Today's Princesses and Witches Are Taking Bitchy Back

"What's more offensive, a little girl saying f*ck or the f*ing sexist way society treats girls and women?" ask a 6-year-old in a pink taffeta princess dress and tiara in a new video making the rounds on Facebook. In this video, a posse of princesses curse up a storm and call out society's profane treatment of girls and women.


The ad is effective and jarring. It's certainly disturbing to see princesses use the F-word. Especially when we were reared to expect princesses to sing to woodland creatures and demurring wait for their prince. Or lie supine under the spell of an evil enchantress.

In (sigh) yet another Halloween season where girls' costume choices are princess or witch, and teen girl's usually choose from slutty kitten or slutty bunny, female complexity is a rare sight. After yet another dispiriting trip to the Spirit Halloween store with my tween, we went home empty-handed and watched Maleficent again. It's the perfect mother-daughter flick.

Disney's Maleficent arrives on Blue Ray DVD November 4. It misses the Halloween deadline, but then again, the character herself is far less scary than in the classic animated feature. 45 years ago, in Disney's original fairy tale, Maleficent was the embodiment of spite and evil; she cast her evil spell on a newborn baby because she didn't get an invite to the royal christening. In the new movie, Maleficent 's motives are far more profound. She is a character who is both villain and hero, good witch and bad witch. The new Maleficent, as played by Angelina Jolie is a witch more sinned against than sinning. She is now a sympathetic anti-heroine.


Maureen Dowd recently wrote about she-monsters and villains, feminism and stereotypes as it pertains to the latest incarnation of spite and evil -- Amy Dunn in the movie Gone Girl. In The New York Times, Dowd pish-pished those who criticize the film on the grounds that this juicy character presents a misogynist stereotype. Dowd values dark ladies with complex motives. She called for more grey areas, writing, "men do bad things in films all the time and they're called anti-heroes."

In the Broadway musical Wicked, Galinda, the Good, asks, "are people born evil, or do they have evil thrust upon them?" Wicked answers that question by shedding light on the Wicked Witch's origin story. Before she grew up to terrorize the skies over Oz, Elphaba was a geeky teenager who did not fit into society's standards of beauty, skin hue or, for that matter, millinery fashion. She became a laughing stock and when people feared her power, she was scapegoated and villianized and ultimately became bitter and vengeful.

Maleficent also has evil thrust upon her.

In Linda Woolverton's re-imagined, live-action version, we first meet Maleficent as a winged girl, a soaring forest fairy who delights in her magical, Avatar-like surroundings and is a protectrix of the moors, a healer of tree limbs and a powerful, benevolent queen to a herd of adorable woodland critters. Then she falls for a cute guy and wakes to find that her glorious wings have been amputated and stolen.

Angelina's anguished howl is so full of morrow-deep sorrow that pretty much every pink princess-aspiring little girl in the movie theater gives her permission to exact revenge on this Prince Charming in Sheep's clothes. When Maleficent casts her vengeful spell, she adds the "True Love's Kiss" loophole, not because it's a timeless trope but because she knows -- and Sleeping Beauty's father knows she knows -- that there is no such thing. This caveat is merely an ironic F - U -to King Stefan, the guy who bestowed a sham true love kiss.

Maleficent and Elphaba -- and kindergarten princesses -- are taking bitchy back. Because, as Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne said, "Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to."

Maleficent is arguably the most radical of the new genre of deconstructed fairy tales. Princess Fiona's True Love's Kiss comes, not from a dashing prince but from a green, flatulent ogre. Amy Adam's Giselle is saved, not from a dashing prince's kiss but from the True Love's Kiss of a (McDreamy) single dad from Riverside Drive.

And of course there's Frozen -- the blockbuster "sisters are doing it for themselves" myth buster. Like Maleficent, Frozen (a revamped Snow Queen) expands the meaning of "true love's kiss." In these instances, the truest love might not be a romantic love at all. In Frozen, lo and behold, the truest love turns out to be the love of a sister. Princess Anna is frozen stiff and remains that way even after the guy we expect to close the deal continues to leave her frigid, (as it were.)


In a climactic plot twist, it is the loving kiss of her sister that warms her heart. In Maleficent, the kiss of life is even more trope-cracking. Maleficent breaks her own spell and discovers that love has melted her own stubborn heart. She wakes Sleeping Beauty with what is essentially a mother's kiss.

These girl-on-girl kisses bust the genre wide open, These new, women helmed Disney films recognize the power of women to save women. Which is radical, maybe even subversive to those of us raised on fairy tales. We know that someday our prince is supposed to come and we know patience required because we may well have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find our prince.

It seems to me -- and laugh if you must -- that the severing of Maleficent's wings is G-rated code for female genital mutilation. Maleficent's source of joy is ripped from her body. Or, if you prefer, she is surgically inducted into history's vast group of women whose wings have been clipped in the service of men. She represents women tethered and thwarted, women who have been caged or those who flew up only to crash into glass ceilings.

But in this story the happy ending comes when Maleficent fights the king and gets her wings back -- with the help of the awakened princess.

A few Saturday's ago, a Saturday Night Live skit with Sarah Silverman and Cecily Strong presented a failed soap opera called "Supportive Women." Rather than presenting the juicy fun of catty, back-stabbing women, this short-lived soap showed women being nice to each other. So, you know, obviously it was canceled.

The joke rests on an entertainment industry truth -- female friendship is a snore. And, it's true; jealous stepsisters, evil stepmothers, shrews, she-devils, witches and other bitches are super fun to watch. But I'm glad those sorry-ass fables with binary options are on the wane. This new crop of great kids' movies allow for friendship between a good witch and a bad witch, love between a bad witch and a princess, the mutual devotion of two sisters. No frog kissing required. Now we just need Thelma and Louise Halloween costumes.