The Princess Bride AKA Look at the Straight White Blonde Couple

Anyone who knows me personally will know that I have complex feelings about The Princess Bride. It was the film my parents saw on their first date and the book that led me out of the teen section and into the world of adult fiction. I loved the film before I read the book and then criticized the film to no end once the book became my bible. I worked at a summer camp and would spend days reciting the story of The Princess Bride to my campers.

Then I found out that the classic tale by S. Morgenstern and abridged by William Goldman was actually just written by William Goldman. S. Morgenstern does not exist. This was earth shattering to someone who was legitimately planning on finding a way to get to Florin (the city Goldman claims to be real) and seeing the museum where we could actually see Buttercup’s wedding dress and the six fingered sword.

Just a quick summary of the story for those who don’t know. Buttercup is the most beautiful woman in the world and lives out on a farm. She and a farm boy named Westley fall in love and he leaves to seek his fortune in order to marry her. But he is killed at sea by pirates. The Prince of Florin, Prince Humperdink, finds out about Buttercup’s beauty and decides he will marry her, even though he knows she doesn’t love him.

But on the day her engagement to Humperdink is announced, Buttercup is kidnapped by a hunchback named Vizzini, a Spanish man named Inigo, and a giant named Fezzik. Her captors plan to kill her and blame it on the neighboring country Guilder in order to start a war. But they are being followed by a man in black who rescues Buttercup through a series of sword fighting, hand fighting, and a battle of wits.

The man in black turns out to be Westley who was never actually killed and the straight white couple is re-united. Then, Prince Humperdink tracks the lovers down and Buttercup makes a deal that she will go back with Humperdink if Westley is allowed to live freely. Though Humperdink agrees, Westley is not spared and is taken into Humperdink’s Zoo of Death (Pit of Despair in the film if you’re more familiar with the movie version) to be tortured.

Humperdink kills Westley, but Fezzik and Inigo bring him back to life with a miracle pill and they storm the castle to stop Buttercup’s wedding. In the end, Westley and Buttercup ride off with Inigo and Fezzik and true love conquers all.

The End.

I know I’m leaving out Inigo’s storyline and tons of stuff from the book (for those of you already familiar), but this is the main plot condensed as best as I can condense it.

For the past two years I haven’t touched the book or the film because of my anger at William Goldman. But last night I watched the movie with my room mate who had never seen it before and I realized that this was the first time I was watching it as a feminist.

It is such a heteronormative story! It is such a sexist story!

I knew even before I would even consider touching the word feminism that Buttercup does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. And what she wants is Westley. Her arc, if we’re generous and want to call it an arc, revolves around her love for Westley. What is she without the male protagonist? She is beautiful. The most beautiful woman in the world. Why does Westley love her? For her beauty. Her looks are all anyone ever mentions of her in the book and it’s all that Westley ever talks about in regards to her. Granted there isn’t much else to talk about. William Goldman makes it a point actually to emphasize that Buttercup isn’t very smart: she named her horse Horse and used the world syllabub instead of syllable. This just shows that Goldman is sexist and thinks that writing comedy involves making fun of women’s brains in order to highlight their beauty.

Hilarious, William Goldman. Hilarious.

The whole idea of a couple where the woman is just prized for her looks reminds me of this scene from The Swan Princess:

Even when I liked the book, I never liked Buttercup. It’s a shame to hate a female character just because she is written as flat as a piece of cardboard. But the strange thing was that even though I hated Buttercup, I envied her and perhaps that was the source of my hatred. A shallow part of myself wanted to be Buttercup because she does nothing and gets everything she could ever want. She is the stereotypical princess, except that The Princess Bride was writte in 1973 during the Second Wave of Feminism. William Goldman had to have been aware of what he was doing in writing this “perfect woman” who had all the beauty in the world and none of the brains.

Westley on the other hand has both looks and brains, because the two go hand in hand in men, but not so much in women, right? Westley is also perfect, but where Buttercup is a Mary Sue, Westley is amazing! He scales the 1,000 feet of the Cliffs of Insanity (part of the way not even using a rope), he duels the greatests swordsman alive, beats a giant in hand to hand combat, outsmarts a schemer and rescues Buttercup at every possible moment where she is in danger. Buttercup exists to be rescued by perfect Westley and this is called true love!

There is such a double standard here. When Buttercup is brave and stands up to Prince Humperdink expressing her love for Westley her bravery is framed in words. She has the regal bravery of a queen who commands in words though not in actions. She is and always was passive. When Westley is brave he is undergoing torture and not crying out because he is removing himself to think of Buttercup’s beauty. As Westley says to his captor Count Rugen, “We are men of action”.

I don’t care if this book and film were meant to be a comedy because it takes the theme of true love very seriously as being the through line of the plot. And Goldman’s idea of true love is the limited one of a straight white blonde couple where gender roles match up like puzzle pieces. Comedy is never funny when it is at the expense of any group of people. If someone believes in true love more power to them, but true love is not just between a man and a woman. True love is not just between “beautiful people” and true love is not based on gender roles.

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Identity is Fluid

Before I knew asexuality was a possible sexuality, I used to think I was straight because I didn’t like women. For the longest time I only knew the gay-straight binary.

Once, I thought I was attracted to a male friend of mine, and I felt so normal to be able to tell my mom at age 14 that I had a crush. It felt like I was finally being a teenage girl. I told my two best friends about my crush and we giggled because this reminded us of television shows where glossy teenagers spill their secrets to their friends.

I didn’t have the courage to ask my male friend out on a date in person, so I called him up on the phone and eventually said “I really like you and I was wondering if you like me in the same way?” He said no plain and simple. Our conversation was only slightly more awkward than before.

I wasn’t hurt or devastated by the rejection. I was embarrassed that I had asked.

A few years later I was at a friend’s sleepover party and once again we were sharing secrets. I was asked if I had ever had a crush on anyone before and I pretended to think it over. My friend called me out on bull shitting because she had been one of the friends I had told about my crush. Somehow, lying to her was even more mortifying than telling my male friend I liked him.

That sleepover party was four years ago, when I had just begun to identify myself as asexual. I didn’t know how to explain my crush and wasn’t comfortable trying to explain my sexuality.

I’m still friends with this girl-still great friends, really-but I haven’t come out to her. I’m concerned that she will draw on our past experiences and say “You can’t be asexual; you had a crush.” Maybe this is me being paranoid, but people remember how you used to identify yourself and are unwilling to accept changes. There is a strange belief that we are not meant to change.

I had a conversation with a person who used to identify as a lesbian and now identifies as transgender. He explained how difficult it is to tell his friends from high school and his home community because their experience with him is  that he has always been a she.

It’s difficult to come out to friends and family who believe identity is a rigid marker. I just want to let people know that it’s okay to change how you define yourself. It’s your body. It’s your gender. It’s your identity.

I still don’t know how to define the crush I had, but I now know that asexuality, like all sexualities, is a scale. It does not make me any less asexual for having a crush. Just as it wouldn’t make someone less straight or less gay for going through a period of questioning. We are meant to change and re-evaluate ourselves.

“Do you think kissing is gross?”

Until my junior year of high school I assumed I was straight. Because of a fabulous sex-ed class that taught nothing of sexuality, I was under the impression that sexuality was firmly placed in the gay-straight binary and that because I was not interested in women, I must be straight.

When all the girls of my middle school class were growing into their new found woman’s bodies and discovering that  perhaps boys weren’t the disgusting cootie-ridden creatures of elementary school, I didn’t know where I belonged.

Sex frightened me. Maybe I was poorly educated. Maybe I was too far gone into the girls-should-be-pure bullshit children are fed. Either way, sex was a concept that was so disgusting it was frightening. It was a concept, not an act and I couldn’t even process it as something physical that happened between individuals. I couldn’t giggle nervously like everyone else during health class when we watched poorly made videos on the reproductive systems and read from poorly copied handouts. In my twelve-year-old mind, I was the mature one.  I was the one who was waiting to date and have a boyfriend. I was just a late-bloomer, that’s all. Sooner or later I would develop a crush, fall in love, and become a part of the sexual world.

One day in 7th grade, we were running laps around the gymnasium for gym class and one girl ran up beside me and asked me, “Do you think kissing is gross?”

“Yes.” I told her and she fell back a few paces to titter into her hand with her friend. Though I felt humiliated, I also felt like a grown up: I was above their petty talk about kissing and boyfriends.

I still think kissing is gross. What has changed is that I understand now that not only is there a word for my sexuality, but that being asexual says nothing about a person’s maturity. Girls who dated in middle school and high school were not less mature than I was. This is the same way that I am not more immature for not dating now that I’m in college.

I find that too often asexuality can be an excuse to claim a moral superiority and that in the opposite camp, sexuality has become a right of passage. I cannot tell you how often someone has told me “Don’t worry, you’ll find the right person some day” because they assume that a healthy adult life involves romance and sex.

As we get older we cross a line where it’s no longer acceptable to be a virgin because you’re expected to be a grown and mature adult. The irony is that in childhood, we’re taught to take the moral high ground and abstain from sexuality in order to be more mature.

My hope is that as more people learn about the diversity of sexuality, more people will break away from linking sex and morality, and sex and maturity. My wish is that sexuality becomes mandatory in health/sex-ed classes. With more education on the subject, people won’t feel the need to draw lines between us and them, mature and immature based on sex.

That’s So Gay!

I swore when I started this blog I would never try to tackle the “gay is not an insult” issue because what could I bring to the subject that hadn’t been done or said? Why would I want to rehash an old argument that doesn’t seem to have much impact?

Short and sweet, I’m having a conversation with my brother about superheroes and we get onto the subject of Robin and how his costume originally did not have pants, but was a green leotard. My brother calls him a fag. I tell him gay jokes aren’t funny.

He says, “Well, they’re funny to me.”

“They’re only funny to you because you’re straight.”

He looks at me as if we’re just having a minor misunderstanding and asks:

“What does it matter? You’re not gay.”

“Well I’m not straight either.”

And the conversation ends there with no acknowledgement of the legitimacy of my sexuality or the legitimacy of my argument.

Phrases like “that’s go gay” are not just harmful to the queer community, but are harmful to the rest of the world as well. Any words that preach heteronormativity as acceptable are devastating on every front. If people are uneducated as to why gay being synonymous with stupid is detrimental to equal rights, fine. Those people can be educated, there are SafeZone trainings and lecturers for that.

But what about the people who believe gays on one side, straight people on the other and equal rights is only an issue for those who are not straight white males? The answer is we need to prove them wrong. People from every walk of life, queer, straight, rich, poor, colored and white, need to do more than just be taught to know “that’s so gay” is wrong. It’s not about knowing, it’s about acting.

It’s about showing those who promote heteronormativity that equal rights is not just a project of minorities.