Not Just an OTP: Skyler Whites, Girl Fridays, and Taylor’s Problematic Lyrics

Your Fave Is Problematic: Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”

Moving on, Laurel and Iris are pretty assertive. While Felicity and Caitlin were certainly not doormats in the first season, they were very different. Like I said, the former two fit the whole plucky girl image, with Laurel being a Crusading Lawyer and Iris being the Intrepid Reporter, and both are extremely confident. Felicity and Caitlin, however, are more the Adorkable nerdy girl. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this, personally. But, again, my problem is how a lot of it is received.

Certain shippers kept saying that Laurel and Iris were abusive towards Oliver and Barry (side note: words mean things, people), and that neither deserved the men who wanted them. Their actions were either taken out of context, while Felicity and Caitlin were perfect alternatives because they didn’t go against what Oliver and Barry wanted, and they wouldn’t reject them if given the opportunity. This bled into fanfiction, where Laurel and Iris were Alpha Bitches (a lot of these took place in high school, unsurprisingly) who either ignored or rejected their love interests so Felicity and Caitlin could swoop in and save them. Or Laurel and Iris would be insanely jealous of the other woman and do something heinous, so the men could come in and save them. Or, my personal favourite, slut-shame them without evidence. This isn’t a thing that’s exclusive to the Arrowverse, or even to TV – it happens across all media, even music.

I was listening to “You Belong With Me” recently (remember when Taylor Swift was country? How time flies), and wondering why I deleted it from my iPod years ago. I was a teenager in 2009 so Taylor Swift lyrics are total recall for me, but for those who don’t remember:

You’re on the phone with your girlfriend
She’s upset
She’s going off about something that you said
‘Cause she doesn’t get your humour like I do
I’m in my room
It’s a typical Tuesday night
I’m listening to the kind of music she doesn’t like
And she’ll never know your story like I do

But she wears short skirts
I wear T-shirts
She’s cheer captain
And I’m on the bleachers
Dreaming about the day when you wake up
And find that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time

Swift is talking about being in love with a guy that has a horrible girlfriend, with the idea being that she knows him better – hence the title, “You Belong With Me.” But something always irked me about the lyrics, and I realised what it was – it’s not really about how much she likes the guy so much as it is how much she hates the girl he’s dating and thinks she’s better than her. Before we’ve even gotten to the chorus, she’s slut-shamed the girl. Later she talks about the girlfriend being “cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers,” which of course is supposed to invoke an image of Regina George or some other teen movie Alpha Bitch. And the reason I stopped liking the song is because it’s juvenile and misogynistic – worse, it’s the kind of misogyny that women throw at each other because men do it to us all the time, and that’s how we know it hurts. And it’s the kind of misogyny that pits women against each other for the approval of men, an implicit acknowledgement of the fact that men are at the top of the social hierarchy and we have to throw other women under the bus to get to the top. Yeah, it’s the 21st century, but shaming women for being confident and sexual isn’t something that we’ve left behind. And certain shippers framing themselves as the pure, innocent girl-next-door in a Taylor Swift song so that they can demonise Laurel and Iris speaks to a very specific brand of internalised misogyny that probably comes from that high school resentment I mentioned.

Look, I have been the shy, nerdy girl who lacked confidence. I wanted the Alpha Bitch knocked down a peg or two, and I would have loved it if I were the one to do it. And I certainly wouldn’t have turned my nose up at landing the hottest guy in school. And even though I like to think I’m much more mature than I was in school, I still lack confidence some of the time. But I – and Taylor – grew up.  And the hatred of Laurel and Iris, in earlier seasons and now for Iris, was eerily indicative of a resentment of the popular girl who rejects the hero, so the adorkable nerd can be used as an escapist character to save the hero from the evil Alpha Bitch, because she clearly deserves him more.

Why do certain shippers feel this way about these women? It could be that the hero already loves his love interest, despite the fact that she clashes with him. Or maybe because she has the confidence to go after what she wants. Or maybe it’s simply because certain shippers projected their own feelings of being the shy nerdy girl in high school onto Caitlin and Felicity and therefore took out their resentment on the nearest character who fit the Alpha Bitch stereotype – Iris and Laurel – because they got the hero’s love without trying but didn’t “deserve” him because they weren’t showing him affection on schedule. I have no problem with people shipping whatever they choose. But throwing misogynistic hate, slutshaming, and shoving characters into stereotypes so you can justify hating them is not a good look.

The next part, Hot Nerds, Strong Females, and Elitist Fanboys, will be published shortly.

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