Category: Gender norms

Crossing Gender Lines

Many of the Disney villains exhibit appearances that are both masculine and feminine, giving them a transvestite appearance. This theory is most strongly supported by scholars who point out that Ursula was modeled after a famous drag queen Divine, pictured below.

Divine as the inspiration for Ursula

If there’s one thing that supports this drag queen imagery, it’s the amount of makeup that is caked on all of the Disney villainesses. No matter the occupation (sea-witch, evil queen, stay-at-home mom) they all have arched eyebrows that look penciled on, painted lips, and globs of eyeshadow.

However, these strangely masculine females are more than just based on drag queen images. Several aspects of many of the Disney villains and villainesses are representative of both genders. For example, as discussed earlier in this blog, many of the female villainesses tend to have many masculine aspects to their appearances. These include both masculine body shapes, lack of feminine flowing hair, and angular faces with more square chins.

An example of this is illustrated below in the still of Cruella DeVille. She exhibits both the “drag queen” elements such as arched eyebrows, heavy colored eyeshadow, and red lips, but also has masculine aspects including a curveless body (not pictured), jagged short hair, and a square skin.

The men also tend to appear as “prissy.” For example, Governor Ratcliff wears bows in his hair, a clothing accessory associated with women. Not only that, but he wears his hair in “pig tails,” a hairstyle that is worn almost exclusively by girls.

Male villains also have dark shadows over their eyelids that look like eye shadow and occasionally have pronounced lips that are highlighted by a darker color reminiscent of lipstick (Hades, Captain Hook, Dr. Facilier). Note how feminine Jafar appears in the still below. His eyes are clearly dark and he even has eye liner and accentuated eyelashes. The way his lips are drawn also makes him look more feminine.

The male villains also have longer hair than the typical male love interests or protagonists. Shan-Yu, Governor Ratcliffe, Gaston, and Captain Hook all have long hair that either flows freely or is loosely tied. Below, Captain Hook’s masculine features (five o’clock shadow, mustache) are balanced by feminine features (long flowing hair, arched eyebrows).

Once again, Disney teaches the norm is upheld by heros and that the villains represent the other. Whereas Disney protagonists follow clear gender roles and are clearly either feminine or masculine, the Disney villains and villainesses exhibit the physical attributes of both men and women.


To demonstrate just how impossible the body structures and facial features are that are given to the Disney villains, I collected a series of images of how the Disneyland and Disneyworld amusement parks represent the villains when they have to create their features in real life. All of the protagonists of the Disney films were portrayed by unaltered people who are not obscured by masks, whereas only some of the Disney villains and villainesses had real faces.

Interestingly, there was also a gender divide that predicted whether or not a Disney villain had a real face or a mask. Almost all of the male villains, with the exception of Gaston and Dr. Facilier, had masks, whereas only one of the female villains (The Queen of Hearts, though Ursula probably would if she wandered the park) wore a prosthetic.

It was interesting to see that Disney’s female villainesses had more natural features than the males. This might imply that women have a more narrow set of acceptable facial features in both good and evil characters. Even though the villainesses are clearly older, their faces are still expected to have a young appearance, which is maintained mostly by heavy amounts of makeup in both the drawings and the Disneyland costumes.

The only female villainesse with a mask was the Queen of Hearts. It seems that Disney has an aversion to casting overweight actors and actresses and is more comfortable making masks that accurately represent just how caricatured their weight is in the films.

The males tended to have more exaggerated or extreme features, such as long faces or baggy skin that can only be captured using face masks. They also tended to have more stylized aspects including cartoony facial hair (Captain Hook), pointed teeth (Hades), or hawk-like eyes (Shan-Yu).

 Even the more natural-looking Disney male villains (such as Frollo, whose main facial attribute is only his older age) had facial masks. Similarly, when the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is wandering the parks as an old peddler woman, she too becomes a prosthetic instead of a real older woman.

These real-life representations of Disney villains illustrate just how warped their body types and facial attributes truly are compared to real human beings. Their features are so exaggerated and out of the ordinary that real people cannot begin to capture them. In an interesting opposition to this, the use of primarily women for female villainesses is telling in that gender norms for women are more restrictive and still require certain physical attributes.

The Evil Queen and step mother from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is missing a bit more than a caring heart. Though her makeup, complete with red lips, black eyeliner, and eye shadow, gives an impression of feminine beauty her absence of hair gives her a very masculine appearance.

A black fabric hood hides her hair

Long flowing hair, associated in Western culture with women and femininity, is notably absent in all of the Disney women. Though not all of them lack hair, those that have it tend to have short hair or hair that is bound above the head and hidden from direct view. As seen below, both Maleficent and Yzma have no visible hair at all, making them appear much less feminine.

The villainesses that do have hair have shorter hair which also tends to be gray or white.

This is a clear contrast to the protagonists. All of them having long flowing hair, the exception being Cinderella and Tiana, but earlier in their respective films both of them are drawn with their hair down.

The absence of hair makes the villainesses severely less feminine and shows that women who are not feminine are unnatural. Their appearance sends the message that pure and good women have long flowing hair and that women who neglect their appearance are outsiders and evil.

The early Disney villainesses (including the Evil Queen, Maleficent, and Lady Tremaine) are all drawn wearing much more conservative clothing than their youthful princess counterparts. A reinforcement that older women have lost their beauty, this conservative dress makes them appear less feminine.

Lacking any semblance of a figure

In comparison, Snow White is much more loosely dressed. Instead of a flowing robe that hides most of her curves, she is wearing a low-cut dress that is cinched at the waist, flattering her feminine figure.

Even more drastic of a different is Maleficent’s clothing. She is also wearing a flowing robe, but it has absolutely not feminine shape to it. The only ways in which she is markedly female, in terms of how she is drawn, are her makeup and her small thin hands.

The contrast in feminine clothing is startling between the villainesse and the princess, whose bodice is even more low-cut than Snow White’s and whose waste is equally flattered by her dress.

Though not a film still, this image is sanctioned by Disney to represent Princess Aurora

Finally, in Cinderella, Lady Tremaine is wearing a very conservative Victorian dress. Though not as obscuring as the two former villainesses in terms of flowing black capes, her clothing is still remarkable more restrictive and unflattering than Cinderella’s dress.

Not only is the lack of an accentuated bodice similar in all three villainesses, but also the lack of an exposed neck. Both the Evil Queen and Maleficent have large collars or black fabric that cover their necks, and Lady Tremaine’s dress also reaches to her skin. This implies that once a woman reaches a certain age her body must be hidden away from sight. Only young bodies are celebrated in Disney films, and the early villainesses are no exceptions.