Sunday 14 March 2021

Nerd Church - The Stark Difference Between Disney Villains' Motivations: Men Vs Women


(Warning: scratch the surface of Disney films, and there can be some very dark things underneath, so this post discusses: forced marriage, including to underage girls; murder; the fur industry; genocide.

There may also be SPOILERS for Disney films.)

'The Stark Difference Between Disney Villains' Motivations: Men Vs Women' written in fancy script with a fairytale-style castle in the background

Think of a Disney villain - there are a few great ones, right?

And I'm sure that we all have our faves, our least faves, our problematic faves.

And a Disney villain, at least traditionally in their animated movies, is as cut-and-dry good-vs-evil as you can get.

But I've noticed something lately - the motivations of Disney's female villains are a lot different to the male ones.

Quick Note: Yes, I'm using male and female as gendered terms synonymous with men and women, on account of social and practical interchangeability.

Let's take a look at some of the most well-known villains and their motivations - the thing that they want, and is the reason they're acting like jerks.

(Oh, and we're just looking at the original animated films. Things start getting messy with sequels and remakes and re-imaginings and whatnot.)

The Evil Queen from Snow White
Via Giphy

The Evil Queen from Snow White might be a Queen and all, but her motivation isn't really power - she already has that - it's jealousy.

She's jealous that she's aging and her beauty - the thing she holds most dear - is being surpassed by a younger girl.

Cruella De Vil doing an evil laugh
Via Giphy

Cruella De Vil wants to make a fur coat out of puppies.

That's her motivation from beginning to end - a piece of clothing; fashion.

Maleficent (animated) petting her raven
Via Giphy

Maleficent, as portrayed in Sleeping Beauty -

(as opposed to in her self-named films with Angelina Jolie, which are a fave amongst Queer folks, including me because wow my poor Queer heart,) 

- wants to get back at the royal family for not being invited to a party.

She's been snubbed, and she's petty af.

Mother Gothel (singing): Mother knows best
Via Giphy

Mother Gothel from Tangled wants to be young and beautiful forever, and would probably have been besties with Snow White's stepmother if she had the chance.

So this is what makes some of the most recognisable female Disney villains tick: jealousy, vanity, and pettiness.

There are exceptions, of course, which we'll get to in a bit.

For now, let's also take a look at some of the male villains.

Scar being a stalky kitty
Via Giphy

Scar from The Lion King wants power. 

Gaston juggling and swallowing eggs, because why not I guess *shrugs*
Via Giphy

Gaston from Beauty and the Beast wants to force a woman to marry him.

Jafar from Aladdin wants power and to make a teenage girl (Jasmine is 15 or 16,) marry him, which, ick.

Hades from Hercules wants ultimate power.

Dr Facilier from The Princess and The Frog wants power and to save his butt from a bad occult business deal, while Lawrence wants princehood and... to trick a woman into marrying him.

Claude Frollo (cowering): Witchcraft!
Via Giphy

Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame wants to commit genocide (which... dark,) to solidify and demonstrate his power, and force a woman to marry and/or be in a relationship with him.

...Are we seeing a pattern yet?

The motivations of male Disney villains tend to revolve around power.

Even the motivation of forcing a woman to marry you is, ultimately, about power - either for the social position she brings you, her money, or simply the power you have over her.

Female Disney villains rarely have their eyes set on power - they want to be pretty, or they want to be petty.

You see my problem here?

Now, obviously, all of the villains do bad f**king things, and no motivations excuse their actions.

But while the men are busy making political power plays, and asserting their dominance over women, the female villains are... literally trying to tear another woman's heart out for being prettier than her.

All Disney villains are based on ambition taken too far, and the ruthless pursuit of the thing they want - often something that doesn't belong to them, and they have no 'right' to want.

(Which... interesting things could be said about class and other power imbalances there, but this post is looking purely at gender)

It says something, doesn't it, about how we view women's motivations in general?

That the things they aspire to are... beauty and clothing? Or throwing a hissy fit because they weren't invited to a party?

Is that the ambitions we set for women?

Men want to rule a country/the world, and/or marry a trophy wife. Women apparently want to kill puppies and turn them into coats.

...Interesting. #JustSaying.

But there are exceptions: Ursula and Yzma.

They want power - they want to rule.

They're also both seen as unattractive - perhaps even masculine. 

Ursula putting on lipstick and pouting
Via Giphy

Ursula from The Little Mermaid takes things one step further than wanting power - she tries to trick the prince into marrying her while wearing the guise of a more traditionally attractive woman.

It's well-known that Ursula is Queer-coded (as so many Disney villains are,) with her appearance being based largely on the Drag Queen, Divine.

Add in the plus-sized nature of her figure, the implication of her being of a more mature age, the traditionally somewhat-repulsive form of being half-octopus, and that old staple of haghood: witchcraft, and she is definitely meant to be seen as not fitting the traditional feminine ideal.

She literally disguises herself as a thinner, traditionally pretty, girl, in order to marry Prince Eric.

Interestingly, the name she adopts is Vanessa - a derivative of vanity. (Because vanity goes so well for Disney's female villains!)

She doesn't just give herself legs and go to seduce Eric - the sub-text here is clear: Ursula wouldn't be attractive to Eric as a version of herself; to get the prince, you have to look like a Disney Princess.

To get the prince, you have to be what Ursula is not: thin, ultra-feminine, ultra-gender-conforming, and unambitious.

Via Giphy

Yzma from The Emperor's New Groove is characterised as power-hungry - she wants to be empress, not least because she got fired by the current emperor, Kuzco, from her role as advisor.

(Side-note: I would legit. be interested in a film that explored how Yzma fought her way to such an important role.)

Her appearance is mocked as being unspeakably ugly and hideous, her age being the biggest detractor. 

I'm not sure whether Yzma and Ursula - these purple-clad political women in a sea of pretty petty villainesses - are the exception that prove the rule, or just another facet of how female villains are portrayed.

They're not traditionally pretty or beautiful - and therefore their ambitions align more with their male counterparts.

Is this a break from the mold? Or just more reasons the mold exists in the first place?

The one thing that all the female villains seem to have in common is that they're all either old, or beginning to age or worry about aging - apparently when women hit middle-age, we get more villain-y 😅

Nerd Church is going on break next week, and will be back on 28th March 2021

What do you think? Are the motivations of female Disney villains significantly different from male Disney villains?

Or do Yzma and Ursula disprove my point?

Does Disney include way too many instances of a forced/tricked marriage plot point? 😅

Talk to me! 😀💬

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  1. What a great post, Cee! I have talked about the portrayal of Disney villains before in one of my university courses, and it is fascinating to pick up on patterns that I would have never recognized before. I love Yzma as a character just because she is hilarious and the Emperor's New Groove is such a great movie. But, I totally agree that most female villains have the motivation to look younger or more beautiful, and this is a pattern that needs to stop. Give me more fabulous, sarcastic villains like Yzma!

    1. Ha, I think it helps that Yzma was voiced by Eartha Kitt - and Eartha Kitt was a legend in *everything*. I love the Emperor's New Groove for so many reasons - plus there's so much more to say about the way gender is treated in that film, but I needed to rein myself in and focus on my points here! Lol :)

  2. I'd never thought about Disney Villains this way before. Fascinating!

    1. Thanks :) My brain goes down weird avenues on a regular basis! ;)

  3. I think you make your point quite well and there is a problem there. I am glad that the male villains motivations are shown as evil because they are evil. But if a female villain wants the same thing like the two examples brought up, they shouldn't have to be shown as more masculine because of it. And we need a refresh on the female villains motivations, clearly. The pretty and petty thing is frustrating. I'd never thought of it before!

    1. Thanks Liv! :) Yeah it was something that occurred to me when I was watching criticisms of the trailer for the Cruella film with Emma Stone, and some of them were saying (rightfully) that it's hard to make a sympathetic character out of someone whose sole motivation is turning puppies into a coat. And I'm like... *why* is *that* her motive? And it kind of led to this post! :)


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