Naomi Alderman

Thoroughly modern Buffy

The pretty girl fighting the forces of darkness is now the subject of academic conferences, and Patricia Pender’s appraisal could not be more serious

Cards on the table. Before I’d published my first novel, or written for newspapers, or won awards for my writing, before all of that, in 2004, I presented a paper at an academic conference about Buffy the Vampire Slayer in Nashville, Tennessee.

I couldn’t really afford to go to that conference. I didn’t have time to be there. I wasn’t an academic; it wouldn’t help my career. It was just that when I heard there was an academic conference about Buffy the Vampire Slayer I knew I had to be there. Not in an ironic way, not as silly fun. I desperately needed to be around people who could talk about Buffy and help me understand why it meant so much to me.

After more than a decade of reading Buffy academia, to which Patricia Pender’s I’m Buffy and You’re History is a very laudable addition, I’m starting to know why this show continues to inspire sincere and thoughtful devotion among intellectual people who need to talk about gender and about what it means to be a woman in our world.

Pender’s book is particularly perceptive on the cultural landscape and the state of feminism in the 1990s, when Buffy began. It’s hard to remember now how bad the ‘post-feminist’ backlash was, but Pender does an excellent job of reminding her readers. Buffy started to air in 1997. The Spice Girls had released ‘Wannabe’ in 1994 and their brand of ‘girl power’ was what passed for feminism in those days. Women were being encouraged to embrace the ‘power’ of learning to pole-dance or wearing ‘stripper heels’. On television there was Ally McBeal, about an ostensibly high-powered lawyer whose main interest was finding a boyfriend, and Sex and the City, about four ostensibly high-powered women whose main interests were boyfriends and shoes.

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