In the height of the Riot Grrrl and third wave feminist movement, Joss Whedon gave us an ass kicking female character that answered and apologized to no one. She wore whatever she wanted, slept with whomever she wanted and had one of the (arguably) most iconic quotes of the show, “Isn’t it crazy how slaying just always makes you hungry and horny?” (Season 3, Episode 3).
Faith was one of the more complex characters in the series, with a dark past and an unashamed sexuality that got a lot of judgment from our beloved Scoobies. For a show that has so many of us fuelled on ass kicking girl power and feminist feelings, there sure is a lot of slut shaming happening. It’s kind of expected when Cordelia judges Faith for her openness to sex (Season 3, Episode 3), but when Willow joins in later on this not-so-awesome behaviour by calling Faith “cleavage-y slut bomb.” (Season 4, Episode 15) it’s a bit more surprising. The Scoobies find Faith wild and her openness towards sex makes them uncomfortable, but her autonomy and sexual agency makes her one of the most feminist characters in the series.
I can feel people wanting to argue with me. Saying that Faith, who has done more than a handful of questionable things, is one of the most feminist characters may be upsetting for some of you reading this. I know that she can be problematic and occupies a morally grey space, but I try to look at the big picture of how she is represented. We have to understand the lens that we have always seen her through. Faith is represented in contrast to Buffy. “There’s only supposed to be one. Maybe that’s why you and I can never get along. We’re not supposed to exist together.” (Season 7, Episode 21)
Buffy and Faith’s love-hate relationship (which some fans read as queer, and hey I am here for that) stands on how they are constructed as completely opposite, rarely understanding each other. Buffy is the Chosen One, more conservative and guided by her friends and watcher. Faith is Buffy’s dark shadow, the bad slayer, the anti-hero. If you only look at Faith’s decisions versus Buffy’s decisions, Faith is never going to have the chance to be seen as the badass feminist that she is.
Channelling some Lesley Gore “You Don’t Own Me”, Faith lives by her own rules and doesn’t appreciate any one telling her what to do. Faith doesn’t belong to anyone. The rogue slayer works solo without a Watcher to guide her. This is again, is in contrast to Buffy, who is still totally an independent woman but most of the time, she works with The Scoobies and has Giles to teach her the path of The Chosen One. The Scoobies see the rogue slayer as rash and impulsive but Faith’s in-the-moment behaviour is a result of her strong independence. Although Faith has made some not so great decisions throughout the show we see her grow towards the end of the series, learning from her mistakes. When women are continuously referred to as someone’s ‘mother, daughter, sister or wife’ instead of as their own individual people, it’s a pretty radical notion to have a young woman portrayed as completely independent and not attached to anyone.
Going back to the sexy times, Faith’s unashamed sex life is non-monogamous, she has multiple sexual partners and is totally comfortable with one night stands. This is in contrast to Buffy who has more romantic sexual experiences. Buffy feels miserable after having a one night stand and is usually intimate with a steady boyfriend. There is nothing wrong with either narrative. There are many different ways to be sexually empowered and there are various stories that come with sexual history. What is pretty sucky is having Faith and Buffy put against each other, which makes it seem as if Faith’s sex life is a bad thing. The repeated slutshaming that Faith receives from The Scoobies reiterates that Faith’s choices are less than Buffy’s.
When thinking about feminism and feminist gaze in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, let’s look past our main heroine with her speedy wit and great ass kicking capabilities. Having sexual agency and autonomy over her body, Faith can teach a lot of young women how to eliminate shame and be comfortable in yourself. I would never say that Willow, Buffy, and other characters aren’t good feminist idols, I would just say that we need to be critical about the ways they address other characters sexuality. Our anti-hero embodies a type of feminism that encourages women to take control of their sexuality and advocated for all genders to be unashamed of their sexual pleasure.
The third wave feminist movement encouraged women to fight against gender sexual inequalities by taking an approach to sex that was associated with masculinity. Society constructs masculine qualities towards one night stands and promiscuity, that don’t label a guy as a ‘slut’. Faith embodies ideas that are associated with men, her aggressive nature, sexual freedom, and ability to take what she wants. Although many find her impulsive and abrasive, Faith’s personality is one of the most challenging to stereotypical gender norms. Her approach to sex would be rewarded if she were a man but as a woman within a not very sex positive and slightly misogynist Sunnydale community, she is criticized. And harshly.
I don’t think that Faith would have considered herself a Riot GRRRL or read feminist fan zines. I don’t even know how conscious of this kind of feminism Joss Whedon was when he wrote Faith. But when I listen to Bikini Kill’s Rebel Grrrl I just can’t help but think of the show’s rebel anti-hero. “When she talks, I hear the revolution. In her hips, there’s revolutions. When she walks, the revolution’s coming. In her kiss, I taste the revolution!”