Most people who came of age in the late-1990s remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the iconic cult drama whose protagonist, a tough female hero, was burdened with the responsibility to save the world from monsters. Conceived by Joss Whedon, the show quickly found a place in the repository of feminist media, due in no small part to its portrayal of complex and powerful women. As recently as August 2016, The Atlantic called Buffy Summers, who made Sarah Michelle Gellar famous, a “third wave feminist icon.”
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, another show, a half-hour sitcom about a group of senior women living together in Miami, was also ahead of its time in its exploration of feminism and progressive social ideals. The Golden Girls, starring the beloved Betty White, Rue McClanahan, Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty, tackled issues of aging, LGBT inclusion, domestic violence and HIV/AIDS, at a time when many of those topics were still taboo. Bustle wrote last year that creator Susan Harris made one of the few shows, in the 1980s and now, where female characters are not shown strictly in their relationships with men.
As it turns out, there’s a hidden connection between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Golden Girls. Tom Whedon, who died in March, 2016 at the age of 83, was a long-time producer on The Golden Girls. He also wrote several episodes of the series. Deadline reported at the time of his death that Whedon got his career start as a writer on Captain Kangaroo in 1955. He was a writer or producer on classic sitcoms in the 1970s, including Alice and Benson. His own father, John Whedon, was also a writer for television. His son, Joss Whedon, went on to create Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Post-Buffy, Joss Whedon went on to work on some high-profile projects including Marvel’s Avengers. As CNN columnist Jeff Yang wrote in May, 2015, Whedon was the subject of heavy feminist backlash after the Black Widow character was reduced to a meeker version of herself in the sequel Age of Ultron. She is subordinate, in distress, and describes her infertility as something that makes her a “monster,” a gigantic shift from the powerful hero she was in the first film.
The fact that Whedon received so much backlash — he left social media at about the same time, but denied that was the reason why — was evidence of his status as a feminist standard-bearer. He told Entertainment Weekly in July, 2015, that there was an expansion of female-led action films which he may or may not have influenced.
“I feel like we were part of a wave — we may have actually been the crest of that wave, but I don’t feel like, ‘You’re welcome, world! This is all me!’ I feel like people were ready for it. And they just needed to know it was okay for them to be ready for it.”
“That’s one of the reasons I love Buffy. I think she’s a character that men can identify with in a way that they’re not allowed to with a male character.
“I’m a little proud. But I’m mostly very grateful that I got to do that.”
Joss Whedon’s brothers, Jed and Zack, also entered the family business as television writers. Jed is an executive producer of Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and was a writer on Dollhouse, the Joss Whedon-created series starring former Buffy actor Eliza Dushku.
[Featured Image by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images]