Teachers should tell girls to be more like Buffy and less like Bella, academic says

When making decisions, girls could do worse than to ask themselves: “What would Buffy – or Katniss, or Hermione – do?” an education academic has said.

In fact, teachers looking to offer girls an inspiring picture of womanhood should look to the heroines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter as examples, according to Christine Jarvis, pro-vice chancellor of teaching and learning at the University of Huddersfield.

Professor Jarvis has long advocated the use of popular fiction in the classroom. And, in a new paper, How to be a woman: models of masochism and sacrifice in young-adult fiction, she considers the life-threatening trials faced by the post-feminist heroines of fantasy television series, films and novels.

She argues that supernatural fantasy books, films and TV series can educate girls about the roles that women can play in society. In particular, she draws comparisons between two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the 1990s series that featured a smart, funny, super-strong heroine – and Stephenie Meyer’s more contemporary Twilight saga, with its clumsy, passive, emotionally abused heroine, Bella.

“We have learned from stories as long as we’ve been human,” Professor Jarvis said. “Young adult popular fictions operate as forms of pedagogy for young women by offering them particular models of maturity and womanhood.

“It is fascinating that Buffy was hailed by many as a feminist icon in 1990s but, almost two decades later, we seem to have reverted to something that wouldn’t be that inappropriate in the 1950s, with heroines who were constantly falling into danger in order to be rescued.”

Her paper appears as a chapter in the new book, Popular Culture as Pedagogy. It concludes with an analysis of the ways in which teachers can use films and popular novels in the classroom, to help consider questions of gender, adulthood and identity.

“Adult educators may also find these texts to be a rich source of material for introducing and discussing a range of challenging concepts, such as motherhood, domestic abuse, self-harm, gender and power, and the relationship between agency and sacrifice,” Professor Jarvis said.

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