Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Slay Like a Girl

Ditch the Demons and Be Your Own Hero


By Micol Ostow

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Are you ready to be strong? Inspired by the badass ladies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this is the ultimate guide for living your most killer life.

Buffy turned tired, sexist tropes on their head when it debuted in the ’90s and introduced a truly empowered heroine (and a kickass roster of female supporting roles). So who better than Buffy and her fellow babes — Willow, Cordelia, Faith, Anya, Tara, and others — to teach us how to slay our own personal demons? The ladies have much to offer in terms of savvy insights, observations, and life lessons.

Slay Like a Girl examines the groundbreaking female paradigms presented in Buffy and offers digestible, entertaining lessons for slaying at work, in love, and beyond. Also featuring photos from the show, memorable quotes, and fresh input from modern ladies who slay, Slay Like a Girl is an indispensable handbook for fans, feminists, and all other fierce folk.


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When it debuted in the nineties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned tired, sexist tropes on their head and introduced a truly empowered heroine to fans who were more than ready to meet her. The show’s cultural relevance is strong as ever, with a fresh wave of fans finding their way to the show in the wake of its recent twentieth anniversary. So who better than Buffy and company to teach today’s nasty woman (and her allies) how to slay her personal demons?


When Buffy the Vampire Slayer—based on the movie of the same name—premiered in 1997, no one could have predicted how influential the show (and its eponymous heroine) would become. A handful of savvier critics recognized it at the time for its “deliciously funny satirical gore,” but for every enthusiastic media response, there was a dubious source like the New York Times, who declared, “Nobody is likely to take this oddball camp exercise seriously, though the violence can get decidedly creepy.”

As Buffy herself might say, Wrong much? Not about the creep factor, of course; that stayed high—and awesome—throughout the series, but about the ways in which we, as an audience and a media culture, were good and ready to take a show like Buffy seriously. And with good reason: Buffy creator Joss Whedon took the outdated horror movie paradigm of the Final Girl and gave her a modern, feminist twist. As Bitch magazine pointed out, “Before Buffy, [horror stories] focused primarily on the male monster antagonists who preyed on… nubile young things.” Whedon has said in interviews how weary he’d grown of movies where “bubbleheaded blondes wandered into dark alleys and got murdered by some creature.”

He wasn’t the only one.

This subversion of trope was welcomed by viewers; rather than warn the imperiled girl to beware the danger down the dark alley, Buffy fans cheered on the Slayer while she stalked her prey. As Bitch went on to tell us, “Instead of shouting, Don’t go in there! to the naïve gal traipsing through the darkened vacant house, we shout, Go, girl! as Buffy enters the dark alley to dispatch the monster of the moment.”

So, precisely how did we get from watching bubbleheaded blondes wandering foolishly down dark alleys to the feisty, fearless young woman whose birthright it became to hunt monsters in the very same dark corners we helpless females were taught to assiduously avoid? Read on.


You’ve seen the movie: the one with the babysitter being stalked by her deranged brother (Halloween).*

Or, fast-forward to the eighties and the one with the girl being tormented in her dreams by a real-life nightmare stalker (Nightmare on Elm Street).

Historically, girls in horror movies were victims first and foremost. Traditionally, in these movies, females were victims of violence (often sexualized) more frequently than males; their onscreen fear, suffering, and eventual death was more prolonged than that of their male counterparts; and violence against women was more often linked to sexual activity.

That was then.

And now?

Enter the Final Girl.

First formally introduced by Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book, Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, the Final Girl as a trope and archetype had a more limited definition than the one we know more colloquially today. In horror movies (and in slasher movies in particular), the Final Girl is the last victim standing, the one who gets to confront the killer at the movie’s end. According to Clover, within the genre, viewers generally began the movie in the point of view of the killer, but by the movie’s end, we’d been recentered around the Final Girl’s perspective. In a genre known for being unabashedly male-centric, this was huge. Clover looked specifically at slasher movies from the seventies and eighties where the Final Girl was “allowed” to survive the threat of the male gaze thanks to her moral purity.

(Remember Randy’s “rules one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie” rant in Scream? You can’t drink, do drugs, or have sex—and this applies twofold to a Final Girl. Basically, she’s a major buzzkill. And for her troubles, she gets to live.)

Originally, too, it was common for a Final Girl to be brunette (gasp! the horror!) and to have a more “masculine” or androgynous name. Though a classic Final Girl will survive a monster attack by her own wits and grit, she’s ultimately rescued by a male authority figure (think Laurie Strode being saved by Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween).

As slasher films rose to new heights of popularity in the eighties, so-called “scream queen” heroines were eventually (maybe even somewhat reluctantly) allowed a few imperfections; A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Nancy may have been “purer” than her friend Tina, but she was hardly chaste…

The Girls were also, at long last, allowed to triumph at the movie’s end on their own. (Though it’s telling that Elm Street was one of many more “progressive” postmodern horror movies to offer an empowered Final Girl a decidedly ambiguous ending, where we, the audience, aren’t sure if the monster has truly been vanquished.)

For decades, pop-horror told us that women only fight back as a desperate, reluctant last resort and only within the context of the male gaze. Buffy undid all of that with a single premise:

What if the blonde girl being chased down the dark alley was actually a superhero?

What if she fought back as her destiny, her calling, on behalf of humankind?

What if she and her extended cadre of badass female warriors tapped into their collective strength together to save the world repeatedly?

And what if, in the process of gender-bending, genre-flipping, and all-out kicking ass, she got. It. Done?

What then?

Buffy offered up a theory or two.


As horror movies evolved and transformed from the eighties into the nineties and the turn of the millennium, other corners of media and pop culture were also reshaping themselves. Specifically, in the early nineties, third-wave feminism was emerging as an ideology of its own. Its roots can be traced to the Riot Grrrl movement in the Pacific Northwest, a subset of punk culture where punk girls were rioting (get it?) against the sexism of their music and community.

Cyberculture, of course, had a big influence, too, as girls came online to find a new community of feminist e-zines, websites, and chat rooms available to them like never before. Like everything else, feminism suddenly had an instantly accessible global platform.

Critics of third-wave feminism often dismissed it as “girly” feminism because expressions of extreme femininity (as opposed to the rejection of traditional gender codes favored by radical feminists) were co-opted as a challenge to traditional patriarchal objectification of women. This new strand of an old movement asserted that women reclaiming agency over their clothing and aesthetic choices could only be seen as self-expression: be gone, male gaze!

Women could wear what they wanted to wear and behave as traditionally “femme” as they wanted to without inviting sexist stereotypes, assumptions, and attitudes. (Women had come a long way, baby. And they’d tell you all about it, wearing baby doll dresses paired with combat boots.)

The Spice Girls rose to stardom and wrapped female friendship, loyalty, and commercial domination into a fun, palatable package that consumers could drink up with a shiny pink straw. Gwen Stefani and No Doubt’s smash hit “Just a Girl” gave a window into the female struggle, and Julia Stiles’s portrayal of the feminist “shrew” in 10 Things I Hate About You, an update of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, gave viewers a different kind of heroine than they were used to.

Grrrl power then became (say it with me now) GIRL POWER! And pop culture couldn’t get enough of it.

From Daria Morgendorffer to Missy Elliott and the queens of nineties’ hip-hop, from Xena: Warrior Princess to Hermione Granger, nineties’ pop culture was all about sisters doing it for themselves (and their fellow sisters). Cue the 1995 launch of teen-programming mono-lith the WB network, which swooped in with a slate of quirky, distinctly teen-centric programming at a time when tween and teen spending power was soaring to new heights. Buffy premiered as a mid-season replacement on March 10, 1997. Initially written off as a punchline, the show was followed soon enough by other teen jugger-nauts like Dawson’s Creek, Charmed, Felicity, and more, growing the WB—and later on, UPN—into destination networks for the young, hip, and in search of drama.

Buffy was the quintessential feminist archetype of that cultural moment: thin, white (intersectional feminism just beginning to flex its much-needed muscles), blonde, conventionally pretty, and not afraid to be girlie. Yes, she broke a nail while patrolling in season one, but that didn’t stop her from thwarting the Master’s prophecy.

Though the show has rightly been critiqued for its lack of diversity, it’s worth noting that Buffy, the show, was an important foundation for the inclusive feminist politics we strive to realize today. Before Buffy, female characters in media were often disposable. And female superheroes? As main characters? Try again.

Strong, outspoken, and stead-fastly unapologetic about her gender (and definitely not limited by being “just a girl,” either), if Buffy was a stepping-stone for female protagonists of the postmillennial landscape, it’s fair to say she was an indispensable one at that.


So, back to our initial question, then: What if the Final Girl fights back? What if she wins? What if she’s not “just” a girl at all but humankind’s one salvation?

What if—after seven seasons of fighting innumerable Big Bads—she quit the Council of (mostly male) Watchers that created her, made her own rules, and empowered every other Slayer in the world with her full potential?

If you read that and thought, Heck, yeah, come on in—the (holy) water’s fine.

If the nineties, and Buffy’s origins, were all about girl power, then we’re living in an era of true feminist strength.

If the future is female, then Buffy is more relevant than ever.

And don’t just take my word for it: comics, animation, new young adult, and even picture book lines speak to the cult icon’s evergreen influence. Not to mention the fresh wave of fandom that found its way to the show in the wake of its recent twentieth anniversary.

Buffy isn’t going anywhere. Feminist culture is loud and proud as ever. And thank goddess (as Willow would say) for that.

Buffy and her fellow babes—Willow, Cordelia, Anya, and more—have a lot to offer in terms of hilarious, quotable, pop-culture savvy insights, observations, and life lessons. Wanna werk like a Slayer? This is the book for you. It’s your handbook to slaying like a girl—the Buffy way. Because, after all, who better than Buffy and her fellow badass babes to teach us how to slay our personal demons with strength and style?

Have a seat, take a bite… the girls are glad you’re here.

Naturally, there’d be no discussion of Buffy’s impact on girl power without a look at the women wielding that power themselves. Friends, frenemies, newfound sisters, and even a recovering magic addict and an ex- (or is that newly reinstated but still reformed?) demon count themselves among the Slayer’s cohorts.*


Needless to say, there’d be no Buffy to speak of without, well, Buffy.

(Well… sort of. More on that later.)

Born in 1981 and called to Slaying in 1996 at fifteen, Buffy Summers (played to iconic perfection by Sarah Michelle Gellar) was initially a fairly reluctant superhero. Flashbacks revealed in season two show Buffy as she’s first called, approached by an early Watcher as she happily basks in the sun on the steps of her L.A. high school, waiting for her latest boy toy to come pick her up.


On Sale
Oct 8, 2019
Page Count
176 pages
Running Press

Micol Ostow

About the Author

Micol Ostow is obsessed with pop culture and has written dozens of books based on entertainment’s biggest franchises. She lives in New York and holds a controversial preference for cinnamon babka.

Brittany Baugus is a children’s book illustrator from Atlanta, Georgia. She currently spends her days conceptualizing and creating colorful, textured, and story-driven illustrations. Inspiration for Brittany’s work comes from her fascination with nature, animals, and animated films.

Learn more about this author