Faith - The Feminist Monster & Tragic Femme Fatale
When Faith blew onto the Sunnydale scene in season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I was immediately enamoured. She was exactly the flavor I wanted in the show: dark-lipped, sassy, enthusiastic and sexy. Up until this point our female protagonists of the show (minus the illustrious techno pagan Jenny Calendar), were very light, breezy, and primary or pastel color wearing. Faith shook things up and made heads turn, especially when she would go dancing at the Bronze. I loved who she was then, and now, I can relate to her personality and sexuality even more. She was confident and full of life, something we all could use a little bit more of.
Faith turns into a human monster, although not of the monstrous feminine category, but a feminine monster nonetheless. I firmly believe that she was pushed into this archetype based on her history and how she was treated once she arrived in Sunnydale. Through jealousy, competition, and being ostracised for her “abnormal” behavior and overt sexuality, she turned into the Dark Slayer, “Buffy’s Shadow”, and a murderer.
Like Veruca, Faith is looked down on for her sexual confidence which is vastly different than what we had been shown through the Scoobies thus far (Buffy, Willow, Cordelia). Cordelia quickly judges Faith for her sexual overtness (S03E03), and Willow joins in later by calling Faith “cleavage-y slut bomb” (S04E15). In “Rebel Grrl: Faith and Bad Girl Feminism” by Caitlynn Fairburns, she states that “The Scoobies find Faith wild and her openness towards sex makes them uncomfortable, but her autonomy and sexual agency make her one of the most feminist characters in the series.” Faith is openly non-monogamous and casual in her attitude towards relationships, which, in our heteronormative society, is regarded with suspicion, especially from the women of Sunnydale whose only sexual experiences come from romantic, serious, and monogamous relationships. This difference threatens the status quo and provides a ripe environment for competition. Faith isn’t attached to anyone: she is an independent woman, which was an incredibly empowering image to see on television at the time. In Faith, we see the freedom of feminine agency. Buffy has the Scoobies and Faith has herself - “I’m on my side. And that’s enough” she states confidently. As a woman who has chosen a solo lifestyle, meaning living alone, I can relate to Faith, as I have become fiercely independent and value my autonomy over coupling.
Fairburns continues to discuss this self-reliant behavior as: “Faith embodies ideas that are associated with men, her aggressive nature, sexual freedom, and the 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.” She also states that “Faith can teach a lot of young women how to eliminate shame and be comfortable in yourself.” This isn’t something that I thought much about as a teenager but as a woman, I can connect to this. Thinking about it now, Faith not once throughout the series judges or makes any snarky comments based on a woman’s appearance. She wouldn’t stoop to that level. Faith encourages the Scoobies to “live a little” (since she believes everyone is uptight!) and says to Buffy, “if you aren’t enjoying yourself, you’re doing something wrong”. Faith strongly believes in enjoying the fruits of your labor and thoroughly enjoys being a Slayer. I think that because Faith came from an underprivileged background she isn’t catty like the others who are used to the suburban life of Sunnydale.
As discussed previously about Veruca, the female werewolf of Buffy, Faith’s sexuality is seen as “bad” and deviant, which becomes her defining traits. She is blatantly slut-shamed for it. In the chapter “Bad Girls” in the book Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan by Lorna Jowett, she suggests that bad girls are often portrayed as excessive women, and “their excess can reveal the ways in which femininity is constructed and policed…bad girls are sexualized…” and that since their power is, of course, a sexual one then that means they operate within patriarchal structures. In Buffy, there are multiple strategies to deal with these types of women and how to ensure they do not appear as better than our resident “good girls”. These “bad girls” need to have their power and appeal contained, controlled, and punished (repeatedly).
Buffy regularly shows the uncontrollable nature of female power with Faith, Veruca, and later with Dark Willow. Jowett states that “women have been constructed as more dangerous than men because they are supposedly uncontrollable when violent”. Because Faith takes pleasure in being a Slayer, she is seen as violent, whereas Buffy is seen as “doing a job” and the violence is an unfortunate inevitable part. Once Faith accidentally kills a human, it leads her down a path of darkness; she becomes more violent, angry and eventually, in league with the Mayor, the Big Bad of season three. It is then that Faith officially turns into a “monster”. In Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Monster Book, it categorizes Faith as supernatural (since she is a Slayer), but also as a human monster because she commits the (accidental) act of murdering a human being. Interestingly enough, Buffy isn’t in this category.
Faith is often, either directly or indirectly, compared to Buffy. Faith is unabashedly comfortable in her own skin; not only as a woman but as a Slayer. She has “problems with authority figures” and dropped out of high school. Even though Faith attempted to play the “good slayer” by following orders set forth by her Watcher, Wesley, she thrives in an open environment with few rules. She relishes her freedom whereas Buffy works better within the confines of regular society: she doesn’t break the law (unless absolutely necessary), she has regular meetings and Slayer practices with Giles, respects and abides by her Mother, and keeps attending high school (then later college). Buffy doesn’t really know how to function otherwise. Although I believe a Slayer is truly alone in her destiny, we know that Buffy finds her friends and family assets - and a beneficial support system - as per her discussion with Kendra, the vampire slayer who we met in season two.
Fairburns states that, “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.” I believe that you can’t compare human beings, and in doing so you reduce them into just mere qualities and not having inherent and pure value as individuals. Faith isn’t highly detailed oriented but she efficiently gets the job done and she enjoys it which is seen as a negative overall, especially to Buffy, who isn’t as comfortable with her destiny as Faith is.
I think that if Faith could have been accepted for the sassy, ass-kicking femme fatale that she is, she would not have gone to the Mayor. Faith even says emphatically in the show “People keep asking why can’t you be more like Buffy? But did anyone ever ask if she could be more like me?” In season seven, Faith gets seriously injured during a fight against Caleb - one that she orchestrated without Buffy’s involvement. Buffy states that it could have happened to anyone in an attempt to show some sense of understanding and sympathy. But in the end it didn't happen to Buffy, it happened to Faith. In the eyes of Sunnydale, the Scoobies and the overall feminine experience, Faith will forever be second best compared to Buffy.
Although Faith is often in hypervigilant mode (a side effect of trauma) and has a self destructive attitude, she is also a fun-loving, and very likeable woman. However, because of the attention that was given to her by Joyce (Buffy’s Mom), Giles, and the men of Sunnydale, the women of the Scoobies became jealous and threatened by her outspoken and honest nature. Jowett affirms that “Faith’s sexual independence is not coded as a progressive “good” sign of postfeminism. She is transgressive as references BDSM, kinky sex - teasing Spike and being playful with Riley with the swapped bodies.” Faith being a teenager aside, this behaviour is regarded as highly taboo and thus pushed her further onto the outskirts of the social norm. She threatened Buffy’s very existence by perhaps showing you what “losing control” might look like - freedom - and that life isn’t always so black and white. In this highly emotional scene between them in the episode “Sanctuary” on the spin-off Angel (S01E19), it shows so perfectly the core of their tumultuous relationship: the division of their perceptions on life.
Buffy “You tell me that I am just like you”
Faith “And you can’t stand that! You’re all about control, you have no idea what it’s like on the other side. I mean nothings in control. Nothing makes sense. There’s just pain and hate and nothing you do means anything. You can’t…”
Buffy “Shut up!”
Faith was routinely uninvited to social outings or Scooby meetings and is never truly accepted by them. Not even at the end of Buffy was she seen as a part of the group. Faith was also never actually forgiven for her crimes unlike other “bad girls” or “bad boys” of the show like Willow, Spike, and Angel. Perhaps if she was to be forgiven then she might become an equal to Buffy, but as I have begun to explore, women that stray from the social norm in Sunnydale can ever be.
For Faith will always be seen as Other; from her subversion of female sexuality, brassness, lower class setting, and rebellious nature, she will never be seen as “good” and acceptable. Faith was suggested to have come from an alcoholic family, distress and trauma - something she was never provided empathy for. I see Faith as this beautiful and tragic figure in Buffy; someone who was never fully given a chance to succeed. She deserved more of an opportunity to grow and become more than the trashy murderer that she will forever be labeled as.