I get more traffic from the post I did on Disney and Masculinity than any other in the history of this blog. Okay, okay, you yearning masses of insatiable readers! I’ve heard your cries, and I shall respond with a new series on Disney.

Although Disney movies are usually looked to as the seeds of internalized domination that these films plant within us girls (and boys) at our most vulnerable age– I will endeavor to reclaim our favorites by finding a pro-feminist edge so we might love them again without guilt! Don’t let them get taken away from us, dammit.

Movie #1: Alice in Wonderland

(The film as set to the music of Jefferson Airplane)

“For you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible” -Lewis Carroll

The usual feminist critique of Alice in Wonderland is as follows:

a) Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a real-life pedophile, thus the whole world he creates is intrinsically, irrevocably bent on the domination of the object of his lust: Alice.

b) In Wonderland, Alice finds herself ever negotiating betwixt the the victim and the Eve. She gets into trouble, of course, whenever she “greedily” eats something, but is then subject to an adventure/punishment where she loses all subjectivity.

c) The very premise of Alice following the white rabbit down the hole– resulting in chaos–is a punishment of her agency/curiosity.

d) Alice in Wonderland is an elaborate celebration of infantile womanhood.

While all of this is valid, there is a flip-side to the argument. As Mira Gupta points out, by “adopting the fantastic mode,” Carroll creates the “subversive allegory of a girl seeking knowledge” (67). Furthermore, Wonderland can be seen as the surrealist imagination of young girls (which is often denied by emphatically reifying imagery of innocence and simplicity in girls’ play), where Alice is “allowed to conduct her own search for meaning” denied her in the patriarchal world.

If we allow that Wonderland was all just a dream, then we have to also accept that despite the particulars of her adventures, Wonderland was ultimately under Alice’s absolute dominion. Most importantly, she dreams in excess. Especially in Victorian England, women and girls were governed by strict rules of behavior, most of which were bent on disappearing their agency through diminished physicality, voice and imagination. In Wonderland, Alice ate a lot of food, and the food made her either too big or too small, but excessive in either direction. Alice is allowed in the realm of Wonderland’s “possible” to transgress.

“Reality seems absurd in the Alice books, and the fantastical seems attainable. It is exactly this realization that has saved feminism from stagnation and has allowed it to pursue ever more ambitious goals for itself” (Schmidt-Roseman, 30).

In “The Laugh of the Medusa” Helene Cixous observes that in restrictive feminist thought women feel “guilty…for having desires, for not having any; for being frigid, for being ‘too hot;’ for being both at once; for being too motherly and not enough; for having children and for not having any; for nursing and for not nursing”, casting even the alternative of feminism as almost as restrictive as patriarchy. Perhaps this is why Alice must inhabit so radical a world, where sense and rules, from any and every direction are adversarial to the inner exploration of the young girl, who must constantly strive against the madness of others–on whom she cannot depend.

Finally, after Alice is put on trial and sentenced to death by the absurdest patriarchal court, she escapes only to encounter the locked doorknob who informs her that she is already on the other side. Alice looks through and sure enough, there she is, asleep.

Perhaps this final scene can be read as a moment of inner feminist awakening. She is “on the other side” and she awakens to her older sister whisking her away to tea time- the Victorian bourgeois rituals which she had submitted to at the onset of the film, but was bored by. However, she is now on the other side–enlightened to alternatives. One might imagine that even as real-world Alice resumes the drudgery of her every day life, the Wonderland Alice is still peering through the doorknob, still inhabiting the perils and fantasies of her imagination, where she continues to explore for that elusive open door which will set her free.

Julia Kristeva celebrates the “poetic revolution” of fantasy writers, whose literature “moves beyond madness and realism in a leap that maintains both ‘delirium’ and ‘logic'” (67).

Schmidt-Roseman adds, “Rigid logic and heterogeneous delirium, taken as separate entities, are paralyzing. Together, however, they can effect a revolution” (68).

Alice never actually exits Wonderland. She merely sees that she is in both places at once. Though Alice may seem complacent with the Victorian order she returns to at the end of the film, she has in fact become the Cheshire Cat, who grins in knowing that he can fade away.

The above references are sourced from, “Through the Looking Glass: Mirroring the Evolution of Feminist Theory in the Cricisim of Lewis Carroll’s Alice Books” by Brigit Schmidt-Rosemann, May 2001, available on Jstor.

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