I’m seeing so many posts comparing the cutting of Maleficent’s wings to rape or genital mutilation, along with commentary that the movie is anti-men, that I’m wondering: How might the movie change if Stefan had been Stefanie?
When violence in a narrative happens to a woman, must we think of her genitals? In the story of Samson and Delilah, she “puts him to sleep in her lap” and then cuts off the source of his strength– his hair. Is that a rape metaphor?
For me, Maleficent’s character is primarily a Fairy, a magical creature who happens to be female. Stefan is primarily a human who happens to be male.
Either way– if the violence is or is not a rape metaphor– clearly, the movie is about Maleficent’s recovery, so that’s the important thing. It’s just irritating to me because I’m so sick of watching women get raped on screen. To watch a movie and not have that experience, but then to see so many others have it, is frustrating.
So bear with me: consider the plot switch, from Stefan to Stefanie. For me, the structure of the narrative wouldn’t change much at all. I realize Maleficent falls in love with Stefan and receives her first kiss from him, but that aside, assuming she’s not gay, here’s how the plot would go– pretty much the same: The first thing Maleficent asks Stefan is if he’s a human or not. Maleficent’s attraction to Stefan had to do with his human-ness, not his man-ness.Humans live in a separate world than the magical world. That’s how the narrator introduces the whole story, and the difference between Maleficent and Stefan primarily as Fairy/ Human rather than woman/ man. Their relationship is primarily a dramatic friendship forged between two species who are supposed to fear and hate each other.
I’ve written about this before, but after his human-ness, Stefan is defined by his ambition: he steals in the first scene, and he says he wants to love in the castle. Easily, an ambitious human “Stefanie” could’ve played this part. “Stefanie” is then tasked by the king to kill “the winged creature.” Yet, when it comes to the moment of killing, she can’t quite do it, so she takes Maleficent’s power– her wings– from her. The betrayal is still deep, committed by a childhood friend, destroying a bond formed two species, Humans and Fairies, who were supposed to hate and fear each other. We’d also get another starring female part and no more tangential talk all over the internet about “man-hating.” Obviously, the movie is not about “man-hating” anyway. Aurora ends up with a loving, cute, brave guy, as well as remaining a friend to Maleficent. In Angelina Jolie’s own words:
We wanted to tell a story about the strength of women and the things they feel between one another,” Jolie said. “Our movie has all this strength and all this feminism, but, what I think is so nice is that, sometimes, in order to do that you have to make the man an idiot. Instead, we have this very elegant, wonderfully handsome, prince who, in the end, is great. He doesn’t need to be less than to make us more than. We don’t have to simplify or cheapen the men, or to detract from one to make the other better. I think that’s a mistake that’s often made in movies.
So, if Stefan had been Stefanie, this whole “man-hating” interpretation would be nicely cleared up. Do you think Hollywood would make a movie with three female leads? Two female villains? Wouldn’t that be great? Tell me what you think.
I get what you’re saying. How did the audience perceive it? From the majority of reviews, blog posts, and Facebook posts I’ve seen most saw it as a rape metaphor. For me, at the moment of actually watching the film, it FELT like a rape to me. I thought, “OMG it’s like he raped her.” Bottom line, I guess, is what each individual perceived it to be at the time of viewing it. If you didn’t perceive it that way while watching it, then of course that is a completely valid response. But so is the response of many others who DID think of rape.
Yes, Robyn, I agree. I never meant to say its not valid to see it as a rape metaphor, I’m just personally exhausted by rape metaphors, so I prefer not to think of this scene that way.
It made me think of rape too. Not because there was any sexual connotation there–there wasn’t–but because it was an act of violence, humiliation, and betrayal. In my mind, that’s what rape is about, not about the sex. In fact, it seemed to me that the movie was getting to the essence of what makes rape so horrible. It’s not because some guy stuck his penis in a woman–it’s because he purposely hurt her, he rendered her powerless, and, in many cases, he betrayed her trust. And may I add that it has nothing to do with romance either, or with the perpetrator’s gender, though the vast majority of offenders are male. So it would still work if Maleficent and Stefan were just friends, or if Stefan were Stefanie. Women are raped by men they considered friends all the time. Women are raped by women too. So yeah. Of course, Stefan being a man and the implied romance make the connections even more obvious. But on a personal level, the fact that it was so similar to rape is what made it so powerful for me. The scene when she wakes up and discovers that her wings are gone almost brought tears to my eyes. And the one where she gets her wings back and triumphantly takes her flight–goosebumps. I wanted to scream in joy in the theater. Now I’m not saying this is what the movie intended, or how everyone should understand it. But it’s how I understand it and it’s what made it one of my all-time favourite movies.
Your analysis makes a lot of sense to me, about this metaphor of cutting her wings as the emotional depiction of what rape feels like and does. But I’m still resistant! Yes, rape feels like that and does that, but there are other violent acts that can make a human experience those emotions as well, whyd oes it have to be rape? I was never saying it rape is about sex, but genitals, violence done to genitals (and the genital mutilation analogy as well).
Well, I didn’t say it has to be rape. Just that that’s what it felt like to me, but I’m sure other interpretations can be made too. I didn’t get the genital mutilation vibe at all, for example, though others did. But what can’t be denied is that what Stefan did to her was definitely a violation of her body. He didn’t just steal her magical wand or something. And what routinely happens in our world to female bodies? Violence, especially (but not only) sexual violence. So, of course, it could be conceived as just any other kind of violence, and there’s no way to tell what the people who made the movie intended. Most likely, they each had their own interpretation for it too, and maybe that’s why we find it confusing. But to me, a man’s act of violence against a woman strikes a particular chord, it carries a baggage and it’s different from just any kind of violence. I can only speak of my own interpretation though, and I totally understand that others might see it differently.
Also just to clarify, I’m NOT saying I think the movie’s intent was that Stefan really did rape her, and they told the whole wing story as some sort of euphemism for it and we’re supposed to understand that what really happened was rape.
In my reading of it, it does all revolve around her wings, nothing sexual/genital happened there, and it’s all about her feeling violated, powerless, and betrayed (and later healing, letting go of the hurt, and reclaiming her power). All I’m saying is that this speaks so strongly to me because it’s so similar to what one might experience after being raped, and making that connection is what made it powerful for me. And maybe the writer/actors/director/etc. thought of that too and purposely made it so the connections would be there. Maybe.
I agree with everything you said. You worded my thoughts exactly. Thank you! It’s also why it made it a movie that my 7 and 4 year old children won’t see until they are older.
If Stefan had been Stefanie then it would be seen as anti-man because the only significant male character is Maleficent’s crow-boy (whom she clearly controls). I thought Stefan, as a *person*, was an interesting character; blinded by ambition but never entirely losing his capacity for love (because I do believe it is his love for his daughter that drives him to madness and hatred).
That being said, I do think something would have been lost if Stefan hadn’t been a love interest, not for the rape analogy (which, honestly, I didn’t even notice till I read it later here), but because Stefan gave Maleficent “true love’s kiss”, and she throws that back in his face with the curse, in the belief that there’s no such thing as true love. It’s part of her character arc that she goes from that to loving Aurora so much that she can break the curse. It’s a different type of love, but strong enough all the same.
Interesting about Stefan driven by love for his daughter. I never thought of that. I thought he was driven mad by his ambition. Also, I do like the evolution of true loves kiss, but I would have given that up for a wider definition of love, between friends Stefanie and Maleficent and also between Maleficent and Aurora.
Yeah, I can see what you mean. I do love the maternal bond between Maleficent and Aurora, but at the same time I often feel as though mother/daughter love is the only acceptable love shown between two women in fiction. So having Stefan become Stefanie would show a rare case of loving friendship between two girls.
On a sidenote, I really love that the three fairies looking after Aurora are completely incompetent and used for comic relief, partly because female characters tend not to be allowed to be funny as often as male ones (I read a really good essay once that argued this is because being funny gives the character power over the audience with the ability to make them laugh, so by making a female character funny you’re empowering her, though I do think this depends a lot on whether or not she’s deliberately funny), but also because so often women are stereotyped as having some kind of mystical maternal ability that means as soon as a baby comes into their vicinity they know exactly what to do to make it happy.
But the more I think about it, the more it bothers me that I feel the need to justify the film as not being anti-man by making Stefan the villain. If the genders had been flipped, we’d have Maleficent and Aurora as men and Stefan(ie) as the villain. This could easily end up being sexist, but that doesn’t make the reverse true, because fiction is not so easily separated from the society that produces it. The ambitious and cold-hearted Stefanie betraying the male Maleficent would feed into the cultural narrative whereby ambitious women are selfish, unnatural and incompetent (this wouldn’t hold true with a 3-women cast, because, well, 1/3 does not a universal truth make). The reverse isn’t true, because our culture sees male ambition as a good thing. Stefan fits the “ambitious female” stereotype in many ways, and perhaps this was deliberate to show the folly of equating competence and gender. Likewise, the 2:1 ratio of men to women would be the standard, default male arrangement, but the 2:1 women:men we have is a reversal of it. By highlighting the inequality so prevalent in fiction, the filmmakers are accused of sexism.
I don’t think you are ever going to stop hearing about the man-hating business. I saw a video that said Rio was man-hating and another set of memes that said My Little Pony was misandrist. So there is really no winning with the people who accuse films of hating men. I mean apparently a thousands huge franchisees which have almost no women in them aren’t enough, i.e. Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, Transformers and Iron Man. If this were the depression era these people would call Katherine Hepburn a man-hater and accuse Spencer Tracy of having a “mangina.” so screw them.
I hope you’re not right but you may be. It is just so fucking self-centered and distorting to reduce feminism to “man-hating,” acting as if men were the center of it all, still. ARGH.
I thought your readers would be interested in my new novel, “Persephone in Hell”, a debut coming of age novel by C.F. Joyce.
Troubled teenage Glory imagines herself a mighty queen, but discovers in her 1968 Massachusetts town that even queens have to watch their heads as savages await. Glory and her family move from Boston city life to rural cow country where people have heard of Jews but never seen a real one. A coming of age tale of a girl who doesn’t understand why her sister won’t talk to her and even Mother Nature seems out to get her. She cries out to the gods for help. But nobody sees her terrible self inflicted wounds. No one is paying attention. In this coming of age debut novel, C.F. Joyce explores the roles that family histories, clashing cultures, and dysfunctions play in the life of a young girl.
Under the unpublished title “Memories of Glory”, the novel won a HarperCollins Top 5 Gold Medal award. Here are some of the reviewer’s comments:
“It is very difficult to approach a ‘coming of age’ story, and write in such a way as to not appear clichéd, but Elizabeth Marcus…has made a remarkably strong case. In ‘Memories of Glory’, the journey from childhood to adulthood is dealt with in a unique way; the six children in Glory’s family are used to explore various different facets of growing up. The reader is also able to understand more about the pasts of Glory’s parents and their families, allowing adult tensions to be explored too. A compelling feminist take on life dominates, but the feelings of the important men in Glory’s life are not left uncovered. The memories she recalls do not depict a clear straightforward story, rather each is a part of a puzzle which in the end paints an often brutal but fair conclusion on life…Glory is set up well as a whimsical day-dreamer. She lives in an alter-world, and her intelligence and desire to be elsewhere helps build a strong picture of her imagination. Gradually it becomes clear that the world she fashions for herself is an escape from the harsh life that she has had to lead. As a protagonist she is wonderful; her suffering is a result of both her surroundings and of universal teenage trauma: I found her hugely accessible…The use of dialogue, and the focus on different characters in each recollection, allows the reader to build a strong concept of each family member, and their relationships with one another. This is a vibrant read, and no connection is left unexplored. Friendship, as well as sibling rivalry, is beautifully drawn out…The author clearly has a gift for wit and charm, illustrated in the passage where the family go blueberry picking…The role of “Mother Nature”, of fate and fortune, is an interesting theme and one that gives an interesting dimension to the family’s attitude.”
“Persephone in Hell” by C.F. Joyce is available for $2.99 as a Kindle ebook on Amazon.com. For more information, contact Elizabeth Marcus at elizabethannmarcus.gmail.com.
Thank you for posting this. I appreciate it.
Hi CF Joyce,
Your novel sounds great! I cant wait to check it out, though I am seriously backlogged at the moment.
Again, I haven’t seen the movie yet. But I think you have to let people have their own interpretations. You can’t just declare that something that someone else feels is invalid unless you’re the creator in which case you get into Word of God vs. Death of the Author debates.
I think it could have been interesting to have Stephan be Stephanie (or Aurora’s mother instead… doubly so since she doesn’t speak much in the animated original) but then you’d probably hear about how this movie is “only for women.”
“I realize Maleficent fell in love with Stefan and received her first kiss from him” I don’t think you can remove this element simply because it’s inconvenient for your argument.
I find your description of the movie interesting because it seems to borrow from other Disney films. I am trying to stay away from spoiler-heavy critique and reviews until I can get out to see the movie for myself. The human/fairy thing reminds me of The Little Mermaid and the way he spares her life has shades of Snow White.
Yes, authors intention is dead, and should be, and every one is allowed their own interpretation. That said, what the author intended is a factor I like to consider (though of course, you never know for sure, and even she doesn’t because of her unconscious, the point of the dismissal of her intention I guess) and I like to argue for my interpretation and see if I can convince people to see what I see. I am enjoying this discussion and I’ve had some more thoughts about it all that I’m going to share in a post very soon.
It’s definitely an interesting thought. I hadn’t been reading commentary about the movie, but I had similar thoughts when seeing it with my 8-year-old daughter on Saturday – the wings being a metaphor for something else.
Anyway, my main fear as far as a female Stefan would be the whole “cat fight” theme that many men would start talking about. Also, although it wouldn’t be “man-hating,” the feminist analysis might be along similar lines, but tweaked a bit to be more towards internalized oppression?
In any case, your mention of the fact that Stefanie wouldn’t kill Malefecent reminded me that Stefan couldn’t do this in the movie. Now that I think of it, I like this. I had kind of forgotten about it, and so simply viewed Stefan as this sad character that had gone completely to the dark side, and maybe he had by the end, but the fact that he didn’t kill her when he had the chance at least showed he was not 100% evil, at least at that point. Which kind of ties into the theme of the movie visa vis Malefecent – ie that what you think is pure evil is much more complex and moreover capable of changing over time. Stefan’s initial transgression was not really justifiable in any way, but then his descent into a kind of madness was at least somewhat understandable given the curse. Unfortunately Stefan doesn’t get the opportunity to find something or someone to bring him out of this descent, which is unfortunate, but I guess in the end the writers felt there needed to be some Bad Guy (in caps). 🙂
I HATE the catfight thing and believe the only way to get rid of it is to have narratives with more females and complex females.
I agree its interesting that he didn’t kill her and no one is really talking about that. For instance, why didn’t he? It seems it could be that he had to cut off the wings as proof that he killed her so that is why he cut them, not to humiliate her. Though maybe he was just killing to birds with one stone, and he did intend to disempower her.
Maybe I’m naive, I don’t know, but he didn’t seem like a he was simply out to humiliate her, just that she had something (the wings) that he needed in order to achieve his goal, and of course he cared more about that then about how much it would hurt her. Obviously he had some moral line in him because he wasn’t able to kill her, but note enough of one to stop from maiming her. I don’t know, maybe this could be compared to how some men might think that rape is not that big a deal because it’s not as bad as killing, when in fact it is pretty darn close, or so I gather…
Thanks for your comment Bridget. So far, I remain I’m outnumbered on the date rape analogy standing.
Firstly, the “man-hating” thing is ridiculous and stinks of MRA rubbish, so I disregard anyone who makes such a case.
That said, the scene did immediately make me think of rape, specifically, date rape. Maleficent was drugged; her body was then used against her will. She was injured. It’s not a perfect comparison, but it is there.
And yes, the dynamic would be different if Stefan were a woman. Male violence against women is different from female violence against women. There is a certain history there, a history of oppression and misogyny. I do think Maleficent loved Stefan, and the maiming/violation was that much more painful and warping to her personality because of it. If Stefan had been a platonic friend, whether male or female, the scene WOULD have felt different: it would not have felt like date rape. But Stefan and Maleficent are clearly on a “date” of sorts when they are snuggling together.
That said, Maleficent is not “a woman scorned.” That downgrades her character to a trope, which, again, is rubbish. Maleficent didn’t find out her boyfriend was cheating on her. Maleficent’s boyfriend drugged her and ripped off her wings. No one calls rape victims “women scorned.” They are victims. Meeting Aurora then becomes a healing process of Maleficent, and then we can all cheer as the hero vanquishes her enemy (Stefan) at the end of the film.