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What I’ve learned as I enter the Disney Villainess stage of my life…

If I was a character in a Disney princess film, I would most likely be the villainess.  I kind of fit the profile.

  • I live alone.
  • I am childless.
  • I live with two cats.
  • I’m not just single, I’m divorced.
  • I look young for my age.
  • I dress young for my age.
  • I own a lot of fabulous heels, dresses and coats.
  • I love makeup.

At first glance these traits might seem like nothing but put them all together and I’m basically the Evil Queen in Snow White,

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The twisted Fairy Maleficent

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Or even the aging Mother Gothel in Tangled.

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This is me in a mermaid costume, you can see it now right?

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In Disney’s universe and in many of our iconic fairy tales the most dangerous threat to a young maiden’s well-being is a scheming, jealous, aging beauty.

The bitter fallen woman antagonist is so ingrained children’s fables you’d think there be some basis in reality for the archetype.  We all know bitter angry women but where are the marauding mobs of middle-aged gals destroying modeling schools, poisoning cheerleaders, or torching beauty pageants?  There is the popular Real Housewives series on Bravo but those ladies are mostly Disney villainess types attacking other Disney villainess types.

In the real world around 77% of murder victims are men, and men commit about 90% of all murders..  Statistically speaking women have far more to fear from the men in their lives then they do from other females..  Intimate partners, former intimate partners, relatives, neighbors and co-workers are the most likely to murder or maim any woman.  Female murder victims (41.5%) were almost 6 times more likely than male murder victims (7.1%) to have been killed by an intimate.  Men are also more at risk of violence from men they know well, as more than half of them are killed by an acquaintance, but for the most part women aren’t much of a threat to either gender.  Of course women do make up 10% of murderers and 15% of serial killers but it does seem odd that most fairy tales showcase the exception and not the rule.

Our most iconic fables were obviously written by men, in a time when women were lucky if they even had a rudimentary education.  The theme of an older jealous homicidal female might have made more sense when women had far fewer choices.  Until fairly recently most women had four basic paths in life – wife, nun, prostitute or domestic laborer.  Women and girls also had little agency in their choices.  Most families decided the fate of their daughters, as women had few rights to make their own decisions.

Since it’s 2016 and I’m not limited to whatever choices my family wants for me, I don’t see young women as adversaries.   I see someone who will soon learn how hard it is out there to just exist as a woman.   I know she’s going to go through situations where she won’t be taken seriously, when she’ll have to use her husband or boyfriend as some type of mouthpiece to get her point across. I know she’ll face disappointment after she sees man after man promoted ahead of her for no reason. I can hear her sigh with disgust when she reduced to nothing more than breasts, butt and legs.  I can feel her cringe as a man in power touches her in a way that makes her skin crawl.  I can imagine the many painful years ahead of her when she’s been let down by her husband, becomes frustrated by screaming children and disillusioned by white picket fence dreams.

I also reject the notion that I’m in competition with young women for attention from men.   A man’s affections aren’t necessarily worth much.  I’ve just seen too many marriages fall apart or turn into something less than fulfilling.   More than a few married men have sent me awkward emails in the middle of the night, or dropped their wedding ring into their pockets while chatting me up, or confessed that they hated their wives.  After these examples and my own divorce I know marriage is mostly a crapshoot.  Some are beautiful unions that strengthen both partners but many are sad and tragic illusions.    I also can’t help but think of the bad relationships I’ve had with emotionally needy and draining men who demand constant reassurance yet give little in return. Then there are the pretty boys who have to chase every woman they find to help feed their insatiable egos.  A good partner is hard to find for both genders and I’d rather be alone than be in a toxic disaster.

Sure there are some younger women who frustrate me. I do get annoyed when I see them treating themselves like doormats just to keep their boyfriend or partner happy.  My heart hurts when I see them trash each other or buy into the notion that women must always compete with other women.  I roll my eyes a bit when they seem to crave and demand attention based solely on their appearance.  I also remind myself that we’ve all been brought up in a culture that reinforces the notion that women are only valued for their appearance.  I try to give younger women a break too when I remember what an insecure, attention seeking mess I was at their age.

I’ve often said I want to rewrite all the fairy tales.  If I were a Disney villainess I would wrap the young maidens in an invisible cloak that would warm them every time they makes a misstep or danger approaches.  I’d bequeath magic potions to detect date rape drugs, weapons to protect against would be predators, and magic mirrors that would offer daily affirmations not criticism.  I’d give them glitter bombs to throw on aggressive cat callers and tutus to slap on angry misogynistic bullies.  I’d create a kingdom where there were no glass ceilings, no demeaning remarks by men in power, no boys clubs, no cyber-stalkers, no angry internet trolls, no sexual predators, no gender biases, and no assumptions that women are lesser or only the sum of their physical parts.  I’d do it all in my fallen woman finery with dresses that are “too young” for me, tight skirts, high heels, full hair and bright red lipstick.  I wouldn’t wear a coat made of puppy skins or a high-necked caped gown but I would include all my sisters young and old to celebrate in the sisterhood of womanhood.

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Slut-Shaming: To What End?

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gone wild (Photo credit: istolethetv)

Lately I have found myself frustrated with other feminists over the cry of “Slut-shaming“.  Although I agree that women have been unfairly judged for their sexual appetites and behavior for hundreds of years, I also think that some sexual behavior actually hurts the cause of feminism.  We shouldn’t return to the days of corsets, ankle length skirts when the very mention of female sexuality was taboo.  Yet we should also not champion obvious degrading and detrimental sexual behavior in the name of feminism.

For instance, is a drug addicted, physically abused, low paid prostitute dominated by a male pimp anything to celebrate?  Is a young woman with low self-esteem who performs sexual acts in public to gain personal validation off-limits to criticism?  Is a sex-worker who doesn’t hide or shield her children from her occupation really making a bold step forward for female empowerment?  When do the issues of narcissism and self-destructive behavior enter the dialog?  Are all forms of female nudity and sexuality empowering?  When does it become exploitative?

It is not such much specific behavior as it is the context.  Expressions of female sexuality and nudity can be empowering, politically brazen and extremely pro-woman but they can also be degrading and demeaning.   If a woman is playing into the victim complex or treating herself as an object not worthy of respect she is part of the problem, not the solution.  Are we supposed to champion a drunken college student who decides to flash her breasts in a Girls Gone Wild video?  Should the woman who recently decided to have her anus publicly tattooed on camera be held up as some sort of example of female sexual liberty?  Or is she just a woman who has made some extremely poor decisions?  The porn industry has become so saturated with women willing to have sex on camera that wages and celebrity status have plummeted in the industry.  What was once something that only the desperate or the truly sexually liberated would do has become almost mundane.  At the same time there are prostitutes that have complete control over their income, working conditions and clientele who aren’t drug addicts, aren’t being abused and have turned the tables on the power structure in the industry.  No single sexual act or occupation can be singled out as “feminist” or “anti-feminist” if the behavior is coming from a place of pride and self-worth it is entirely different than if the source is self-loathing, fear and need of approval.  Not every sex worker or sexual exhibitionist is a victim, nor are they necessarily being exploited.

Yet during these changing times regarding female sexuality, misogyny is at an all time high.  The anti-feminist forces have gone from empty rhetoric to promoting legislation challenging our reproductive rights and even basic health care.   They want to do away with laws that might protect us from having to pay twice as much for our health insurance based on our gender, make many forms of birth control illegal, and make abortion a criminal act.  Many legislators voted against the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter act, which were ultimately passed but in June the senate blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act which would have helped woman sue for equal pay.

I am not here to blame the victim, but it does discourage me when I meet so many young women who don’t seem to even know a political struggle is happening and then treat themselves with such low regard.  They are only giving fuel to the critics who would claim that all pre-marital sex is an abomination and that a sexualized female is something to fear.  I can’t help but see parallels in the civil rights movement.  Many in the African American community cry out against crime and violence, gangster rap and the thug culture that actually discourages achievement.  Of course racism is very insidious and still a huge problem, but if no one inside the community calls out the self-defeating behavior…it just makes everything more of a uphill battle.

I thought feminism was about being in control of our lives, having a right to speak our minds, and having the same opportunities as men have in the bedroom, in the workplace and in our government.  I didn’t think it was about declaring all sexual behavior as an empowering statement against patriarchy.  When I see a young woman disrespect herself my heart sinks.  When I see a woman desperately cling to some man doing anything and everything sexually in the hopes that he will stick around it saddens me.  When I see a bright intelligent woman with multiple options for her future resort to sex work it depresses me.  Although I understand its appeal, as sex work is one of the few high paying options available to young women.  The only non-sex based profession where women make considerably more money than men is the modeling industry and the largest scholarship program for women in the world is still the Miss America pageant organization.  I want every young girl to see the entire universe available to them, to know that they are more than their looks or genitalia.   It is a fine line we tread between celebrating our sexuality and allowing others to exploit it.

I do not propose that I have any answers to these ethical quandaries but I am not going to pretend that women treating themselves with disrespect and playing into negative stereotypes is a good thing.  A woman cannot treat herself poorly and then try to defend it by crying “slut-shaming” when she is the one shaming herself.  Some would argue that there is no sexual behavior that is negative or exploitative no matter what the situation.  But when a woman flashes her breasts for a Girls Gone Wild video or a woman engages in prostitution to pay for her drug habit, that is not a step forward but a step back.  To achieve real equality with men we need to respect ourselves in all aspects of our lives including our sexuality.