petition for the next companion to not be a white girl in her 20s who crushes on the Doctor
petition for the next companion to be a grumpy chinese-american grandma who complains about plot-holes and knits the doctor horrific time-travel-themed sweaters to wear when she thinks it’s cold out (most of the time)
reblogging because this is the best idea ever
you know you’re getting old when you watch the little mermaid and when ariel says “i’m 16 years old. i’m not a child anymore.” and you’re just sat there like yes you fucking are young lady stop it
The day you start agreeing with the parents in kids movies is the day it’s all over.
we finish each other’s s
pace: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
I’ve seen some wonderful and educational posts about the queer coding of villains in Disney movies, but for the most part, they focus on the male villains, such as Scar, Jafar, Professor Ratigan, and numerous others. I have yet to see anything said about the equally pervasive queer coding of female villains, and how that serves to reinforce the idea that, in short, only bad women express gender and sexual identities that aren’t primarily geared towards securing a single man and bearing his children. There’s some easily recognizable queer coding in the way a villainess will get up in a Disney heroine’s face, their body language – but since film has a long established history of treating female characters not as acting on their own sexuality, but as objects for a male character’s sexuality to be acted upon, subtler indications can be harder to spot.
Overwhelmingly, the Disney movies with female protagonists are princess movies, and female antagonists are obstacles to their romances. A very small number of Disney films do not have a primary male protagonist, or have one who is a blood relative of the female primary protagonist, such as Brave, where Merida is the protagonist, her parents are the deuteragonists, and the antagonist is a bear. But for the most part, female joint or secondary protagonists in Disney films are literally designed for the male protagonist, and female primary protagonists exist to begin a romantic relationship, or at least have it as one of their primary goals. While this has been changing in recent years, it’s still highly pervasive, as is the portrayal of female characters who aren’t focused on a monogamous heterosexual romance as villains.
The problem, of course, is that Disney continues, consciously or subconsciously, to promote the idea that only a “good” girl can be a heroine – a girl who is largely inexperienced, ignorant of her own sexuality or romantic preference, and of course young and conventionally attractive. Women with gender or sexual expression that deviates from the accepted norm (basically, anything that does not lead to a monogamous heterosexual marriage and devoted motherhood,) are cast as villainesses, and often killed off. If a female character takes charge of her own sexuality and sensuality no matter whether that is a choice to have sex or not to have sex, she is overwhelmingly cast as the villain. When that woman is portrayed as knowledgeable about the larger world or shows evidence of being somewhat intellectual, it’s almost a guarantee that she will be cast as wicked, inhuman, and in severe cases deserving of being directly killed off by the supposed heroes.
Disney villainesses are almost universally portrayed as antitheses to the expected model of female sexuality and gender identity. They are unmarried or bad wives, childless or bad mothers, they are shamed for wishing to have greater control of their bodies (whether that be via their appearance or through some symbolic stand-in) and they are drawn in ways that either exaggerate their bodies or cast them in a forbidding and austere light. They are either subtextually implied to be promiscuous (and therefore bad) or prudish (and therefore bad.) Sometimes it’s both - the first Disney Villainesses are both cast as promiscuous (focusing on their looks, “tricking” the heroines’ father into marriage,) and prudish (repressing the heroine’s romantic possibilities, dressing severely, not re-marrying after the apparent death of the heroine’s father.) Ultimately, the key implication is that these women’s identities are not controlled by a man, and in Classic Disney movies, this is always seen as a bad thing.
Just get to the Villainesses already!
Example 1: The Wicked Queen – Snow White (1937)
What you already know about her: She’s vain, she talks to her mirror, she wants Snow White dead.
What you probably didn’t realize: She doesn’t have a proper name, yet she’s a student of multiple disciplines (Astronomy, Black Arts, Alchemy, Black magic, Disguise, Sorcery, and Poisons) and she’s good at the two we see her perform. (Disguising herself and creating a Poison.) Since we never see her husband the King, it’s implied that either he’s dead or he has no knowledge of her making Snow White scrub the whole castle, so she’s probably running the kingdom all on her lonesome. That would explain why her books are covered in cobwebs.
Honestly, I don’t understand why she doesn’t get on with that instead of getting hung up over how pretty her fourteen year old stepdaughter is. It would make more sense for her to stress that Snow is getting older: she could inherit soon, or by medieval standards she could get married and her husband could challenge the Queen and inherit. In that case, worrying about Snow’s beauty is a little counterproductive, because she could be potato ugly and men would still want to marry her for the position of King. I suppose the queen is a little less than rational.
How she is portrayed: She is or was married to Snow White’s presumably sympathetic father, but he doesn’t appear in the movie, so she functions as a single woman. She is presented as the archetype of anti-motherliness, in that she makes no bones about wanting her young stepdaughter dead. Her quest to control her appearance is supposed to be understood as inherently selfish even when you leave out the fact that she wants Snow dead out of jealousy, and her intelligence is only displayed in a villainous light as she schemes to create a poison apple.
She is almost always shown from afar, or gazing into her mirror, isolated and covered from head to toe in a dark, shapeless garment with an enormous cloak. Her clothing and design serves to isolate her, to show that she is not approachable, and to convey that her quest for physical beauty is selfish because she hides away all but her face, which is heavily covered in makeup. For a woman in her presumably thirties, she’s got a bit of a severe face, but she doesn’t even approach the levels of caricatured age and ugliness in later villainesses. Of course, covering up her entire body provides a contrast to Snow, who wears a modest dress that nonetheless shows her neck, hair, and arms. Unlike Snow’s youth and beauty, the Queen’s beauty is not for other people (presumably male), but for herself, and it is therefore portrayed as wrong.
Her surroundings only reinforce this: once Snow leaves, the castle seems to be empty, neglected, and barren. This, and the lack of any children in the castle besides Snow, seems to imply that either the King did not live long enough to conceive an alternative heir with the Wicked Queen, or that she is infertile, which her obsession with appearing physically beautiful, and physically young, seems to support. Historically speaking, in a supposedly medieval kingdom, it is unlikely that a queen would have had the opportunity to chose not to reproduce, nor would that have been a good political move, especially if there was no direct male heir to the throne. Although the emptiness and the amount of cobwebs in the castle seem to want to indicate that she is as bad a queen as she is a mother, historically any childless queen reigning alone as the regent of a stepchild – a stepdaughter, no less – must have had ovaries of steel. If the queen is infertile, it also provides her a good motivation for not having pushed Snow White down a well, or poisoned her oatmeal, before: then there would be no heir, and the country would probably descend into civil war. Throwing her out into the forest and having her killed is not going to make the situation any better, even if it does prevent that one prince who keeps hanging around from trying to marry her and claim the throne.
Needless to say, infertility is a pretty common way of demonizing a female character, and it carries quite a social stigma even today. The Wicked Queen, though a simplistic character compared to some others I will examine, forms a template for later Disney Villainesses: they are older, typically slender and not sexually desirable, somewhat intellectual, their sexuality is portrayed as either nonexistent or deeply repulsive, and their displays of bodily autonomy are couched in terms of selfishness and vanity even before they go about violating other people’s rights.
Example 2: Lady Tremaine (The Stepmother) – Cinderella (1950)
What you already know: She’s mean and makes Cinderella do all the chores while she spoils her own daughters rotten and allows them to bully her.
What you probably don’t know: Despite the incomprehensible and vaguely Edwardian costuming, Cinderella is supposed to be set in the late 1700’s or early to mid 1800’s, when young ladies of quality getting married off to a suitable man was pretty much the biggest stinking deal that courtship and marriage have ever been. This makes the Stepmother denying Cinderella a chance to go to the ball even crueler, because she will have precious few other chances to meet eligible men and likely cannot inherit any money from her deceased mother (or her presumably deceased father) if she remains unmarried.
At first glance, the Stepmother, who also has no proper name, just “Lady Tremaine,” which could be from her first marriage or from Cinderella’s father, is a less murderous, less intellectual knockoff of the Wicked Queen. However, her motivations appear to be somewhat different, as is her presentation, and that of her daughters, Anastasia and Drizella.
Like the queen, she is portrayed in dark colors, in an outfit that goes up to her chin and down to her wrists, concealing her body and de-emphasizing her form, and is demonstrably aged with a sharp and severe face. She wears vividly visible makeup, and so do her daughters, in contrast to Cinderella’s “natural” beauty. The dark purple Edwardian monobossom getup that Lady Tremaine wears, never particularly flattering on anyone, distorts her body, especially when compared to the costuming choice for Cinderella, whose ballgown emphasizes her breasts and hips, showing skin at her arms and shoulders, and is a very light blue with white trim, two colors that have traditionally been symbolic of virginity. Although Cinderella’s other dress is drab, it manages to incorporate light blue in the sleeves, and also display her figure. (I have no idea why she isn’t corseted, or why there’s such huge variety in the costuming choices, but the point remains that the styles chosen were chosen deliberately.) The stepsisters are shown in bright and somewhat clashing colors, with costumes chosen to present them as unattractive to a modern eye, with exaggerated bustles that you could fit a pony under (one wonders if they are secretly centauresses) corsets that flatten their chests, and puff sleeves like inflatable water wings.
Unlike their mother, Anastasia and Drizella’s costumes are shown as more sexual than Cinderella’s. Aside from the bright colors, they wear headpieces reminiscent of a showgirl’s plume, and have completely bare arms at the ball, where Cinderella dons long white opera gloves. (Interestingly, the gloves were practically mandatory during the seventeen and eighteen hundreds making the Tremaine sisters shockingly underdressed, and they became again due to the influence of Marilyn Monroe and other actresses in the late 1940’s, when Cinderella was in development.) Their bodices are also cut much lower than Cinderella’s, and their mannerisms are exaggerated. Their bodies are intended to be a source of ridicule in every way.
Lady Tremaine is demonstrably a bad mother to Cinderella, belittling her and requiring her to do hard physical labor rather than enjoying her place in society just as the Wicked Queen did to Snow White. (Anyone who thinks scrubbing the floors to shining splendor is light work has clearly never deep cleaned for an open house, certainly never attempted it without modern cleaning supplies, and certainly doesn’t realize the damage that old fashioned lye soap can do to your hands.) She is also a terrible mother to her two daughters, who are are ill-mannered, spoiled, and physically and verbally abusive. Leaving aside the damage they seemingly have done to Cinderella, it’s hard to imagine them making good matches with their screeching and impatient ways. Cinderella’s comportment, much more socially acceptable in a young lady of the time, must be due to the education she received from her own mother.
Like the Wicked Queen, Lady Tremaine is shown as being the final authority in the household, her current husband presumably dead or so ignorant of everything that he might as well not exist. Here, there is no meta-analysis evidence to contradict the clearly shown signs that she isn’t fit to hold that authority. It is my speculation that she married Cinderella’s father for money or position after she was widowed, and that Cinderella may be due some inheritance from her deceased mother, or possibly her father if he is also deceased, and that this is the motivation for Lady Tremaine’s preventing Cinderella from leaving the house or taking her place in society – it is entirely possible that the lavish lifestyle that Lady Tremaine and her daughters lead would be impossible if Cinderella, or her future husband, were to be in control of her own income.
3. Maleficent: Sleeping Beauty (1959)
What you already know: refusing to invite a fairy to your baby’s christening is serious business. It will lead to sleeping like the dead, and epic transformations into dragons.
What you don’t know: Practically anything about Maleficent or her motivations. Unlike the Wicked Queen and Lady Tremaine, there’s no easily explicable reason for her to even care what happens to Aurora, other than the pleasure that she seems to get from watching all the plebs panic at her magical might. She makes an oddly compelling villain, and her character design will be a staple of later Disney Villainesses, a handy shorthand for the wicked, unloveable woman who delights in her own power over others. As Disney character designs became more stylized and their movements more flamboyant and dramatic, she also incorporated some of the body language that Disney was using to queer code their male villains
(Sorry, she’s just kind of badass.)
Note the wrists, the sidelong eyes, and the way she holds her fingers separated.
Maleficent is clearly modeled on the Wicked Queen, but greatly exaggerated. Her costume is, again, black and purple, covering her from jaw to wrist and billowing out towards the floor, with an enormous cape. I’ve never been able to tell if her horns are a headpiece or if they’re natural, but either way, she doesn’t have visible hair. She’s slender, decked out in cakes of makeup and some serious nails, and like the Wicked Queen, she’s a powerful agent of spells and trickery.
Maleficent’s costume is notable in this lineup because it doesn’t just conceal her body, implying that she is not sexually available to anyone, it practically obliterates her gender. Without the nails and makeup, there would be no way for audiences to tell that the fairy underneath was female until the voice actress first spoke. (And hell, I’m just assuming here. For all we know, Maleficent could be any gender whatsoever and pissed off that the other fairies and Aurora’s parents are heaping society’s toxic gender role expectations on Aurora and arranging for her to marry some prince while she’s still in the damn cradle. Not that cursing the baby helps in that situation…) Since Maleficent later turns into a dragon, I’m not even sure that fairies have the same ideas of gender or even physical form that humans do. Or maybe Maleficent is that badass at sorcery. I’m going to default to “she,” though, as I am specifically talking about the coding of villainesses as deviant from accepted female sexuality working out differently than queer coding does for male characters.
Like the Wicked Queen, Maleficent rules some sort of shadowy (and flamboyantly lit) domain, full of inhuman servants, and she makes use of it, sending her servants out to look for Aurora after the good faries – traditionally feminine presented Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, in their little generic dresses and veiled hats – have hidden her away and are busy raising her as their own. She’s put into sharp contrast with the trio of domestic little maiden aunts intent on raising Aurora, since her intentions from the get go are infanticide. In the context of the story, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather seem to be allowed to wield their powers and exist without reference to males – and remain postitive characters – only because they are interdependent on each other and engaged in the feminine duty of raising a child, while Maleficent’s childless, manless independence is demonized.
Incidentally, Aurora is the first Disney princess with a named, living mother who appears on screen, not that Queen Leah has a very vital role in the story. (Don’t get used to that, by the way - the only other one out of the original eight whose mother is in the picture is Mulan, and she is neither royal nor marries royalty.) All the “good” mothers are depicted as traditionally feminine, domestic, and reactive characters rather than agents of their own desires. Maleficent is portrayed as the antithesis of their femininity, as a gender void, and her very lack of an implied or even guessable sexuality is perceived as monstrous.
The cinematography of Maleficent’s defeat, being violently brought down by the love interest of the princess protagonist, rather than falling off a cliff in a lightning storm like the Wicked Queen, or being left behind and forgotten like Lady Tremaine, is subtextually sexual. Maleficent is pierced by a phallic object (Phillip’s sword) which has been blessed by one of the heroine’s traditionally feminine maternal guardians, at which point she falls to her doom. Name one other Disney Vilainess who is destroyed with such extreme prejudice.
Maleficent’s skinny, knobby cheekboned design can be seen reflected in later Disney villainesses, such as Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians, 1961) and Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove, 2000). Cruella retains her infanticidal tendencies, wanting to turn puppies into coats, and Yzma follows the previous mold of being a bad mother figure, in her case by spoiling Kuzco to the point where his kingly administrative duties are unheard of to him, and then plotting to kill him off when she thinks she doesn’t need him anymore. Yet Yzma is afforded a relatively clean and dignified death by her own pride and clumsiness (falling off a building, how else?) like her male counterparts. Cruella de Vil crashes her own car into a ditch, but aside from the resulting humiliation at being outwitted by a pair of dogs, she escapes entirely unscathed. (Keep in mind that she intended to kill a hundred and one puppies just to make a coat: Maleficent’s violent demise is not necessarily a response to how deep on the sliding scale of Disney evil her plan was.)
Example 4: Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989)
Speaking of that other villainess of blatantly deviant sexuality that the hero kills outright…
What you know: She’s fat, has a disturbing mole that tends to wander to different positions as she contorts her face, and collects people’s souls and turns them into weeds in her garden.
What you don’t know: Ursula’s character design is based on a drag performer, Divine. Like our old friend the Wicked Queen, she plans ahead. She is the first Disney sorceress villain whose spells are automatically broken when she dies: Snow White and Aurora’s sleep remained undisturbed at the deaths of the Wicked Queen and Maleficent, respectively.
Look, you guys know the color scheme by now. Villainesses are purple, black, and grey, with heavy makeup and weird hair, and made as unattractive as possible. Ursula is different because her outfit is cut to show skin. It’s also skin tight – as much as the black top thing looks like its part of her body, it can’t be. It exists to cover her great big boobs. Her human form wears far more revealing outfits than Ariel’s human outfits – low cut, often without sleeves or even straps, including one with a lace up front that indicates cleavage without actually showing cleavage. (Ariel also finds herself wearing very little as a mermaid and immediately post transition, but I think that may tie into the surprise theme of the movie. Ariel’s body design and movements, however, are less exaggerated.) Ursula’s body language – sorry, I should say “body language” is sexualized as well as exaggerated. Her trade is made explicit in her main villain song – she makes merfolk more attractive to each other so that they can hook up, and if they don’t pay her what she demands for it, she takes their souls.
I’m tempted to say that this portrayal is the kind of thing that fuels mass hysteria about the “dangers” of people with queer identities. Remember, if a fat lady wearing a lot of makeup who dances suggestively and kind of looks like a man offers you a deal, she’s only going to steal your voice, destroy your perfect straight relationship, extract your soul, and take your father’s kingdom. Possibly while creating a category five hurricane that will wash your lover’s kingdom into the sea.
Actually, I think it’s deeper than that.
Ursula obliquely represents a way for female characters to obtain agency in their own expression of sexuality or gender – through bartering with another female and selling their souls away. It’s a rare movie, Disney or otherwise, that manages to state that the heroine’s proactive methods of finding her lover, altering her body, and putting herself out there for romance are dangerous and wrong, paint her as naieve and otherwise the picture of prized feminine qualities, and both make nothing that happens her fault and the fault of the monstrous, sexually liberated female. Add to that the fact that Ariel’s voice is the price of her body of choice, and her new ability to pursue a man, rendering her incapable of communication for much of the movie, and you get a message that, perhaps coincidentally, comes out very strongly against the free expression of female sexuality. For the Little Mermaid, Disney left its theme of femininity unsoftened by sexuality or motherhood behind, having reached its pinnacle in Maleficent, and went with a new angle on dangerous femininity, ditching motherhood altogether for the time being. Possibly this was due to societal changes (thirty years passed between Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, as opposed to the thirty two years between Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Sleeping Beauty.) Perhaps Disney, having produced Cruella de Ville of 101 Dalmatians two years after Maleficent, felt they’d played the character type right down into the ground. (It’s equally possible that the monstrous Madam Mim of The Sword in the Stone, more of a comedic antagonist than anything else, may have been an inspiration for Ursula.)
I think it’s no coincidence that the villainess lacking in acceptable feminine qualities and observable sexuality (Maleficent), and the villainess whose body is grotesquely sexualized and whose sexuality is implied to be bold, voracious and unrestrained (Ursula) are both cast as legitimate threats to the male heroes of the story and then killed violently by them with a phallic object. In comparison, the blatantly queer-coded Professor Ratigan of The Great Mouse Detective (1986), gets an easy death, falling to oblivion – as a result of his own pride when the heroes attempt to save him from falling and take him into custody. The next villain of a princess movie, Gaston, notable among Disney villains for the implied threat that his hypermasculinity poses to Belle, also gets to fall neatly off a building after rejecting mercy. Jafar, who can easily be seen as a male counterpart to all the scheming sorceresses we’ve been analyzing, and who can be argued subverts a masculine gender role by appropriating some of their tropes, doesn’t even die: he’s turned into a genie and locked away. There won’t be another vilainess in a princess movie until Tangled in 2010 – and she reverts back to the Wicked Queen style of death, tipped over a precipice by an animal companion after she has been reduced to a withered crone. The only other animated villain whose death is even partially at the hands of the hero is Scar, who is thrown off Pride Rock by Simba and then torn apart by his own Hyena henchmen.
Maleficent and Ursula are treated with more violence within the narrative, at the hands of the heroes, than nearly any comparable animated villain, regardless of gender, the release date of the movie, actual level of threat to the protagonists, relative degree of human characteristics, or movie release date. Their deaths are considered fully justified in the narrative, though other Disney films go out of the way to either kill their dangerous antagonists off without getting the protagonists’ hands dirty (there’s something more palatable to the general public about them experiencing dramatic meltdowns at the top of towers, or being pushed to their death by vengeful or protective animal companions,) or to imprison the antagonist without killing them. Maleficent and Ursula both end the movie by turning into something immense, monstrous, and grotesque – almost as if they’re stripping away the illusion of their humanity (mer-maidity?) and revealing the monster within, which must of course be destroyed forthwith for the good of general society. The two transformation sequences are shockingly similar in tone and cinematography, despite thirty years of art and story development.
Frankly, I find that pretty disturbing. More disturbing than Ursula’s wandering mole, at the very least.
no one has a crush on me. i am too strong to be crushed
Somewhere Only We Know - Keane