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We Should Have Seen The Joss Whedon Allegations Coming Based On These Red-Flag Characters

Photo: 20th Century Television
Drusilla in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon is the creator of multiple beloved shows that have amassed powerful and devoted followings. From slayers to Browncoats, his characters mean the absolute world to his fans. Including myself.

But in the wake of the allegations against him, certain elements hit differently. For every “strong female character” we have slut-shaming jokes about sex work, egregious acts of cultural appropriation wholly absent of members of the actual culture being appropriated, and, ugh, Xander Harris.

But worst of all is one specific trope. It combines elements of the "Born Sexy Yesterday" phenomenon devised by Jonathan McIntosh at Pop Culture Detective Agency, wherein a childlike and naive mind exists inside a sexualized body for the male gaze, and what TV Tropes dubs “The Ophelia,” a beautiful woman driven beautifully mad, beautifully, often also for the male gaze.

Where they meet is a specifically Whedonesque character I call the Sexy Baby Woman.

She is innocent and frail, powerful and terrifying, delicate and destructive, and she is all these things in a glossy sheen of pretty — and she rarely wears shoes.

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These coquettish waifs are equal parts in-desperate-need-of-a-fainting-couch and could-choke-you-to-death-with-their-thighs-then-stomp-you-with-their-very-bare-feet.

Their minds hold secrets and abilities, but their minds have been broken in some way, be it torture or experimentation.

Essentially, they have been given traumatic brain injuries and mental illness. But, you know, hot.

The greatest example of Sexy Baby Womanity in the Whedonverse is Drusilla (Juliet Landau), who appeared in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

She is a vampire sired by Angel, who described her in her human form as a “dutiful daughter. Devout Christian. Innocent and unspoiled. I took one look at her and I knew. She'd be my masterpiece.” When he tortures her to the point of mental break then turns her, she becomes “spoiled.”

She is a crawling sexpot who babbles girlish nonsense while giving come-hither eyes. She seems vulnerable, deeply so, but is dangerous and unpredictable. She’ll flirt you into submission then slice your neck open with her perfect manicure. She plays with babydolls and writhes lustily. Her innocence is both to be endearing and erotic.

She is traumatized for your pleasure.

The character always rubbed me the wrong way (and the series’ male characters the right way, naturally) but knowing what we know now based on the allegations from Ray Fisher, Charisma Carpenter, Amber Benson, and, perhaps most disturbingly, Michelle Trachtenberg who was just 15 when she starred on Buffy, as well as the echoes of support from other cast members including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Whedon’s purported control issues and treatment of his cast members render the character more off-putting than ever.

A sexy shell of delusion and nighties, who can kill and titillate in the same moment.

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Dru’s not alone.

Less sexualized in the show but still an object of fan lust, Firefly’s River Tam (Summer Glau) is a genius girl who is experimented upon and mentally disturbed to similar bouts of nursery rhyme riddlespeak. A wide-eyed ballerina whose fragility makes everyone, particularly the men of Serenity, want to protect her.

Oh, and she can kill you with her brain.

When we first meet Darla (Julie Benz) on Buffy, she’s a skipping vamp in a schoolgirl costume who uses a demure persona to lure boys to their deaths.

Then there’s the entire concept of Dollhouse, a series about “dolls” whose personalities are erased to become anything someone wants of them.

What they all share is very little agency and even less control over their own minds. They are guided and rescued and ultimately owe everything to the male characters around them.

They are children in the bodies of women, bendy bodies at that.

That’s not to say these characters are entirely flawed.

Largely thanks to the actors themselves, these are enjoyable and even beloved characters. But it’s not always possible to separate art from artist when the artist’s themes are so repeated.

When someone tells you who they are, believe them.

And when Sexy Baby Women tell you who they are, it’s hard not to side-eye the artist who created them.

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Courtney Enlow is a writer and editor whose work has appeared at Vanity Fair, Glamour, Pajiba, SYFY FANGRRLS, Bustle, Huffington Post, io9, and others. She has two kids, two dogs, and requires more wine please.