Arts & Culture

You Were My Childhood Hero, And Now It’s Your Birthday: Sarah Michelle Gellar

Today is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s birthday – she is turning 33 – and I’d like to celebrate by writing her something that might resemble a love letter.   To get it out of the way early: she’s a Jew (on … Read More

By / April 14, 2010

Today is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s birthday – she is turning 33 – and I’d like to celebrate by writing her something that might resemble a love letter.   To get it out of the way early: she’s a Jew (on both sides!), so that’s why I put this here.   Sarah was my childhood hero, all because of her role as Buffy Summers.  I know she had other roles before that one, but they didn’t matter to me.  You see, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the WB network, I was 11, an age when a lot of kids as weird as me were really into comic books; except I didn’t really know what comic books were, because I didn’t have any brothers, and I hadn’t ever seen one before at my Orthodox Jewish school.  What I did have was cable, and that was really all I ever needed. In interviews, BTVS creator Joss Whedon will almost always emphasize that he created Buffy Summers’ character to subvert the archetype of the beautiful blonde girl that can’t fight back.  Though much of Buffy’s complexity and strength is owed to Whedon and his brilliant writing staff, SMG imbued her character with an undeniably vibrant spirit; one that inspired me as a child, and continues to do so to this day.   Even at a young age, I was profoundly aware of the gender bias that pervades the structure of traditional Judaism.  There is no other way around this fact: Orthodox Judaism teaches that a woman’s path leads to motherhood only, and though she must be strong, she is only to be so in her own home and only around members of her family.  There is little insistence on leadership outside the home or local congregation, and good Jewish girls certainly did not grow up to fight monsters-but I wanted to! At 11, I was without the faculties necessary to reconcile my desire to fight bad guys with the gender role I had been prescribed.  Instead, I watched BTVS every week, rooting for SMG to defeat the big bad.  She faltered, sure, but what teenage girl has not experienced hard times?  She fought with her mother, she was dumped by boys she liked (he turned into an evil vampire after they had sex for the first time), and she struggled with school.  While we lived in entirely different universes, I felt that ultimately, we were the same. Other girls had Barbie, but I had Buffy – and for that, Sarah, I thank you.