Evil Gal Productions

Mere Smith
is a recovering Southerner,
longtime TV writer,
author and blogger.
September 7th, 2011 by Mere Smith

Strong Female Characters Are… Myths?

Whilst Twittering this morning, I came across two links that made me ask more questions of myself than they answered — in my opinion, always a good quality in an article.  After having read the two pieces, by Carina Chocano and Alyssa Rosenberg, it got me thinking: what IS a strong female character in TV and film?

First off the top of my head came:

Buffy, obviously.  Ripley in “Aliens.”  Carmela Soprano.  Trinity in “The Matrix.”  Cut-Throat Bitch — or Amber — and Thirteen (I refuse to call her Remy, on the grounds that “Thirteen” is a much more kickass name) in “House.”  Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”  Erin Brockovich. Olivia Benson in “Law & Order: SVU.”  Rusty Dennis in “Mask.”  Christina Yang in “Grey’s Anatomy.”  Angelina Jolie in… well, pretty much everything she’s ever done (I doubt the woman could play cowed even if she wanted to) — but we’ll go with “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” as our example.

Now, let’s break those characters down into vocations, shall we?

Vampire Slayer, Alien Killer, Mob Boss’s Wife, Hacker/Kung-Fu Artist/Killer, Doctor, Doctor, Hacker/Assassin, Health Crusader, Detective, Biker Mom, Doctor, and Hitwoman.

My first realization was: we only consider female characters strong if they wield a god-like power to either kill people or heal them (physically or emotionally).

As long as they hold the power of life and death in their hands — even the ones whose power derives from their relationships with men (Carmela Soprano) — we perceive a strength that we might not attribute to, say, good ol’ everyday Roseanne.  And that sucks.  Because Roseanne was one of my strongest female role models when I was growing up.  She might not have killed anyone or saved anyone’s life, but she was a lower-middle-class woman who managed to run her blue-collar family with an indefatigable sense of humor. And trust me, that isn’t just strong — it’s miraculous.

I grew up in a blue-collar family.  I know whereof I speak.

Which brought me to my second realization:

Most of the women we consider strong female characters are also rich.  Or if not out-and-out wealthy, at least incredibly well-educated.

With the exception of Erin Brockovich and Rusty Dennis (who, by the way, are also the only characters based on real women, just as Roseanne’s character was a version of herself before fame came calling), all these “strong female characters” possess amazing educations (paid for by someone) that provide them the opportunity to become what we consider “strong.”

Buffy?  Upper-middle class.  Ripley?  Space aviator.  Carmela?  Upper class.  Trinity?  Computer hacker.  Doctors?  Goes without saying.  Continue on down the list and try to find a “strong female character” — not based on a real person — who’s ever eaten government cheese.

It’s as if we, the general public, can’t conceive of a poor strong woman.  Yet more likely than not, in your day-to-day experiences you’ve met more Roseannes than you have Christina Yangs.  More Rusty Dennises than Lisbeth Salanders.  More Erin Brockoviches than Jane Smiths.

Whence I arrived at my third realization: in our current media, even “normal strong” is not strong enough anymore.

It’s not enough to simply follow your heart.  To stand your ground.  To earn a paycheck.  To raise your children, keep your family together, take care of an aging parent.  It’s not enough to have worthy friends, to be loyal, to be compassionate.  While Hollywood has always exploited a heightened reality — these days it seems it’s not even enough to be a heightened real woman and be seen as strong.

Strong female characters must hold the power of life-and-death.  They must be wealthy or well-educated.  And they must be stronger than any real woman.

In other words, they must be mythical.

Is this why we have to turn, over and over, to “genre” films and TV to find our heroines?

Because women who don’t attempt laughably-outsized endeavors (prevent Alien invasion — Ripley; save the world from demons — Buffy; transform life on Earth — Trinity) are considered only… ordinary? Nothing special?  Must a woman spend well over $100,000 in med school bills and be able to perform open-heart surgery in order to be considered “strong”?

How crushingly depressing for those of us who aren’t doctors, hackers, or hired killers.

So let’s do an experiment:

You have 30 seconds from the end of this paragraph.  (No cheating!)  First, come up with any three “strong female characters” from film or TV.  Then, in the next 30 seconds, come up with three more — from NON-GENRE films or TV (no lawyers, no doctors, no cops, no superpowers — and no one I’ve already mentioned) — and Twitter them to my account: @EvilGalProds.  I’ll do a follow-up blog with people’s responses.

I’ll be interested to see which names pop up.

Me, I’ll stick with Roseanne.

She can’t be cowed, either — and to me, that’s worth three Jane Smiths any day.

Comments

57 Responses to “Strong Female Characters Are… Myths?”
  1. Nitpick! (Subtext: Great post!)

    Ripley, (not Ridley, though I had to look that up to make sure I wasn’t the one who was wrong as I was writing this) definitely shouldn’t count as rich. In the first film, they were basically space truckers.

    It looks fancy to us, because being in space looks so cool, but one of the things I always liked about the original Alien was that they were a group of blue collar guys screwed over by their corporation and stuck in an awful, life or death horror show. This was a crap job, away from home, towing minerals around. Ripley wasn’t even the navigator or doctor. Definitely blue collar. Just blue collar in space!

    • “Ripley” corrected, much to my horror. And point well taken on her “blue-collar” status. I suppose I was thinking in present-day terms, where anyone flying into space has to have extensive schooling. But you are correct, sir. Within her own time, Ripley *was* considered blue-collar. Mea culpa.

  2. I missed this, so I’ll post it here instead of twitter: Lisa Wiseman from Now and Again. Sure, she started off well-to-do, but she rapidly found herself with no husband, no income, a teen-aged daughter, and mortgage payments due, and she survived.

  3. Oh, and the woman in Up the Down Staircase (I’m bad with names).

  4. Stumbled on you via theonetruebix. Great post, and it’s a topic I’m very interested in and I’m going to keep checking in to see where it goes. I guess “ordinary” kickass guys can be found in series like Sons of Anarchy — but the truth is that men are usually more strong than women. Of course, there’s the Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu characters in Kill Bill.

  5. Modwild says

    I’m not tweeting these. Sorry! Here’s who comes to mind. Kalinda on The Good Wife, Lauren Graham (Character name??) on Parenthood, Joan on Mad Men. Next three… more difficult. Um…Arya on Game of Thrones, Cathy on The Big C and Olivia on Fringe. Let’s switch out Olivia and Lauren Graham for the genre request.

  6. Since you don’t follow me on Twitter and therefore can’t read my tweets directed at you from my locked account, I’ll repost here what I said there last week. (If you want to follow me – as I was one of your first followers :D – just ask & I’ll okay you.)

    For genre: Zoe from Firefly, Echo from Dollhouse, Capt Janeway from ST:Voyager; non-genre: CJ Cregg from The West Wing, Lorelai Gilmore from gilmore girls, Sela Ward’s character in CSI:NY or in Sisters or Once & Again.

  7. Tallulah says

    I don’t think what you’re saying is an issue (or what I think you’re saying…=/)

    People watch tv/movies to escape, therefore, a lot of strong characters you find will be in other-worldly circumstances, with otherworldly powers.

    Either way, as people have mentioned, there are many examples of strong women in more ‘normal’ situations: Parenthood, Brothers and Sisters, The Big C, States of Tara, Gilmore Girls, West Wing etc. etc…

    • And I am happy to cite those characters in the poll, as my own experiences have focused mainly on those “mythical women.” As a huge fan of Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I can admit that I *enjoy* superwomen, but as ChristyA points out below, that may be aspirational on my part.

  8. Philippa says

    Delenn, ‘Babylon 5′; Sarah Walker, ‘Chuck’ [started as a juvenile con artist]; Gwen Cooper, ‘Torchwood'; Kaylee, ‘Firefly’ [smut covered engine mechanic]; Donna, ‘Dr Who’ [temp turned saviour of the universe!]; Emma Peel, ‘Avengers'; Sarah Connor, ‘Terminator'; Xena [her mother lives in a two bedroom cottage]….

  9. Ragondux says

    I thought about it for more than 30 seconds before I saw your challenge, so in a way I cheated. However, a few names come to mind: Sarah Connor (Terminator), Laura Roslin (Battlestar galactica) and Captain Janeway, who was already named above.

  10. Dana Lawrence says

    Gemma from Sons of Anarchy…

  11. ChristyA says

    I think part of the issue here is that people think of characters as strong when they can somehow look up to them – which in itself implies an element of envy or of aspiring to be like that character.

    Nobody aspires to be a poor working mother who works hard, raises her children and keeps her family together. That isn’t what you ASPIRE to be, it’s just what some women DO. It doesn’t mean those women aren’t strong, it doesn’t mean that what they do isn’t worthy of respect – but it’s too close to home for a lot of people for it to be aspirational.

    • I hadn’t quite thought of it from that perspective, but I think it’s a strong, valid argument. Our own aspirations do tend to influence our choice of heroes. Nice one.

  12. True heroism lies in the prosaic, feminine or masculine. The real heroes in the world aren’t the ones saving or changing the world. They are the moms and dads who work 12 hour days, change dirty diapers the other 12, and sacrifice an arm and a leg so their kids can get some new sneakers, and all out of love.

    Stop by my blog, PopSophia.

  13. Is the problem really that there aren’t enough “regular” women in entertainment, or that not enough entertainment is about “regular women in the first place? Although I see your point about about the women from genre entertainment, I wouldn’t consider the bikers or druglords any more “regular” than the doctors or assassins. They may have more superficial similarities with a “regular” woman than a doctor, but I would guess that they are actually a smaller portion of the American public than doctors.
    I think the bigger problem in entertainment is that the sensational is an easier sell than a show about average people–whether the sensational is a superhero show, a police procedural, or a show about a biker gang. Until that aspect of entertainment changes, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with strong female characters in entertainment that are not sensational in some way.

    • I absolutely agree with you. Sensationalized entertainment sells in Hollywood, often to the detriment of stories that feature “real” characters. In fact, I was commenting on the very point you made: why do characters (specifically female characters) need to be sensationalized before they can be considered “strong”? And though it’s true, biker chicks and druglords are a smaller percentage of the population than doctors and lawyers, it can’t be denied that they live “sensational” lives (i.e. far outside what we consider “the norm”). Partly because of the reasons just mentioned, but I also think there’s a certain bias against “real” women, if “real” is to be read as middle- or lower-class and not highly-educated (those who drop out of high school or get no college degree). There are some very interesting statistics here: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/hsgec.nr0.htm — which suggest that not only are more women *working* while getting their schooling, but those who *haven’t* received advanced education are working in larger numbers than their male counterparts. Wonder Woman may be a genre character, but there are tons of Wonder Women out there who don’t need a boomerang tiara, either.

  14. Donna Noble, Max Guevara, Mokey Fraggle. I don’t watch non-genre television.

  15. I ‘ve read your article with great interest but I think that you missed something. It’s true – Buffy is the vampire slayer. But this is not necessarily the point hat makes her strong for me. She is a strong female character because she finally has accepted her destiny. She is strong because of the way she dealed with the death of her mother and because she cares for Dawn after that. She is strong because she forgives Willow after she wanted to end the world and because she was strong enough to let Angel go. Those are the things that make her a strong female character for me not necessarily that she is a vampire killer.
    Excuse me for my English which isn’t perfect but I hope you get the point.

    • Your English is fantastic — ofttimes better than mine. I suppose I was only referring to Buffy as part of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre as opposed to the “realistic genre”. Which is not to say Buffy wasn’t written realistically (I think she was) — but the circumstances in which she operated definitely qualified as S-F/F.

  16. Jenny86 says

    Genre…
    Zoe from “Firefly”.
    99 from “Get Smart”.
    Lucy Bates from “Hill Street Blues”.

    Non-Genre…
    Veronica from “Veronica Mars”.
    Jaye from “Wonderfalls”.
    Lindsay from “Freaks and Geeks”.
    Margaret Houlihan from “MASH”.

  17. Off the top of my head I thought of Agent Texas from Red vs Blue, but even she has quite a bit of sci fi mythology behind her. Still, she ran away from an abusive home to become a hired killer as a teenager, joined the army (in space, but still the armed services), and joins the top-ranking Freelancer corps along with a diverse crew of men and women (who mostly end up dead, crazy, or try to kill her at some point). Her story line involves trying to figure out who/what she is (a resurrected artificial intelligence…yeah), resisting the idea that she was created to “fill in” for another woman and be the ideal girlfriend for a man, and kicks crazy amounts of ass while being surrounded by idiots.

    Also if you count video games, I’d definitely go with Chell from Portal(2). Everything we know about her suggests that she was a normal, most likely lower-class person who was abducted by GLaDOS and who’s main strength comes from her fierce determination and resistance to psychological attacks. That makes her wayyy more of a BAMF in my eyes.

  18. Kat Summers says

    I’d emphatically second CJ Cregg and Lorelai Gilmore and would add Elizabeth Burke from “White Collar” (which is a cop show, I guess, but she’s an event planner) and Leslie Knope from “Parks & Recreation.”

  19. These are ridiculous standards. Flipping this to males leads to no more options than females. What is not strong about an education? And when is a movie or show about paying bills without conflict past that (hurting or healing) riveting? In the realm left without these elements, we are left with plenty of sitcoms where strong women (by these standards) hold sway. Friends, Home Improvement, King of Queens,etc. Bo-ring.

  20. The audience witnessing Buffy Summers way from middle class to working class always stood out to me (and the “supernatural” always felt very much like metaphor, anyways).

    But, of course. Good observation on the images of super-women pop culture wants to sell (Where’s the “Three Penny Opera” when you need it?)

  21. Jackie Brown (from “Jackie Brown”)
    Sarah Walker (from “Chuck”)
    and any woman from a Joss Whedon show.

    Then when it comes to non-genre goodness, I think of
    Veronica Mars (from Veronica Mars)
    Jenna (from the movie “Waitress”)
    and Nancy Botwin (from Weeds) (though, the realism of that show went down the tubes a few seasons ago, and she isn’t really a person to aspire to, she’s still a strong and motivated character).

  22. When Buffy’s mother died, Buffy dropped out of school in order to support her younger sister. She worked for a burger place. She couldn’t pay her bills. That does not seem “upper middle-class” to me.

    • You’re right; Buffy dropped out of school in order to support Dawn. However, this job didn’t come along ’til episode 12 of season six. Thus the majority of the series didn’t require Buffy to uphold any other duties than that of the Slayer (with the possible exception of her waitressing gig in “Anne”). While I respect the growth-of-character this required, I don’t believe that Buffy was anything other than upper-middle class until that time.

  23. Tonya J says

    I love that you brought up Roseanne, Mere. Like or dislike the actress, that character rocked big time. I think there may be more “regular” folk strong-women characters in the past, currently, and coming up than we’ve thought of. Olivia Benson on L&O: SVU, the child of rape championing and trying to empower other rape victims; Olivia Dunham on Fringe (even though she’s got some sort of “power”, she also got experimented on as a kid and has endured and carried on with all of that weighing on her in past seasons, psychologically speaking); Lucretia on Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the prequel, Gods of the Arena (okay, evil, but she held/holds her own in a world run by men); Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, BBC – let’s see how Maria Bello does with the American version. And also, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s new character(s) on Ringer. I thought the blue-collar Bridget character disguising herself as her own twin pretty ballsy, and I hope that continues (and Bridget herself – no problem with assertion there).

    I would love to see a trend wherein these women are honored as much as a wealthy superhero type (of which I’d contest Buffy doesn’t really belong).

  24. Terrortag says

    My list:

    1) Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) from ‘Labyrinth’
    Despite this being a genre film, Sarah herself has no superpowers: she is an ordinary girl thrust into an extraordinary world in an attempt to rescue her kidnapped brother. She relies on her smarts and a collection of friends to reach, and face, the magic Goblin King – and rejects his offers of the entire world in order to complete her quest.

    2) Bliss (Ellen Page) from Whip It
    Bliss follows her heart to try and achieve her dreams of joining a roller derby team. She isn’t always perfect – she lies to her parents – but she’s called out on her behaviour and apologizes for it; she also dumps a guy who cheats on her. She lives in a small/moderate house, she doesn’t win the beauty pageants she enters, and she isn’t going off to college after school like her best friend will.

    3) Amelie (Audrey Tatou) in Amelie
    Granted, this may seem a little strange, but Amelie is an ordinary girl who works as a waitress and simply tries to improve the lives of everybody she meets. She does it pretty well, too, with a set of skills and ingenuity that have nothing to do with education or wealth – just a good nature.

    Bonus Add

    4) Tracy (Ricki Lake) from Hairspray
    Okay, this one probably sounds silly – Hairspray can seem like a pretty vain movie sometimes. Tracy lives in a tiny apartment with her ‘low class’ parents and gets put into special education classes, but manages to find fame on a local TV show thanks to her personality and dancing skills. She won’t let anyone make issue of her being overweight, and she protests racism and segregation any chance she gets.

    • Damn, you got a good list! First, “Labyrinth” is one of my personal touchstone movies — a cult hit, even if the cult is only in my mind. Sad to say, I have yet to see “Whip It.” But Amelie is an option that’s never even been brought up, and I think your reasoning is beyond solid. Lastly, HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN TRACY TURNBLAD? I am weeping into my bouffant in shame. Great, great example.

  25. shakensilence says

    Trinity wasn’t rich… in the real world of her time they were eating synthetic food that tasted bad and wore rags for clothes, when not in the Matrix she was dirt poor.

    But as for Olivia Benson… cops don’t make that much… not even detectives and you don’t need extensive education to become a cop. Beat cops can come right out of high school and into the academy. Some state cops just need 16 college credits and don’t even need to get a degree. After that they are promoted based on performance. I wouldn’t call Olivia rich or extraordinary… she’s just strong.

    I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head for anyone else since I can’t use Rosanne (who is marvelously strong) and one of my favorite childhood idols.

  26. Beacon80 says

    They’re not from TV, but Molly Weasley from Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games are both strong but poor women.

  27. These days I see Johnny Depp popping up in yet more vampire shows… why can’t they get it though their heads that there can only be one Buffy the Vampire Slayer and anything that follows will be seen as cheap imitation?

  28. Just a quick note: while I totally agree about most of these strong female characters to be strong mainly due to their otherworldliness, power and wealth, Loralei Gilmore comes to mind as an alternative.

    She was born rich, but left her parents and refused their aid while raising her daughter, whom she had when she was only sixteen. She did it all herself, getting a low paying job and working her way up to the not-so-glamorous position of manager at an inn. She made a living, but not much more. She got a GED and eventually finished a business course at a community college. She buys her own inn part way through the series, at great expense and with a lot of financial difficulty. She does take money from her parents to send Rory (her daughter) to school, which I think is kind of understandable, and creates a lot of the tension on the show.

    She’s not always perfect, but she’s smart, tough, independent and does what she wants. To me, she’s a strong female character.

    Also, Veronica Mars! And Leslie Knopes.

  29. I don’t have twitter, but I’d like to suggest Leslie Knope (Parks and Recreation) as an example of a VERY strong female without any superpowers, in a non-genre show.

  30. When did hackers become wealthy? Some aspire to wealth but aspiration ain’t reality. Isn’t the stereotype some scruffy character, hiding in a dingy basement or warehouse living on cheetos? Even their respectable counterparts (programmers) aren’t exactly raking in the biscuits (I should know).

    Olivia Denham (Fringe), Kate Beckett (Castle), Charly (Long Kiss Goodnight)

    Jordan Cavanaugh (Crossing Jordan), Sarah Mackenzie (JAG), Abby Scuito (NCIS)

    • Y’know, I thought a lot about this when I was discussing Trinity. I even wrote something about her surviving on gruel, but it seemed tangential to the point I was trying to make at the moment, which was: most of our heroines possess powers beyond ours. Trinity’s power was in her hacking — it’s why Morpheus tracked her down and rescued her from the Matrix — and even Neo says, “Trinity? I thought you were a guy.” And (god love the Wachowski brother/sister), Trinity replies, “Most guys do.” If she’s this talented, then her extraordinary training in hacking must have come from somewhere, even if it was autodidactic — and truthfully, I prefer to imagine this, as it gives Trinity the responsibility of her own education. In this particular post, I noted that our current heroines needs must have wealth and/OR outstanding education. I think Trinity has the latter. (Not to mention the power of life-and-death — e.g. bringing Neo back to life with her kiss at the end of the first movie.)

      Oh, and by the way — Charly Baltimore from “Long Kiss Goodnight” is one of my favorite female characters of all time. We can certainly agree on her badassery!

      • Sadly, Geena Davis seems to get forgotten when listing Kick Ass women in film despite her turn in LKG. She deserves as much mention for badassery as Linda Hamilton. She also played strong women in Cutthroat Island, Thelma and Louise and even A league of Their Own.

  31. I vehemently disagree with your assessment of Buffy as upper middle class. Like others have pointed out, she worked fast food–she was basically in poverty. And the idea that she didn’t have to “uphold any other duties than that of the Slayer” is absurd. The entire point of the show is that she’s balancing being a normal kid–being a STUDENT and a DAUGHTER and a FRIEND and a GIRLFRIEND all while being a superhero.

    And at NO time in the show is Buffy ever shown to be UPPER middle class. She’s the daughter of a single, working mom–Buffy’s clothes and situation are frequently contrasted with those of Cordelia–who IS shown to be upper middle class. So, even when Buffy is ~kicking back~ and just being a Slayer because her mom is financially supporting her–that doesn’t make her upper middle class–even in those glory days, she’s only middle class.

    And she basically sinks to working class/below poverty line in the blink of an eye–and when she’s only 20 years old. It’s not like she spends half her adulthood chilling, spending her mom’s money.

    • As I’ve mentioned before, Buffy didn’t take that huge financial hit until the 12th episode of season 6 — which means she spent (approximately) 112 episodes without ever having to get a job (except for her Slayer duties, of course, which I don’t deny were consuming, but nonetheless, required no W2’s — and in “Anne,” after she’d run away). In fact, if Buffy *had* had to get a job in those first five seasons, I think (from a writer’s POV) it would’ve been one direction too many to be pulled in. Because while you’re right, she had to be “a student and a daughter and a friend and a girlfriend” — at that age, most of us do, regardless of tax bracket. And though Joyce may have been a single mother, that’s not synonymous with being poor. Thinking back on the house she and Buffy lived in, and the fact that Joyce also owned an art gallery (didn’t work there — *owned* it), doesn’t exactly place her among the gov’mint cheese crowd. Also (and I think this may be where the crux of our disagreement lies), perhaps we have different definitions of class strata — but within my personal definition, I’d consider Cordelia firmly ensconced in the *upper* class, not the upper-middle.

      • So, I’m sorry to be so argumentative, but this is something I actually feel really strongly about–I just wanted to touch on something:

        You said: “Because while you’re right, she had to be “a student and a daughter and a friend and a girlfriend” — at that age, most of us do, regardless of tax bracket. ”

        Which is true–but being the Slayer isn’t like having an afterschool job at Macy’s. She’s saving lives and saving the world. Perhaps I’m misinterpreting what you’re saying–but it sounds to me like you’re saying that Buffy’s part of the upper middle class because she’s never had to make sacrifices. That she has the same commitments that most of us do as teenagers. But that just isn’t true. The responsibility and the time and energy sacrifices required of her are unimaginable–there simply is NO WAY she could hold down a job at the same time. Slaying is, in fact, a full-time job (like an 80-hour-a-week-type job)–and she’s got school and personal responsibilities on top of that. Buffy’s clearly shown to be a VERY smart girl, but because of the energy she expends on slaying, she can barely get by in school. Slaying seeps in to every aspect of her life no matter how separate she attempts to keep it. So, to diminish that time commitment just because she isn’t paid for it seems… I don’t know. Short sighted? I mean, I know we’re talking about actual income, here, so like I said, I’m probably misinterpreting your reply. I just am a little protective of my Buffy.

        That said, I don’t think there’s actually ever any evidence in the text that Joyce owned the gallery. In fact, I’d say the evidence points to the contrary–if she’d owned the gallery, there would’ve been some mention of it after her death–and there never is. There’s no mention of liquidating the assets or notifying the workers. All we know is that she runs it. A person can manage a gallery without owning it. Additionally, there are a great many small business owners who aren’t upper middle or upper class. Most aren’t, in fact. So even if Joyce owns the gallery, she’s not pulling a huge sum from it. She’s just earning a living.

        In re the house they lived in–it certainly doesn’t put them in “gov’t cheese” territory, I agree. I never said it did. But neither does it put them in the upper middle class. I mean, it has only one bathroom for Pete’s sake. And also–by the time Buffy inherits it, it has lost value, so she’s actually upside down on it. She tries to levy it to get a loan in the episode “Flooded,” but can’t, because she has no equity. So, clearly, they didn’t have quite the assets that it *looks* like they have.

        I think the main problem you and I have, here, is how you’re defining the divisions between upper/upper-middle/and middle classes. If you go by current standards, someone in the upper-middle class earns probably about 350-600K a year. Joyce CLEARLY earns less than that (and she clearly earns less than the equivalent amount for the late 1990s/early 2000s). She’s firmly in the middle class–living fine, but in debt and without any significant assets to pass on. And as soon as Joyce is out of the picture, Buffy is in the working class.

    • Terrortag says

      I have to disagree with Lucy.

      Buffy’s other “duties” are pleasures, not requirements. Nobody forced her to date Angel; having a boyfriend is not a necessity of life, so it’s not really a responsibility to have to uphold.

      At what point was Buffy ever shown to be living in poverty? Her mother ran an art gallery in a “one-Starbucks” town and managed to make enough money to afford their nice house, on a nice street, and keep Buffy fed, entertained and nicely clothed. I don’t recall that much contrast being made between Cordelia and Buffy; on first sight, Cordelia treats Buffy as a trendy equal.

      When her mother died, Buffy had to get a job, but she had no qualifications with which to land high-paying employment. She still managed to support Dawn, Willow and Tara without them being thrown out on the street.

      Believe me, Buffy could have had it much worse. She never had to get a part-time job in high school to help pay bills, or accept handouts from the local church program, or use food stamps to pay for her groceries. That’s closer to real poverty, not some primetime television version.

      • Well, I have to disagree with you too.

        Being a daughter and a student aren’t *pleasures*–they’re life roles that you can’t get out of without completely excising yourself from society. And being a friend and a girlfriend might be pleasures–but they’re also Buffy’s lifelines. She needs them in order to give herself a reason to continue living and fighting the grueling fight.

        Buffy, in fact, could’ve gotten a better job–she’s not an idiot. She had a year and a half of college under her belt and she’s smart and attractive. Trust me. She didn’t have to work fast food–she says it in the episode “Double Meat Palace”–she doesn’t have the time to go through a job search, through interviews, through training, and wait for a paycheck lag. She needs money now. So, she took a job that she knew she could get. Additionally! She needs a job that is at least somewhat conducive to her slaying–this is something that Dawn discusses in that same episode–that Buffy needs a low-pressure job because slaying is so demanding. So, Buffy taking a job in fast food isn’t because she’s some dumb dumb. It’s because of her unavoidable circumstances–that her friends mismanaged her mother’s money after her death and left her with nothing. That she has to spend 2/3 of her day fighting evil. If her circumstances had been different, even without a college degree, Buffy could’ve gotten a job that paid well above minimum wage.

        And I can’t believe you have the gall to throw Buffy’s work ethic in as evidence that she’s NOT in poverty. She’s working double shifts in order to keep her dead mother’s house from being foreclosed on and her shiftless layabout friends are doing nothing (that we know of) to help her. So, Because Buffy succeeds in supporting a family of 4 on minimum wage that somehow changes the math? That changes the fact that we KNOW that she’s drowning in bills and debt? That changes that anyone put in that position would be right at or below the poverty line in this country?

        And no–she’s not in poverty when she’s in high school. I didn’t say she was. I said that she was middle class as long as her mother was alive. But after her mother died, she went from middle class to working poor. They SAY in the show that they can’t afford groceries–that Buffy brings home food from work so that Dawn has stuff to eat. Maybe you don’t realize this–but it takes a while to adjust when your lifestyle changes so drastically. Buffy (and her friends) likely didn’t know HOW to apply for food stamps. Because I GUARANTEE you they would’ve qualified for them. But without the knowledge of how public aid works (because she never had been on it growing up), Buffy just attempts to scrape by. That doesn’t make her any less poor than the people who are on public aid–it just means she hasn’t been poor long enough to figure out the system.

  32. I would submit Juno (from in the movie obviously) and her step-mom, Penny from the Big bang theory, Gemma from Sons of Anarchy (OK, a bit genre I suppose)…all from reasonably non middle-class background.

  33. Faith was introduced as the working class counterpart to Buffy.

    • Absogoddamnlutely. But why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier? Please stop embarrassing me with all the smartness…

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