Most of us grew up with Disney movies involving princesses, wicked witches and singing rodents. And most of us take issue with what passive little ninnies those princesses tended to be. The same goes for action movies wherein the hero proves his manliness by rescuing some chick. Whether the story is for a girl or a boy, the girl is the one who needs rescuing.
Boring, but still too prevalent. I know too many who wouldn’t think of doing things alone that men do all the time: travel, seeking a new job or promotion, confronting someone, going someplace new. I personally do not think we’re there yet. We get there, not by ignoring those old fairy tales, but by rewriting them.
Helpless at the beginning of the story, Giselle in Disney’s Enchanted winds up climbing a tower to kill the wicked witch-turned-dragon. Appreciate it for the fact that your nieces and daughters can grow up with more powerful archetypes, or appreciate it for the dancing cockroaches. I won’t judge either way.
Fairy tales are usually wrong about how to deal with the villain. We don’t want to sit weeping on the staircase waiting for a fairy godmother or prince to rescue us. But they were right that villains exist and may even be necessary. While they’re scary and frustrating and wear intimidating eye makeup, they give us the opportunity to become more awesome. Every day we get to build onto a new history–one that is at best fifty to ninety years old depending on when you start counting–where the princess pushes up her sleeves and kicks her villain in the face.
I’m not repeating the classic feminist chant that men are the villains. This magazine is about sexuality; we heart men as a species. I’m talking about your villain. It may be a man, it may be a woman, it may be an entire country. Here’s some examples.
The Wicked Witch
I once worked for a liberal, feminist woman who was all about sisterly bonding, managing an all-woman office and fond of taking us to lunches and dinners. She was also a bitch, giving inconsistent direction and fond of fabricating past crimes to justify her rudeness. It doesn’t matter where a woman stands on the traditionalist/feminist spectrum, or her politics, or her age. She either treats her female counterparts with respect and friendliness or she doesn’t.
Your witch may be a boss, a mother-in-law, even a neighbor. Any woman in a positive of authority over you who does her best to abuse it. I only have four things to say about her:
1. Don’t let her do it.
2. Get allies by calmly and firmly documenting the ways you are in the right and she is not. Do not whine, do not squirm, do not cry, it will only make her look stronger.
3. Do your best to defeat her–the empowerment you’ll gain is worth the leg, job or sleep you may lose during the battle.
3. If you can’t (metaphorically) slay her, it is okay to move on. Preferably once you’ve gained the necessary work experience or readied your house for the market. Living well can be the best revenge.
Gaston, aka the Bad Prince
I’ve never met a woman who didn’t have a lover-villain personality type that she was repeatedly drawn to. They come in a variety of flavors to suit your needs. The self-pitying, perpetually unemployed artist. The arrogant genius who offends friends and family with his “biting honesty.” The one who ignores you. The one who lies to you. The one who oh-so-subtly makes you feel that all your endeavors are just too cute to take seriously.
Noticing a pattern is the first step to recovery. . . and it’s a long journey. I have a weakness for the “unavailable guy,” whether he lives in another state, is married, is in and out of a hot/cold relationship with someone else, has wildly different values. My dad traveled a lot when I was growing up, so I tend to admire men who appreciate me but don’t have much time to spend with me.
Is that any way for a sexy goddess of life and love to behave? No, of course not. But I’m telling you this for that very reason. I have a villain. We all do. There’s no escaping it. No one is born impervious to Gaston. The story, the transition from princess to queen, is in what you do about it. My only piece of advice: if he’s really a bad prince, staying with him because you love him will not make you feel good about yourself. Ever.
The Evil Stepmother
If you have an actual mean stepmother, I am deeply sorry. For most of us, though, this archetype lives inside our heads. “You’re not thin enough. You suck at ironing. Your coworkers think you’re a moron. He wants you to be a shrieking orgasmatron with a symmetrical clit. Your womb is drying up.”
Sometimes she isn’t even remarking on things unique to the female sex, she’s just being a bitch in general: “Why did you wear this shirt? Why can’t you afford a better car? Why haven’t you been promoted yet?”
I once had a boyfriend who confessed he had a confidence-destroying voice in his head that he had learned to (mentally) repeat in a whiny voice. Recognizing and then mocking his evil stepfather helped him learn to shush this voice.
Shushing him or her is absolutely necessary to build healthy self-esteem and peace of mind. But it’s all about how you shush her. Not by eating another muffin, or conversely, by running on the treadmill two hours a day. Instead, try to decide how right she is. So you don’t iron, fuck it, get it dry cleaned. Feeling inadequate at work, on the other hand, may be worth addressing. What would help–affirmations? Brushing up your job skills? Confronting a “dumb blond” joke going around the office?
Figure out what it would take, not to shut up the stepmother’s voice inside your head, but the bits you happen to agree with. Ignoring her completely doesn’t help, and usually requires drugs, carbs, booze or bad TV. Listening too sincerely to that voice is the sort of thing that turns someone into an anorexic. But if you’re big enough to listen, consider, chuck out two thirds of it and keep the rest–you’ll create a powerful relationship with your inner demons.
Here’s a few entertaining film antidotes to passive-princess modes of thinking.
Snow White and the Huntsman