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The Non-Toxic Masculinity of Rupert Giles

Athena

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Black Thorn
#1
Buffy the Vampire Slayer has garnered a great deal of attention over the years for being an enduring piece of feminist (or at least girl-power) media. Innumerable theses and think pieces have poured from academia and pop culture alike on the subjects of queerness, tough feminine power, the sacrifice of women of color in the Slayer universe, etc.

But for me, there is at least one good source of male strength. In fact, the first time I ever spotted a good father in a genre series, it was Rupert Giles. And there are a few wonderful lessons to be found in the character of the Watcher and de facto patriarch of the Scooby family.

Giles the father

Giles is introduced in the series pilot as a stuffy English librarian and Watcher, a mystical trainer and guide to the Slayer. He and Buffy do not immediately join together as a family unit. He is aloof with her, she is avoidant with him. It’s more of a sudden stepfather arrangement than anything else.

Slowly, we see their relationship evolve. He learns to tolerate her unorthodox practices: having friends, dating a vampire, refusing to study her mystical heritage. Despite her slacking, she learns from him, comes to regard him with respect, and accepts his burgeoning protective attitude toward her.

Giles tested

The father-daughter bond is tested multiple times. Buffy learns that Giles was a teenage hellraiser and even has to fight the literal demons of his past for him, coming to that pivotal realization we all have the day we realize that our parents are imperfect people with histories of their own. He drugs her to rob her of her power at the behest of their governing body, to test her resilience and resourcefulness. They weather these trials and grow stronger.

They also build their bond through positive interactions. Giles is among the first to know that Buffy has had her inaugural sexual experience. She’s sheepish and regretful about this news, as it has unfortunate consequences to her duties. Giles accepts this fact with nurturing equanimity and comforts her. He assumes no posture of ownership over her body or her sexuality, as father figures often do in popular media.

There are no “shotgun” jokes and Giles never presumes to question Angel (or any partner of Buffy’s) about his intentions. Giles defends her against magical enemies as well as hostile figures of authority, threatening the school principal on her behalf and putting a sword through the Mayor’s chest when the latter makes a declaration that he will eat her.

In each of these instances, Giles does not act because his masculinity is threatened. He has little to no interest in power of his own. He cedes power always to Buffy. In questions of strategy, he defers to Buffy almost every time, with an increase in frequency as she nears adulthood and learns to lead on her own. When his parent organization, the Watcher’s Council, puts them both on trial, he allows Buffy to advocate for their interests without interruption.

Even when he ostensibly abandons her in the penultimate season — and after the death of her mother — it is with love that he leaves her on her own. He teaches her the final lessons of what it means to be an adult the only way a person can really learn them: by working without a net.

Giles’ personal powers, in combat and in life, are quietly developed alongside these nurturing narratives. When he is pushed to his limits, we see him take up arms (a flaming baseball bat and a crossbow) against Angel, resist torture, wage magical warfare against the series’ most superpowered witch, and finally kill an injured man (Ben, other half of big bad Glory) in cold blood. This last is the ultimate gesture of his fatherhood. He accepts a morally grey and very difficult task — not because Buffy can’t do it herself, but so that committing the act doesn’t affect who she is. Buffy is a hero. Giles is a father. He does what he must, for her.

Giles and sex

Despite all this power and the intense intimacy between them, there is never a whisper of incest between Buffy and Giles. It would be simple in the extreme to paint them as Humbert and Lolita, or as Svengali and helpless young pupil. Taboo and tasteless, perhaps, but hardly untrod ground for father-daughter shaped relationships on television. Magic is invoked multiple times within the series to pair the unlikely, forcing on-screen awkwardness between enemies, friends, and near-strangers. Not once does it happen between Buffy and the only real father in her life.

Their relationship is safe and sacrosanct in a way that almost no others are within the series… or in anyone’s real life. Giles is not just one of the guys, constantly signaling his overall willingness to cross the line if the women (or girls) in his life should feel so inclined. Giles has healthy boundaries. He has a sex life and never mentions it to the younger members of the team. He never inquires (pruriently or otherwise) about their relationships. He never asks them, explicitly or implicitly to validate his identity, sexually or otherwise. He deals gently with their burgeoning sexualities while also making it perfectly clear they are neither his business nor his interest.

Giles the ideal

In the context of creator Joss Whedon, the characterization of Rupert Giles is of particular note. Whedon has said on several occasions that horndog dirtbag teenager Xander Harris is the analog in the series for his former self. I tend to believe this is true, as Xander consistently tries to punch above his weight class, dating or trying to date the most popular girl in his school, various Slayers, an ex-demon, and the most powerful witch of all time while being absolutely mediocre in every way. Xander fails at consent multiple times throughout the series and generally performs to the lowest bar set for the decency of a male character in a woman’s story. Given the late revelations about Joss’ character, however, I wonder if the worse half of his nature wasn’t communicated in Spike, the misanthropic attempted rapist who gets redeemed in the end by the selfless love of a forgiving woman.

I think Joss wishes he was Giles. I think a lot of men want to grow up to be Giles. Giles, the grownup who can still kick some ass when it’s right for him to do so. Giles, the man who is secure in himself and has good boundaries with the women in his life. Giles, the man of his word who never fails to stand up for what is right. Giles, the best father there ever was in genre TV.


Credit: http://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-non-toxic-masculinity-of-rupert-giles
 
thrasherpix
thrasherpix
Why are articles like these consistently filled with extreme hyperbole, whether it's to cast someone in a good or bad light?

Puppet

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Black Thorn
#2
I was with them until the mention of his departure in S6 - I find no part of that done 'with love'. If it had been a normal season, sure, but after being ripped from heaven and clearly suffering from a severe depression? Yeah, sure, 'with love'.

Other than that, great article, making points that are telling of why I love S1-S5 Giles so much.
 
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#3
Why must they hate on Xander in an article about Giles? My poor baby. *hugs*

Also, Giles is a 40 something year old man who had lived and matured, comparing him with 16 year old Xander is unfair. Maybe we should compare Giles in his twenties with Xander in his twenties. Giles at his most immature with Xander at his most mature.
 
thrasherpix
thrasherpix
I'm suddenly wondering how they'd get along as fellow teens! I kinda think Giles would bully Xander, especially when he didn't go along with the magic play, but Xander wasn't afraid (at least not controlled by his fear) of a little demon.

Scooby Corps

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#4

He has little to no interest in power of his own. He cedes power always to Buffy.
*Snort* Well yeah... as long as he agrees with you he's a teddy bear. Giles, you old feminist role model you. A "funny" (understatement) article which belongs in the category "explaining the world how it suits me" and another round of "let's disingenuously hate on Xander and hold him to impossible standards".
 

WillowFromBuffy

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#5
This is ridicolous. Giles is as much a hindrance as a help in Buffy's development. Btw, Giles is indeed an ephebophile, as he wants to marry Anya, even though "Randy" calls him out on it.

Also, the things said about Xander are disgustingly elitist.

Not happy with this. Grumble, grumble.
 

Taake

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Black Thorn
#6
that horndog dirtbag teenager Xander Harris
Haha, gees writer, what do you really feel about Xander? :p

In questions of strategy, he defers to Buffy almost every time, with an increase in frequency as she nears adulthood and learns to lead on her own.
Are we just going to ignore "Lies my parents told me" then? Okie-dokie.

Even when he ostensibly abandons her in the penultimate season — and after the death of her mother — it is with love that he leaves her on her own. He teaches her the final lessons of what it means to be an adult the only way a person can really learn them: by working without a net.
No.


Look, I love Giles. I think Giles is a great character. I love his relationship with Buffy. All that jazz. But, this article is very fluffy. There is no reason to gloss over the bad sides of Giles so obviously, he's still a great character.

I agree that Giles is excellent when he finds out about Buffy and Angel having had sex, that's a lovely moment between them. I think that a key issue here though is that Giles isn't the overbearing dad figure when it comes to Buffy's boyfriends because… he's not her dad. She has never been his little girl, he has never been the focal point of her love and adoration, there is no reason why it would be awkward for him to see her date. They're close, yes. But in season 2 they'd known each other for like a year and a half. Even if they have a father-daughter like relationship, they're not father and daughter.
 

Spanky

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#7
he's not her dad.
This. I think a lot of people like to think in their mind's that their relationship is that of father and daughter. It's not even close to father and daughter.
 

MarieVampSlayer

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Sineya
#9
I was with them until they went full Xander and Spike bashing. What's good? As if Giles never did anything wrong and all the other men in the verse where disgusting. What about S7 Xander? What about Oz? I mean every character in the verse is flawed but there is a load of good men in there and as much as I love Giles I wouldn't say he was the best of them all!

Oh and comparing Joss to a rapist is pretty brutal! Unless I missed an episode he cheated not assaulted!
 
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#10
[/USER] @thrasherpix I'm suddenly wondering how they'd get along as fellow teens! I kinda think Giles would bully Xander, especially when he didn't go along with the magic play, but Xander wasn't afraid (at least not controlled by his fear) of a little demon.
I have read a few fics centered on Teenage Giles and Xander meeting and interacting. Giles, the troublemaker, always causes trouble and Xander always cleans up after him and that's a very accurate description of both of them at that age. While Xander is very flawed, he is at core a very decent kid while Giles used to act out and play with magic irresponsibly.
 
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#12
I don't see where they did this at all.
I do:

Given the late revelations about Joss’ character, however, I wonder if the worse half of his nature wasn’t communicated in Spike, the misanthropic attempted rapist who gets redeemed in the end by the selfless love of a forgiving woman
While it technically could mean that Joss fought that part of his nature that he expressed through Spike, it seems overly generous to me to not assume that the author was intentionally comparing Joss to a rapist. I try not to jump to conclusions myself, but in this case I believe that's exactly what she's doing (especially with some of her other over the top hyperbole).
 

Cheese Slices

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#13
Yawn...thinking is hard, much better to not waste too much time actually analyzing the characters you're writing about. Go with your gut - or what you've read on tumblr or buzzfeed, whatever- and don't think about said characters being like, layered.

Seriously, Giles is overall a great father figure to Buffy, but he is still very flawed. He's let her down quite a few times, and betrayed her trust a few more, and when Buffy finally came into her own and became an adult, he didn't trust her to make the right decisions for herself and wanted to take back what little authority he'd had over her, all the while putting a great of pressure on her shoulders.
 

Spanky

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#14
While it technically could mean that Joss fought that part of his nature that he expressed through Spike, it seems overly generous to me to not assume that the author was intentionally comparing Joss to a rapist.
I think they were implying that Whedon's baser characteristics were reflected upon Spike. Just was some of his earlier "outcast" persona was reflected upon Willow. And his "beta" male was upon Xander.

I don't think the writer was saying that Whedon was a rapist. Merely that Spike was influenced by more of Whedon that had initially thought, as they said:
I wonder if the worse half of his nature wasn’t communicated in Spike


That's how I read it, at least.
 

thetopher

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Sineya
#15
This article is waaay too fluffy about Giles.
Look, I love Giles, Giles is great, but he's not a paragon nor is he ever depicted as such (His nick-name is Ripper). He screws up sometimes in his relationship with Buffy (as she does with him).
He can be over-protective or judgemental or condescending towards Buffy because he ain't a perfect character. Non of the BtVS characters are... but he is a good mentor to her and is important (I would say the most important) when it comes to helping her grow during those all-important high school years.

I love Giles but don't white-wash him or tear down other characters to do it. Unnecessary.
 
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#17
If I were to pick a model for my masculinity from the Buffyverse, it would be Xander. Giles would be far down the list.
Agreed Xander gets a lot of unwarranted criticism...as for Giles being a father figure !!?!?!X?! my father was not what I would call a good Dad , but compared with Giles Season 6 he was a angel , First he left dawn a minor, to be looked after by a two wicca's and a vampire then he leaves both of them he finds out Buffy had been dragged out of heaven and was not mentally coping , leaving her to cope with not only the slaying coping with a teenage sister but also the two wiccas have been living it up on her mother's insurance money.....Won't talk about S7 Giles must of had a brain transplant he came back a different person
 
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