When I was four, I saw The Wizard of Oz for the first time and cried the whole way through. It took me about three years to be able to see it again. Rewatching it after a few years of studying has blown my mind. In a time that was socially oppressive for women, a film that breaks every gender stereotype was produced, released and was exceptionally successful and continues to be so.
The Wizard of Oz was originally a book written by Frank L Baum in 1900. In 1900. In case you didn’t catch that, in 1900. In a time where women had little to no power, weren’t allowed to vote and society held close to its conservative and patriarchal values. And yet Dorothy, a girl, is the protagonist of this story. Dorothy, in her sweet blue check dress and white apron, so innocent and feminine doesn’t take shit from anyone. In this story, it’s women who have all the power. And I’m not talking about the sexual power that today’s society is so obsessed with. No, this power is all about being an independent thinker, strong and having the ability and courage to grow a pair and fix your own problems.
Every woman in The Wizard of Oz breaks a stereotype. In the very beginning we have Miss Gulch (aka The Wicked Witch of the West) identifying herself as the villain. Rather than running to her uncle for help, Dorothy goes straight to Aunty Em, who without a doubt is the head of the Gale household. Dorothy’s uncle is strong and yet he cleaves to a woman, only when Aunty Em is upset does Uncle Henry take the reins.
All the men in the book are powerless (to a point). Yes, the wizard is said to “Great and Powerful” and yet Dorothy reveals him to be the fake he is, cowering behind a curtain using trickery and fear. Lion, Scarecrow and Tinman are lacking in skills and traits usually associated with their gender and have simple, relatable vulnerabilities; wanting to be brave, wanting to be smart and wanting to love. These characters are the culmination of society’s obsession with what it means to be masculine.
Glinda the Good Witch is a guiding light and protector throughout Dorothy’s journey, just as the Wicked Witch of the West is Dorothy’s enemy. Obviously, both are women. All the truly powerful characters, whether “good” or “bad”, are female. So what does this say about female characters today? It took Disney a while to catch on that not every “princess” is out there to find a “prince”. With films like Disney Pixar’s Brave we are finally seeing this kind of “be your own hero” story gather momentum.
There is no love interest in The Wizard of Oz. It is a journey of friendship and growth. This is the same with Brave (which is my absolute favourite movie at the moment). When I first watched Brave I was constantly expecting a guy to burst into the movie and sweep Merida off her feet (being a Disney movie, I was bracing myself for a vomit-worthy song too). I was expecting one of the princes to grow a pair and show her what she was missing. I was ecstatic when this didn’t happen. Merida grew a pair and saved her family. Hell yeah! Merida doesn’t take shit from anyone, just as Dorothy didn’t. This is the kind of role model women need. No matter what age.
The following TED Talk was the inspiration behind my rant.