What I learned from Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted

Ella Enchanted was my favorite book when I was 12, is my favorite book right now, and might be my favorite book forever. As a lover of fairy tales, balls, and evening gowns, every version of Cinderella was a treat, but this one felt like it was made just for me. Because in this version, the girl doesn’t need to be a princess, actually gets to know the prince, and then saves herself.

In the fairy tale land of Frell, there are giants, elves, princes and curses. Magic is real, and so are mean girls. Ella is under a curse to always be obedient, so she has to follow every order anyone gives her. Every “go to your room,” every “go jump in a lake,” everything. She meets a prince, because this is that kind of story, and they fall in love. But she knows that her curse would put the prince and her kingdom in danger, so she gives him up. Her mother dies, and she knows of grief and fear. It is that kind of story, too.

I revisited Ella Enchanted recently and wondered why I ever read any other book when everything I need to know was already in its pages.

This book is what taught me that men will always give you grief if you want to do something all on your own. In Ella’s case it’s when she runs away from finishing school and asks for directions to a giant’s wedding. Upon hearing she wants to walk her journey alone, sometimes at night, the shopkeeper laughs at her. In my imagination, he gives her what I’m sure is the same exact look the guy at work gave you yesterday when you said “No, actually, I’ve got this.” Ella continues her journey and doesn’t think about the shopkeeper again. I think about him often.

Later on, Ella meets a different kind of man. Her father loses all his money when he gets caught trying to swindle a client. To gain back some of their fortune, he decides to marry Ella to a rich old man. He orders her to eat drugged mushrooms (our fairy tale’s version of ecstasy, perhaps) to lower her guard and make her more “flirtatious.” When this skeezy old man, who ends up not being rich enough anyway, learns that Ella is only 15, he says “You have a loving heart. I see that. More woman than child.”

And that is when I learned that gross old men will always make excuses to justify preying on young women.

There are some good guys in Ella’s life too, but while reading her story I learned even the good guys can disappoint.

Prince Char is an undisputedly good guy. He doesn’t fall for evil stepsister Hattie’s shenanigans, and his faults are things like “loves his family too much.” But all it takes is Ella dumping him for him to conjure up names for her that certainly wouldn’t be allowed in polite, princely company. Names like minx, flirt, harpy, siren, enchantress, temptress, and monster. Char is a good guy, yes, but he is also the epitome of princely privilege. When Ella dines with him (this is a fairy tale, remember, so she doesn’t grab dinner with him, she dines with him), everyone in his company waited to eat until Char began eating. “It was so natural to him I doubted he noticed,” Ella thinks. That’s as good a definition of privilege as I have ever heard.

The lesson from Ella Enchanted that took me the longest to learn–that I am still learning–is the one that Ella also struggled with the most. Ella had to follow orders because she was cursed. I follow orders because I am a people pleaser and fixer in a world that teaches women to be people pleasers and fixers. Following the rules is how I made my way through life: I did my homework, I read the directions, I didn’t stay out past curfew.

Ella was my first fictional example of a woman who knew that following the rules wasn’t best for her. She followed orders, technically, because she had to, but she did everything she could to fight back. In my world, doing anything to make yourself more difficult was revolutionary. When her dancing instructor at finishing school told her to raise her feet higher, Ella raised her legs above her waist. When her stepsister told her to clean up a dustbunny, Ella picked it up and then shoved it in her sister’s face. She rebelled in any way she could, over, and over, and over. She was my first rule-breaking role model.

I have had other rule-breaking role models in real life, and they have been invaluable to me. When I see another woman decide she doesn’t have to wear what’s appropriate, or be nice when people are rude to her, or stop everything to answer an email, I get a little stronger, and saying no becomes a little easier. Ella had to learn how to say no to break her curse, but we both had learn how to say no to survive.

I extremely proud that I make my own money and pay all my bills. I work hard, and I’m good at what I do. I am a grown woman, and I can do whatever I what. But sometimes, still, I forget I can say no.

The other day, a complete stranger told me to do something I didn’t want to do to make his life easier. And I, a grown ass woman, said “Do I have to?”

Ella says the same thing, when she wants someone to reconsider their order, if they said something hastily or sarcastically. Ella had to obey. I do not.

I quickly gained my composure and remembered that this man I do not know has no power over me, but it was scary to realize how easily I slipped back into the dynamic of a man giving orders, and me following them.

In the year of Shonda saying yes, I kept the word “no” on my lips. Like many young women in a mostly male workplace, I was often taken for an assistant instead of a peer. Workplace dynamics are tricky anyway, and when you want to be seen as someone who is helpful, it is very easy to end up doing everyone else’s job and not your own. So I said no. No to small tasks that I knew I could do, and to big tasks I knew I couldn’t. Like bullies on a playground, eventually the boys I worked with stopped trying to push me around.

It’s time consuming, to say no. I have to weigh my options, who is asking, if I sound too aggressive, if I really want to do it, what will it look like if this email gets forwarded. Sometimes I thought I would crumble under the weight of saying no, but instead it built me up.

Now I say no, all the time, just for fun. I’m horrible at board games because I never follow the rules, I just make up my own. I don’t participate in karaoke. I don’t answer all my emails or texts. If I don’t like the way someone is speaking to me, I hang up the phone.

I recognize that, like Char, I have privilege that allows me to say no often without real threat to my life or livelihood. I hope that, unlike Char, I notice when others don’t.

Ella noticed. Ella noticed everything. She was kind, but not always nice. Ella broke the rules and broke some hearts. Ella married a prince and then refused to become a princess. In saying no to one happily ever after, she created her own. And that is what I am most grateful for learning.

Why I’m a fan of Star Wars’ Rey

rey and bb8

The complaints have started to come in. So far, I’ve heard the politics in Star Wars: The Force Awakens don’t make sense, Rey is too good to be believable, and that rehashing the story beats from the original films takes away the great experimentation of what people loved about the films in the first place.

First, it should be known that all Raes are exceptionally great at everything they do, so Rey’s skills were no surprise to me. She also lives on her own in a tough world and fights off a gang of men to save herself and BB8 before she even meets Han or Finn, so it’s clear she’s pretty good at fighting for her survival and thinking on her toes. Better than young Luke, even, who had a home and didn’t have to bargain for his food every day. (Luke is also a big whiney baby much of the time, but this isn’t about him.) If you need more convincing, Caroline Framke does a great job of laying out why Rey isn’t a Mary Sue.

As for the politics in the Force Awakens: I don’t care. I got the gist, and wondering about the details of a post-Empire government and why the Resistance is different than the Republic did not impede my enjoyment of this movie in any way. What threatened to derail it instead was being so prepared to be disappointed every time Rey got into a bind. Here it is, I thought. This is where she gets into trouble she can’t get out of, and Finn will need to rescue her.

But that never happened. Instead, she rescued herself and she rescued her friends. Instead, Rey not only fought, but she also survived and excelled.

What shocked me, looking back, is how ready I was for the let down of seeing another woman not get to be the hero. I was hoping for better but ultimately not surprised when Finn picked up the lightsaber. Of course, I thought. Here it is, here’s the part when Finn gets to fight with the lightsaber and Rey has to watch from the sidelines once again. I thought this even as my worst expectations had been disproved not yet an hour earlier when Rey talked herself out of imprisonment and fought back against Kylo Ren’s mindwashing all on her own.

For as predictable the Force Awakens may be, Rey saving herself surprised me. The movie played on the expectation that Rey would need rescuing a few times, and each time she didn’t need a man’s help I was shocked and delighted. Isn’t that the experimentation and subversion of expectations that people loved in the originals? To me, and to many other women watching, that element of surprise was there. If you didn’t see it, maybe it’s because you are not used to bracing yourself to watch women get shunted to the side.

What kills me is how even as I wanted Rey to be the lead in this movie and get to do heroic things, I didn’t truly believe it would happen, not deep down in my bones. I’ve seen popcorn movies before; I know how it goes. Rey gets to be charming and beautiful, but when it came down to it, she wouldn’t be able to come through when it really mattered without a man helping her out. And, honestly, I still would have loved it even then because Rey, Finn, and Poe are so charming and loving, and it was so good to see Han and Chewie again, and because I am so used to the disappointment of not seeing a woman save the day that it hardly would have registered.

That’s the saddest part. Women have been denied being the star and seeing female-specific stories for so long, we’ve become used to it.

I didn’t know I was missing this: This is the refrain I’ve seen from women again and again lately. Rachel Syme said it in her wonderful essay on women making culture:

“And this flash of recognition immediately made me sad: How moving it is to feel like you can meld with the screen, how deeply this mirroring affects you and changes the way you feel for long hours. I realize how rarely I feel this way, the way that men must feel all the time.”

And Jessica Ritchey said it in her great piece on Rey:

“This wasn’t just going to be the story about how Finn and Poe become great heroes, with Rey helping out and minding her place. This was also going to be the story about how Rey becomes a great and powerful Jedi.

I didn’t know how badly I needed to see that story.”

I said it myself in a recent Tinyletter:

“I didn’t know I was missing women-specific stories until I got a taste. I had always felt fulfilled with the stories I’d been given until I uncovered the giant hole that had always been there. Now my thirst cannot be quenched.”

I didn’t know that connecting with a character could feel like this because it’s never happened to me. Never before have I seen a girl who shares my name save anyone. Never before did I know what it felt like to see myself as the lead of a franchise like Star Wars.

I didn’t know, but now I do. It’s been an awakening indeed.

The backlash against Rey isn’t surprising. To survive in a man’s world, sexism mandates that women need to be better than the men. But when Rey has the skills, they change the rules and say she’s too perfect, that she got too good too quickly.

To demand perfection in stories by and about women is, as Admiral Ackbar would say, a trap. When a work doesn’t meet that invisible mark, people who don’t take women’s stories seriously use any flaw they can find to easily dismiss it. But perfect female characters will never exist. Women are complex and varied, and no one story or one character will ever be everything that every person needs–especially if you want your women quiet and compliant.

It’s a familiar pattern now. Book or movie contains a woman lead and some female-driven plotlines like a love triangle or motherhood, book or movie becomes a hit on the back of female fans, book or movie is picked apart and ridiculed endlessly. (The original Star Wars included a love triangle that no one seems to mind even though two of the spokes are siblings, but this isn’t about that either.)

If culture is serious about including women, it can’t dismiss everything that isn’t an ideal example of a woman. (And who gets to decide on the ideal portrayal of a woman? As Rachel Syme pointed out, it’s certainly not women who are making this culture in the first place.)

Rey may be flawed, or not flawed enough, but to me she is perfect.

some housekeeping

Hello! Just wanted to drop a quick note on a few site changes. I updated the look of raesdays.com and also updated some of the backend. If you subscribe, you should hopefully still get posts the way you used to, but please let me know if there’s any issues and I’ll see what I can do. If you want to get Rae’s Days posts delivered straight to your inbox, you can enter your email on the right in the box under “Subscribe to Blog Via Email.”

I also send a newsletter every week or so. To sign up, you can go to the box on the right of the site and enter your email under “Subscribe to Rae’s Newsletter.” Here’s a taste of this week’s, which went out yesterday:

coolest girl in the clique

 T Swift came out with a new video on Sunday for Bad Blood, the not so thinly veiled story of her soured relationship with Katy Perry. I had hoped Tay would be the villain in this one, but instead she is betrayed by her long-time bestie Selena Gomez. To retaliate, Taylor gets together all her badass super friends who look good in leather to fight with her. The coolest girl in this battle of cool girls is def Cara Delevingne, Victoria’s Secret Angel, model, and actress. She is the only one who masters the look of being so cool she doesn’t even care what happens with these nunchucks, probably because she in fact does not really care about this video. She knows she looks good, so she doesn’t sweat the rest of it. (A close second in coolness is Zendaya, who throws a knife through a teddy bear and has legs for days.) I can hardly keep up with Taylor’s best friend hierarchy, I can’t imagine trying to be (and stay) in it.

most middle school

Even though the most popular girl in school posted pictures of all her friends at a party you weren’t invited to and called it a music video, the most horrific middle school call back this week was on the Bachelorette. In the worst twist so far (I’m sure more will come), the dating show where a woman got to be in charge of oodles of men trying to win her affection became a show where two women were competing for the attention of 25 men. The producers supposedly couldn’t decide who to pick as the next Bachelorette, romantic Britt or hilarious Kaitlyn, so they are letting the men contestants vote for who they want to date. So instead of seeing a woman get lavished in attention and command the room and her own future, we saw two women go head to identically hair-styled head to win prom queen. And, sorry, but winning the chance to date 25 24 guys, half of whom wanted to date someone else, does not seem like a grand prize to me. But that won’t stop me from tuning in to find out who the bachelorette will be. (I’m firmly #teamkaitlyn) [ed note: This aired last night, and it’s Kaitlyn! PHEW.]

In an unexpected twist last night one contestant was sent to Chris Harrison as if he were about to get grounded and was asked to leave the show for being a sloppy, rude drunk and–most importantly–not showing up “for the right reasons.” Roughly 5-10 other men jumped at the chance to confront him and save the women from his antics, but they were unfortunately allowed to stay.


Thanks for your patience as I made some changes! And thanks always for reading and keeping me company on the internet, I truly appreciate it.

taylor swift’s bad blood music video poster

taylor swift
This morning Taylor introduced us to Catastrophe, the main character in her new video for Bad Blood, premiering May 17, the day of the Billboard Music Awards.

Her makeup is on point in an exaggerated cat eye and a deep part I wish she’d wear more often. I assume she is wearing a red lip because of course she is.

Although Tay plays the good girl/victim in many of her songs (she is the leading lady in her own life, after all), a smokey eye + black leather does not seem like it portrays the innocent friend wronged by the doublecrosser in Bad Blood. For that matter, the name Catastrophe isn’t exactly sweet and docile either.

So what if Tay is going to be the bad guy in this video??? I’d love to see her play with a little more edge in her storytelling and her looks (more leather, Taylor!), so I hope that’s what we see in a few weeks.(Let’s also hope this video is more exciting than the boring, if somewhat dreamy, Style, am I right?)

We all know Taylor is a good girl, her sweet style and numerous documented kindnesses tell us so. Going edgier could be risky for her image, but surely telling wider stories would also stretch her skills. Plus her reputation is so cemented and her fans so loyal, I don’t know that anything would knock her off her pedestal. So experiment away, Taylor!

met gala 2015 aka the year of rihanna

rihanna

RIHANNA. We have to start here and end here and return to here because this is jaw-dropping, icon-making fashion. THIS is what the Met Ball is for. Celebs can wear the pretty, safe boring things they always wear the rest of the year. The Met Gala is for turning fashion up to 11, it’s for celebrating and honoring the beauty and craftsmanship and risk taking that puts dresses in a museum, right next to the Michelangelos and Picassos.

The gala raises money for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute–the fashion exhibit is always my favorite part of any museum–and the theme was China: Through the Looking Glass.

The Met Gala, more than any other red carpet event, is solely about the fashion. For the Oscars, the fashion is a treat, but it exists because of movies, and the stars of the show are the humans in the dresses. The stars of the Met Gala are the dresses themselves.

If I ran the world, anyone who played it safe at the Met Gala wouldn’t be invited back. (Simple is different than boring, don’t forget.) For those of us sitting at home who may never see art like this close up, much less wear it ourselves, this night every year is a gift. If you are able to go and have one of these incredible designers dress you, you should feel responsible for bringing fashion to the public and for showcasing this art.

Rihanna did that, with her queenly Guo Pei. One of the few who actually wore a Chinese designer, she not only elevated fashion, she looked like she was having a blast taking up the entire red carpet. Who else could put that on and not be swallowed up by that train or overwhelmed by that embroidery? It’s a perfect gown (coat? dress? dream?), and it was worn by the perfect person to pull it off.

rihanna met gala

There were other risk-takers last night, but also a few too many celebs who stuck to their usual. Kim, Bey, and J Lo met afterwards to found the Bejeweled Banging Body Club, I assume. (J Lo is president, obvs.) Reese Witherspoon stuck to the simple sheath she wore all awards season, and Sophia Vergara wore another sweetheart strapless gown. They looked great, but I’ve seen it all before.

keri russell

Keri Russell (one of my personal style icons for her chic, edgy simplicity) was able to wear a gown that fits her style while upping the intensity in a stunning greenish black (or blackish green) Altuzarra. She kept her look simple (not boring) with limited accessories. I bet this dress was incredible close up, with the changing colors and feather details. I love feathers on clothes but I can’t imagine they would ever be practical in real life–which is perfect for the Met Gala. I might also be partial to this because it reminds me of my favorite McQueen.

fan bingbing

Fan BingBing wore another Chinese designer, Christopher Bu, and she nailed it in a gold dress and emerald cape. She is on theme and on point, from the larger sequins on her dress to her perfect lipstick and earrings, to a cape that is anything but cliche.

I am happy to say that it’s been a wild ride. Until next year, you crazy kids.

vanessa on daredevil

vanessa from daredevil

Vanessa on Daredevil went on a date with the devil himself. When Wilson Fisk, the evil mastermind rebuilding Hell’s Kitchen in his vision, takes her to a dinner that gets interrupted by a haggard-looking criminal yelling at Fisk, Vanessa realizes this might not be your average businessman. So on their next date, Vanessa brings a gun. Later that night, they watch the city burn, together.

Vanessa on Daredevil is the baddest B on TV right now.

Vanessa is choosing to get into bed with evil–she doesn’t have to be tricked into it or lied to about it or caught by a trap. She really sees Fisk, and she can tell he isn’t on the level. She chooses to be with him not in spite of this, but because of it. This is a huge contrast with other superhero shows where men hide their misdeeds with tiny bandanas over their eyes, or where everyone is making decisions on women’s behalf while they have no say in the matter.

Another superhero show, Arrow, spent a verrrrrry long time with whip smart Thea not realizing her brother was missing all the same nights the Arrow was crime fighting. And that they kind of looked alike under that hood. And that a vigilante’s team was operating *in the basement of a business she owned*.

Oliver claimed he was hiding his identity as the Arrow to protect Thea, but Thea has faced plenty of tragedy and has fought back, learning how to fight and be a warrior herself. She is self-sufficient, and she runs her own business and she’s good at it. She is the opposite of an incapable person who can’t be in charge of her own life.

What Oliver is really protecting is himself, so he won’t have to have an awkward conversation where he shows his real self to someone he loves. It’s true that it’s hard to be vulnerable, but it’s also true that watching a man lie to a woman so he can stay comfortable doing whatever he wants is a snooze and a half.

The Flash is another show that has been tons of fun, except when a certain woman is involved. It seems like everyone in Central City–and Starling City!–knows that Barry Allen is the Flash, but Iris, who has grown up with Barry and is a professional reporter covering the Flash, can’t figure it out? I mean, the Flash is the exact size and shape of the guy you are secretly in love with and you never once daydreamed that ~maybe~ they were the same person?

It doesn’t make sense! And worse than that, every man in Iris’ life has an opinion on what Iris should know and when, and none of them have included Iris in the conversation. Keeping women out of the loop comes from a misguided, sexist sense of protection (from what, exactly?), but all it does is keep women on the fringe of the story, outside and powerless. And on the Flash, it’s keeping Iris stuck in one place while everyone else speeds ahead and leaves her behind.

But Iris won’t be in the dark forever, just like Oliver couldn’t keep lying to Thea. And hopefully these weak plots to maintain the status quo and hold off the inevitable will give way to richer stories for all of the characters.

Vanessa is exciting because she makes her own choices, and she creates her own power. Sure, Fisk runs Hell’s Kitchen, but Vanessa runs Fisk. When Fisk wants to protect Vanessa and send her out of the country, she says no thank you. She has power and agency in their relationship, and it comes from being on the inside, seeing Fisk when he’s vulnerable, and then using that information to make her own decisions.

vanessa and fisk

It’s so much more interesting to watch a woman choose to stay when things get hard, and know she’s getting involved with a man who does bad things, rather than yet again see a woman who happens to fall into a situation based on everyone else’s choices but her own.

And if it’s all the good guys who are lying? I’d rather be a bad bitch, too.

felicity, the hero we deserve

  

Arrow does a great job of featuring whole, flawed, wonderful women. Nyssa, Thea, Sara, Laurel, Felicity, Moira, and Mama Smoak are SEVEN women off the top of my head from this world, and I could name three facts about each of them. That is a deep bench of interesting women characters. It’s a whole quidditch team (one I’d really like to see play btw–they’d probably win every game). 

The Arrow women are many things, but none of them are one-note, they don’t blindly follow without questioning, and they aren’t helpless waifs who need protection. This alone makes them different from many other women on TV, but Felicity in particular bucks superhero stereotypes and kicks ass while doing it.

She doesn’t literally kick ass–she leaves that to just about everyone else in a city with a glut of masked fighters. No, Felicity has different skills. IT skills. With a master’s from MIT and experience working for Queen Consolidated, she has real-life credentials to be the IT department of Team Arrow. Oliver is smart to want her for his team. Felicity and Oliver know how good she is, and so does the rest of Starling City. That’s why Ray looks for her and hires her to help run his company. And that’s why Felicity is able to get other jobs on her own, and not rely on Oliver for her employment. She doesn’t need *him*, he needs *her*. Rather than being the secret source her career depends on, for example, he is her friend and partner. 

And the way he gets her on his team is by showing her what they do, and asking her to be a part of it. So many superhero shows depend on the people close to the hero being huge dummies who don’t recognize the voice and body of someone they grew up with or that their SO is MIA at all the times the hero is out and about. Felicity is smart enough to see through Oliver’s excuses and put two and two together, so when he confirms that he’s the Arrow, she isn’t surprised. When he needs her help and wants her to join his team, Oliver lays it all out for her and lets Felicity decide what to do. (This is my fave part of their relationship tbh. I am SO TIRED of the boring reasons men keep lying to women on TV for their own “safety.”) 

And because Felicity isn’t lied to or tricked into getting involved, and because she chooses to participate and knows she could leave at any time (and sometimes does!), her role in Team Arrow is a bright, wonderful beacon of feminism. Felicity doesn’t need protection, and she doesn’t need a cover story–just the facts, plz, and she can decide what she wants to do for herself.

When Oliver is presumed dead–I think the third time, but who can keep count–Felicity and the rest of the team need to decide to keep working in his stead or give up without their leader. Diggle, Ray, and Felicity come to their own conclusion and re-commit to their cause. They each have had plenty of options to quit or leave before and have chosen to stay, but when the Arrow disappeared, possibly forever, Diggle, Ray, and Felicity independently decide to continue and contribute what they can to saving Starling City. This means a lot to all the members of Team Arrow, but it’s especially notable for Felicity. She is in love with Oliver, sure, and she believes in him, sure, but she stays for *herself*, even when Oliver isn’t there. 

Felicity isn’t defined by her relationship to Oliver. She is her own person who is valuable, and *valued*, for who she is–not because she fits some superhero trope or because she’s a damsel in distress or because she’s a serious hottie (even though she is). She is whole, she makes mistakes, and she is more than one thing.

For example, when Felicity meets Sara, Oliver’s on-and-off lady friend and Laurel’s sister, Felicity LIKES her (sigh, I do too), and she isn’t instantly turned into a jealous woman spurned. When Sara turns out to be good at computers as well as super hot and a kick-ass crime fighter, Felicity feels normal insecurity at being replaced on the team, but she never turns into a calculating bitch who wants to sabotage Sara and Oliver’s relationship. And when Sara dies (rip Sara I MISS YOU), Felicity is devastated to lose a friend, not gleeful that an obstacle to her relationship with Oliver is out of the way. 

She isn’t defined by fashion either–her style isn’t sex kitten or prude. She dresses appropriately for work, and she dresses differently for dates–as opposed to the Super Hot Board President who wears dresses that’s that are too risque for work and too board-room-ish for dates. (Arrow’s not totally exempt from cliches–I do remember Isabel.) And when Felicity is feeling a little sassy, she even shows a little midriff. She does wear glasses, often an indicator of being smart and nerdy, but even this shows realism in her case: There’s a lucky few who could spend all day and all night looking at computers and *not* need glasses.

The best part of Felicity’s more realistic fashion sense is that when she’s working, she wears her hair up in a ponytail–unlike the other Arrow women who seem to be able to run all over the city with their long locks flowing. Felicity is practical, and bless her for it. 

Felicity has long been the best part of Arrow, and she is the biggest reason I love to ship #olicity. The other reason, of course, is that Oliver sees her for all that she is, and he loves and respects her for it. He trusts her decisions, and in a superhero world where lying to your gf is the “romantic” norm, this is a ship I’ll gladly go down with. 

If you haven’t yet, check out the preview for this week’s Arrow and watch with me on Wednesday night!

my favorite pop culture pastime: shipping

I ship Oliver and Felicity, and Elizabeth and Philip. I ship Alicia Florrick with everyone, but especially Finn Polmar. I yell “make out!” at the TV so often, it’s become a constant refrain in my apartment.

In TV land I am ruthless. I want everyone to cheat on everyone, unless you’re a couple I think is in capital L Love, and if anything comes between them I will riot.

Sometimes I am rewarded in my lust for lust, like the amazing moment Nyssa and Sara ran into each other on Arrow, and instead of attacking each other like assassins (which they are), they kissed like lovers (which they also are). It reinforced my shipping dreams, and now I can keep shipping random strangers because I was justified that one glorious time.

You can’t have a good ship without good chemistry, but chemistry can be good in a million different ways. Lovers have chemistry, but so do friends, colleagues, families, and people who really hate each other–and sometimes one relationship can be all those things at once (looking at you, Empire).

Chemistry is like talent: When people have it–I mean really have it–you don’t see them work at it. You never think about the mechanics of it, or how awkward it is to shoot those sex scenes (ahem, 50 Shades of Gray). Sometimes you don’t notice chemistry it until it’s missing and two people are hugging you didn’t even realize were supposed to know each other. I measure chemistry on a scale of Bella and her child in Twilight: Breaking Dawn (zero–they share the least maternal hug I have ever seen) to Alicia and Will on the Good Wife (whose romantic and sexual chemistry caused me physical pain).

Will and Alicia level chemistry is hard to come by. Even other couples on the Good Wife can’t match it, but the Good Wife makes up for this injustice by allowing me to ship multiple ships. Alicia and Finn? Definitely. Alicia and Peter? Yes, but in a twisted power game way. Alicia and Kalinda? Oh, hell yes.

I make up the rules of shipping as I go along, and I change the game whenever I feel like it: This person is allowed to cheat on their spouse, but not with a waste of a ship. That couple should be together forever, except he hasn’t realized it yet so she should get it from somewhere else in the meantime. If that person strays, I will never forgive them.

I have found that I am the best shipper when I am my best self. Shipping is not for yearning for your past or for what your future could be–that’s torture. I come to shipping with my heart full and overflowing with love, and I want to cheer on others to find the same. My shipping is a tribute to my own relationships, and a prayer that others can find that connection and acceptance.

The connection that warms my heart also thrills me. Watching people be attracted is attractive. That click with someone is so rare in real life, and so precious, that when I see it I celebrate it any way I can.

Underneath the sexiness of chemistry is the humanness of it. By responding to another person’s energy with our own, we are recognizing their humanity. And longing for that recognition and connection with someone else is universal.

So I ship. I ship everyone, and I change the rules of the game to allow for more and more shipping because the more diverse and inclusive our shipping is, the more diverse and inclusive our connections IRL can be. I ship so that cheering for all relationships and celebrating the sexy sex of bodies of all shapes and sizes becomes something we do on the regular, because we saw it on TV.