For 20 years now, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has offered viewers a platform to enjoy female empowerment. The premise of the series (and the film) is an inversion of the classic horror movie trope: the cute but dim-witted blonde girl as the sacrificial lamb of the monster/slasher running loose. Buffy subverted this genre convention and elevated women in ways we’d rarely—if ever—seen on TV at that point. Like the X-Men, Buffy and her gang weren’t the popular kids in school. (Other than Cordelia, obviously.) Rather, they were a group of outsiders who just so happened to dabble in the occult and save the world before curfew.
A legacy series in its own right, Buffy offered viewers a different way to look at female POV characters and a strong narrative that made everyone from the awkward kid in class to the queer kid growing up feel special. And let us not forget the incredible '90s fashion and enough puns to make you the queen of slayer clap backs. Below, we single out the 20 most empowering moments of this ass-kicking, Hellmouth-having series. Slay, queens, slay!
1) Buffy SLAYS the Master in White (Season 1 Episode 12): Buffy’s achievement of killing season one’s big bad guy is an obvious one, but how many heroines can kill their own killer after being resurrected thanks to their slayer powers? And did we mention she was also in full high school dance attire? To top it off, not only does Buffy slay the Master, but she does so with the savage pun: "If you're so amped about hell—go there!"
2) Buffy is more than the sum of her parts (Season 2 Episode 2): Buffy and Cordelia find themselves the lambs of a botched sacrifice meant to produce the perfect woman. Naturally, Buffy’s not with the barbaric misogyny and saves both herself and Cordy from the creepy doll-making duo in a triumphant win.
3) Buffy’s done with the abuse (Season 2 Episode 11): Buffy’s biggest obstacles are the ones she can’t stake. Case in point: Ted, her mother’s deceptively nice yet verbally and physically abusive boyfriend. Ted prompts Buffy into a full-blown physical fight which results in his defeat.
4) Buffy’s out of the closet (Season 2 Episode 22): Despite being an occult mystery solving heroine, Buffy hasn’t been the best at hiding her identity. Buffy’s mother finally discovers Buffy’s life as a slayer and demands she stop. Referencing the experiences of LGBT youth who come out to their parents, the show demonstrates that Buffy’s slayer status is who she is, and she can’t nor won’t stop being a slayer just because her mom isn’t comfortable with it.
5) I am the weapon (Season 2 Episode 22): There was never a shortage of Angel-on-Buffy action in the series, but during one of the most intense sword fights, evil Angel taunts Buffy: “That’s everything huh? No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away, what’s left?” Her response? “Me.” You can go home now, Angel.
6) Back to Buffy (Season 3 Episode 1): The premiere follows an emotional loss for Buffy, but personal sadness doesn't stop our girl from getting the job done. In this case, Buffy finds herself the sole defender of a large mass of youth tricked into human slavery in a hell dimension. (Because Buffy…) Buffy shines in the moment taking out minion after the minion even with unbeatable odds stacked against her, proving that the Slayer is the last girl you wanna mess with.
7) Cordelia slays too ( Season 3 Episode 5): Cordelia and Buffy find themselves the victims of a supernatural deadpool on Homecoming night, and while the two are tirelessly defending themselves, Cordelia saves them both by intimidating an assassin into believing she is actually the slayer. The sass levels are not only critical, they’re also deadly.
8) Buffy is more than slayer (Season 3 Episode 12): In one of the most terrifying episodes to date, Buffy is tested by the Watcher’s Council, who remove her slayer abilities and trap Buffy in a house with a psychotic vampire as part of a barbaric coming-of-age test. Buffy is forced rely on wit to overcome the vamp by putting holy water in his glass as he ingests his medication, proving that Buffy is more than just a girl with a stake.
9) Buffy refuses the council (Season 3 Episode 21): The council has controlled and advised the slayers since the beginning, but Buffy gets fed up being a part of a system (made up predominantly by men) and quits, taking one larger step to dismantle this vamp-forsaken patriarchy.
10) Buffy challenges Faith to bring it on (Season 3 Episode 21): Buffy and Faith aren’t afraid of some badass action sequences, but once Buffy has to make a decision between Angel’s life or Faith's, Buffy doesn’t hold back, and is willing to kill Faith if necessary.
11) Buffy’s a trap queen? (Season 3 Episode 22): After the mayor’s serpentine transformation, Buffy taunts him with Faith’s bloody knife, thus leading him a rather explosive trap.
12) Buffy’s having college jitters (Season 4 Episode 1): Buffy finds herself easily bested by a dorm vampire named Sunday. Disappointed with her loss, Buffy has another go at the early 2000s goth-vamp again, and taking down Sunday in the end. Is there anything more relatable than freshman nerves? Even slayers can feel lost on a new college campus.
13) Willow realizes two witches are better than one (Season 4 Episode 10): After the town is plagued by a gruesome lot of voice-stealing demons called The Gentlemen, Willow and her future lover, Tara, attempt to work together to thwart off the menace. While Willow’s magic is stronger than Tara’s, it's only when Tara grabs Willow’s hand in solidarity that their magic is able to really be effective.
14) Buffy becomes a literal goddess (Season 4 Episode 21): In order to defeat the big baddie of the season, the gang performs a ritual that imbues their essences into Buffy, giving her the abilities of a goddess. The end result is a special effects piñata, in all the right ways, and Buffy becomes a literal deity. What else could you want?!
15) Buffy connects with the first slayer (Season 4 Episode 22): The gang is attacked in their dreams by the spirit of the first slayer. The episode hints at the more ominous inception of the slayer line, an ancient African woman who was forced to take on the role. In perhaps the most empowering moment of the episode, Buffy tells the first slayer the role of slayer does not define her. She is more than death, and more than her fate; we are all complex beings, we’re more than what we do.
16) Buffy tells Tara’s family where to shove it (Season 5 Episode 6): It’s revealed that Tara’s family takes away female family members and controls them by telling said members they’re part demon. Buffy finds out about this manipulation and declares herself and the Scooby Gang Tara’s true family. No one’s controlling women on Buffy’s watch.
17) Buffy’s not here for Riley’s BS (Season 5 Episode 10): Buffy doesn’t just defend herself against blood-thirsty vampires, but also the occasional douche-y boyfriend. Buffy confronts Riley regarding his internalized misogyny which manifest in his “concerns” about dating a woman stronger than him. It’s not a typical punch-in-the-face moment of empowerment but rather shows how Buffy deals with misogyny without a stake in hand.
18) Tara kisses Willow (Season 5 Episode 16): We can all relate to Willow’s iconic freakouts, so when our girl spirals out thanks to an “I don’t know what to wear” closet moment, we're glad that she has Tara there, who soothes her with a kiss. Their relationship had previously been hidden behind magic and spells, so it’s empowering to see the two embrace themselves wholeheartedly in that moment.
19) Buffy takes out Caleb (Season 7 Episode 22): Caleb the priest is misogyny on two legs, so it was oh-so gratifying when Buffy cut him in half (actually castrating him), without the help of Angel.
20) Buffy and Willow awaken the slayer in us all (Season 7 Episode 22): To defeat the First Evil, Buffy, with the help of Willow, awakens the power within all the slayers. Buffy is her power, and this feat is nothing short of exceptional, particularly because she embodies the spirit of a feminism which knows that women are only as powerful as the most vulnerable among us; we've all got to rise up, and we can't leave anyone behind.