02.17.14 // Strong Female Character – Willow Rosenberg
Written by Sarah Grant, Copy Writer
Willow Rosenberg is one of the first people Buffy Summers meets when she starts at Sunnydale High School. Willow, unlike Chosen One Vampire Slayer Buffy, is shy, introverted, immediately characterized as intelligent, and the butt of many jokes. It’s possible that Buffy wants to get to know her because the redhead is so smart and could help her with her homework, but the first thing that personally drew me to Willow was this line:
“Well… when I’m with a boy I like, it’s hard for me to say anything cool, or–or witty, or at all. I–I can usually make a few vowel sounds, and, then I have to go away.”
This was a girl I could completely identify with.
Willow is anything but “just the best friend”. She is deadly smart, eager to please, and shows dedication to her friends above and beyond what many kids her age would. How many best friends do you have who would stick next to you through multiple apocalypsi? Apocalypses?* Willow, that’s who. She embodies the best friend ideal: she is always there for her friends, whether it’s for homework or studying help, executing a magic spell to give her best friend’s vampire ex-boyfriend his soul back, or staying up all night researching monsters that her best friend needs to slay.
You know, very typical best friend stuff.
Willow’s second strength is her intelligence. She seems to know quite a bit about everything from vampires, ghosts, and demons to mathematics. In her first scene, Xander asks her for help with his math homework; in college she coaches Buffy through some courses. She memorizes spells, sees ways to solve problems that no one else sees right away, and generally accepts that she’s the smartest person in any room. The one time we see Buffy best Willow grade-wise is in their freshman psychology course: “You made me jealous of you academically!” is high praise, indeed.
The third thing that makes Willow such a strong character is that she is human in every way, and she overcomes so many things in the journey we see. She has failures: she attempts to “seize the day” on Buffy’s advice in the very first episode (“Welcome to the Hellmouth”), and the guy she picks to seize it with? A vampire. Willow is eager in the first several years of the series to dabble in witchcraft, which definitely goes wrong in the third season episode “Doppelgangland”. A spell goes awry, summoning Vampire Willow from a parallel universe. In season four, Willow attempts a spell to make “her will be done” so that she can control things in her life to make her happy. This backfires as well: Buffy gets engaged to her nemesis Spike, Giles goes blind, and Xander becomes a demon magnet–all things that Willow made happen indirectly.
The worst mistake Willow makes occurs in her grief over her girlfriend Tara’s death: she searches for vengeance, absorbing forbidden black magic to do so, and these darkest of magics to take her over entirely. Willow tries to destroy the world.
But she overcomes all of these failures, and she accepts the consequences that come with them. Season seven opens with Willow in England studying with Giles and a coven of witches to control and contain the power she has, and we clearly see her regret for the hurt and destruction she caused. She grew up too quickly and misused her power, but then she stepped back, learned properly, and earned her way back into everyone’s trust. She worked hard to do so, becoming a force of good instead of evil and (spoiler alert!) helped save the world. Again.
Redemption of any character from evil to good is a powerful plot device, as well as an inspiration for anyone who has gone too far with something in their lives–drugs, alcohol, or an eating disorder, to name only a few. Willow Rosenberg’s transformation from shy student to powerful witch, all the while keeping her close friendships with Buffy and Xander, shows a strength of character that anyone can admire and emulate. My own journey from that shy high schooler to a confident woman has followed much the same path with my friends–with the exception of apocalypses and black magic, thankfully. Willow is a character I will always admire and point to as an example of strength and friendship.
Who are some of your favorite strong female characters?
*As Riley Finn once said, “I find myself suddenly needing to know the plural of apocalypse.”