Rupert Giles: The Redemption of Masculinity

I started writing this analysis on Rupert Giles well before the allegations came out against Joss Whedon by actress Charisma Carpenter. I have created numerous articles on elements of Joss Whedon’s (or Mutant Enemy Productions) work, as I have been a massive fan for all of my teenage/adult life. I even created this brand new outlet called The Whedon Enthusiast. However, I am deeply hurt and angry about the truth of what kind of man that Joss Whedon turned out to be. The discussion around male authority figures, power dynamics, sexual/gender politics, and toxic masculinity in a male character of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more relevant now more than ever. This piece is very telling as the character of Rupert Giles shows a man that Joss Whedon created, yet could never, ever be.


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Rupert Giles: The Redemption of Masculinity in Buffy the Vampire Slayer


Throughout seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer we are privy to a multitude of masculine figures. Between demons, vampires and humans, there is an onslaught of despicable violent males who express themselves either through physical violence, or by emotional turmoil and manipulation. The men of Buffy often come in the form of characters in one-shot episodes, or as friends, family and romantic entanglements to the women of the series. The ones we come to know most intimately are main characters Xander and Oz, along with Buffy’s boyfriends/sexual partners Spike, Angel, and Riley. Although, the one male character that stands out amongst the rest is Rupert “Ripper” Giles, portrayed by English actor and musician, Anthony Head.

We are introduced to Rupert Giles (going forward will be called Giles) in “Welcome to the Hellmouth” (S01EP01) as a bumbling, nerdy, tweed wearing Librarian that turns out to be Buffy’s new Watcher. From the onset, he quickly turns into a beloved character that the Scoobies see as a mentor, as well as a father figure for Buffy, who's own biological father is often MIA leaving her regularly disappointed and hurt. Giles is gentle, kind, and wise, often giving advice - both life and supernatural - to the Slayer and her friends during troubled times. He even has a magical romp with Joyce, Buffy’s Mom, in “Band Candy” (S03EP06) leading to a comedic undertone to their relationship. When Joyce dies suddenly, he mourns her loss deeply over a glass of scotch and the music they bonded over while being under a spell. The audience sees him as not just a stuttering geek, but a man of power, strength, grace, and even sex appeal.


Giles as Father Figure


We learn early on that Buffy’s father is generally absent from her life. Although Joyce is a stellar, hands-on mother, you know that Buffy desires to have her father be a more prominent figure. As the series continues we hear less and less about him, and this is potentially because Giles becomes the stand-in paternal influence in her life. He shows up, expresses affection, love, respect and guidance for a growing woman with a heavy burden placed upon her shoulders. Many men in Buffy’s life -- in her words -- “bail”, but Giles doesn’t; not until he feels that she is ready to be fully on her own, and to help her develop into the incredibly capable person he knows she is, and will be, in his absence. With Dawn's appearance in Buffy’s world, he steps seamlessly into the role of protector and parent after their mother dies(1).


In "Faith, Hope and Trick" (S03EP03), Giles gently persuades Buffy to come clean about what happened with Angel (S02EP22) and the events surrounding his death. Although this could be viewed as a form of manipulation, I find it tactful, thoughtful and compassionate. He knows how deeply traumatic Angel's demise was for Buffy and that in time she would tell the truth. He understands that we can’t force people to express themselves openly; they have to do it on their own time. This shows empathy, concern, and care, as well as respect.

Buffy and Giles bond through their battles, friendship, mutual respect, and his easily devised, parental role. He is one of the first people to know when she and Angel had sex for the first time. Often in popular media, father figures assume ownership over their daughters bodies -- mainly their sexuality -- claiming the right to know where and what they are up to and experiencing (3). Fathers stake a claim on their daughter’s virginity, as well as berating without taking the time to understand them. Though she appears to be bashful about it, Giles comforts her and withholds judgement.


One major point in Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that there is never sexual tension between Buffy and Giles, a man of authority. This is what makes Buffy stand out among many teen shows from the 1990s; there isn’t a celebration, or acceptance, of statutory rape between young women and men of authority. Giles builds friendships and relationships with everyone in the Buffyverse, including multiple teenagers, that are sincere and without an agenda.


Giles as Mentor


The other aspect of Giles acting as a father figure is that he concurrently acts as a mentor for the rest of the Scoobies. Xander regularly joins him in “research mode” either in the school library or at his home, which matures and provides him with a purpose, especially as those around him strengthen their supernatural abilities. With Willow, Giles becomes a magical guide and teacher of spells, rituals and all things related to magic. Like with Buffy, he allows the teenagers space to evolve into adults, supporting them in their mistakes, questionable decisions, and personal triumphs. He encourages Buffy and Willow to develop their special skills; Buffy through her physical abilities and Willow through magic, and with this a fostering of their independence. They have agency over their lives and regularly seek advice from Giles as they know he will be honest with his responses. His wisdom and knowledge is respected by the Scoobies, which is another teenager trope uncommon in TV shows.

Through their life and death situations, living on a Hellmouth, and banishing the forces of darkness together, he forms relationships with them all. Giles develops a sense of responsibility for their safety and shows emotions and affection towards them without hesitation (1). An example of this affection is in the episode “Family” (S05EP06) where the gang is celebrating Tara’s birthday at The Bronze. Tara unwraps a large crystal ball from Giles and she is over the moon happy in response, and he is visibly pleased with her excitement from the thoughtful, yet somewhat cheesy, gift. He also shows his concern for Willow when she delves deeper into magic, feeling that she needs to be careful with what she is meddling with, as he knows personally how powerful magic can be.

Giles is seen as a source of male strength while he creates personal and professional boundaries for himself (and sticks with them) (3). He is secure enough in his capabilities - emotional, mental, and physical - that he never hesitates to give the room to the women in his life. He doesn’t exhibit a bruised ego if a woman has a better idea, or if she is physically stronger than him, as he is a Watcher and has been taught/raised to be the “sidekick” of a powerful woman - The Slayer. Giles gives Buffy space to make decisions no matter their outcome. He isn’t afraid to speak his mind, but defers to Buffy for the main strategy and planning (3). When she quits the Watcher’s Council he is supportive and stands by her. Giles isn’t threatened by powerful women.


Giles as Adult


As the only adult in the group (so to speak), Giles’ position is as a teammate in the battle against evil, therefore he is never positioned as being the leader (1). He might take the lead on occasion, but it’s understood that Buffy is the true leader of the group. His perspectives naturally differ from the Scoobies and Giles is seen as “growing up” alongside them. As the adult of the group he provides transportation, weapons, supplies, and a place for the Scoobies to conduct business (library, Magic Shop, home) (1).

Early in the show we see glimpses into Giles’ personal life, and his dark past, when it is revealed he dabbled -- and has knowledge of -- dark magicks with his interactions with the demon Eyghon. This is when we are introduced to ‘Ripper’, Giles’ dark side. Through this “alter ego” we see displays of traditional masculine traits like assertive sexuality and violence, which is a massive contrast to the Giles we grow to adore in the early seasons. This suggests a binary way male characters in Buffy exist (1). In ‘Band Candy’ (S03EP06), Giles devolves into his teenage rebellious self which is reminiscent of good old Ripper; he slicks back his hair, smokes cigarettes and brings out his records to lounge with Joyce Summers. He breaks a window to steal a coat for her, punches a cop and has sex with her on the hood of the cop’s car. This shows his heterosexuality (and overall sexual drive) first hand. Giles keeps this darker, more troubling (in his eyes) side of his masculinity hidden.

But, there are positives to this aspect of his personality which he isn’t afraid to express later on in the show, and that’s with the death of Ben (S05EP22). Buffy, unable to finish Ben off for moral reasons, leaves him battered and moribund. Giles steps in once everyone is gone and suffocates him with his bare hands. He tells Ben that Buffy could never take a human life (the main theme of the entirety of season five) because she is a hero, and that she “isn’t like us.” It seems that our usual Giles will kill someone if he believes that it is morally justified (1). She is the hero, but then is he the villain? Is Ben the villain? Or is masculinity the villain? Giles is willing to carry this heavy burden of murder to lighten the load for Buffy’s continuous struggle in being the Slayer. Sometimes tough choices can be delegated to others for the sake of one’s humanity.


Giles is a bit like Angel; soft spoken, older than the Scoobies, European, well traveled, articulate, and well read. They are both fiercely protective of Buffy, and would place themselves in harm's way to protect/defend her. As we see in the show, these two male characters are both hugely influential and deeply connected to Buffy’s life, and their masculinity doesn’t need defending, unlike Spike or Xander (2). They are solid guys and loyal to a tee. And in ‘The Women of Buffy’ they state “Giles said no thanks to macho physicality, and from time to time, Angel says no thanks to active heroism.” Angel sometimes gives into jealousy and “one man upmanship”, but Giles’ doesn’t; his masculinity isn’t always traditional in this way where it’s about individualism, “man against man”, or built through ego (1). After Angel leaves Buffy in season three, Giles is left to defend an honest, and reliable, masculinity. One that can be admired and where they never have to prove themselves, or their worth, because they are just that confident in who they are as men.


As a teenager, I didn’t fully understand the power of a figure/character like Giles. However, after 37 years of life, and through dating, grieving the loss of one romantic relationship after another, feeling the pull of male insecurities, their desire for control and their incapability of believing in a strong, independent woman, I now do. Rupert Giles is the redemption of masculinity; not only in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but in real life and love.

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My analysis on Joss Whedon’s creations will be placed on hold as I come to terms with the person I once admired. But I, and we all, have to remember, that he was just ONE piece in a larger puzzle of incredible films and TV shows that exhibited the talents of many other people involved. He can never tarnish our childhoods and our beloved shows since he doesn’t deserve that honor. We learned through his work that those who wield power only use it for evil. What a goddamn shame that he became the villain in his own story.


References:

  1. New Men: “Playing the sensitive lad” by Lorna Jowett

  2. http://msenscene.com/2015/07/07/women-of-buffy/ - link no longer active

  3. THE NON-TOXIC MASCULINITY OF RUPERT GILES by Meg Elison (https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-non-toxic-masculinity-of-rupert-giles)

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