Once upon a time:
It was the summer after middle school ended, and I went to see The Pirates of the Caribbean with my friends. I loved it. I loved it almost as much as I loved Lord of The Rings. (For those who did not know me, that was a fuck of a lot). I crushed madly on Orlando Bloom’s sunkissed bemused adorable self, and I crushed even more madly on Jack Sparrow’s louche, rakish, sordid, queer-coding filthy self. I loved them.
Being fourteen and a baby slash fangirl, I also really loved thinking about them kissing. If you had sliced my silly teenage heart right open to look at what I loved the most, you would have found a clumsy but tender drawing of Arwen and Aragorn, a life-sized cardboard cutout of Legolas with lipgloss kisses stained around his mouth, and Jack Sparrow and Will Turner making out.
So far, so good? Okay. Now, this is where it gets ugly: I hated Elizabeth Swann. I hated her face, I hated her voice, I hated her dresses, I hated her lines, I hated her story, I hated Keira Knightley’s acting, I hated Keira Knightley personally, I hated her hated her hated her. I hated her even though a friend bought me a plastic replica of the cursed coin necklace for my fifteenth birthday, and I wore it religiously every day, lengthening the chain so that it would hang between my breasts at about the same place that the real thing hung between Keira Knightley’s. I hated her and I picked out white dresses that I secretly thought looked a little like hers. I hated her and I practiced talking like her, practiced that stubborn chin-tilt that Keira Knightley has perfected. I hated her so much that I complained to my friends about how much better those movies would be if she didn’t exist, or if she was killed off early on.
Then, you know, things and times changed, and I found other fannish things to love, and I got a little older, graduated high school, went to college. I learned a lot of really important stuff in college—stuff about internalized misogyny, and the male gaze, and patriarchy, and all kinds of things that had to do with the helpless dislike I tended to get around female characters, especially female characters who got in the way of slash ships. But seriously, maybe the most important thing that happened to me in college re: my feminist education and fandom was watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Because, I mean. I loved it. I loved Buffy. I loved Buffy more than every other character on the show. I loved Buffy and I loved Dawn and I loved Willow and Anya and Faith and Cordelia and sure, Xander and Angel and Spike were awesome, but they weren’t Buffy. And, like, I swear to god, my heart grew five sizes?
There were definitely other factors that got me to get rid of the weird and icksome cocktail of internalized misogyny, self-hatred, jealousy, and shame that bubbled up in my chest whenever lady characters were particularly awesome—(thank you, judith butler. thank you, professor [redacted]. thank you, friends who were much wiser than me much sooner. thank you, Veronica Mars, thank you Dark Angel, thank you the-smarter-sections-of-fandom. thank you, college.)—but Buffy was the first time I got it, I think.
And then, sometime in the middle of college, somebody was like: hey, remember the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? Those were awesome.
And I was like: yeah, they totally were! Except I hated Elizabeth so much. She was so annoying.
And that somebody gave me the serious side-eye and said: Really? But she’s, like. Exactly your type.
And I thought about it, and Elizabeth Swann was tiny and blonde and badass, brave and curious and more than a little vicious, a woman who wasn’t afraid to step into a villain’s shoes to protect herself and the person she loved. A woman who could kiss a man and then kill him, who thought violence was fun but preferred deception, a woman who would smile at you from behind rusting bars and draw a gun from behind her back.
Exactly my type.
And then of course i rewatched the movies and found that she was my favorite character, (and also that the movies themselves were crawling with sexism and racism and ableism and other forms of gross-ness, but that’s a whole different story.)
I’m weirdly grateful for all the years I hated her, even though I was wasting my time. Because when I see younger fans being assholes about female characters, I feel like I know a little about where they’re coming from, and it helps to remember that people can and do change their minds about really gross opinions.
But I also remember that what made it click in my heart instead of just my head was Buffy Summers, and that Buffy wasn’t just a brilliant character, she was the main character. Elizabeth was every bit as much my type then as she is now, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t see it when I was a teenager—because she wasn’t the point. I could fall in love with Jack and Will instead, and shove all the bad and complicated feelings I had at Elizabeth. It’s a lot harder to do that to a lady main character—because it’s all about her. You can’t shove Buffy away if you watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer and love it: it’s a lot easier to acknowledge that you also love her.
In conclusion: um. heck, I don’t know what my conclusion is. Being a slash fangirl can be very complicated. Being a good person can be even more complicated. It’s really awesome when you clear a little bit of patriarchy out of your heart, because there’s lots more room for awesome ladies to step inside.
I think we need more shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer*?