Are Disney Villainesses Feminists? How Maleficent And Others Have ‘Leaned In’

I’m VERY excited about Disney’s “Maleficent,” a live-action reimagining of “Sleeping Beauty” from the POV of the story’s villainess that comes out at the tail end of May. The movie passes the Bechdel test in its minute-and-a-half-long trailer, and in a summer full of so many movies that don’t look like they’re going to pass. This is cause for an endzone victory dance.

It got me thinking, is it possible that Disney Villainesses who are, granted, the embodiment of evil, also feminists? Are they, to reference Sheryl Sandberg’s feminist text of our times, indeed leaning in? Not exactly, but hear me out. I chose my favorite lines from the “Lean In” to go along with my favorite villainesses. And I have to say, even if these women have morally messed reasons for doing, well, everything, they are really good at getting the job done.


“Lean In” Says: “It’s time to cheer on girls and women who want to sit at the table.” How She Leaned In: She’s the only fairy not invited to the party and instead of sitting at home alone in her evil lair crying evil tears about it, she goes to the party in the the best hat-thing ever and demands her seat at the table.


“Lean In”Says: “The time is long overdue to encourage more women to dream the possible dream.” How She Leaned In: Ursula dreams the possible dream of ruling the sea and she almost gets the job done. But then she’s defeated by true love. Also the pointy part of Prince Eric’s ship murdering her octopus guts. Still she Les Miz’d her life and dreamed her dream!


“Lean In” Says: “If I had to embrace a definition of success it would be that success is making the best choices we can… and accepting them” How She Leaned In: Kidnapping puppies to make a puppy coat is not my (or anyone sane’s idea) of a best choice. But the girl has a goal and she makes the highest percentage choices she can to achieve those goals. Evil goals are still goals.


“Lean In” Says: “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” How She Leaned In: Here’s a woman who does not hold herself back, who may lack self-confidence in front of a magic mirror but does not project that insecurity when she marches out the door, who does not pull back, who ONLY leans in. Obvies it would have been better if she had leaned in without trying to murder her stepdaughter on multiple occasions. As “Lean In” also states “We need more portrayals of women as competent professionals and happy mothers–or even happy professionals and competent mothers.”

To sum it up: I’m not saying these women are role models GOOD LORD I AM NOT SAYING THAT. But it’s hard not to admire their willingness to raise their hands, dream their dreams, demand their seats at the table, and yes, of course, lean in.

Filed Under