(NOTE: This is not in response to any one person's post. There's no point by point correlation between this post and another).
I've read a few posts regarding Buffyverse 'selfishness' and whether or not Buffy is 'selfish' . Sometimes this question is bundled with the question of whether an assessment/accusation of 'selfish Buffy' has to do with gender. One thing I find myself wondering is whether we're talking within the 'verse or within the fandom.
Within the 'verse, I think Buffy has a fair amount of slack. It comes from being the protagonist and thus the writer room mantra that 'everything is about Buffy.' That mantra has a way of highlighting and featuring Buffy's problems while mostly using other characters' problems as reflections or shadows. There's nothing wrong with that, but it does seem to weight issues such that Buffy's woes are most important and at times other characters problems aren't given as much attention. That's not the character of Buffy's fault, and more often than not, the other characters don't see this part of the narrative. So, on the rare occasion that one character or another has an issue with their problems/angst/woes being sidelined, I cut that character some slack. It comes with the package of "It's about Buffy" and sometimes you've gotta give other characters the right to chafe about it.
On the other hand, are we talking about fandom assessment of character? That's a slightly different issue.
As a rule, I'm quite reluctant to dismiss accusations of fandom gender bias. It exists and it can be hellaciously ugly. On occasion, when I have dumb moments and visit Televisionwithoutpity.com's "Mad Men" threads or "The Big Bang Theory" threads, it is virtually impossible to ignore the underlying gender bias fandom can display (often in ugly ways). TBBT's thread constantly denigrates Penny to a truly astonishing degree (Seriously, what has the character or the actress ever done to be hated this much? I don't get it.) And it's often astounding just how easily some fans turn on characters such as Peggy (and then there's Betty who, granted, Betty is a basket case, but come on! Horrible parenting aside, she isn't actually Cruella DeVille. No cute spotted puppies were destroyed to make her impeccable clothing). Then there's the viper pit of Supernatural fandom which, though I've never been a part of it and have only casually watched the show, I've witnessed some epic misogynistic smackdowns chronicled on fandom_wank that drip with so much gender bias and gender self-loathing that you can only shake your head in dismay.
But, um... (WARNING: Potentially controversial statement ahead), I think there are times where gender bias cuts both ways. There are times when I think fandom cuts Buffy more slack because she's a girl (as well as there being times when she's cut less. Both things happen regularly).
I've been thinking about this for a while, mostly when watching this season's Mad Men and primarily because of the MM depression plot. This season, Don Draper was a depressed mess. He was in a downward self-destructive spiral, illustrated by boughts of rough sex, self-loathing, bad choices, and other examples of self-destructive behavior. There was actually enough overlap that it made me think of the plot arc of Season 6 BtVS, where some of the same things were featured in Buffy's character arc. However, fandom reacted to these arcs quite differently.
There have been many times when Buffy's choices in Season 6 are either said to simply be because someone else was exploiting her or there's Marti Noxon's oft-repeated blanket excuse whenever fandom pointed to something Buffy did that was less than laudable: "She's in a bad place!" Well, yes, she was. But she still made choices of her own free will. Sometimes for some people it boils down to one thing: "Buffy was depressed." And you can't hold that against her... Right?
It's been striking, though, how fandom has reacted quite differently to Don Draper's depression. Everyone recognized Don Draper's depression (frankly, it was impossible to miss). Most fans wanted him to pull himself out of it and became frustrated as it went on so long (just as happened with Buffy in Season 6, only Mad Men has only half as many episodes as BtVS did for Season 6). What was different in Don's case, however, was that in the man's story there was both the recognition of his depression as well as fans continuing to consider him to be fully accountable for his choices and actions. He wasn't given "he's in a bad place" as an excuse for bad choices. It was the context, but not a reason to dismiss his personal responsibility for the things he does and does not do. Reactions tended to be "Shesh. I get it. He's depressed, but SHEESH! That was a jackass move!" Depressed or no, Don was still seen as making his own choices, taking his own actions, and, while depression was motivation, it was never viewed as justification. We weren't encouraged to view him as a victim of circumstance or to think of his choices as being out of his control. Yes. Don was depressed. And yes, he often behaved like a jackass. Sometimes the answer is that both things are true. With Buffy it's sometimes addressed as "she was depressed." Full stop. And I don't know that this is the most empowering route to go... and, I think the reason that it is sometimes treated as explanation enough is partly because she's female. It's more acceptable to view a woman as passive, as not in control, as more easily undone by her emotions, and as victim of circumstance than it is to see a male protagonist as victim. It's easier to say that the woman is subject to what's going on around her. And... I don't like thinking of female characters in just that way. Context matters. Oh yes, it does. But it's not the whole story, nor does it negate free will. I don't think it's awesome for fandom to consider females as being inately more passive and more subject to their emotions and circumstances. In fact, when female characters just float along passively, it annoys me. (See: just about every female character on Supernatural who isn't evil or dead.) Yes. Buffy was depressed. Yes. Don was depressed. Yes, depression influenced their choices. But, they're still their choices and actions, whatever the fog they make them through. If we can allow both those concepts with male characters, are we truly serving a female character by thinking she's less capable of owning her actions and impulses? Are we cutting extra slack because 'she's a girl' if we decide that she's 'just' a victim of her own emotions and her difficult circumstances, when it's probably somewhat more complicated than that? I don't think I've ever seen anyone in fandom excuse Don for the less savory things he's done(forgetting his kids, blameshifting, being a dog to girlfriends, being overly curt with friends like Peggy) because he was depressed. It's still him. It's still her. It still choices and actions they made. It's part of them, even if it's not the whole picture.
Sometimes, I think we need to be careful in the ways in which we exhibit gender bias. Sometimes it's cutting a guy extra slack for being 'the man!' Sometimes it's in our being overly willing to see the woman as passive, lacking control, or as helpless and thus less responsible for the that choices she makes. (It can actually occasionally become a tad infantalizing.) Sometimes, in terrible cases, there is slut shaming (Look, out of all the things Buffy may be, a slut is not one of them. And, yes, that's taking into account space frakking and ill-timed sex fantasies. We may wish she made different choices sometimes, but none of those things make her a slut. Not even a little. Not at all.) And sometimes fandom goes in to full bore yuk because some 'girl' is standing between them and their fictional character fantasy (see Supernatural and its fanfic pairings or even some of the -- miraculously even more odd -- Sheldon-fans on TWOP's TBBT [seriously, Sheldon/Penny are friends. I honestly don't get the Penny hate!]) Anyway, long way around to saying, I think it's okay to allow female characters to own some less admirable traits. Even if it's occasional selfishness or selective passivity (which isn't a good thing). I don't think of that as disempowering. I think it's granting the character their own power of self-determination. A truly empowered character is allowed to screw-up, to not always be a model of good behavior, to not be 'just' a victim, and to own up to making their choices-- good, bad, or indeterminate. That's what gives opportunity for growth and change and (psst!) character arc.
Sometimes characters screw up. Sometimes they can't see beyond their own POV. And, yeah, sometimes they're selfish. The laudable character -- male, female, robot, Sebacean, demon, Slayer, Tribute, or Klingon-- is the one that tries to grow, learn, and overcome their flaws. That, to me, is the best critieria by which to judge them. JMHO.