[Note: I’m writing a series about consent issues in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will post a new entry in this series every other Tuesday. In this series, I will look at an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that deals with rape, sexual assault, or consent issues as a main plot point or as a featured event of the episode. I will examine these episodes in chronological order. If, in my writing of this series, you feel that I have skipped an episode that should be a part of this series, feel free to submit a guest post, and I will consider publishing it.]
EPISODE: “All the Way”
INCIDENT: Memory modification followed by sex
PERPETRATOR: Willow Rosenberg
VICTIM: Tara Maclay
The specifics: Willow and Tara got into an argument about Willow’s dangerous use of magic. The fight took place in the middle of the Bronze and was left unresolved by the time they went to bed that night. At home, Willow tried to talk to Tara again, but Tara, still angry, wasn’t in the mood to resume the conversation and wanted to go to bed. Willow suggested that they forget the fight ever happened. She then performed a spell to wipe the memory from Tara’s mind. Tara, no longer remembering the fight, happily invited Willow into their bed.
In the next episode, she and Willow were more romantic and cuddly than ever and had sex several times. Then Tara found out about the memory wipe, and expressed a desire to leave Willow. In the episode after that, Tara told Willow how betrayed she felt, and gave her an ultimatum: “go for a week without using magic, and then we’ll see.” Willow performed another memory spell that took away the memories of everyone in the group. When Xander accidentally broke the spell, Tara realized what had happened, and she broke up with Willow and moved out of the house.
The mind of the perpetrator: Willow doesn’t see anything wrong with her use of magic and she resents Tara for criticizing her. When Tara criticizes her, Willow’s response is disturbing, to say the least:
“TARA: You are using too much magic! What do you want me to do, just sit back and keep my mouth shut?
WILLOW: That’d be a good start.”
Here, Willow really doesn’t sound any different from a misogynistic, abusive boyfriend who wants his girlfriend to shut up and keep her opinions to herself.
Later, Willow is contrite, but she still doesn’t think she did anything wrong – or at least, she refuses to admit it to herself. She uses the forgetting spell to make Tara happy again. Willow wants to avoid responsibility, and she also wants everything to be nice and happy with Tara. When Tara confronts her in “Tabula Rasa,” Willow admits, “I just wanted to make things better. Better for us.”
Willow’s used to Tara being a completely supportive girlfriend – a cheerleader, if you will – and is uncomfortable with this change in the status quo of Tara challenging her. She doesn’t want to see that Tara is still supporting her and is criticizing her use of magic to help her. She’s too afraid of losing Tara, and she sees one fight leading to several fights that will lead to Tara abandoning her. Of course, she fulfills this own prophecy by violating Tara again.
The victim’s perspective: A memory wipe would be an act of betrayal to anyone, but it’s especially hurtful for Tara, someone who already had her mind and sanity horribly violated by Glory in season five. Ironically, Willow was the one to save Tara’s mind at the end of the season. Now, she’s the one taking Tara’s memory away.
Tara’s no dummy, and she sees through Willow’s excuses.
“TARA: You don’t get to decide what is better for us, Will. We’re in a relationship, we are supposed to decide together.
WILLOW: Okay. I realize I did it wrong.
TARA: You did it the way you’re doing everything. When things get rough, you don’t even consider the options. You just do a spell. It’s not good for you, Willow. And it’s not what magic is for.
WILLOW: But I just wanna help people.
TARA: Maybe that’s how it started, but you’re helping yourself now, fixing things to your liking. Including me.”
Tara’s not exactly known for standing up to Willow or criticizing her in any way, but she’s laying down the law here. She doesn’t like this pattern of behavior in Willow and she doesn’t want to leave her, but she doesn’t want to risk getting her mind played with again.
What does this episode say about misogyny and rape culture?
There’s something called “informed consent,” and Willow violated it. She wiped Tara’s memory and then had sex with her the episode later – sex that Tara would not have consented to after such an argument, had she remembered that the argument took place. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Willow raped Tara.
Tara, though, doesn’t mention this when she confronts Willow. Willow wiping her memory at all is the biggest violation to Tara, regardless of what Willow did afterwards.
Given Tara’s history, it makes sense that the memory modification would bother her more than anything else. Tara’s family tried to “fix her to their liking” as well, telling her that she was part-demon. Much like her parents tried to “fix” her to their liking, Willow’s trying to do the same thing.
Tara recognizes that this is all a form of control. What she wants is irrelevant, and much like she rejected her family, she rejected Willow for trying to “fix” her. Willow would be horrified to be to compared to Tara’s family, I’m sure, but the comparison is an apt one.
Willow believes that what she did to Tara isn’t really wrong because her intentions were good. These episodes show that, when it comes to consent, the intention of the perpetrator doesn’t matter. If you take away a person’s memory because you’re a controlling asshole or if you take away a person’s memory because you want things to be nice between you, the person is still violated either way.
I think these episodes did a very good job of showing why Willow had a problem with controlling others, and why that was a bad thing. Unfortunately, much of the follow-up wasn’t strong, and Willow’s need to fix people to her liking, as Tara aptly put it, was pushed aside in favor of magic=drugs metaphors. I think the show could have provided some very strong commentary about consent and control if they had continued with this path.
Rapists and violators don’t rape and violate because they lose control over themselves; they do it because they (for whatever reason) want to control others.Willow’s problem was portrayed as controlling others until the end of episode nine, but was portrayed as an issue of self-control from “Wrecked” on, and it was a huge missed opportunity on the show’s part.
P.S. Even though Willow deserved every bit of Tara’s criticism and then some, she still received approximately 100% more criticism of this action than Angel did with his TWO memory-wiping stunts in “I Will Remember You” and the season four finale in his own show. Fuck you, Angel.