Ah, Anya. Patron Saint of All Women Scorned, beacon of blunt honesty served with a flashing, dimple-flanked smile. I adore Anyanka Christina Emanuella Jenkins, formerly known as Aud. Summoned by Cordelia in season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the cheerleader and the demon are cut from the same cloth. Sharp-tongued Shakespearean fools with a penchant for miniskirts and strappy shoes, their vulnerable emotional cores reach surprising depths. While I loved Buffy’s valley girl quips and Willow’s unabashed nerdery, Anya and her alienating awkwardness helped me see myself.
Joss Whedon is often lauded for his authentic and varied depictions of femininity, and for my money, none ring more true than Anya. Long before I learned about the nuances of sarcasm and gendered communication, I knew that something was off about the way I related to people. Huddled at the cubby holes on the first day of second grade, I told my pint-sized crush that he had a brain, he just chose not to use it. I am 89% certain I lifted this ham-handed attempt at flirting from Calvin and Hobbes. I was swiftly sent to the principal’s office and was later home-schooled, leaving my social graces to slowly atrophy, a situation that wasn’t helped by a family relocation to Germany.
Living in a culture where plain-speak was commonplace, my conversational sensitivities dulled and I came to see the value in candid, unvarnished truth, if not the relational pitfalls. There is value in not sugar-coating your speech. It’s efficient, and counteracts the charge levelled at women that we are inscrutable. It also rendered me a bit of pariah upon my return to reality, a Sunnydale-style American high school, minus the Hellmouth. I ended up settling in with a group of dudes well-versed in the crude stylings of Beavis and Butthead, and I happily traded friendly barbs and belches with them until graduation.
Whether it was my coterie of affable bros or my isolated European upbringing, my natural preference for a Vulcan bluntness wasn’t exactly Winning Friends and/or Influencing People. I was all too happy to head off to college and burrow into my studies, befriending a handful of fellow weirdos. One of those weirdos loaned me a BTVS boxed set and after a few days of gleeful binging, I met Anya, in all her bright, brash glory. Suddenly, my prickly personality made sense! At least until I remembered that Anya had once been a formidable vengeance demon and I was just… home-schooled.
While Anya’s inability to soften her speech may make some bristle, there is no artifice or manoeuvring, only straight talk about dysfunctional group dynamics or her love of cash money and getting sweaty with Xander. I admire the emotional efficiency of forgoing social graces to cut to the heart of an issue, but I’ve had to learn, just as Anya did, that the undiluted truth isn’t always palatable. The danger of over-correcting Anyanka-impulses is falling prey to overly solicitous, disingenuous phrasing, the kind that Tami Reiss hopes to curtail with her email plug-in Just Not Sorry.
For all the eye-rolling and jokes about Anya’s unpolished ways, over time she becomes a stalwart member of the Scooby gang. Unspoken hurts are surfaced and dealt with, relationships deepened, all with a quickness. A childlike innocence underpins her most upsetting gaffes, vulnerable curiosity tapping an emotional vein in moments where everyone has retreated to their own silent corners. Honesty is a kindness, if you can manage to artfully deploy it. This is Anya’s all too human prophecy and mine, no staking required.