This week has been "National Princess Week," brought to you by Disney and Target. Yawn. Here's another idea: celebrate Disney villains.
"Celebrating Princesses Everywhere" reads Target's website, in honor of the national holiday you never knew existed. Of course, little girls can't embrace their inner princesses without a Pink Princess Bicycle ($79.99) or a Child Storybook Aurora Prestige Costume ($49.99). "This event is about hocking glitzy, sexist merchandise through Target – pure and simple," consumer culture expert Susan Gregory Thomas told The Guardian's Helaine Olen, who reminds us that Disney's more than 26,000 princess products are a $4 billion dollar annual business. Olen recommends girls celebrate by reading about empowered princesses like Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great instead of going shopping. But if you can't drag your daughter away from Disney, why not encourage her to put away her Little Mermaid stickers and talk about Ursula instead?
I was never interested in Disney princesses or princessy heroines, who, with a few notable exceptions (I haven't seen Brave, but hear Merida is a contender), are all the same: Barbie-bodied with Daddy issues and no long-term goals aside from achieving some sort of vague "freedom" by marrying up. Princesses are usually defined by their sexuality and fascination with pretty objects and cute baby animals. White Disney princesses wear puffy gowns with petticoats (Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, Aurora) and non-white princesses dress the same way sorority girls do for questionably-themed parties. (Jasmine, Pocahontas, even, to a lesser extent, Mulan.) I didn't want to be saved; I wanted to drive the plot rather than be pushed into a happy ending.
So instead, I was fascinated by villains, particularly Maleficent, the self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil. She's cunning, she's ruthless, and she has a sick wardrobe. Not to mention: DRAGONS. Maleficent demands respect, and I expected the same, which is why, as a four year old, I refused to answer to anything other than "Maleficent" for months. I brought in my Maleficent mask, cape, and scepter to preschool show and tell and still have a certificate from the library declaring "Katie Maleficent Baker" a "#1 Book Reader." I was devastated when Maleficent couldn't come to my 5th birthday party — apparently most little girls don't want the Mistress of All Evil to lead "Duck, Duck, Goose" and hand out party-favors — and had to settle for a chirpy Sleeping Beauty.
My parents finally asked my teachers whether they should be concerned. No, they said, I was simply acting out my "bad side" in a safe, innocent way; I was such a good kid that I craved an outlet. Conversely, my parents refused to let me watch a particular Disney T.V. show with a spoiled, blonde princessy protagonist and no strong female villains to speak of because I transformed into a brat after a 20-minute episode.
I eventually allowed people to call me Katie, but I never stopped loving witches (from Hocus Pocus to The Crucible), bad girls (I once cried because my hairdresser wouldn't give me Mimi Marquez's haircut) and villains in general. (I had a "literary villains" theme party for my 21st birthday. My friend walked around in a Papier-mâché Moby Dick.) How could there be any contest between villains and princesses?
Villains are goal-oriented, while princesses are content with a puffball dress and Ken doll beau. Villains don't put virginal love on a pedestal. One could even argue that villains provide an opportunity to teach your children about making the right choices. (For example, don't be covetous/kill Dalmatians. Also, chill out if you don't get invited to a party! That was Maleficent's chief issue, which I'll admit is a tad superficial, although I'll argue that there's way more going on beneath the surface. And DRAGONS.)
Princesses are only princesses because of who their parents are or the man they marry. Villains don't get it that easy. Villains shape their own lives.