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Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the "Buffy" Fan [Paperback]

Lorna Jowett

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Book Description

15 April 2005
During its seven-year run, Buffy the Vampire Slayer attracted a wide range of viewers and almost unprecedented academic interest. Sex and the Slayer explores one of the most talked-about topics in relation to this pioneering TV series-gender. As fantasy, Buffy potentially opens up a space for alternative representations of gender. But how alternative can popular television be? Taking a feminist cultural studies approach, Jowett explores the ways in which the series represents femininity, masculinity, and gendered relations, including sexuality and sexual orientation. Written for undergraduates, Sex and the Slayer provides an introduction to the most important theoretical and historical underpinnings of contemporary gender criticism as it examines a range of thought-provoking issues: role reversal, the tension between feminism and femininity, the """"crisis"""" of masculinity, gender hybridity, the appeal of bad girls, romance, and changing family structures. Through this introductory analysis, Jowett shows that Buffy presents a contradictory mixture of """"subversive"""" and """"conservative"""" images of gender roles and as such is a key example of the complexity of gender representation in contemporary television.

Frequently Bought Together

Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the "Buffy" Fan + Undead TV: Essays on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Essays on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" + Fighting the Forces: What's at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Price For All Three: 57.08

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Product details

  • Paperback: 254 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press (15 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819567582
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819567581
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.9 x 1.5 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 779,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Ultimately, Jowett's analysis of the genres and gendered negotiations of Buffy provide both a useful introduction to gender analysis of popular culture artifacts and a commentary on femininities and masculinities in post-feminist society. Because Jowett includes an introduction to the terminology of gender studies and grounds her analysis in the specific events and characters of the show, her book would make a good resource for undergraduate courses in gender studies or pop culture analysis, provided the book is paired with clips from the television show (all seven seasons are currently available on VHS and DVD)."--Terri A. Fredrick, National Women's Studies Association Journal, Summer 2006

About the Author

Lorna Jowett is a Senior Lecturer in American Studies at University College Northampton in the U.K. and a devoted Buffy fan.

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You don't know what you are, what you will become... 27 April 2006
By oldfan - Published on Amazon.com
This book was my first introduction to serious gender-studies criticism. I found it to be a well written and illuminating foray into both the academic discipline and the show. The character studies are very satisfying. I recommend the book both to academically inclined fans of the program and to readers who are knowlegeable about the show and are curious about contemporary criticism. There is now a good selection of insightful works, both book-length and essays, using Buffy as a platform to discuss cultural, social, and religious issues. I wish all academic studies were as lucid as this one.
47 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Despite not finding the gender studies approach helpful, a very good discussion of BUFFY 29 Mar 2006
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have very mixed feelings about this largely excellent book about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. The author, Lorna Jowett, is obviously an exceptionally well-informed student of BUFFY and knows the show backwards and forwards. The book bristles with insights about the show and about individual characters, as opposed to the narrative structure as a whole, on which I find the book much less helpful. In a way this is to be expected, since in focusing on gender issues, you focus on the individual characters that incarnate gender-related traits and characteristics. I have read pretty much every serious and all academic books that are currently in print on BUFFY and at this point to learn new things about the show is getting progressively more difficult; nonetheless, I learned a great deal from the book. I'm going to say a couple of critical things in a second, but before I do I want to emphasize that I definitely found reading this to be a rewarding experience and I think any fairly literate BUFFY fan who has some experience in reading academic books is going to both enjoy this and learn from it, regardless of whether they agree with the approach or not. So I want to be clear: despite a disagreement with the central approach of the book, I found this to be an exceptionally rewarding read. The book is also graced with a large bibliography that will aid serious readers in compiling BUFFY-related bibliographies.

Before proceeding, I need to say something about my own stance towards women's issues. Although I'm a guy, I'm a fairly serious student of the history of women's issues, to the point where I am currently engaged in a writing project about women's issues (specifically about the possibility of future empowerment of women through higher education-women are increasingly comprising the majority of both undergraduate and graduate students in America-and redefinition of women in popular culture). My own perspective, however, is very much from concepts drawn not from gender studies but from political and moral philosophy. I see the oppression of women by any means as primarily a justice issue and not a gender issue. One cannot ignore the history of the way male-dominated structures of power have repressed women, but my own belief is that this is most profitably done by analyzing it through questions of justice and fairness. For a variety of reasons, I feel that this is far more to the point. The reason I point this out is that the opposition to a gender studies approach that I'm about to articulate could easily be misrepresented as an anti-female approach, which simply is not the case. I take considerable pride in the fact that several highly educated feminists have told me that they wish all men viewed women's issues the way that I do. (And I hope that wasn't damning me with faint praise.)

I simply can't follow Jowett in any part of the book where she begins to dissect characters on gender-related distinctions. Since this is a considerable part of the book, I acknowledge that I have a problem with much of the book's content, though as I mentioned above I learned a great deal, simply because not everything she says is parasitic upon gender distinctions. I don't have room here to explain why I find gender distinctions in this kind of discussion unhelpful. I believe that the vast majority of individuals engaged in gender studies would acknowledge that the traits that they ascribe to femininity or masculinity are largely accidents of history, pertinent to a particular society or even most societies, but not universal. For almost every trait that a particular society attributes primarily to one gender, there are cultures or societies or tribes that completely subvert that. We know, for instance, of societies where men take primary care of the young and others where women are the leaders. Or we know of more complex arrangements, such as in some Native American tribes, where men were the leaders, but the leaders were chosen by women. In other words, there are no traits that are necessarily and permanently feminine or masculine. One has to tie such concepts to a particular society. Nonetheless, many who write in gender-specific terms frequently fall into a pattern whereby what they are writing about sounds more definite than this. Jowett is often guilty of this. She writes in a way whereby "feminine" and "masculine" qualities seem to be less marks of society than of men and women. In other words, they seem almost more like natural rather then acculturated qualities. I don't think she would defend that in the end, but nonetheless like most she can sound that way. For my part, I have never understood what is to be gained by coding any quality as female or male, feminine or masculine. For instance, the notion of "caring." Jowett writes of coding "caring" as feminine or aggression as "masculine." Even when one grants that in our particular society there may be a greater propensity for men to be aggressive and women to be caring, we can all also think (at least I can) of men who are far more caring than most women and many women who are more aggressive than most men. "Caring" may be more prevalent among women, but in the end it really emerges more as a human quality than a quality in any but a highly contingent way tied to a particular gender. And that is true for almost any quality that one tries to tie to any gender labeling.

Put the question another way: what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be feminine and not masculine? No matter what content you ascribe to this, you can easily end up with "masculine" women and "feminine" men. I'm simply not sure what is to be achieved by such "coding." I don't find it especially empowering in either political or moral analysis. I'm quite interested in models for normative behavior and I find moral discourse to be far more helpful in this regard. If I find someone's behavior rude and aggressive, I find it more to the point to talk about how this indicates a lack of respect and empathy, not whether it is feminine or masculine.

Likewise with BUFFY. One of the reasons I have been so impressive by BUFFY is that I think it may possibly have achieved one of Joss Whedon's stated goals in creating the show: to create a cultural icon. All finer distinctions aside, there is little doubt that Buffy is a power symbol of female empowerment in popular culture. Pre-BUFFY very, very few women got to be the heroes in their own stories on TV, and if they did, it was always in a domestic context. Once you get past Emma Peel and Wonder Woman, about the only strong women on TV were career women like Mary Tyler Moore. Post-BUFFY there has been an explosion of strong female characters, including Xena (pre-TV show BUFFY but post-film), Sydney Bristow of ALIAS, Max Guevara on DARK ANGEL, Aeryn Sun, Zhaan, Chianna, and others on FARSCAPE, and Veronica Mars. I find discussions of how this has or can affect the way that women are perceived to be endlessly fascinating. I fully believe that the effect of BUFFY on the actual possibilities for women in our society has not yet been appreciated. In raising my daughter as a single father I was acutely aware as she grew up how few strong female characters there were in movies and TV. It is beside the point to point out that normal women aren't super empowered like Buffy, technologically enhanced like Max, or warriors like Xena. Normal men aren't super empowered like Superman or Spiderman, or preternaturally gifted fighters like Bruce Lee, or super warriors like Rambo. The point, rather, is that whereas before BUFFY it was unheard of to have remarkable women on TV though it was possible to have remarkable men, now we think nothing of a new female hero. And the acceptance of these new women heroes is a small indication of the way that society is accepting an enlarged role for women. But one doesn't have to resort to gender distinctions to get at any of this.

My belief is that gender studies all too often is a rather abstract game that is played among other gender studies specialists. It is not nor is it ever likely to be a discipline that resonates with the broader public. The kinds of gender distinctions made here don't hit people where they live or even think. I think it is immensely important for scholars like Carolyn Merchant to talk about ways that specifically masculine modes of thinking have informed our thinking about nature, but I find her the exception rather than the rule in the field. My suspicion is that Jowett would code me as a heterosocial, heterosexual "New Man," but I'm left without a good sense of what that really means.

To accept all the premises of the book, one needs to be converted to gender studies first. And I'm afraid that the book in that regard fails. But as I said at the outside, on BUFFY-related matters the book is often a glittering success. It also is a wonderful testimony of how exceptionally rich and multi-faceted the show is. I've had some debates with some of my friends who know I love BUFFY but haven't watched the show themselves. They wonder why I love BUFFY more than shows they wrongly imagine more "intelligent" than it, like THE SOPRANOS or SIX FEET UNDER. Yet neither of these shows has generated anything even remotely like the sustained intellectual debates surrounding BUFFY. Lorna Jowett's book is a wonderful illustration of how good BUFFY really is, for how could a silly teen drama (which non-initiates often imagine the show to be) generate such a remarkably intelligent book?
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Consideration of the Cult TV Hit 25 Oct 2013
By Chris Stoner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Buffy fandom is still alive and well, and this book is a great addition to that world as well as a great academic treatment of the way gender and sexuality are presented in Whedon's classic TV hit. I've been using this book in my Intro to Gender Studies class for the last couple of years, and although the show debuted about 15 years ago, it is still part of the culture for many of today's college students. Jowett confesses to being a fan of the show herself, but her consideration of the show is open to criticism and she is unafraid to admit that there are things about the show that trouble her. She grapples with the question "Is BTVS a feminist show?" in a way that explores how the show engages with our understandings and constructions of gender and eventually leaves the answer in the hands of the reader.

I enjoy using this along with a more traditional gender studies textbook as it gives us a chance to see someone using the theories we explore in the textbook to do real world cultural analysis/critique. We also watch episodes of BTVS throughout the semester, allowing us to interact with Jowett's ideas and come up with our own theories and arguments.

Although my intro level students seem to enjoy this book, it would be suited to higher level courses in gender/sexuality studies as well as it does have a strong and well-executed academic premise. Without our gender studies textbook to help guide us, I think some of my intro level students might get lost, especially if they haven't encountered a lot of gender studies or theory in previous classes.

Besides being an academic, I'm also a fan of BTVS and this book is a fun read that really engages with the show on an interesting level and allows you to enjoy it in a whole new way. I would love to see a followup dealing with Buffy-spinoff ANGEL, especially relating to Cordelia whose character gets much more development and complexity in the spinoff than she ever did in BTVS. Definitely recommended to academic nerds and Buffy fans alike!
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! 23 Dec 2007
By Stephanie R. Kennerley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as gender issues. This book was an interesting mix of the two, expounding on the gender messages in Buffy.
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