Why Disney Villains Are Actually Drag Queens

Why Disney Villains Are Actually Drag Queens

Everyone knows that Disney reinforces unrealistic beauty standards, but did you know that Disney appears to constantly equate gender ambiguity with evil?
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Everyone knows that Disney reinforces unrealistic beauty standards (perfect hair, tiny waistlines) and is often historically inaccurate (let’s not pretend the Native American genocide resulted in the settlers and indigenous people living happily ever after), but did you know that Disney appears to constantly equate gender ambiguity with evil? The same can be said of race and other physical distinctions, but those are a whole other story entirely.

Before I get into the details, I want to say that I recognize that Disney isn’t the only company guilty of perpetuating these kinds of prejudices, nor am I saying that it necessarily has some sort of racist/sexist/homophobic agenda. Like all other cultural entities, Disney was and still is a product of its time and continues to evolve accordingly. I am pleased to say that it has improved in respects to diversity and not demonizing “others”. However, it is no secret that both Disney and society at large still has a long way to go. So let’s take a better look at Disney’s faces of evil and see what they have to say about our culture.

Think about it: Ursula, Maleficent, Cruella, Madame Medusa, The Evil Queen, Queen of Hearts, Yzma, etc. What do they all have in common? For starters, all but one of the villainesses have harshly angular facial structures and masculine facial features accentuated with heavy, if not drag-esque makeup. “Drag queens” are men who perform a highly theatrical, or campy, form of femininity as part of their personae — a performance that has been read by some as a biting critique of stereotyped gender roles.

In fact, according to an audio commentary by John Musker, Ron Clements, and Alan Menken, members of Disney animation studio's leading director teams, "The Little Mermaid's" Ursula was actually based on the legendary drag queen Divine, who also donned signature white hair, arched brows, heavy purple eye-shadow and a bold red lip. Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty" sports similar arched brows, dark purple eye makeup and red lips.

Madame Medusa from "The Rescuers" and The Evil Queen from "Snow White" also meet these three criteria. Cruella De Vil from "101 Dalmatians" and Yzma from "The Emperor's New Groove" share these same features with the exception of Cruella’s eyeshadow being swapped for green and Yzma’s lipstick a dark purple. As mentioned above, there is always some incorporation of the color purple into the villainesses’ makeup or wardrobe.

Could purple in itself is purple, not quite only a “girl” or “boy” color (literally a combination of pink and blue), be illustrative of both gender non-conformity and evil? Curiously, very few of the Disney Princesses incorporate the color purple into their appearances. Although many utilize drag in order to challenge gender roles, Disney doesn’t give me the impression that their villainesses are meant to convey the same messages.

In contrast, the “good” Disney princesses and heroines like Ariel, Aurora and Snow White almost always have round and either cosmetic-free faces or very minimal make-up. With the villainesses, however, it feels as though you could prick your finger on any of their jagged features, which appear to be saturated with make-up.

The exception to the make-up rule is the Queen of Hearts, whose lack of heavy makeup also emphasizes her masculinity. However, the same effects are achieved - because she doesn’t display traditional feminine features or beauty, we are subtly conditioned to associate her with evil. Unlike those who criticize gender clichés with visual satire, Disney is only encouraging them — “true women" are youthful and beautiful (and naturally so).

Consequently, when the antagonists in films are continually fashioned to be “ugly” by conventional norms, audiences may begin to subconsciously comprehend those who may share similar physical characteristics in their own lives as synonymous in terms of morality. In other words, the perpetual combination of Disney Villainesses’ malaise and “ugly” aesthetics reinforce that those who don’t fit the criteria for traditional beauty also reflect an unnaturalness and perhaps, evil nature.

Now think about the male Disney villains: Hades, Jafar, Shere Khan, Governor Ratcliffe, Scar, Shan Yu, Dr. Facilier. What do they all have in common? You guessed it - deviance from gender norms. With the majority of Disney villains, this means physically appearing somewhat “feminine” or maintaining the “sissy” (and other traditional gender conflicting) archetypes . Hades from "Hercules" is a caricature of the, well... (literally) flaming gay man archetype.

In addition to his sassy sense of humor and conventionally effeminate mannerisms, Hades also possesses darker colored eyelids and lips reminiscent of eyeshadow and lipstick. When compared to the heroes, the “good guys” have little to no lipcolor, and if they do have lipcolor, it is almost always restricted to just the upper lip in order to “retain” masculinity.

"Aladdin's" Jafar, the only male to be dressed in a gown instead of pants and a shirt is also clad in full-on shoulder pads and, in addition to dark eyelids, wears black eyeliner. Shere Khan and "The Lion King's" Scar, although not human, also appear to wear “eyeshadow” and exudes the same effete aristocratic energy as Jafar and "Pocahontas'" Governor Ratcliffe. They all use precise articulation, draw out their s’s, and rise inflection at the end of their sentences - qualities society has decided sound “effeminate."

Accounts of anti-aristocratic sentiment likens male aristocracy with “delicate” women. This is similar to how gay men, due to assumptions that they were sexually docile, were synonymous with “delicate” women. Evidently, we see the same sex-related chauvinism displayed, but with somewhat differing logic. They also have “limp wrists”, something often associated with the “sissy” trope.

Voices aside, these Disney villains don’t look or behave in a way that aligns with masculine stereotypes. In addition to his refined English accent and mannerisms (he even lifts his pinky when drinking wine), Governor Ratcliffe wears pigtails with hot pink bows, a hot pink cape and appears to wear purple eyeshadow. During his very theatrical musical number, he’s also clad in a sparkly gold outfit.

Although the other male lions in "The Lion King" also have a slightly darker eyelid color, Scar’s is much more severe and he also appears to have dark “eyeshadow” that extends to his bottom lid like eyeliner. "Mulan"'s Shan Yu, quite possibly the scariest looking Disney Villain, also has a haircut indicative of femininity, as he is the only male character in the movie to wear his long hair down. His unnaturally yellow and black-colored eyes (he should probably get those checked out) appear to be heavily lined in black eyeliner, emphasizing that Shan Yu may not be as masculine as his male, and possibly even female, counterparts.

Dr. Facilier from "The Princess and the Frog" also has similar mannerisms to Jafar, has the same kind of voice as Hades, and has dark eyelids and lips. His attire includes a necklace and tight crop top, two things contradictory of traditional “masculinity”. Again, purple, not quite only a “girl” or “boy” color (literally a combination of pink and blue), seems to be the color of both gender ambiguity and evil.

So what can we take away from this? Do villains and villainesses look the way they do primarily in order to emphasize the hero’s masculinity or femininity and therefore, goodness? If this is true, does this teach young children that conventional male and female attractiveness and behavior suggest whether a person is morally upright or not? That someone in real life who doesn’t conform to or meet these standards are inherently evil? That there is no room for shades of gray (or purple?) in gender?

Furthermore, the main goal of many Disney princesses seems to be to meet her “prince charming” and live happily ever after with him, and the gender non-compliant villains always threaten this dream with their evil agendas. Does this reflect society’s irrational anxieties about the fabricated “gay agenda”? Certainly, one doesn’t need to be gay to present in a way that doesn’t conform to traditional gender roles.

Gender presentation has nothing to do with sexuality. However, because many have made the gross oversimplification that divergence from traditional gender roles equates to being gay, it leads me to believe there may be value to scrutinizing the minutiae tucked away in the pages of the fairy tales that is Disney, as they may have much to say about how society processes gender.

I don’t know if this stereotype stems from society’s disinterest in exploring complex characters or if we are so simple-minded that we need to make sense of the world in binaries. Regardless, I am hopeful that with proper exposure and education we will be able to overcome such cultural and ethical hurdles.

The next time you watch a Disney movie, a movie targeted at youth, or any movie for that matter, pay more attention to what physical appearances, voices and mannerisms have to say about each character, their relationship to traditional gender roles and their morality.


Cover Image Credit: Movie Pilot

Popular Right Now

31 Reasons Why I Would NEVER Watch Season 2 Of '13 Reasons Why'

It does not effectively address mental illness, which is a major factor in suicide.
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When I first started watching "13 Reasons Why" I was excited. I had struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts for a long time and thought this show would be bringing light to those issues. Instead, it triggered my feelings that I had suppressed.

With season two coming out soon, I have made up my mind that I am NEVER watching it, and here is why:

1. This show simplifies suicide as being a result of bullying, sexual assault, etc. when the issue is extremely more complex.

2. It does not effectively address mental illness, which is a major factor in suicide.

3. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention has guidelines on how to portray suicides in TV shows and movies without causing more suicides.

"13 Reasons Why" disregarded those guidelines by graphically showing Hannah slitting her wrists.

4. It is triggering to those who have tried to commit suicide in the past or that struggle with mental illness.

5. It glorifies suicide.

6. It does not offer healthy coping solutions with trauma and bullying.

The only "solution" offered is suicide, which as mentioned above, is glorified by the show.

7. This show portrays Hannah as dramatic and attention-seeking, which creates the stereotype that people with suicidal thoughts are dramatic and seeking attention.

8. Hannah makes Clay and other people feel guilty for her death, which is inconsiderate and rude and NOT something most people who commit suicide would actually do.

9. This show treats suicide as revenge.

In reality, suicide is the feeling of hopelessness and depression, and it's a personal decision.

10. Hannah blames everyone but herself for her death, but suicide is a choice made by people who commit it.

Yes, sexual assault and bullying can be a factor in suicidal thoughts, but committing suicide is completely in the hands of the individual.

11. Skye justifies self-harm by saying, "It's what you do instead of killing yourself."

12. Hannah's school counselor disregards the clear signs of her being suicidal, which is against the law and not something any professional would do.

13. The show is not realistic.

14. To be honest, I didn't even enjoy the acting.

15. The characters are underdeveloped.

16. "13 Reasons Why" alludes that Clay's love could have saved Hannah, which is also unrealistic.

17. There are unnecessary plot lines that don't even advance the main plot.

18. No one in the show deals with their problems.

They all push them off onto other people (which, by the way, is NOT HEALTHY!!!).

19. There is not at any point in the show encouragement that life after high school is better.

20. I find the show offensive to not only me, but also to everyone who has struggled with suicidal thoughts.

21. The show is gory and violent, and I don't like that kind of thing.

22. By watching the show, you basically get a step-by-step guide on how to commit suicide.

Which, again, is against guidelines set by The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

23. The show offers no resources for those who have similar issues to Hannah.

24. It is not healthy for me or anyone else to watch "13 Reasons Why."

25. Not only does the show glorify suicide, but it also glorifies self-harm as an alternative to suicide.

26. Other characters don't help Hannah when she reaches out to them, which could discourage viewers from reaching out.

27. Hannah doesn't leave a tape for her parents, and even though the tapes were mostly bad, I still think the show's writers should have included a goodbye to her parents.

28. It simplifies suicide.

29. The show is tactless, in my opinion.

30. I feel like the show writers did not do any research on the topic of suicide or mental illness, and "13 Reasons Why" suffered because of lack of research.

31. I will not be watching season two mostly because I am bitter about the tastelessness.

And I do not want there to be enough views for them to make a season three and impact even more people in a negative way.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Cover Image Credit: Netflix

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Fiction On The Odyssey: Without Chaos

Without chaos, what remains?
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Note: Silver Key recipient in the 2018 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards in Short Story


01. Chaos

Without chaos, what remains?

02. Lettuce

“I think that’s the lettuce your mother bought a month ago,” her father says after a long look into the refrigerator.

Through the gap between his legs, she catches sight of a football-sized, fuzzy and greyish-blue thing sitting in the bottomost drawer. She has no idea why it is there in the first place. Besides her mother, nobody in their family knows how to cook iceberg lettuce. Why would her mother buy it if she was planning to let it rot?

Her father answers her unspoken query. “She probably meant to cook it, but forgot. Get me a trash bag and a pair of gloves, will you?”

03. Flinches

She flinches as her mother yanks a comb through her hair.

As usual, her mother’s mind is clearly elsewhere.

04. Nondescript

The man with a foreign name is nondescript in every sense of the word. He’s of average stature, with brown hair of average length, carrying a black backpack of some random brand. Off looks alone, she finds it difficult to believe that this is the very man that her father raves about.

Upon the return of her father’s most recent trip to his motherland, in Asia, her father has taken to becoming a free advertiser for the man with the foreign name, claiming that this man was the equivalent of Jesus’s second reincarnation. Thanks to the man currently standing on the front porch of her home, her father’s greatest aspiration in life is to become a monk.

In mere days, it will no longer be just an aspiration.

She looks up, drinking in the foreign man’s absurdly average features. This is the man who is stealing her father.

If only she could remember his face.

05. Verdant

The sky was positively green the day her father left.

06. Glassy

Whenever she looks into her mother’s eyes, they’re always glassy.

07. Supply

The fridge is empty. So is the pantry.

08. Almost

It’s almost comical how quickly she went from having everything to having almost nothing. Just two years ago, she had loving parents, friends and a safe place. She used to have a home. Her biggest worry used to be whether or not she would like her dinner.

Now, she wonders if she’ll be getting one at all.

09. Steadfast

Every time he looks at her, his eyes speak of steadfast loyalty.

One time, she almost believed them.

She punched him that day.

10. Soup

Her mother has always loved soup. With every meal, her mother would always ensure that there was a bowl of something hearty. Her mother used to claim that she didn’t have a favorite soup, and that she loved all soups, gumbos, chowders, stews and broths equally.

Whenever her mother said that, she would always look at her father and smirk, for they all knew that her mother was lying. Serving tomato soup at least nine times a week, with a perpetual supply in the fridge, tomato soup was an undisputed favorite of her mother’s.

The school’s version of tomato soup tastes like watered-down ketchup, but she can’t help but savor it.

11. Comfortable

She thinks, with a twinge of self-pity, of how comfortable her life could have been.

If only she hadn’t been such a brat.

12. Copy

It was too easy.

For once, the boy with the steadfast gaze was looking away. Everyone else was looking away, too, watching attentively as the teacher ranted about their poor performance on their last test, his disappointment in them, and how, to prevent half the class from failing the semester, he was going to assign a massive, 200-point project.

Or something.

The boy with the steadfast gaze continued to rummage through his bag, oblivious to the fact that she was eyeing his completed assignment. The sheet of paper faced the ceiling, sitting on the very edge of his desk, almost like it was inviting her to come and take a grab—

So, she did.

She stuffed it into her bag faster than anyone could blink, and returned her gaze to the front of the room.

13. Potatoes

In her shared apartment with her mother, she arrives to what seems like a local grocer’s entire supply of potatoes and possibly the world’s largest stockpot.

14. After

“Meet me after class,” the teacher had said to her the second she entered the classroom.

The boy with the eyes that speak of steadfast loyalty stares at her as she sits, his eyes a little too wide.

15. Bucket

Every so often, she wonders what it would feel like to kick the bucket.

16. Trade

“Your salad for some tomato soup?” he asks, unscrewing his thermos lid.

She looks up, then frowns.

She doesn’t know why he’s talking to her, especially after that stunt she just pulled. After the bell had rung, after the rest of their classmates had vacated the room, she became a blubbering mess. She claimed that the teacher was terribly mistaken. She claimed that the boy with the steadfast gaze had copied her.

It had earned him three days of in-school suspension. There was no doubt that his mother, the perfect woman that packed him homemade crustless sandwiches and warm tomato soup in thermoses, would be furious.

The word slips out of her mouth before she can stop it. “Why?”

“I don't know,” he replies.

It’s the best soup she’s ever tasted.

17. Pedal

The bike pedal falls off, mid stride, catching her off guard. It’s only after her tightly coiled body slams into a stop sign that she’s able to process what just happened.

She gets up in time to watch the bike frame collide with a car.

Anger surges unexpectedly within her like an unwelcome guest. That bike had been her primary form of transportation. She could’ve fixed that pedal. That bike would’ve been salvageable.

But, just as suddenly, the anger dissipates.

With its departure, an underlying sense of overwhelming loss is revealed.

18. Divide

The policeman’s glares are divided equally between the car owner and herself.

19. Mark

“That’s not the right one,” she says. Her gaze is unreadable as she watches a policeman approach the door of yet another apartment. “I don’t know where mine is.”

The police are exhausted and exasperated, but they try again.

“Honey,” a female officer says in a tone of barely disguised annoyance, “Try and remember, will you?”

She knows her mother hasn’t paid the bill in three months. She knows about their eviction notice. She knows that when they get evicted, her mother will be sent to jail and she’ll be sent to live in an community home.

“I can’t.”

I can’t let that happen.

Later that night, her nails curl into fists so tight that they leave a mark as the police pound on the front door of the apartment of her residence. She prays, will all her might, that no one will notice the red, half-moon wedges imprinted onto her palms.

They don’t.

20. Ducks

Ducks are adaptable beings. They can swim, fly, and walk. They’re aggressive enough to keep unwanted attention at bay, but cuddly enough to love.

She could afford to learn a thing or two from a duck.

21. Trapping

Her jacket does not do a good job of trapping body heat. She’s desperately cold and thoroughly disappointed—she expected more from Calvin Klein.

22. Detail

The boy with the steadfast gaze pays too much attention to detail.

“Did you have a good night’s sleep last night?”

She looks away. Regardless of what comes out of her mouth, she knows he’ll see right through her.

23. Stew

Her mother stirs a massive potato stew.

She chooses not to ask.

24. Filthy

“Hey, you!”

She looks up and comes face to face with someone unrecognizable.

Not that that’s surprising. She hasn’t made any effort to get to know anyone in this horrible city. Only a few are recognizable to her, and even then, she doesn’t know any names. She refuses to learn anyone’s names. This isn’t her home, so she refuses to make herself at home.

He leans in, wrinkles his nose a bit, then leans in a bit more. “When was the last time you showered?”

A week. Almost two.

“We were talking about it and—can you do us a favor and take a shower? You smell filthy,” he whispers apologetically.

I’m aware. I’m sorry. The landlord cut our water.

She says nothing.


Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash / George Gvasalia

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