“… and that’s coming from me”: On Santana’s Bitchiness, Brittany’s Intelligence, and the Self-Perpetuated Stereotype
So this rant comes to you courtesy of Anon, who Asks:
“Hey, I was reading your analysis yesterday and it suddenly made me think… I fully agree with your vision on Brittany’s intelligence, but while Sorting her, you pointed out that she looks very comfortable and pleased when people realise that she’s actually smart. Isn’t that a bit contradictory with your theory that Brittany says absurd things to mess with people—I mean, if she values being seen as smart, why risk it like that? I’m not trying to make a critique here, really I think your visions on Brittany are very plausible and make a lot of sense, but this kind of makes me confused. What do you think?”
So you bring up a good point: on the one hand, Brittany appreciates it when people recognize her intelligence, but, on the other hand, she sometimes perpetuates the idea that she is “dumb” in order to placate people, defuse tense situations, avoid scrutiny, make jokes, manipulate people, etc.
So what gives? Isn’t her behavior contradictory, then?
Short answer? Absolutely.
Hella long answer? Under the cut.
Frankly, it is irrational for a person to project a certain image of him or herself—or at least to allow a certain image of him or herself to persist without objecting to it or trying to change it—while nevertheless regretting that said image exists. But the thing is that human beings are not always rational creatures... and Brittany S. Pierce, for all her awesomeness, is supremely human.
Frankly, Brittany’s behavior when it comes to how people perceive her intelligence is not unlike Santana’s behavior when it comes to how people perceive her as a bitch.
Forgive me a Santana digression on this Brittany-related question, then.
“I mean, just because I hate everybody doesn’t mean they have to hate me, too”: On Santana and the Bitch Problem
Everyone says that Santana Lopez is a bitch (“Actually, you’re just a bitch,” “Santana is such a bitch!”).
They say it because, as far as they know, it’s true.
The fact is that Santana acts bitchy to her peers; she insults them, puts them down, causes contention amongst them, calls them out on and belittles them for their insecurities, interferes with and ruins their relationships, etc. Hell, she even calls herself a bitch on a regular basis (“Look, I don’t mean to be a bitch… well, yeah, actually, I do,” “The only straight I am is straight up bitch”).
Consequently, it is little wonder that most of Santana’s peers, with the exception of Brittany, who benefits from Santana’s private kindness and knows about Santana’s softer side because she’s personally witnessed it, think “she’s a bad person.”
And why does Santana act like a bitch?
Of course, Santana herself tells us that she is a bitch because she was born that way and also because she has “feelings for [Brittany],” and, to some extent, she’s right on both counts… though not in the way that Santana herself might think.
Let’s start again.
Why does Santana act like such a bitch?
Santana Lopez acts like a bitch because she fears rejection and her fear of rejection leads her to preemptively reject the people around her (see here).
On a deep, emotional level, Santana fears that her peers will not accept her if they know something of her true nature; she realizes that she is different from them, and, moreover, that one of the things that makes her different from them (i.e., her sexuality) touches on the the part of her life that she holds dearest and about which she feels most sensitive and, consequently, protective (i.e., her love for Brittany and her deep capacity for love in general).
Santana Lopez is a bitch because she fears how people will react to her sexuality—i.e., the thing “[she’d] like to change, but [she] can’t, because [she] was born this way”—and to her relationship with Brittany—i.e., all her “feelings for [Brittany] that [she’s] afraid of dealing with, because [she’s] afraid of dealing with the consequences.”
So there we have it: Santana Lopez is a bitch because she was born that way and because of how she feels.
That isn’t it.
Santana Lopez isn’t just a bitch due to her nature, she’s also a bitch because, frankly, people expect her to be one.
Really, Rachel Berry is right when she tells Santana that she can “dish it out, but [she] can’t take it;” Santana feels terrified that if someone were to learn the secret of her sexuality and her love for Brittany—i.e., if someone were to discover just how vulnerable Santana really is—and use it against her, she wouldn’t be able to take it; she would just [figuratively] die.
Accordingly, Santana takes preventative measures to make sure that no one can even come close to discovering her secret, lashing out at people and making herself appear dangerous in order to create a wide berth of “social space” around herself so that no one can see how vulnerable and frightened she really is upon closer inspection.
It’s like that Adele lyric: “I won’t let you close enough to hurt me,” you know? It’s also like in the animal kingdom, wherein various creatures will puff up to twice their regular size when startled to make themselves appear more menacing, and therefore less edible, to their predators. Santana Lopez is “like a [frilled] lizard,” anyone?
As drshebloggo says: “Santana seems to wield her bitchiness in an effort to push people away, based on the fact that the only person who’s close [to her] is Brittany. [Santana] tries to keep people beneath her, to keep people from getting under her lizard skin. So it’s safe to say that Santana Lopez is protecting herself. Keeping her true self hidden, underneath a prickly exterior, so people don’t want to get close. Santana keeps a thick and poisonous skin because she doesn’t want them to see what’s underneath. She wants people to notice her (her reasons for the boob job), but she doesn’t want them to see her, for what she truly is. She wants people to look at her and see the front she puts up—the in-charge, super-cool, self-confident hot cheerleader. Because deep down, Santana is not always the in-charge, super-cool, self-confident hot cheerleader.”
Of course, Santana wishes that she didn’t have to be a bitch; she wishes that she could just be herself and have people accept her for who she is (“I’m gonna be an outsider my whole life. Can’t I just have one night where I’m the queen?”). In fact, she honestly craves societal acceptance and love, which is why she periodically reaches out to her peers and shows her more vulnerable side to them, such as when she attempts to participate in New Directions bonding activities, like group hugs and trips to the Lima Bean, hoping against hope that someone will look deep enough to see through her façade and not totally destroy her for what they find behind it.
In some ways, then, we can say that Santana builds walls with the hope that someone will tear them down or care enough to climb over them. Unfortunately, Brittany is the only person who has ever done that for Santana to date, hence why Santana has such a difficult time trusting her New Directions teammates in the same way that Brittany does (see here).
What we see with Santana is someone who has picked her own poison. Basically, it is easier for Santana to have people reject her because she is a bitch than because of who she is and whom she loves, so she broadcasts the bitch thing until everyone accepts it.
(This is why she makes the “Bitch” shirt for herself in 2x18.)
And since people do reject Santana for her bitchiness? She actually feels validated in being a bitch (i.e., she thinks something like, “See? I knew they wouldn’t like me anyway. People are mean, so I’m justified in being mean, too. It’s not worth my while to make myself vulnerable, because no one except for Brittany has ever accepted me anyway”).
So, on the one hand, Santana hates that people reject her, but, on the other hand, she practically encourages people to do just that (“I mean, just because I hate everybody doesn’t mean they have to hate me, too!”).
Again, turning to drshebloggo, we find that: “Santana doesn’t want anyone to know her true feelings. Feelings mean love. Love means vulnerability. And Santana doesn’t want to be vulnerable. So she buries her feelings, and pushes people away so they won’t find them. She hides underneath a mountain of contempt, masterfully mixing indifference and scorn with precision.
High school could be really hard for Santana. It’s hard for everyone at McKinley High. But Santana probably knew that, or learned really fast. So she chose her armor (her Cheerios uniform), her shield (emotional distance), and her weapon (insults) and readied herself for battle. She fought hard for status and popularity, because it granted her power—the power to keep people beneath her, so they would never really know her insecurities. And it made her feel good about herself and what she chose to accomplish. It gave her a shiny exterior that no one could touch.
But when we strip away those defenses, we are left with someone who has purposefully chosen to isolate herself—hence the Santana-sans-Brittany Loneliness Construct that the writers flirted with (albeit clumsily) in the span between ‘Duets’ and ‘Sexy.’ Combine that self-imposed isolation with her portrayal as a sexual being, and with her reasons for getting a boob job (wanting to be noticed), and Santana thus becomes someone who perhaps doesn’t believe in love, but, tragically, still wants to be loved. Because maybe if somebody loved her, she’d believe in it.”
Her behavior is irrational, a paradox, counterintuitive… and supremely human.
“He may be the dumbest person on this planet and that’s coming from me”: On Brittany and the Stupidity Problem
Everyone says that Brittany Pierce is stupid (“God, Brittany, why are you so stupid?,” “I get the three of you being on [the Brainiacs], but Brittany?”).
They say it because, as far as they know, it is true.
The fact is that Brittany says a lot of things that seem just plain bizarre and unintelligent to her peers; she announces that recipes confuse her, insists that the “duck’s in the hat,” tells Mr. Schue that she doesn’t know how to use a computer, claims that she thought Dr. Pepper was a dentist, etc.
Consequently, it is little wonder that most of Brittany’s peers, with the exception of Santana, who recognizes Brittany’s unique wit and takes the time to understand the way Brittany’s mind works, believe that Brittany literally thinks that “the square root of four is rainbows.”
And why does Brittany act like… well, Brittany?
In a sense because she was born that way: Brittany does see the world a little differently than everybody else does. She has a unique way of speaking (see here); she has a quirky sense of humor; she embraces her own eccentricities; and she is wonderfully, openly, queerly Brittany (see Marjorie’s piece here).
… and, unfortunately, not everybody gets that.
For as much as we see it on the show, Brittany sees it even more and has probably seen it her whole life: she says something keenly and unmistakably “Brittany,” and everyone around her, with the exception of Santana, looks at her like she’s nuts, or, worse yet, stupid.
We know she sees the derision because she’s obviously internalized it.
Case in point?
In 2x04, Mr. Schue informs the team that Puck’s in juvie because he used his mom’s car to steal an ATM. As New Directions chatters, deriding Puck for his criminal blunder, Brittany chimes in to the conversation. “He may be the dumbest person on this planet,” she says, “and that’s coming from me.”
Brittany Pierce knows that people thinks she’s stupid, and the fact that they do may be the one thing anyone could say about her that actually damages her self-esteem.
So why does Brittany act like she does—i.e., quirky, aloof, and even, at times, silly—even though it hurts her feelings when people call her stupid on account of her behavior?
Frankly, because, to some extent, people expect her to do it.
Unlike Santana, Brittany doesn’t necessarily fear rejection; rather, what she fears is confrontation or people finding fault with her actions, particularly when she knows she has indeed done something wrong, whether by mistake or knowingly.
Brittany knows that, with the exception of Santana, most of the people in her life believe that she is stupid; they don’t understand her nonnormative intelligence or her sense of humor (see here and here). She’s probably had plenty of experiences wherein she says something thinking of it as a joke, but no one gets it
except for Santana (see “My Cup”). Instead, her peers just give her those blank “Oh my god, Brittany. What the actual fuck?” looks, roll their eyes, and ignore Brittany as though she doesn’t realize what she’s even saying.
And the thing is that Brittany hates it when they do that.
Brittany doesn’t like the fact that everyone thinks she’s some sort of crazy person or imbecile. She hates it that Rachel Berry talks to her as though she’s a toddler (see here) and that Mr. Schue doesn’t think she’s capable of operating a standard video camera (see here). In fact, she hates it when people belittle her intelligence so much that she breaks up with her boyfriend, whom she loves, after he calls her “stupid” (see here).
And not only does Brittany hate it when people call her stupid, but she loves it when people acknowledge how smart she actually is, as we see during the Heart Locker scene of 2x22 (S: “When did you get so smart?” B: *biggest fucking grin just about ever*).
No question about it: Brittany dislikes that people perceive her as dumb.
(This is why she makes her “I’m With Stoopid” shirt in 2x18.)
Just as Brittany’s experiences with people thinking she’s dumb have taught her that her peers do not recognize or value her intelligence, they’ve also taught Brittany that she can get away with certain missteps for the very reason that people do not respect her intelligence enough to hold her fully accountable for her actions.
And, in this case, Brittany’s aversion to conflict overrides her need to stand up for herself and assert her own intelligence.
“Sucks for you”: On the Brittany-Sue Dynamic and Brittany’s Conflict Aversion
The way Sue Sylvester treats Brittany perfectly exemplifies the fact that, prior to the Back Six of Season Two, Brittany will oftentimes allow others to deride her intelligence for the sake of avoiding conflict.
Whereas Sue holds Quinn, whom she considers cunning, to certain expectations, and punishes Quinn accordingly whenever Quinn fails to meet said expectations to Sue’s standards, as we see in “Acafellas,” Sue does not hold Brittany to the same expectations and, consequently, does not punish Brittany as harshly as she would Quinn when Brittany fails at the tasks to which Sue assigns her.
We see Sue’s low expectations for Brittany in play during “Hell-O,” when Brittana fail to seduce Finn and all Sue issues them is a tongue-lashing, calling them two of the “stupidest teens” she’s ever encountered (see here).
And not only does Sue fail to hold Brittany to the same high standards as she does Quinn—and, to some extent, Santana—but Sue also uses Brittany’s supposed stupidity to her own advantage, forcing Brittany to procure New Directions’ set list for Sectionals for her, goading Brittany to act as cannon fodder for an over-the-top Cheerios stunt, coercing Brittany into accusing Coach Beiste of sexual harassment, invoking Brittany as her go-to “idiot” whenever she needs an example of inferior intelligence to suit one of her ridiculous rants (e.g., “It’s broccoli. When I showed this to Brittany earlier, she began to whimper, thinking I had cut down a small tree where a family of gummi bears lived”), etc.
While some may say that the fact that Sue can apparently manipulate Brittany in this way proves that Brittany is just as dim as Sue makes her out to be, I would argue that the dynamic between Sue and Brittany actually has everything to do with Brittany’s conflict aversion and nothing to do with her “stupidity.”
Frankly, despite what Sue thinks to the contrary, Sue never manages to fool Brittany when it comes to participating in her various schemes; rather, Sue simply intimidates Brittany into compliance, which means that Brittany ultimately goes along with Sue’s plans out of fear rather than dimwitted obedience.
The best example I can cite proving this principle is the cannon fodder debacle of 2x11, in which Sue wants to shoot Brittany out of a cannon at Cheerleading Nationals but Brittany doesn’t want to participate in the stunt on account of the fact that doing so may well kill her (“I don’t want to die yet—at least not until One Tree Hill gets cancelled”).
Throughout the episode, Sue goes to great lengths to “convince” Brittany to agree to do the stunt, particularly after Figgins tells Sue that Brittany must sign a consent form before Sue can fire Brittany out of the cannon. Sue’s tactics include trying to sell Brittany on the fact that the stunt isn’t dangerous via [failed] visual demonstration, sending Brittany handwritten notes “from the cannon” soliciting Brittany’s participation in the stunt, and telling Brittany an asinine and frankly insulting sob story about how the cannon’s family will starve if Brittany doesn’t consent to the stunt.
While Sue seems to think that her rhetorical gestures really get to Brittany—as they appeal to Brittany’s “childlike” nature and “low intelligence”—I maintain that what really gets to Brittany is her own fear of the consequences of refusing Sue’s proposal and a certain amount of self-loathing for not being able to stand up either to Sue’s goading or to Sue’s assumptions that Brittany is stupid.
On a surface level, it may look like Sue dupes Brittany, being that Brittany ultimately does sign the consent form, but, really, I would argue that what really happens is that Brittany finds herself unable to stick up for her own interests in the face of Sue’s explosive temper and irrational [sadistic] behavior, so eventually Brittany begrudgingly concedes to Sue’s proposal once Brittany runs out of ways to stall.
Before we get into this discussion, let us make note of the state of the Brittana relationship when this episode takes place, as it is significant to our discussion of Brittany’s behavior: The events of “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle” occur on the tail end of what I call the Brittana Drought between 2x08 and 2x12, which just so happens to coincide with the heyday of Bartie.
At this point, Brittana have already clashed over the level of intimacy in their relationship during the events of 2x04, with Brittany pushing Santana to acknowledge the true depth of the Brittana bond and Santana pushing Brittany away, temporarily rejecting Brittany in order to assert her “heterosexuality” (see here). Brittany has already dated and broken up with Artie once during “Duets,” and then commenced dating him again circa “Furt,” possibly in response to Santana devaluing the Brittana sexual relationship by throwing herself at Puck during a time when she was otherwise “exclusive” with Brittany (see here).
Since 2x08, Brittany has entered into an exclusive dating relationship with Artie and suffered something of a silent “falling out” with Santana, who can’t stand to be around Brittany now that the Brittana dynamic has changed (see here). Though Brittany and Santana aren’t necessarily “fighting,” their friendship appears noticeably strained.
Brittany can see Santana flailing without her, their distance from one another notwithstanding. Nevertheless, Brittany feels powerless to do anything to help Santana or reach out to her, being that Brittany realizes that Santana largely blames Brittany for “hurting her” by going out with Artie.
Of course, the fact that Santana refuses to talk about the emotional aspect of the Brittana relationship altogether complicates the situation on a whole; Brittany likely feels stuck, as far as her situation with Santana goes, because as long as Santana refuses to talk to Brittany about their relationship, things won’t change between them, and Santana seems unlikely to open up to Brittany any time soon, not only due to her self-imposed repressive tendencies, but also on account of the existence of Bartie, as the fact that Brittany has a boyfriend scares Santana off from interacting with her. At the same time Brittany frets about her relationship with Santana, she feels otherwise content with Artie, about whom she also cares.
With that in mind, let’s do a close reading on Brittany’s facial expressions throughout 2x11, because they’re what really tell the story here, in terms of her overall behavioral patterns:
When Sue first reveals the big stunt to Brittany, Brittany’s face bespeaks nothing if not unadulterated terror. She looks nervously back and forth between Quinn on her right side and Santana on her left, as if hoping for one of them to intervene on her behalf. Unfortunately for Brittany, as Quinn has a vested interest in staying on Sue’s good side and Santana is just as frightened of Sue as Brittany is, if not more so, neither one of them pipes up in that initial, shocking moment. When Sue goes to demonstrate the “safety” of the cannon, Brittany stands with her mouth ajar, as if she cannot believe that this is really happening to her.
Frankly, I can’t believe it’s really happening to her, either. RIB, what the hell were you thinking with this episode? It’s utterly ridiculous on every count.
As Sue goes to punch the button on the cannon, Brittany wears a worried pout. After the unsuccessful test fire, Brittany picks up the burnt, decapitated remnant of Sue’s mannequin, examining it in horror. She cannot believe her cheerleading coach wants to do this to her; she also can’t think of any way to get out of doing what Sue wants, because once Sue gets her mind set on something, she’s not likely to quit until she makes it happen.
At this point, we should perhaps address the fact that, throughout this episode, Santana does nothing to intervene on Brittany’s behalf in terms of the human cannon debacle.
I mean, the girl she loves may well die. Santana knows this. So why the hell doesn’t Santana do anything to prevent that from happening, hm?
Since this Brittanalysis is mainly Brittanycentric, I won’t focus on Santana too long. Suffice it to say that I believe that Santana fails to act on Brittany’s behalf throughout this episode primarily because Santana feels powerless to do so, not only because Sue terrifies Santana even more than she terrifies Brittany and has so much power over the Brittana that Santana can’t even imagine how to effectively oppose her, but also because, at this point, Santana doesn’t know how to act around Brittany, given the existence of Bartie.
As is the case in both “Duets” and “Never Been Kissed,” in “The Sue Sylvester Shuffle,” Santana yet again finds herself in a situation wherein she must either admit how much she cares about Brittany—in this case, by putting herself on the line in order to either convince Brittany to back out of the stunt or to fight against Sue making Brittany do it—or risk devaluing her relationship with Brittany altogether—in this case, by keeping silent and failing to save Brittany, even though she wants to do so more than anything (see here).
And at this point? Santana just isn’t strong enough to choose the first option, and particularly when she doubts that Brittany cares about her, given the existence of Bartie. Santana probably wants more than anything to tell Sue Sylvester to fuck off, to take Brittany by the wrist and say “Come on, Britt, we’re outta here!” before dragging Brittany to safety… but she can’t.
She just can’t.
She’s paralyzed with fear.
Basically, Santana is in no emotional state to stick up for the girl she loves at this point in her development, and especially not when she and Brittany stand on such shaky ground, in terms of their relationship. Consequently, all Santana can do is hope that Brittany makes good decisions for herself or that something or someone will step in and save Brittany when Santana herself cannot; one can only imagine Santana’s relief, then, when Quinn Fabray takes charge of the whole situation following the original cannon misfire, promising to appeal to Mr. Schuester on Brittany’s behalf.
… which brings us back to Brittany.
In this situation, Brittany cannot count on Santana—her usual protector—to advocate for her. Quinn tries to help, yes, but even her steely resolve cannot hold off all the craziness that is Sue. Flat out refusing Sue barely seems like an option to any of the girls, because who knows what Sue will do when they go against her will.
Cut to the choir room, where Will and Beiste explain the football team and New Directions’ predicament after Sue pulls the Cheerios from the halftime show. Brittany bites her lip and stares off, for once disinterested in the glee club’s plight.
As an aside, Santana looks pretty green, distant, and nervous throughout all this, too. Methinks that Brittany’s not the only one freaking out about Brittany’s dilemma with Sue at the moment.
Brittany’s mood doesn’t even seem to lighten when Mr. Schue announces that New Directions will perform “Thriller” at the halftime show, which is perhaps significant, considering that, normally, one would expect to see her thrilled at the prospect of performing one of the most iconic dance routines of all time.
Brittany does look interested when Mr. Schue reveals the Yeah Yeah Yeahs mash up aspect of the routine, putting a hand to her heart and smiling at Santana. (Maybe Brittana like that song? Maybe Santana is a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan?) Brittany then maintains her levity throughout the zombie dance rehearsal scene.
As per her usual, Brittany excels at dance practice. It would appear that dancing helps Brittany to relax and think clearly probably for the first time all day, as it is only after dance practice that Brittany seemingly starts to consider an alternative to caving to Sue: namely, failing to attend Cheerleading Nationals in order to participate in the glee club halftime show instead.
So cut to the Unholy Trinity bathroom scene, where Brittany points out that “Zombie camp was funner than [she] expected” and that it was actually kind of nice to have the football team and glee club together for once. This isn’t just Brittany making chitchat or trying to put a bright spin on an otherwise grim situation; rather, it’s Brittany testing the waters to see how Santana and Quinn might feel about potentially backing out of Cheerleading Nationals.
Note how heartened Brittany appears when Santana smiles in response to her statement about the how much fun they had at zombie camp. Note also that Brittany keeps her eyes locked on Santana’s face while Brittany continues to talk about glee club working with the football team.
She’s checking Santana’s reaction.
Well, frankly, because Brittany not only knows that her best hope at not dying is to duck out of the stunt altogether and skip out on Cheerleading Nationals, but also that she cannot successfully evade Sue on her own; she needs Santana and Quinn to do it with her, both so that they can shield Brittany from Sue’s inevitable retaliation attempts, and also so as to spare Santana and Quinn themselves from Sue punishing them “for Brittany’s sins,” which is undoubtedly what will happen if Brittany skips out of the stunt, leaving them behind.
When Sue emerges from her stall and hands the Unholy Trinity their glee club resignation forms, Brittany looks terrified again. Sue essentially forbids the Unholy Trinity from choosing New Directions over Cheerios before Brittany can even suggest that they do so, instead telling the girls that they must resign from the glee club immediately.
Sue also slips Brittany a note “handwritten and in crayon from the human cannon,” telling Brittany in a very condescending voice that the cannon misses her. The look on Brittany’s face while Sue talks to her is unmistakable: this isn’t a girl who thinks that an inanimate, armless unit of artillery doodled her a picture, asking why she doesn’t come around to visit it anymore; this is a girl who knows that everything’s coming down to her decision—a decision she doesn’t want to have to make, because, regardless of her choice, the whole situation will end in one big, messy conflict.
If you look carefully, you can also see a shadow of hurt pass over Brittany’s face when Sue hands her the note; Brittany hates it when Coach condescends to her like this, even though that’s the least of her worries right now.
Unfortunately for Brittany, just as Santana isn’t strong enough to stand up to Sue on Brittany’s behalf at this point, Brittany herself isn’t strong enough to quit the Cheerios without Quinn and Santana at her side.
Because, frankly, without them, Brittany has no protection from Sue; her only safety exists in Unholy Trinity solidarity. And Brittany fears conflict so much that she durst not risk making herself vulnerable by making a unilateral decision without Quinntana… hence why she signs the resignation forms when they do.
In this case, Quinn really does pilot the destiny of the Unholy Trinity; with Santana too scared to make decisions involving Brittany and Brittany too scared to make decisions that will lead her into conflict, Quinn’s personal decision to stay on the squad turns into a decision for the three of them. So because Quinn clings to her status above everything else, Brittana must helplessly cling to their statuses along with her, unable to act otherwise, due to their own proclivities.
Ever the master general—albeit an insane one—Sue knows that the Unholy Trinity’s strength comes from their unity. Without Quinn speaking for Brittany and Santana silently pleading with her not to go through with the stunt with worried, lovesick eyes, poor, simple Brittany will be more open to persuasion… or so Sue Sylvester thinks.
Sue summons Brittany to her office alone. “I don’t want to die,” Brittany pouts, but Sue ignores her, less concerned with Brittany’s worry than with the success of her routine. Unimpressed with Brittany’s pathos, Sue launches into a ridiculously condescending rant about how the human cannon has a wife with fibromyalgia and two hungry baby cannons with another one on the way depending on it to provide for them.
The whole time Sue talks, Brittany looks at the ground, stony faced. At the height of her condescension, Sue smirks, ”And if you refuse to sign this [consent form], well, those little baby cannons might just go hungry,” to which Brittany responds, “Baby cannons?” in a small voice—not because she believes Sue’s story, but because she cannot believe how low Sue will stoop to get her way.
In that moment, Brittany has no other recourse; she must either outright refuse Sue, risking her wrath, or she must submit to Sue’s will. And if you watch Brittany’s face, you’ll see something break. Sue obviously thinks Brittany’s safety doesn’t matter, and even Quinn, who has been Brittany’s champion throughout this ordeal, doesn’t stick up for her in the end; she chooses social status and popularity over Brittany instead—a choice with which Brittany is already all too familiar.
So when Brittany accepts the pen Sue offers her and asks “How many M’s in the letter R?,” it doesn’t represent Brittany stupidly falling for Sue’s bait; rather, it represents Brittany running out of options and making a last ditch effort to dissuade Sue from endangering her. With no one left to stand up for her and Brittany unable to defend her own cause, she crumples.
Of course, luckily for Brittany, everything works out in the end: RIB allow Finn to play the hero, presenting the Unholy Trinity with the same solution to their problem that they’ve had staring them in the face all along. The girls accept his invitation to quit the Cheerios, sticking it to Sue as they do so. As a parting shot, Brittany tells Sue that it “Sucks for [her],” seeming particularly self-satisfied as she does so.
In the end, Sue doesn’t fire Brittany out of the cannon after all.
So remember a long while back when I claimed that all this Brittany-Sue interaction proved something about Brittany’s overall behavior patterns?
Well, it proves this: namely, that much as Santana will always choose to have people think she is a bitch rather than expose her true feelings, Brittany will always choose to have people think she is stupid rather than incite a conflict, as well—even to the point where she risks more than just her reputation to do so.
And what’s more: Once Brittany finds herself in a situation where she can’t help but encounter conflict, Brittany resorts to “playing dumb” in order to lessen the blow.
Of course, the fact that Brittany uses her image as a “stupid” person to protect herself doesn’t stop Brittany from hoping that the people around her will see through her façade—i.e., that at some point, the people around her will realize that Brittany isn’t stupid, at which point she can stop embracing that stereotype.
So, as is the case with Santana, what we see with Brittany is someone who has picked her own poison, then.
Basically, it is easier for Brittany to avoid conflict by allowing people to think of her as stupid than for her to stir up conflict by insisting that she is smart and therefore culpable for her own actions. Accordingly, she broadcasts the “dumb blonde” thing until everyone accepts it.
And since people do continually both treat Brittany as though she is and call Brittany stupid at every turn? She essentially feels validated in pulling that ruse over on them (i.e., “Fine. If you’re going to treat me like I’m dumb no matter what I do, then I’m going to use it to my advantage to get away with as much as I can. Just don’t yell at me, okay?”), at least to a certain point in her development.
So, on the one hand, Brittany hates that people disrespect her mind, but, on the other hand, she practically encourages people to do just that.
Her behavior is irrational, a paradox, counterintuitive… and supremely human.
It’s a deeply ingrained impulse in her: to shield herself from scrutiny and conflict at all costs.
But all of that starts to change during the Back Six.
All of that changes when Brittany first stands up for Santana, fighting against her self-perpetuated stereotype, and than stands up for herself.
“You called me stupid and I really didn’t like that”: On Brittany Pierce and Breaking the Stereotype
Prior to 2x15, Brittany passively accepts it when the people around her insult her intelligence.
When Sue tells Brittany she has a “toddler fist-sized mind”? Brittany looks hurt, but doesn’t protest. Ditto for for when Kurt or Rachel talk down to Brittany as if she can’t understand basic English.
So the thing is that Brittany probably hates herself for doing so, but nevertheless “plays dumb” anyway, largely so as to avoid the full brunt of people’s anger at her and to afford herself social latitude to do as she likes.
If people are just going to think she’s stupid no matter what she does, she might as well use it to her advantage, yes? It doesn’t make a difference anyway, right?
Just as the student body at WMHS will always assume that Santana is a bitch who’s out for herself—as is the case even when she does something genuinely nice, like forming the Bully Whips and bringing Kurt back to McKinley—they will also always assume that Brittany is stupid, no matter how much she proves her intelligence to them otherwise—as is the case when Brittany almost singlehandedly pushes the Brainiacs to victory on the Smarty Pants show and yet Mr. Schue has a hard time believing that she was even on the team in the first place.
That being the case, Brittany will often say “precious” things in confrontational situations in order to paint herself as harmless, unwitting, and, consequently, inculpable. After all, who could blame poor, simple Brittany when she knows not what she says? If people are going to deride her intelligence no matter what, then Brittany might as well get something out of it.
Like Santana, then, Brittany finds herself stuck in a cycle, wherein she contributes to her own stereotype while nevertheless hating the stereotype itself, in some cases even going so far as to play up the fact that her peers think she’s stupid in order to use their perception to further her own means.
Case in point?
During 2x13, Brittany foils Rachel Berry’s aspirations for popularity while conning Rachel out of her allowance money, for the most part without Rachel suspecting Brittany’s machinations at all. Brittany succeeds in duping Rachel largely because Rachel doesn’t believe simple Brittany capable of complex Machiavellian plots—a prejudice of which Brittany herself seems well-aware and which Brittany uses to her own advantage (see here).
Similarly, during 2x19, Brittany tries to convince Artie that she essentially blundered into cheating on him with Santana during the Blurt Locker scene, suggesting that she didn’t understand the definition of “cheating” well enough to avoid doing it.
“Of course, I am of the school of thought that believes that Brittany knew very well that she was cheating on Artie. At the same time, I am sure that Santana made these excuses up… for her and Brittany’s convenience.
Brittany had every reason to believe that these (frankly callous) excuses would have defused the situation—because they make her sound naive and not smart enough to know the difference. That’s how Artie sees her, so if she plays dumb, he’ll just think she was too naïve to know that having sex with Santana is actually cheating, and he’ll back off and chalk it up to her just being dumb.
However, instead of accepting the ‘Oh Brittany, you were too naïve to know that this is cheating, you need to realize that this is cheating, so you must stop it and don’t do it again’ line that Brittany expects him to take, Artie actually presses on—he expresses disappointment that Brittany could actually be so dumb as to believe Santana’s excuses.
Hence the ‘Why are you so stupid?’ line. That question implies ‘You should have been smart enough to know that this is cheating and that Santana is conning you, and I can’t believe you weren’t.’
The one time Artie actually expects Brittany to know more than he usually gives her credit for—that’s when everything falls apart for them. Because their working dynamic was disrupted.”
Consequently, Brittany comes away from the Blurt Locker feeling all the sting of Artie’s insult without actually reaping any of the usual benefits of perpetuating her own stereotype.
And after that? Brittany never willingly perpetuates her “stupid” stereotype again, neither does she tolerate it when her peers and teachers try to impose it on her.
As Brittanalysts, we must then ask ourselves wherein lies this change? What gives Brittany the strength to break out of the vicious cycle of broadcasting a self-image she hates in accordance to the expectations of her peers?
While we could perhaps argue that the Blurt Locker conversation in itself would be enough to jog Brittany out of her cycle of self-deprecation, I would actually point to some events just prior to the Blurt Locker as the thing that really gives Brittany the strength to finally break free from her “stupid” label: namely, the Dirt Locker scene of 2x16 and the Shirt Locker conversation of 2x18, one episode previous to the Blurt Locker.
Looking to the Dirt Locker scene, we find the first instance of Brittany actively asserting herself on the show. Of course, I refer to the moment in which Sue appears behind Brittana, calling them “Tweedle Dumb” and “Tweedle Fake-Boobs,” to which insults Brittany responds, “You know, you can’t talk to us like that; you’re not our cheer coach anymore.”
This instance of Brittany rejecting her label is, of course, significant in terms of her development, seeing as Brittany has never, to our knowledge, done such a thing to date. Nevertheless, as I argue elsewhere, the Dirt Locker represents only the first baby step on Brittany’s path to bucking her stereotype, insofar as “her indignation here stems from the fact that Sue insults Santana in addition to insulting Brittany, thereby prompting her instinct to protect Santana to kick in, which means that her defensive reaction does not represent true ‘attention to the self.’”
For the purposes of this discussion, then, the Dirt Locker is significant not so much because it represents Brittany standing up against her own stereotype, but because it represents her standing up against Santana’s.
… which brings us to the Shirt Locker scene of 2x18.
Of course, the Shirt Locker scene is significant on the Brittana timeline for a number of reasons, including the fact that it represents the first time we ever see Brittany stand up to Santana and go toe-to-toe with her when Santana tries to define the Brittana relationship in a way with which Brittany disagrees (S: “No! Because I said I love you… and you didn’t say you love me back” B: “I do love you! Clearly you don’t love you as much as I do or you would put this shirt on and you would dance with me”).
I would argue that it is also significant insofar as it represents a recent instance of Brittany coming up against Santana’s self-perpetuated “bitch” stereotype and realizing just how much it affects Brittana’s ability to be together going into the Blurt Locker in 2x19, one episode later.
The thing is that, during the Shirt Locker scene, Santana attempts to use her “bitch” label as a shield so that she doesn’t have to face up to the real source of her insecurities (i.e., her sexuality). Obviously, Brittany would prefer that Santana be honest with both herself and everyone about who she is, not only in the sense that Santana needs to put on her damn “Lebanese” shirt and dance with Brittany, but also in the sense that Santana needs to take off her “Bitch” shirt and stop hiding the fact that she’s actually a good person, despite what people think to the contrary, showing everyone the compassionate, fun-loving, and even sweet unguarded version of herself that Brittany knows and loves (“Why not? You’re like the most awesomest girl at this school. Why would you try to hide any of that?”).
The fact that Brittany seemingly perseverates on this idea of Santana embracing “all the awesomeness that [she is]” not only in 2x19, but also in 2x20 and 2x22, as well, suggests that it’s something that sticks with Brittany in the wake of the Shirt Locker scene—i.e., that it something she thinks about a lot.
Cut to the Blurt Locker scene, when Brittany comes up against Santana’s self-perpetuated stereotype again, this time from Artie’s lips instead of Santana’s. Though Artie doesn’t call Santana a “bitch” using that word in particular, he does imply that it is in Santana’s nature to knowingly do wrong and hurt the people around her (“… and Santana knows that. She’s taking advantage of it to break us up”), which speaks to the fact that most of Santana’s peers, with the exception of Brittany, misunderstand her basic character.
It is perhaps unsurprising, given how much that “bitch” stereotype plays into Brittana’s ability to be together—as long as Santana refuses to make herself vulnerable and be who she really is, she and Brittany can never officially be an out-and-proud couple together—and how much it hurts Brittany’s heart to know that Santana doesn’t believe in herself, that Brittany would leap to defend Santana against Artie’s accusations in this situation, and especially considering that, in this case, the negative effects of Santana’s stereotype go hand-in-hand with the negative effects of Brittany’s.
Basically, Artie thinks it’s stupid for Brittany to carry on a relationship with Santana because he doesn’t think Santana is the kind of person who deserves Brittany’s devotion or trust. And, of course, Artie probably isn’t the only person at WMHS who thinks that way; he’s just one representative of the many.
As Roch says: “Not that this is where Brittany’s priorities should be in the conversation (after all, she and Santana are in the wrong here, and poor Artie sounds like he’s about to cry), but Brittany’s first reaction is to protect Santana. Brittana goggles aside, it’s not surprising that she wants to defend Santana. She’s Santana’s only advocate and she’s probably tired of all the Santana hate when nobody else sees the good in Santana but her. Being a person’s only advocate, when it’s your lone opinion against many others, is exhausting. Plus, it starts to look bad on your intelligence and self respect when you stick up for somebody as widely hated and terrible as Santana Lopez. Does this make it right? No, but it’s not a shock that this is where her mind instinctively goes.”
Basically, I would argue that the Blurt Locker scene represents such a major turning point for Brittany in terms of self-image for the very reason that Brittany has the events of both the Dirt and Shirt Locker conversations and the “Born This Way” performance in the back of her mind during it.
It is at the exact moment when Artie invokes Santana’s bitchiness and Brittany’s stupidity that Brittany realizes that not only does Santana have to give up her stereotype shield before Brittana can be together, but that she herself must likewise give up her stereotype in order for them to be together, as well.
Accordingly, from 2x19 on, Brittany never looks back when it comes to embracing her cognitive awesomeness and defending her intellect to those who would disparage it (“… I’m not gonna go to prom with you. You called me stupid and I really didn’t like that. So, I’m sorry, but I’m gonna go to prom by myself and really work on me and dance with other people’s dates”), to the point where, at the end of the season, Santana even recognizes Brittany’s efforts to change the way people perceive her: “When did you get so smart?”
And, thankfully, Brittany isn’t the only one who makes progress during the Back Six; with Brittany’s encouragement guiding her at every turn, Santana starts to slowly shed her bitch armor, particularly between 2x20 and 2x21. During this time, we see Santana defend and protect her glee club teammates to the world instead of tearing them down from within, as per her efforts with the Bully Whips; admit to her own interests and passions, as per when she auditions for a solo at Nationals; and show her softer, kinder, more nurturing side, as per her frankly tender interactions with Quinn in the hotel room in “New York.”
Just as Brittany’s turning point seems to be the Dirt, Shirt, and Blurt Locker scenes in combination, Santana’s turning point seems to be the choir room scene in “Prom Queen,” as it is only then when Santana realizes that she has to make a choice to either “embrace all the awesomeness that [she is],” as Brittany advocates, or forever continue to put people off by promoting a self-stereotype that she herself actually hates. And since Brittany believes in Santana and Brittany is the smartest person Santana knows, well… “anything is possible,” really.
As I’ve said elsewhere, we oughtn’t underestimate the importance of the Back Six in terms of Brittana’s development, because those episodes represent the first time when both Santana and Brittany start to reject their own self-perpetuated stereotypes.
For her part, Santana starts behaving altruistically, sticking her neck out for the glee club and showing some of her “awesomeness” to her peers, as per when she auditions for the solo at Nationals, and actually participating in bonding experiences with her teammates, as per the Unholy Trinity scene of 2x22.
While her teammates still largely perceive Santana as a bitch, she’s started to make her first real attempts at breaking out of the cycle of self-perpetuating that stereotype, and, moreover, started to believe what Brittany keeps telling her about herself: namely, that she is awesome, she has reason to believe in the person who she really is, and that people will eventually accept her if she drops her guard and allows them to truly get to know her.
Ditto for Brittany.
Whereas in the past, Brittany allowed people to define her in terms of the physical—as a dancer, as cannon fodder, as a warm body, as just another member on the glee club roster—and disparage her intelligence as it suited her conflict averse tendencies to do so, throughout the Back Six, Brittany begins to not only develop herself on a mental level, but to promote an image of herself as a thinking being, participating in academic decathlon, the school newspaper, and her own self-produced internet talk show.
And, even beyond that, Brittany flat-out rejects her old label of “stupid,” telling Artie that she really “didn’t like it when [he] called [her that]” and that, for the time being, she’s just going to “work on [herself].”
Of course, it is only fitting that, when it comes to Brittana, Brittany and Santana have always been the ones who see through each other’s façades and know the true content of one another’s characters.
Brittany has always known that Santana is not only capable of love, but lovable; that Santana is more than just some petty bitch; that Santana isn’t unfeeling, but rather that Santana feels deeply; that Santana is a good person.
Santana has always known that Brittany has a unique wit and a brilliant, if absurdist, sense of humor; that Brittany is wise, particularly when it comes to human relationships; that Brittany loves learning and has a great capacity to do so; that Brittany isn’t stupid; that Brittany is “so smart.”
It’s just another aspect of the perfect rightness of them—that Brittany and Santana believe in each other enough to help one another embrace the best and truest parts of themselves.
Naturally, Santana will always be a little bit rough around the edges—as we see during “Funeral,” when even her compliment to Kurt, Rachel, and Mercedes comes tinged with her characteristic Santana sauce—because that’s what makes her, well, Santana. Likewise, Brittany will always be quirky, queer, and, well, decidedly Brittany.
Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I don’t think they would either.
That being said, when Season Three starts in a few weeks, I truly do look forward to seeing a Brittana more at ease with their true selves. I think we’ve already seen hints of that in the promo clips we saw last week, with our girls sitting at the glee club lunch table, eating with their friends, rather than with their Cheerios teammates or other more popular acquaintances. Senior year should really be about coming into who one is—in a sense, about growing up and being oneself.
This is the year that Brittana will come out, not just in terms of sexuality, but in terms of finally stepping out from behind their stereotypes. And when they do? There will be nothing to stop them from embracing all of the awesomeness that they are.
… which means that Brittana is totally on.
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