Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Drusilla embodies the Madonna-Whore Complex. The idea behind the theory is that women are either 1) the respectable but undesirable Madonna or 2) the desirable but, sexually indiscriminate and thus unrespectable, whore. Rather than falling into one of these mutually exclusive categories, Drusilla manages to occupy both. In modern society, women can feel the pressure of these labels, or similar ideas. Women may even buy into the notion that they need to navigate some sort of balance between the two to achieve “ideal womanhood.” This concept is unrealistic and toxic not only because it suffocates free expression of identity, but also because of the fact that these are conflicting ideas of femininity. This complex isn’t foreign to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the very first episode, “Welcome to the Hellmouth,” Buffy herself is attempting to choose an outfit for a club. She holds one up and says “Hi! I’m an enormous slut!” and, when holding up a second, more conservative outfit, tells her reflection “Hello. Would you like a copy of The Watchtower?”
In the season 2 episode “Lie to Me,” Angel describes Drusilla, a woman he turned into a vampire, to Buffy: “Dutiful daughter. Devout Christian. Innocent and unspoiled. I took one look at her and I knew. She’d be my masterpiece.” Here, Angel pinpoints why he chose the young, innocent woman as his object of torture: She was pure, which heightened the sense of predator/prey for the then soulless vampire. Angel wanted a challenge to be his “masterpiece.” Drusilla wanted nothing more than to be a good person. Her ability to see the future scared her when she was a mortal (and pious) woman and put her in a perilous mental state. Her mother tells her that her ability makes her “an affront to the Lord.” Drusilla was Angel’s unobtainable Madonna: a respectable woman who would literally go on to become a nun to escape the horror of Angel killing her entire family in front of her. Angel went on to kill her convent on the day of her final vows, before finally turning Drusilla herself into a vampire to prolong her torment with the curse of eternal life.
[The Madonna-Whore] concept is unrealistic and toxic not only because it suffocates free expression of identity, but also because of the fact that these are conflicting ideas of femininity.
Some form of Drusilla’s sense of purity does last through her transformation. She is no longer “pure,” per se. She is a demon, for one thing, and she doesn’t shy away from violence, murder, or drinking blood. But she is innocent by virtue of the madness that Angel drove her to before making her a vampire. This madness manifests as a kind of emotional regression, where Drusilla operates on a very childlike level, if in an often warped and perverse way. She frequently speaks in riddles and nursery rhymes, wears long white virginal dresses, and cherishes her dolls. Though she preys on children (as she was in “Lie to Me” before Angel stepped in and saved the young boy), she draws them in with the eerie sense of naïve wonder that she exudes.
However, Angel wasn’t interested in keeping Drusilla in a nun-like state. The entire point was to corrupt her. And so, while Drusilla is still innocent in some ways, she is highly sexualized in others. Angel turns her not only into a demonic form of herself, but also into a sexual object, his plaything meant to please him at his whim. She is meant to make him feel powerful, partially through the twisting of her devotion from god to Angel, partially in her sexual willingness to please him.
When Angel loses his soul in season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of his first orders of business is to return to making sexual advances on Drusilla. This reaffirms his total power over her, as well as reinforces (by using Drusilla as a tool) his superiority over Drusilla’s centuries-long vampire boyfriend who is, at the time, wheelchair-bound. In the episode “I Only Have Eyes For You,” Angel runs his hands over Drusilla’s body provocatively, telling her boyfriend, “…I figure I should stick close to home. You and Dru can always use another pair of hands.” Drusilla reacts positively to Angel’s attentions because this is how he conditioned her to react. This sexual objectification and domination is woven with the innocence, as evidenced Drusilla commonly calling Angel “Daddy,” which has connotations on both the Madonna and whore sides of the complex.
While Drusilla is still innocent in some ways, she is highly sexualized in others. Angel turns her..into a sexual object, his plaything meant to please him at his whim.
In any other character, it would be difficult to try and make the character consistent in shifting from the “Madonna” side of the spectrum to the “whore” side, or, and maybe especially, braiding the two into the same breath. The character would either come off as poorly written or flat-out unstable. That’s one of the reasons that Drusilla can embody both: she is explicitly driven insane at the end of her life. She doesn’t have the constraint of consistency in the exact same way that a mentally healthy character would. She can float between the nursery rhyme and talking about killing a child all in one go (which is, of course, sold by Juliet Landau’s performance). Do the other characters look at her like she had seven heads? Sure. But that’s built into her character.
And this serves, intentional or not, as an interesting comment on the modern woman’s struggle to find the “sweet spot” on the Madonna-whore spectrum, the same way that Buffy struggles in the very first episode and at different points in the series. How low-cut a dress is too low-cut? How do you decide when to stop playing hard to get? Do “good girls” put out on the third date? Etc. Other characters in the series are certainly complicated and navigate their own dualities: Rupert Giles is the stuffy librarian with a dark, unscrupulous past that haunts him; Buffy wants to balance being a normal girl with her cosmic duty; and so on. But Drusilla provides a unique opportunity, both in her lack of sanity and in her lack of expectation to adhere to being morally righteous since she is, at the end of the day, an antagonist in the series.
To try to satisfy every desirable quality put forth by the Madonna-Whore Complex and avoid every flaw it condemns, a woman literally has to be two people at once, much as Drusilla is both the girl who wanted to be a nun and the demon who drinks blood and has fun doing it. Often, if not every time, this is not a journey to self-discovery but a search for the way to satisfy the expectations of the most people at once. Drusilla’s insanity is a result of societal and religious expectations of her era, as well as Angel’s pressures and torture in pursuit of her. Through Drusilla’s duality, through her irrational and meandering tangents in any given conversation, her character highlights the absurdity of the expectations we place on women.
Queens, NYC native Audrey T. Carroll is an MFA candidate whose obsessions include kittens, coffee, Supernatural, Buffy, and the Rooster Teeth community. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Fiction International, So to Speak, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others. Her poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is forthcoming from Choose the Sword Press. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and @AudreyTCarroll on Twitter.