is getting a dose of Joss-style feminism (some people will disagree, but I don’t think the queer stuff is half bad either) but take some time to talk about the Buffy’s cartoonish portrayal of people of colour. Give it a few seasons, and you’ll see what we mean.

  24. Medea
    July 21, 2008 at 4:12 am

    The Tenth Kingdom is good in some respects–the protagonist is a strong young woman, the villain is a woman (a magnificent evil queen) and the main helper is a woman–but bad in others. It seems perfectly acceptable to force a woman into marriage by placing a magic ring on her finger, and there’s a really disturbing scene that echoes a victim-blaming rape trial.

  25. July 21, 2008 at 4:26 am

    Seconding Axelle’s recommendation of Avatar. The female characters are very much on an equal footing with the boys; there are numerous strong female minor characters; and each of the four countries are based on non-European cultures.

    Did anyone watch the Birds of Prey TV show? What was that like? I won’t touch it because of a character change fromthe comics, but I don’t know how the gender politics translate.

  26. July 21, 2008 at 4:55 am

    Thirding the recommendation to Avatar!

    The creators have gone on record as stating that they wanted to prove that a show would do just as well with an even balance of male to female characters (although you wouldn’t know it from the action figures *grumble*) and it’s certainly more kid friendly than a few of the other options.

    As well as portrayal of non-European cultures they also show characters with disabilities in a non “very special episode” context, which is a rarity in children’s programming. One of the main characters is blind (which in my opinion they treat very well – as an element of her character rather than the entirity of it) and one of the recurring supporting cast members is in a wheelchair (or the Avatar version thereof).

    As far as Buffy goes, I love the show (but I’d echo the points made above re: the portrayal of people of colour) but the big sticking point for me is the writers’ attitudes to sex. I’m willing to accept that for the first few seasons metaphors concerning boys changing abound but at around season six it just starts to get uncomfortable for me.

  27. AndersH
    July 21, 2008 at 5:46 am

    InnerBrat: mostly I remember it being stupid. I guess that’s television :(

    Lis: I’m not at all surprised that she said Xena. After all, it’s what I’d pick, no problem. I don’t know, but there’s something about the style of the two that really makes the breaches with feminism all the more galling with Buffy.

    Further recommendations: there are *some*, with stress on the “some” good anime that I would call feminist. Like Revolutionary Girl Utena, which I’d go so far as to call my overall favourite series (it tops Xena by having an overall story arc that’s more coherent). There are a lot of issues to discuss in that show, though, so not something to just put a child in front of.
    My one-sentence description of it would be: “A subversion of the classic fairy-tale motif with a female prince, which is then subverted.”

  28. July 21, 2008 at 9:09 am

    How in the HELL is Ethan going to fully understand the program without the crucial Kristy Swanson/Luke Perry/Donald Sutherland contribution to the canon?

    P.S. I think Whedon’s Wonder Woman is on ice, as is George Miller’s Justice League project.

  29. Dianne
    July 21, 2008 at 9:13 am

    How old is Ethan these days? Would he be into anime? Most Miyazaki>/a> films are pretty good.

  30. Caithyra
    July 21, 2008 at 10:11 am

    If anime is allowed:

    Twelve Kingdoms also known as Juuni Kokki. It has a female lead and it’s very action oriented in which a normal girl learns not care what others are saying about her and to be strong by herself. It has a very complicated plot that I can’t accurately describe without writing pages upon pages of tiny text. Er, just think of it as a somewhat realistic potrayal of what would happen to a girl that is thrown back in time about a couple of hundred years (though this is another world) and people from Earth isn’t exactly liked in that place. (Food, water, shelter, safety against being sold as slaves and so on are things she has to think about on top of being chased by monsters.)

    The Story of Saiunkoku also known as Saiunkoku Monogatari. Okay, so this one is shamelessly girl-oriented, but the story is good and the female protagonist is strong against discrimination. It doesn’t really get going before Shuurei starts taking the exams to become the first female official ever, but it contains a bit of humour and life-lessons before that.

    Other than those two there is a couple of cartoons that I don’t know if I recommend, but I enjoyed them when I was a kid; Pirates of Dark Water (Tula is like a token magical girl, but still a bit stronger than the usual token. I especially like how she always rebuffs Ioz’s misogynistic comments), Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders (as you can tell from the name, it is pretty much an American magical girl story, but the girls are definitely strong, even if they have token black characters [Josh and Fallon], at least Fallon has development beyond the tokenism).

    Other than that… well, I agree with the ones that recommend Avatar. I’m a bit iffy about Totally Spies because even though the girls kick butt, they are really, really (and I mean REALLY) boy crazy and think shopping is the zenith of existence (or something like that), but the “Queen For A Day” episode is on my recommendation. I also enjoyed Justice League [Unlimited] while it was running.

    Oh yeah and W.I.T.C.H. is also a show that I recommend! (Though never as much as the comic, particularly the early story arcs are good.)

    And well, that’s that. Hopefully this list has been of some use.

  31. Torri
    July 21, 2008 at 10:14 am

    Four recommendations for Avatar!

    I’d also like to throw the anime Slayers out there. There are a lot of problems with Slayers as it wasn’t created with feminism in mind, it’s basically a high fantasy parody but the main character is Lina Inverse a sorcery genius who kicks a whole lot of ass. I loved this show as a teenager and it’s recently come out with e 4th season, the main group consist of main character Lina-magic powerhouse and competent swordswoman, Gourry- big dumb blond but lovable swordsman, Amelia- magic user/princess who by the second season has created her own spell that channels holy magic into her FISTS and Zelgadiss-brooding, cursed shaman/swordsman.
    here are the openings for the 1st through 4th seasons

    there are problems with it from a feminist stand point (a running gag is people focusing on Lina being flatchested which she usually responds to with a fireball or other physical pain, Lina’s mostly motivated by personal gain but I think Amelia’s fixation on Justice evens it out.) So see what you think of it first I guess

  32. Vail
    July 21, 2008 at 10:48 am

    I LOVE Slayers!! Lina Inverse is my hero!! Avatar is great too. I would also like to suggest the new series Middlemen (Middleman?). The female sidekick is actually the star of the show and she’s fun, kick ass and get this… and artist who’s an action hero!!

  33. Ledasmom
    July 21, 2008 at 11:17 am

    “Does anyone else think this type of portrayal of women is wrong? It’s one of the few things that makes me really angry. I hate it when people try to make women equal by showing them beating up men. This model is basing a person’s self worth on their physical ability. In real life, it is nearly impossible for a little skinny woman to beat up a man. Creating a fantasy world in which women are equal because they can beat up men is only reinforcing the fact that this is nothing like real life”

    Having grown up as a wimpy, nonathletic girl, I want to be able to enjoy my fantasies of being able to kick the crap out of guys without worrying about their larger meaning.
    Or, from another angle, if the crap-kicking were the only difference between these female characters and “traditional” female characters, I don’t think most people would recommend them. But it is deeply, deeply satisfying to watch the big muscular guy get pounded into the ground.

  34. Karalora
    July 21, 2008 at 11:19 am

    I’ll throw in another recommendation for Avatar: the Last Airbender. Technically the show just ended, but most of it is available on DVD and iTunes, and the last few episodes should be out by the end of fall. In addition to being an excellent kids’ show from a feminist perspective, it is also a true work of art, just fantastic in every respect.

    Just as a minor warning, though, the series is a complete story unto itself, and it is important to watch the episodes in order (a good argument for buying it on DVD/iTunes rather than trusting to Nickelodeon’s dodgy rerun schedule). It also takes a while for the gender parity to really be established, because the creators ran into some pretty sexist attitudes from the Nick executives and had to prove that the show could stand on its own before they were allowed to add more recurring female characters. Even so, in the meantime the female characters that do appear are every bit as strong and competent–in some cases more so–than their male counterparts. One early episode has a male character forced to confront his own sexist assumptions and realize that they were wrong, and toward the end of the first season an entire episode is devoted to tearing down gender role barriers. I really can’t say enough good things about it, both as a feminist and as a lover of animation and fantasy storytelling.

  35. Miriam Heddy
    July 21, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Not sure how old Ethan is, but be prepared for sexual situations in Buffy. As the characters get older, their problems move from high school angst writ demony to more adult problems and relationships, including rape, female robots created as sexual surrogates, and numerous references and allusions to penises.

    In other words, what starts out looking like a show for and about kids turns into a show that’s clearly for and about adults (or at least those struggling to find a place in the adult world).

  36. Torri
    July 21, 2008 at 11:21 am

    *cheers, good to see more slayers fans XD I’ll keep an eye out for middlemen, not having much luck finding it on youtube yet, it is an anime right?

  37. visiting
    July 21, 2008 at 11:35 am

    What about Dark Angel? My wife and I bought the boxed sets for both seasons. Season one is better than season two, but both are pretty good!

  38. Katy
    July 21, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    “Does anyone else think this type of portrayal of women is wrong? It’s one of the few things that makes me really angry. I hate it when people try to make women equal by showing them beating up men. This model is basing a person’s self worth on their physical ability. In real life, it is nearly impossible for a little skinny woman to beat up a man. Creating a fantasy world in which women are equal because they can beat up men is only reinforcing the fact that this is nothing like real life”

    A couple of thoughts:
    Joss Whedon said that he created the show after watching so many horror/action movies where a woman walks down a darkened alley and gets attacked by something lurking in the dark. Buffy is that girl, only she doesn’t die, she fights back. She isn’t just fighting male vampires, but female ones, monsters sans gender and all sorts of other supervillans. The fact that Buffy is “a little skinny woman” is besides the point. Clark Kent is just a bumbling news reporter. In all superhero comics/movies/tv we are invited to imagine the possibility of something more, that a person is much more than what we see at first glance.

    Secondly, women aren’t equal in Buffy because they can beat up men and men aren’t seen as equal because they can beat up women. Giles and Willow are valued primarily because of their intellect and problem-solving abilities. The fact that they get kidnapped a lot is something that has nothing to do with their genders but rather has to do with their initial lack of physical prowess.

    I could ramble about this for sometime so I’ll move on to suggestions. I love Joss Whedon so I’d suggest the 8th Season of Buffy which is currently being done in comic form (the first two trade paperbacks are already out) and his run of Astonishing X-Men (which focuses heavily on Kitty Pryde).

  39. July 21, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    I think what Joss did with Buffy is create a variety of Power Fantasies for women.

    Spoilers for up to Season 5:

    Buffy herself is, of course, the do-gooder physically strong high school student who eventually is thanked for all the hard work she did in protecting everyone. She’s strong, she’s sexy, she’s got a Twu Wuv of DOOM.

    Willow is the smart, brainy girl who is a social outcast and ends up dating a drummer. (And Oz is my internet boyfriend, hands off.) Throughout the first few seasons, her knowledge is what makes her cool – she’s the brainy geek who reads too much and hangs out on the internet before it was cool and even starts teaching classes. Power Fantasy!

    Faith gets to be kick ass and sexually aggressive. Tara is the beautiful earth goddess type. Anya is the blunt-talking girl who gets to ask all the questions and also get revenge on folks. Cordy is… well, Cordy.

    My poorly-worded point is what makes Buffy more than “Woman = strong when she can kick ass & take names” is that there are a variety of female-led power fantasies here. Yeah, Buffy & Faith both kick physical ass, but pretending that’s the only thing going on is ignoring Willow, Tara, Anya, and Cordelia – all of whom are kick-ass female characters who aren’t about beating anyone up.

  40. UnFit
    July 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I thought dark Angel had some subtle gender messages that I couldn’t agree with.
    It’s ahrd to put in words, but often it seems to me that Max is… troubled because she’s not a “proper” woman, and that that’s part of the reason why she can’t have a fulfilling relationship with Logan. Urgh.

    I must admit I haven’t read through the apge yet, but I used to caht with its creator when she was buidling it.


  41. Ismone
    July 21, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    With the women being able to beat up on men–crow has a good point–women shouldn’t NEED to be able to physically kick ass in order to be considered equal.

    But I do not think that women beating up larger men is necessarily quite as unlikely as crow thinks. I did martial arts for a while, and my sensei was a 6’+ buffed out guy, (and a high-level blackbelt, I forget how many levels that discipline had), and he once physically PICKED UP a higher-level blackbelt who was 5’2″ tops and who then beat the crap out of him.

    If you’re talking about two exactly matched opponents, bigger/stronger will probably win. (Unless smaller is faster or more flexible–try watching two male gymnasts fight–I did once, and they would beat a big guy any day in a grappling style fight.)

    But yeah, just about anyone taking on multiple opponents with ANY training is going to lose. And yet we still watch Steven Seagal movies

  42. July 21, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    When I was a kid I was into this cartoon called ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers’ in a huge way. It’s about four or five teenagers (girls and guys) from across the globe fighting enviromental issues. When I was 7-10 I thought it was fantastic. I can’t remember what it was like in terms of a feminist slant but it was made in the early 90s and is super pc so I can’t imagine it being sexist…at any rate, it’s really educational about the environment.

  43. Kelsey Jarboe
    July 21, 2008 at 1:40 pm

    I’ve just started getting in Buffy (saw some of season 2 and am now working my way through season 1), and I’m loving it.

    As an older teenager (the 16-19 range), I’ve really enjoyed Ugly Betty and Persepolis (which is a movie and a comic book, but still excellent material for older teenagers and young adults). I used to watch a lot of anime as a younger teen but I can’t say a whole ton of it was feminist, per say. Miazaki is definitely a great family film maker, and he has a lot of interesting, complex female protagonists.

    Some of my favorite female characters in TV and film come from 1930s/40s films, which I’ve grown up watching thanks to my dad. Women in this era were pretty gusty and intelligent, it’s a shame the 1950s made almost every female character fluffy again and we’ve been clawing our way back ever since.

  44. William
    July 21, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Norbizness: Yeah, Whedon’s Wonder Woman is on ice, apparently the studio didn’t like how he was portraying the character. Not too long after Wonder Woman was canceled Jeff Robinov (Warner Bros. Head of Production) took to mentioning in public that Warner Bros. wouldn’t be making any movies with female leads. Depressing…

  45. miwome
    July 21, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    After reading the first comment, I just wanted to say that I highly, highly prefer the book Howl’s Moving Castle to the movie. I definitely agree with the Miyazaki recommendation, though. Also–though this is almost certainly not kid-applicable–the anime movie Paprika, which came out here last summer, is absolutely insanely twistedly incredible. Paprika is the name of the female protagonist, and she is quite something.

    And now I’m going to digress into book recommendations even though that’s not what you asked about. Grain of salt: I read almost all of this stuff before feminism really got to me and so I may have missed subtle problems or stereotypings. This is based on an enlightened(ish) perspective on years-old recollections.

    I loved all Diana Wynne Jones’s books (Howl is one) growing up. Most of them have male protagonists, I think, but Howl is an exception as is Fire and Hemlock. Deep Secrets has a male protagonist but an extremely strong and likeable female lead who does get some of the narrator duty as well. From what I recall, Jones’s female characters are rarely boring or overly predictable, even if they’re not central.

    I also highly recommend the Wizarding series by Diane Duane (I think it was) as well as Dragon’s Milk (don’t remember the author on that one). I was a huge sci-fi and fantasy fan as a kid and YA reader, if you can’t tell. Juniper is also great, and Anne McCaffrey wrote a less-known series (the titles all have Pegasus in them) about people with paranormal abilities, many of them interesting women, that would be good probably in a few more years.

  46. Mo
    July 21, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    On Dame Diana Rigg’s 70th birthday, let me put in a vote for THE AVENGERS, especially the Emma Peel episodes. Looking back on Peel, what strikes me is that she is very sexual (but not at all “boy crazy”), capable (she not only a bridge player but the author of “Better Bridge Through Applied Mathematics”), and lives independently, setting her own rules and limits.

    Would second the Miyazaki recommendations, as well.

  47. L-K
    July 21, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Number (some number here) to recommend Avatar!

    The development of the young characters throughout the three seasons was excellent, one of the best that I’ve seen so far. Toph and Katara are great female characters. Even Azula, although a primary villain, is great. Many of the episodes dealt with sexism and gender roles and there’s been a few episodes on able-ism (Toph is a blind Earthbender and her blindness was a recurring theme in the show, and an ally of the group moves around in a pretty wicked wheelchair).

    But, unfortunately, the series wrapped-up on Saturday (even though there are talks of an incarnation series). It was a very devastating day for me.

  48. Vail
    July 21, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    The Middleman is an ABC TV show. It’s pretty new. Here’s a website for it http://abcfamily.go.com/abcfamily/path/section_Shows+Middleman/page_Detail It’s campy and fun, and like I said, the sidekick really is the star of the show.

  49. July 21, 2008 at 6:25 pm

    Finally! Another one comes over to the darkside. I knew loaning Chef all those seasons of Buffy years and years ago would pay off.

    Chef’s right…. season 3 is the best/most kick-ass season of them all. It has the best villain in the Buffy-verse.

    After you finish Buffy you must move on to Angel.

  50. July 21, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Whedon’s Wonder Woman is on ice, apparently the studio didn’t like how he was portraying the character.

    Although many point to Whedon’s feminist mixed-bagness, no points for guessing which direction he was taking Wonder Woman if the studios were unhappy.

  51. timothynakayama
    July 21, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    When I was a kid I was into this cartoon called ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers’ in a huge way. It’s about four or five teenagers (girls and guys) from across the globe fighting enviromental issues. When I was 7-10 I thought it was fantastic. I can’t remember what it was like in terms of a feminist slant but it was made in the early 90s and is super pc so I can’t imagine it being sexist…at any rate, it’s really educational about the environment.

    I remember that. Captain Planet…..a guy who looked like a pro American football-er with a green mullet.

    I pity the poor black haired kid…he got shafted….his friends got cool powers like Earth, Wind, Water and Fire….and he got “Heart”….and a monkey! . Gee, poor fella.

    The one thing that can be viewed as a sexist bend is the elemental powers that were given out to the other four kids (who probably laughed at the monkey kid). Notice that the Boys received Earth and Fire, and the Girls received Water and Wind. These division of the four elemental powers is also seen in a few other fantasy novels (one of which spans more than 12 books) and shows the typical split – men getting Earth and Fire powers while women got Water and Wind.

  52. AndersH
    July 21, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    I enjoy Buffy and Firefly, but I do so hope that Joss won’t ever make a Wonder Woman movie. My image of Wonder Woman is nothing like Buffy, and the scant word I’d heard about his thoughts on it made me sigh deeply.
    Of course, on the other hand, I hardly think the studio would have the same problem with a Joss treatment of WW that I’d have, more in the other direction.

  53. SarahMC
    July 21, 2008 at 8:41 pm

    I haven’t seen anything mentioned in this thread except Veronica Mars (which is awesome, though probably too mature for Ethan).

    How ironic is it when men criticize female-led fantasy/action for being “unrealistic,” as they consume stuff like Spiderman, Prison Break, 24, Batman, etc. etc. without hesitation?

  54. July 21, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Starbuck on (the new) Battlestar Galactica is the best character on television. (Omar Little and The Wire are gone.) Starbuck is in a command position and she is the best pilot. Keep in mind, the new BG is dark. Starbuck is an alcoholic and has waterboarded Cylons. All the show’s character have good and evil in them.

  55. July 21, 2008 at 10:39 pm
  56. July 21, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    Slayage Online and the books recommended have great essays and analysis, but a simple Amazon search will bring up plenty more in the book section. I’ve incorporated Buffy into a number of academic papers, I love being able to do so.

  57. Emily
    July 21, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    For positive women’s roles, I simply can’t recommend The Sarah Jane Adventures enough.

    Sarah Jane Smith, former companion to Doctor Who is a middle-aged-single-mother action heroine. It’s not necessary to know who Doctor Who is to follow the story lines. The program can be seen in the U.S. on the Sci-Fi channel and should be available on DVD sometime late this year.

  58. lynx_wings
    July 22, 2008 at 5:07 am

    Buffy is awesome feminist TV. I’m currently rewatching the 5th season, and it’s awesome. I don’t have as much trouble with they way they treat the rape. Angel does a whole lot of shit when he’s unsouled, and few people hold him accountable for any of it when he gets his soul back.

    When you run through Buffy, you should check out Angel. It’s not quite as explicitly feminist, but it still has strong female characters and general Joss-awesomeness. I’ve heard the theory that Angel showcases Joss’s more evolved views of homosexuality, and that’s something to discuss.

    Veronica Mars is good if you stop before the third season, wherein Rob Thomas gets sick of having his show pointed to as an example of feminist TV and goes batshit. There are some hardcore campus feminists who fake rapes and victim-blame like nobody’s business. Watching it made me wince.

    Sadly, I can’t think of much else that is feminist and appropriate for kids. This is a shame.

  59. aerliss
    July 22, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Alright, educate this little Whedonphile… what are the race issues you are all talking about? I’ve not watched Buffy in quite a while (okay, so my partner put on S2 last night and I remembered how much I adored Spike… ahem) but I don’t recall any race issues.

  60. AndersH
    July 22, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Of course there aren’t any race issues, since, by amazing coincidence, everyone’s white ;)

  61. July 22, 2008 at 8:36 am

    aerliss, can you name three black people who survived longer than a few episodes previous to Season 7? Have you noticed how incredibly White Sunndale is? It’s supposed to be in Southern California and there are no Latin@s? At all? Isn’t there something a little bit off about how the First Slayer is shown as animalistic and murderous – and Black – and Buffy dismisses her with “I shop, I sneeze, I don’t sleep on a bed of bones”? It wouldn’t be nearly so problematic if there had been any other black characters who weren’t dead at that point. Kendra is such a charicture that no one, including the actress, is sure where her accent is supposed to be from. And she comes back just to be killed so we all know the stakes are high WRT Dru.

    Previous to Principal Wood, every PoC on the show who has a name is dead, evil, or both. That’s pretty problematic.

  62. jun
    July 22, 2008 at 9:58 am

    I’d recommend Doctor Who in general. I was just talking to my hubby about this the other day — on a recent episode, it was one of the two black women who was right about what was going on all along, and the other who performed a heroic deed to save the others. There are many strong, smart black characters appearing throughout the series. They’re not there to specifically speak to some commentary, they’re just filling the roles of normal people, be they smart, brave, selfish, etc.

  63. Roy
    July 22, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Re: Wonder Woman

    I don’t know whether they’ve still got a film in the works or not, but they do have an animated feature scheduled to come out in spring of ’09. They’ve only released a little bit of info on it so far, but what they’ve shown and talked about doesn’t look bad, yet.

  64. July 22, 2008 at 10:19 am

    @Anna: Despite enjoying Buffy, WORD on the race issues!

    As for good kids shows featuring superheroes, I’d actually recommend Justice League of America and Justice League Unlimited. My girlfriend and I have been watching them recently and totally love them. There are some of the usual superhero gender problems (e.g. somewhat scantily clad women, more men than women in general), the women play key, strong, complex roles. The show frequently deals impressively with tons of heavy issues, race, xenophobia, government, power and corruption, and the complexities of “good vs. evil” among them. From the wikipedia article on the series:

    the line-up of this new JLA adaptation was created with two things in mind: to pay tribute to the original line-up of the Justice League of America while also reflecting racial and cultural diversity. Significantly, the well-known (but much-depreciated) superhero Aquaman was left out of the lineup (although he would be used on the show) in favor of a second female on the team – Hawkgirl – and the African-American Green Lantern John Stewart, who has worked with the League in the comics before, was used rather than either of the better-known modern-era Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner, even though Rayner had appeared as Green Lantern in the Superman animated series.

    Let me just say that John Stewart is THE ONLY Green Lantern I ever want to see or read about again, ever.

    ETA: Oh, heh, hi, didn’t realize that AndersH mentioned Justice League in the very first comment!

  65. Liz
    July 22, 2008 at 10:22 am

    “As a politically-minded parent, I am conscious to try and discuss what we watch with Ethan during and after we watch it, see what he thinks, and reinforce our pro-feminist, anti-racist, anti-consumerist values.”

    Stop watching commercial tv, then. Canada, Australia, and the UK all have strong traditions of quality programing for children and young people.


    I can’t stress the quality of the past 4 seasons of Doctor Who (for families) and it’s Spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures (for children.) If you actually do want to see strong female and minority role models and a strong anti-violence message, it’s the way to go. I especially enjoy the most recent seasons that have middle-aged women (without disgusting plastic surgery) saving the universe.

  66. Liz
    July 22, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I forgot to point out that Buffy and Battlestar and Farscape and all of those shows – all have “positive role models” but only in asmuch as they are extraordinary people. Doctor Who has ordinary people doing extraordinary things, which I think is a much more powerful way to speak to children.

    I mean what does it mean to say “Buffy” is a positive role model for young women? She’s a freaking magical being! She is not real! I mean yeah it’s fun and all these shows have their place but at the end of the day your daughter, sister, niece or neighbor girl can be whatever she wants – except an actual superhero. Them’s the breaks.

    But she can be a phd student like Martha in Doctor Who. She can be an ordinary girl who works in a shop who shows tremendous will and compassion like Rose. She can be a female middle-age office temp and still be tenacious and courageous. etc…etc…etc…

  67. Natmusk
    July 22, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Expect in many ways when both Buffy and Willow get carried away with their super power it is often times stressed that the amazingness in them was not about their power but about who they are as a person. Also Dawn gets her power stripped away and gets an amazing speech from Xander about how she is BETTER than Buffy because of the fact that she is an ordinary girl working hard in her world, Anya wants to get rid of her powers again after she gets them and Tara, although she has some skill in magic, is one of the best people in the world, because of who she is as a person. Also the point of season seven was to force the point that it is only one girl who has the strength and superpowers but that it’s not fair and the power is given to all girls who “have that in them.”

    Also, if we turn to Angel, Fred has no super powers but is miles away smarter than all of her male equals.

  68. July 22, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Are you sure you still want Ethan? I’ll pay the shipping.

    You did good work there.

  69. William
    July 22, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Liz: Whats wrong with narratives about extraordinary people? Natmusk really nailed it when they pointed out that the real driving forces of these characters wasn’t their powers but their personalities, their responses to situations. No, a little girl cannot grow up to be a powerful witch, but that doesn’t mean theres nothing for her to learn from seeing a powerful woman on television who happens to be a witch. Its also worth noting that, of the major characters on Buffy, only two really have much in the way of magical powers. Giles, Ayna, Oz (for the most part), Tara, Xander, Cordelia, and Dawn are just people. The fabulous powers serve to advance the storyline but, in the series that have been mentioned here, they do not define the characters. The titular character of Dr. Who is a time traveling alien in a transdimensional phone booth who runs around with a magic wand and fights other aliens. His sidekicks tend to be more “realistic” people, but there is still an element of fantasy that advances these shows.

    Kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They can learn a lot from allegory and myth. More importantly, a lot of people (not just kids,) like fantasy more than drama. Theres nothing wrong with telling stories in that context so long as the characters are intelligently written enough to behave like human beings even if they’re in special situations. Take Superman. As a kid I always hated Superman because he was boring. He was stronger, faster, and tougher than anyone else, and so there was no tension. He never had to act like a human being or think things through (which meant his writers didn’t have to either) because he could fly around the world backwards to reverse time or throw a potential threat into the sun. His personality was the sum total of his ever expanding list of magical powers. Boring. The characters on Buffy or Farscape, on the otherhand, rarely respond to the problems they face through the use of their special powers. Indeed, in many of the stories the powers aren’t what solve the problem.

  70. Nanabooboo
    July 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    I love Buffy! I actually thought it was great because Buffy kicked butt, but also was female. They didn’t make her masculine to make her strong. In fact, when they start exploring the origins of the Slayer mythology there’s some really good discussion of paternalism, use of a “girl” to create the Slayer so they could control her (which didn’t work), etc. It’s true about the lack of people of color. I’d be willing to bet if it were pointed out to Joss Whedon he’d agree.

    Also mentioned above were Xena (great strong women, good discussions about the use of power/violence, good gender identity/sexual preference stuff since it’s unclear throughout the series whether Xena and Gabrielle are just friends or lovers as well). I also liked Dark Angel.

    A couple not mentioned are: Cleopatra 2525, a short-lived sf series with 3 female leads. The title character is a ditz but overall not too bad; and Startrek: Voyager which has a female captain and Am. Indian (or is it Polynesian?) First Officer.

    There’s not much that’s not scifi or fantasy, which shows where our media companies apparently think strong women belong!

    Veronica Mars – loved it! – a little mature, as is Bones (a little dry for young girls).

    The series NCIS has a few great female characters – the token woman on the team (first Caitlyn then Zeva), the techie Abby, also the Director (Lauren Holly – not ashamed to show some wrinkles, thank you!).

    There’s a web site called “Heartless Bitches International” (heartless-bitches.com) that has sections specifically devoted to Popular Culture with good/strong female characters, including: Adult Books, Kids Books, Movies, & Music. You may also be able to find some good recommendations there.

  71. Madeline
    July 22, 2008 at 7:42 pm

    “The Golden Compass” is a movie now, but I’d recommend the book series to your son first. I don’t know how old he is; I read “The Golden Compass” when I was 12 and I was obsessed with it. It’s an incredibly smart, awesome fantasy featuring an adventurous, intelligent girl as its main character. The movie was good, but the books are really the best.

  72. William
    July 22, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    I’d be willing to bet if it were pointed out to Joss Whedon he’d agree.

    I think that theres been kind of an arc along Joss’ career when it comes to race. In Buffy his record was terrible, in Angel it was marginally better, by Firefly he was doing a good job of portraying interesting non-white characters but the world he built was still overwhelmingly white with the only evidence of a supposedly massive Chinese influence showing up in cursing around network censors, signage, and a class of geisha/prostitutes. His recent comic book work has been better (particularly on Buffy and Runaways).

    Speaking of Runaways, that would be a great title for OP’s son. Its a comic Marvel put out that was originally aimed at a slightly younger audience and does a good job with race and gender. Its about a group of kids (some with powers, some not) between the ages of 12 and 17 or so who find out that their parents are super villains and end up going on the run. The series has really good character development, consistently intelligent writing, and it’s heavy hitter is a 12 year old girl named Molly. There a fairly even male/female distribution, characters of differing races (moreso as the series continues), and some reasonably well done gay characters. Its had two different writers over the years (Brian K. Vaughn and Joss Whedon) and its about to have Terry Moore take over. The trades are even in a small, reasonably priced format.

  73. N-A
    July 23, 2008 at 5:56 am

    Just a question – Buffy:

    Maybe it’s because I’m European and our TV is different in the presentation of violence – but doesn’t anybody mind the way how cruel Buffy is sometimes? The way she treats some of her adversaries is just horrible. I wouldn’t want my kid to think it’s OK to treat anybody this way. “He/ she/ it is just a thing”… so it’s OK to be cruel? Animals are things according to the law – so it’s all right to treat them cruelly? This ferociousness was one of the first things I noticed when watching Buffy. But perhaps it’s just me….

  74. timothynakayama
    July 24, 2008 at 1:16 am

    The movie was good, but the books are really the best.

    In my opinion, the movie really did not come across well. He should read the book, rather than watch the movie.

  75. July 24, 2008 at 8:02 am

    N-A, I didn’t think too much of the violence or the way Buffy treated her foes, but again, that may be a European thing vs a North Am thing. There’s certainly nothing wrong with deciding the violence isn’t for you and not watching – it’s why I avoid a lot of movies.

    I know Joss’ skeevy race issues have been pointed out to him. I think he realises there’s a problem, but hasn’t sorted out why there’s a problem. I like Zoe & Book, but they’re Exotic Warrior Woman & Magical Negro. A step up in that they exist and are both considered awesome (I am not a Firefly fan) but not really a vast improvement when I can go “Ah, there’s our Magical Negro. Oh how I’ve missed that. Except not.”

  76. jen
    July 28, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    it’s no longer on tv, but you could get the dvds. . .ALIAS. . .kick-butt female spy, but might be a little old for your audience. . .but i think it might be worth a try, i certainly enjoyed it. The characters are complex, it begs some moral questions and she’s a smart girl, not a “pink” girl if you know what i mean. . .

  77. me
    July 29, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    As to kicking ass. I have lived in some of the most secure towns in the world. In my home town I could walk through the red lights district at 2 o’clock in the morning and nothing happened. But my mother and aunts always panicked, even when I was finally a grown up woman, about my being on the street in a residential neighborhood in the dark. As did a (female) friend younger than me, when I wanted to walk through another pretty low key European town by night. So, yes these woman heroines have to kick ass, because what is holding women back is fear, fear of going out, fear of physical abuse, fear of men. How can you live a free, independent live staying at home and having the feeling to need protection ? What do you this holds back all these women through history and now in many parts of the world ? It is the feeling of physical weakness. The need of protection, the feeling that without a man they are not able to protect themselves. If women get that they are strong, that they don’t need a man, they can meet them on equal terms. Women grow up with the illusion that all men are stronger, that they are always weaker and that for this they have to put up with stuff. I have never seen Buffy, but the little I have seen of Xena, she does not let anybody bully her and she doesn’t hide and she doesn’t play nice, just not to anger the men. Being able to kick ass is important in that way.

  78. polarbear
    July 30, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    I agree with the “vote” for the whole DeGrassi series. If you can watch those made for Canadian TV, even better. They were censored less than the the ones that had to be censored for the American’s babyish mentality. But, either way, Degrassi Junior High through Degrassi, a New Generation, are great!!!

  79. deb
    July 31, 2008 at 7:52 pm

    How sad is it that there are so few decent shows?? In a sea of millions of programmes it is Buffy and Xena that we have …to hang on to?? Makes me sick.

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