Thursday, April 9, 2009

Misogyny

I blogged a little bit in my previous post about the "Billy" episode, where Wesley's infection by the misogyny demon seemed to be the beginning of an important new chapter in his character development. This time I want to focus a little more on the misogyny itself.

Since I knew ahead of time roughly what was going to happen, I'm having a hard time imagining when the original audience was supposed to figure out that something wasn't quite right with Wesley. Obviously, in retrospect, it started when Fred leaned into the microscope next to Wesley, and Wesley sniffed her perfume. (Although my misogyny dialogue link above seems to give a slightly different interpretation.) (Update: I didn't go back far enough the first time I re-watched this episode. The part where Wesley asked Fred for the slides was its own little scene. Wesley seemed to be OK until Fred handed him the slides a split second before he finished his request. Wesley gave her the forced smile and the forced "thank you", as though he felt she was acting out of line by proving she was capable of taking the next step without his direction. This was definitely the part the audience was supposed to be clued in on the danger.)

"Speaking of saliva, where is Cordelia?"

Famous quote, but I had no idea what it meant until Cordelia gave me a hint in the "Birthday" episode where she made a reference to her and Wesley kissing at one time (obviously the two "awkward kisses" from the Buffy days). Cordelia also mentioned that he drooled all over her chin. Wesley answered with some sort of reference to the enforced death march along memory lane. Mystery solved for me, I hope?

Anyways, from that point on, Wesley was being quite testy with Fred, but things did not yet look dangerous. Fred's reaction was quite interesting, where she was still being a very young, confused girl, trying to please her elder. I see this reaction in well-behaved children all of the time as they struggle to deal with slightly sadistic older adults who are trying to make them look stupid by engaging them in word games. The game is rigged against the child because she may have no idea what is happening, or where the conversation is leading to.

I might as well give an example. I have a relative (whom I try to see as little as possible) who hates public schools. For some reason, this relative always likes to corner children at extended family gatherings, quiz them on various school subjects, make a big deal out of it when they don't know the answers, and tries to get them to "admit" that they're not getting an adequate education at school, just so he can end finish up with a diatribe against overpaid liberal school teachers. The children will always start politely attempting to answer the questions, and may act a little confused, but don't feel threatened right away. The relative will then start getting bolder and start belittling the children. At some point, the children will start getting anguished and feeling ashamed because they start thinking of themselves as failures.

If this proceeds unchecked, the children will finally realize that the older relative is not being nice at all, but the children are totally powerless to extricate themselves from the situation. The children can't talk back, because they've been taught not to, and they fear the consequences. They also don't have the experience or maturity to engage in a battle of wits either. No matter how the children answer, the relative will quickly be able to find fault in their childlike logic. If the children run away, they'll be mocked. This is obviously not a pleasant situation.

When I saw Fred somewhat going through some of these stages with Wesley, I honestly couldn't get a hold of my feelings at that point. Was I angry with Fred for not being being able to defend herself? Or did I feel sorry for a young girl who lacked the maturity to match Wesley in a battle of wits? Good grief, the poor neurotic girl had been in a cave for five years! Combine that with Wesley humiliating Fred on her sexuality, particularly when, as far as we know, she had never really thought of herself as a sexual creature before. By this time, Fred knew that Wesley had stepped way over the line, and she started the flight response. When Fred finally started to defend herself by shouting out an emphatic "NO!" Wesley struck her to the ground. Thank goodness I have no firsthand experience with domestic violence, but I understand that is why a lot of battered women will not take much action to try to defend themselves. The minute they stand up for themselves, the beatings begin.

And, with that, Wesley started chasing Fred throughout the hotel, with the violence escalating all the way. We of course know that Wesley was infected with Billy's misogynist virus (I'll call it a virus, for lack of a better term), and that there was nothing Fred could have done to diffuse the situation, except by maybe hitting him over the head with a sledge hammer.

What was Wesley's thought process through the beginning of the ordeal? Wesley seems to have a history of being clueless at crucial moments. With the introduction of Fred, there might have possibly been an added plot device of Wesley not coming up with an answer right away just so Fred would have her chance to dazzle everyone with her brilliance. Did he harbor any jealousy because in many respects she was his intellectual equal? Wesley obviously had romantic feelings for Fred, but I would have thought he might have acknowledged some confusion as to what was happening to him very early on in the scene. (Similar to Gunn, when he had the presence of mind to get Fred to hit him in the head before he attacked her.) Had Wesley already completely succumbed to the virus by the time Fred looked through the microscope? Or, perhaps, succumbed to the virus before he figured out that it even existed?

I also thought Fred might have been able to figure out what was happening and fled the room a lot sooner, perhaps when he sharply started quizzing her about Cordelia's whereabouts. I admit I'm totally clueless as to when Fred reasoned it out that Wesley's behavior was caused by the virus. Before he struck her, was she still the bewildered schoolgirl?

It would have been interesting if Cordelia was the object of the attack. She would have started defending herself a lot more quickly, and the two of them would have left his office in shambles within a few minutes of the onset of the virus. Though, on some level, you could say that Cordelia was the object of the attack, with Fred standing in as her proxy. What were the "awkward" kisses like between Cordelia and Wesley? What about when he told Fred upstairs that he was not a downy-faced schoolboy, but a man? I've read a lot of online descriptions about the kisses between Cordelia and Wesley, and I haven't found any evidence that he was particularly traumatized about the event. However, his reference to the "death march down memory lane" certainly leaves one to believe the episode bothered him more than we realized. Add to this his memories of a miserable childhood and his years of humiliation for being the bumbling idiot, we can see there was certainly a lot of potential for rage.

The whole misogyny episode, from where it started in the office, to where it ended upstairs in the hotel rooms, was filled with an incredibly intense erotic energy. If we had been able to see the scene without knowing about the demon infection, and probably if the scene had occurred with any girl besides Fred, we could have been led to believe that the encounter would have turned to passionate wild sex at any minute. (Although I will admit it would have been a pretty wild stretch of the imagination after Wesley hit the girl or grabbed the ax.) The writers could have written the scene in such a way where Wesley could have gone completely out of his mind in his office, called Fred a bitch, and started knocking her around a lot more quickly, just like Gunn was about to do upstairs before Fred hit him in the head. However, the writers chose not to write the scene that way. Raw violence without the eroticism would have just been remembered as an unpleasant experience brought on simply because of the demon's touch. The introduction of sexuality into the scene, to me, at least, brings the question out into the open: how much of the violence sprang from the demon, and how much from Wesley himself?

From a previous post, readers will know how much I love dichotomy, where a person has to figure out how to make two completely different sides of his character live in harmony. As disturbing as Wesley's attack on Fred was for me, his sweetness and tenderness after the incident made it all the more heartwarming for me. Again, I understand this is another manifestation of spousal abuse, where the violent spouse is racked with remorse after the incident and begs for forgiveness.

Fred tried to tell Wesley he was a good man, and it wasn't him attacking her. Wesley was suffering serious doubts about his own character and motivations, and feared that some sort of evil primordial instinct had come to the surface. I tend to think Wesley was right, in that the evilness that came from the demon was not only the end-result violence, but the unleashing of all of our inner demons we spend a lifetime repressing, suppressing and controlling. My husband has certainly seen the worst of me after I've spent multiple nights walking the floor with a crying infant. Certain vile things would start spilling out of my mouth at the slightest pretext, like if he mentioned something I cooked needed more seasoning. I would of course apologize profusely after the incident and say I didn't mean it. Except, I did mean it. I didn't have time to think up any horrible lies to say to him. Everything that remained completely buried while I was getting a good eight hours of rest every night came bubbling up to the surface in my sleep-deprived state.

I wish Wesley and Fred would have gotten together at the end of the "Billy" episode, but I agree, the story was much better because they remained separate. My instinct would have been to fuss over Wesley, give him chicken soup and try to treat his wounds. However, as my husband needs to remind me once in a while, a lot of men hate to be treated that way. If Fred had tried to offer any more comfort or solace, Wesley probably would have reacted by withdrawing even more from her. I think Fred's reaction showed a certain amount of maturity on her part that I hadn't previously suspected. Fred ultimately ended up with Gunn.

Even though Fred was good and full of forgiveness, could she possibly ever give herself to Wesley after the way he treated her, even if it supposedly wasn't his fault? Even though the violence itself might have easy to pin on the demon, would she have been able to get past her sexual humiliation in Wesley's office and been able to become intimate with him later on? Probably not.

I could go on with this post about sadomasochism and the sadist's errant belief that the victim is getting masochistic pleasure out of the events, but I think I've written enough for now. Rest assured, I'm certainly looking forward to a more complete exploration of this theme after Wesley hooks up with Lilah.

No comments: