Matters of Protocol: The Watcher’s Council and Benevolent Patriarchy

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: The Rewatch Week 4 Part 2

Buffy has really bad birthdays. This is something that we learn in seasons 2 and 3.  And as heartbreaking as “Surprise” and “Innocence” are, but “Helpless” the account of Buffy’s eighteenth birthday is positively terrifying.

“Helpless” deals with an ancient ritual used to test the slayer. Her watcher injects her with a serum that removes her strength and then she is made to fight a starved vampire using only her wits. She also isn’t supposed to know that this is going on.

The Watcher’s Council is alluded to previous to “Helpless,” but we don’t see them until now. If we’re looking at Buffy as a feminist narrative, then The Council is it’s representation of the Patriarchy. And since the main goal of feminism is to dismantle the Patriarchy, obviously, The Council has to go down. They do eventually, but not before wreaking all kinds of well intentioned havoc.

Yes, that’s right, well intentioned, because The Council doesn’t take part in out right oppressive behavior, they’re a benevolent patriarchy, which can be altogether more dangerous. The Council, after all, created the Slayer, she is empowered, she is strong. However, they also seek to control her. Yes, of course the Slayer is allowed  to be empowered and strong, but only when she plays by their rules.

Giles becomes disillusioned with The Council because of his personal attachment to Buffy, but even that is a symptom of benevolent patriarchy. He wants to protect his “little girl,” not because he believes that the Council’s way of doing things is unjust, but because he fears for Buffy personally. Another example of this in pop culture is on Mad Men, in the relationship between Don Draper and Peggy Olsen. Don believes that Peggy deserves consideration as an equal, but not women in general.

When Wesley replaces Giles as Buffy and Faith’s watcher, he tries to maintain the sense of order of The Council, only to be bested and made a fool of. Wesley is one of my favorite characters in The Buffyverse. Wesley never quite gets it right, but he keeps trying and I find this admirable. He is the brick to get pulled out as Buffy dismantles The Council’s world, and he bounces back from it. He returns on Angel free of The Council’s control, but still conditioned by his life with them. I’m going to stick with the Mad Men comparison. If Giles is Don, then, Wesley is Ken Cosgrove. This guys gets it, he understands that the way things are isn’t right, but he’s not exactly sure what to do about it.

Benevolent Patriarchy scares me more the violence against women. It scares me because I worry about being trapped by it. I’m afraid that I’ll fall in love with a man who is kind and good to me, and to the women in his life,  but resents or ignores the plight of other women. I’m afraid that because of the work I want to do, in the industry I want to do it in (fashion retail), and because I grew up with a strong feminist mother, I’ll be blind to the fact that my opportunities are not the same as mine.

In the end, because Buffy is a feminist narrative, and Buffy is a feminist hero, she triumphs over the patriarchy, she removes the restrictions on Slayerhood (there can only be one), and saves the world on her own terms. But it doesn’t make the attitude of “Helpless” any less disturbing or terrifying for me.

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2 thoughts on “Matters of Protocol: The Watcher’s Council and Benevolent Patriarchy

  1. I disagree with your conclusion (that Buffy is a feminist narrative) but like your analysis. I especially like the notion that the Council is a metaphor for the patriarchy.

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    • I don’t think Buffy is the perfect example of a feminist narrative but so much of it can be viewed through that lense, particularly the extended conflict with the council.

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