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“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses
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I am the hero of your story. Not you.
Not ever you.
The headlines shoulda read Haggard crone strikes a blow for justice
(for truth in advertising, at the very least) —
yet still you carry on like the brute you always were.
Raging about the woman who dragged you down,
moping about the woman who’s ‘sposed to lift you up.
You brought this on yourself, remember?
At issue: could you redeem yourself.
Not: could you convince some daft slip of a girl
to enact redemption on your behalf (Stockholm syndrome
ain’t a recommended wooing technique,
case you ever wondered).
Next time I’ll skip the test.
Drown your furred, irredeemable ass in your sleep.
Burn your ballroom into ash.
Dance on your bones
the way heroes do.
EXTENDED END-NOTE: Fantastic yellow Disney dress aside, most modern treatments of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ —likely highly influenced by the 1991 animated film—that interpret the story as a romance bug me to my core. In the original French tale, written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (and plenty problematic in its own right), the Beast treats Beauty with utmost respect and generosity from the outset. He will be her servant, the Beast tells her, when she arrives; she is now mistress of his house.
In 1740 the story worked to acclimate young girls to the idea of arranged marriages. Today’s Disney-inflected versions serve a related function: normalizing violence against girls and women, and romanticizing intimate partner abuse. “Sure, he screamed at you, scared you, took you away from your family and forced you to work for him, and locked you IN A LITERAL DUNGEON. But only cuz he was afraid you might not like him back! And isn’t that the sweetest, most adorbs thing ever??”
At the risk of revealing my inner Valley-girl-from-the-1980s:
Gag me with a roto-rooter.
[For more roto-worthy gag-ables, see also: Twilight, 50 Shades of Grey, Pretty Woman, Rumpelstiltskin from tv’s Once Upon a Time, etc.]
[See also also: every little girl who’s ever been told the reason a bully was mean to her was to show how much he likes her.]
So yeah. Dunno if I’ve convinced you yet—but I, for one, am fully committing to this idea of the Beast’s unnamed cursing fairy as a masked vigilante of the fairy tale set. All-knowing, all-seeing, all-patiently lying in wait for the right moment to pull a stiletto-sized wand from her purse and send the next insufferable Nice Guy™ down to the pit…
I’m curious: what unsung (or over-sung) “heroes” capture your imagination?
THE VILLAINESS SERIES is part of an ongoing collaborative project between a playwright friend and me, in which we explore how to use myths & fairy tales as tools to interrogate gender norms and to critique, resist, and heal from the impact of gender & sexual violence.
[For more from my half of the project.]
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[Image: Rose window. Public domain.]