Been thinking about Spike's soul tonight, because of rusty_halo's pointer to a journal entry by hecatehatesthat. The journal entry in question concerns Spike and redemption, but it reminded me of my own thoughts, and so I decided to write them down, as much as I can.
BUFFY: This is all you get. I'm listening. Tell me what happened.When I heard Spike speak these words in "Beneath You," I wanted to cry. To my ears, he was speaking the emotional truth of so many people I know, including myself. His voice was that of every woman who has tried to lose weight in order to make herself "loveable." His voice was that of every child who has tried to get straight A's to prove to his parents that he isn't worthless. His voice was that of everyone who has ever felt that if they could just fix this one thing -- no matter what it is -- then everything would be okay. They would be loved. They would be accepted. They would fit.
SPIKE: I tried to find it, of course.
BUFFY: (impatient, cold) Find what?
SPIKE: The spark. The missing ... the piece ... that fit ... that would make me fit.
And like the abused child who thinks he can win his parent's love by getting straight A's, like the media-brainwashed woman who believes that her loveability is inversely proportional to her weight, like the man who thinks his wife will stop nagging him if he gets that damned promotion at work ... Spike felt this way because someone told him so. Buffy told him so. Repeatedly.
In "Dead Things," while beating him, Buffy yelled, "You don't have a soul! There is nothing good or clean in you! You are dead inside! You can't feel anything real! I could never be your girl!" But this wasn't the first time she'd told him this ... it was just the first time she'd worded it so succinctly. She'd been sending him the same message with her words and actions all along: You are not loveable without a soul. Not only that, but your love is meaningless without a soul.
Now, if that message had been, "You are not loveable without a high-paying job. Not only that, but your love is meaningless without a high-paying job," it would have been immediately recognizable as offensive. If it had been, "You are not loveable in a size 14. Not only that, but your love is meaningless as long as you wear a size 14," women would have been up in arms, protesting the show. If it had been, "You are not loveable with a D average in school. Not only that, but your love is meaningless as long as you have a D average," there would be no doubt that it was abusive. But because it was a metaphor -- a soul, something that we don't have to deal with in reality -- it was okay.
I'm sorry, but telling someone that they are unloveable unless they toe the line you've drawn for them is always going to offend me. Convincing someone that they are beneath you, for whatever reason, is always going to offend me. And Buffy's treatment of Spike offended me. Spike's pathetic explanation in the darkened church in "Beneath You," that he had accepted someone else's definition of what would make him loveable, and so he had gone out to try to satisfy those requirements, made me want to cry for every other damn person in the world who has done the same exact thing.
Buffy herself admitted, in "Conversations With Dead People," that it hadn't been about Spike at all. It was about her: "... even though they love me, it doesn't mean anything, because their opinions don't matter.... Sometimes I feel — this is awful — I feel like I'm better than them ... superior." And she did a bang-up job of convincing Spike. Sent him on a belly crawl around the world to try to be worthy of her. When -- really -- she didn't consider anyone worthy of her, whether they had a soul or not. The soul issue was just an excuse. Spike was just unlucky enough to buy it, because he loved her too much not to try to give her what she said she wanted. He never understood that she didn't particulary want him to have a soul ... that if he'd had a soul, she would have found a different excuse for why she couldn't love him, why he was beneath her, why he was unloveable. Because it wasn't about right, it wasn't about wrong ... it was about power. Her power over him. Her power to set the definitions of what was loveable and what wasn't. The soul was just a handy tool in that power relationship.
In the end, Spike believed Buffy. Believed that he was nothing more than a monster, that he was worthless without a soul, especially after the bathroom scene in "Seeing Red." Never mind the fact that rapes, attempted rapes, near rapes, and other physical assaults are committed every single day by people who already have souls. Never mind the assaults -- both physical and emotional -- which Buffy had committed against him. Buffy defined the soul as "the missing piece," and so Spike got the soul.
Okay, yeah, so souls might be reasonably expected to be a big issue for Buffy, given the fact that her first love was a seductively-brooding-dark-hero when he had a soul and a gypsy-computer-teacher-killing-maniac when he didn't. But is it fair for a parent to say, "Why can't you be more like your brother Joey?" Is it fair for a man to complain to his lover, "Well, my last girlfriend gave me head every day! And, since she was down on her knees already, thanked me afterward!"? Is it fair for Buffy to tell Spike, "My last vampire boyfriend was only loveable with a soul!" Is it fair? Is it kind? Is it ethically right?
Even Dawn recognized the arbitrariness of the whole soul issue, when she said (in "Him"), "But ... to get a soul? Like that would make him a better man? Xander had a soul when he stood Anya up at the altar." Spike's decision to seek a soul was simply a response to Buffy's beating him with the you-don't-have-a-soul stick when he was so desperate to earn her love.
Spike shouldn't have needed to get a soul in order to be loveable, in order to be "good" or "clean" or "real". And when he explained in "Beneath You" that he'd bought into Buffy's definition of what would make him acceptable, it not only made me want to cry ... it made me sick to my stomach. Because I think we all deserve a little more respect than that. Not only respect from other people, but respect from and for ourselves.