We look at female cartoon villains and we see what’s forbidden: ferocity. Never laugh with your head thrown back. Never apply your eyeshadow as a cut-crease. Never draw in your brows or dye your hair. Don’t wear nice clothes (unless they’ve been sewn for you by people or animals who love you, or delivered to you by magic). Don’t look in mirrors. Don’t want things. Don’t get old or fat or tall. Don’t make demands. Hope, maybe, but never expect. No, not even if you’ve dedicated your life to a goal—even then, don’t you dare expect. Work hard, but don’t grind for years and years building an empire because if you do, then you’ll get taken down and the audience will cheer at your suffering. Don’t carve your face into a mountainside, because that territory is reserved and your name is not on the list.
We’re sold on the female protagonists, and I do mean sold. We admire their spunk and their tenacity, because it’s accessible—it’s rebellion in the form of wanting. It’s gazing at the stars at night after spending all day scrubbing the floors, and believing that wishing will be enough. But once they graduate to getting what they want? Once they’ve made real sacrifices in pursuit of their dreams? Once they’ve made it, or even once they’re almost there?
That’s when they become dangerous.
Sarah Gailey on villainesses.
Absolutely go read the whole essay because it is awesome.
There’s probably also something in here about how much the aesthetic of female Disney villains in particular is influenced by drag fashion. Ursula is the most obvious–she’s literally based off Divine–but Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, and Yzma all have that similar bright-lipped-knife-cheeked-mountain-brow look. Something something transgressive femininity something something? I’m not sure.
All I know is that the only piece of Disney merchandise I’ve ever owned is an Ursula mug.