After our brief class discussion about how Buffy’s fashion can affect her character, it made me think about the significance dress can have on a character’s portrayal—in particular, the role that feminine clothing plays on the depiction of a female character's power.
In class, it was mentioned that Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer wears stylish women’s clothing, yet still remains incredibly adept in battle. Her stylish dress does not detract from her ability to defend herself or live up to the role of a superheroine.
However, in many circumstances, this is not the case. A movie that particularly comes to mind in this case is Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann is one of the main characters of the movie. Beginning the movie as a rich young heiress living a more than comfortable life, she soon finds her inner passion which leads her down a road of adventure and piracy. She lets go of her comfortable, carefree life of being the “governor’s daughter” to seek adventure on the open sea. She does not shy away from the violence in the battles she experiences, but instead, embraces it—loving the thrill fighting gives her.
Her dress and style throughout the movie visualize this transformation from an heiress to a fighter and show her reluctance to dive back into her old life. In fact, being forced to wear a frilly dress is used as a threat—a way of objectifying her and symbolizing the societal stereotypes of women as the weaker gender.
She was forced to wear feminine clothing by Captain Barbossa and told that if she refuses, “[She’ll] be dining with the crew. And [she’ll] be naked.” In the first 30 seconds of this video clip, two members of the crew are shown delivering this message to Elizabeth from Barbossa. You can clearly see the disappointment on their faces when she doesn’t choose the latter . . .
Having to choose between wearing a feminine dress or no dress at all provides an example of how women can be objectified by what they wear. By choosing her attire, Barbossa asserts his dominance over her. By making her wear a feminine dress, he restricts her to the stereotypical female gender role. As he perceives it, if Elizabeth is wearing a frilly dress, then she can be seen as week and submissive, thus making himself feel powerful.
However, throughout her transformation, Elizabeth is given a uniform from the Royal Navy. Wearing this male uniform, Elizabeth is able to participate fully without restrictions in the way of pirate life—fighting pirates and being respected as a leader. This dress not only garners more respect from the male sailors that surround her, but also from herself. Dressing in this way allows her to feel free to fight and exhibit superheroine like qualities while still gaining respect from her peers.
What is the cause for the difference between Buffy and Elizabeth? Why is it that while Buffy can remain dressed in stylish attire, Elizabeth must rid herself of her feminist attire in order to escape her stereotypical gender role?