That Evil Feminist Movie, "Tangled"

That Evil Feminist Movie, "Tangled" April 21, 2011

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by Tess Willoughby

I found this and just about died. As a woman who escaped from my own abuser and “tower” of extreme fundamentalism, I can’t get over this woman’s take on the Disney movie “Tangled”:

Ladies Against Feminism: Mangled Stay-at-Home-Daughters on the Silver Screen.

Rapunzel’s rebellion, anti-domesticity, and general unwillingness to stay put are decried at length. In the movie, Reims states, “we’re treated to an interesting commentary on homemakers and why these captives to domesticity are setting themselves up for eventual disenchantment.”

Say what?

Even though Rapunzel was deceived by her kidnapper, Reims writes, because Rapunzel thought Gothel was her mother, Rapunzel is a sinner for rebelling against TOTAL abuse, control, and slavery when Rapunzel becomes an ADULT! Rapunzel is put in the same camp as Mother Gothel (“If we’re prepared to say that Mother Gothel’s sins are inexcusable, we must be prepared to say the same of Rapunzel’s”), even though Gothel is a textbook abuser right down to the insults with “I’m just teasing” and the use of terrors to control Rapunzel that Gothel herself has manufactured.

I was amazed at the thorough depiction by Disney of every kind of mental and emotional abuse. Like many of the captors whom we in this forum escaped, Gothel only turns to physical abuse when all other forms of abuse fail. When Rapunzel tries to escape, obviously suffering from acute Stockholm Syndrome, Gothel stalks her and creates a crisis to force her back into bondage. The world is evil, keep your light in the tower, says Gothel. Mother knows best. You’re 18, 21, 25? So what.

From this writer’s viewpoint, if you’re in a home, being domestic, it doesn’t matter that home is a prison and you’re being abused. It doesn’t matter that your authority figure has no intention of ever letting you leave, and does not recognize that parental authority has an expiration date or that husbandly authority can be abused until it is invalid. If you leave, at all, for any reason, you’re being sinful and rebellious and anti-biblical.

A lot of beautiful girls are locked in towers in the fundie-qf-homeschooling cults because their mothers, like Gothel, are getting too old for their “callings” and their older teen daughters represent a fountain of youth of sorts. The mothers can keep getting pregnant every year, relying on the youth and strength of their captive older daughters to raise the kids. Just like Mother Gothel.

The hero, Flynn, gets castigated as a “sinner” too, despite his utterly Christlike willingness to give his own life to free Rapunzel from Gothel, and the fact that he personally restores Rapunzel to her real parents(!) Even though Flynn never once tries to take sexual advantage of Rapunzel during their travels, and sex appears to be the furthest thing from Rapunzel’s mind–it’s more like a buddy movie, with two pals hitting the road who eventually fall in love–Rapunzel is a slut nevertheless. Of course she would have to be: she’s out from under “authority” and with a guy, “camping out in the woods with said scoundrel.” When Rapunzel gives Flynn the tiara, Reims argues, this is a symbol of sleeping with him. Funny how I missed that completely. I also missed the “magical droplets from the sun god.”

I think I understand where the offense is coming from. There’s a sequence in which Rapunzel sings through a hilarious litany of about a dozen boring “womanly arts” and wonders aloud when her life will begin. We can’t have that. What could be scarier than grown young women who are bored with homemaking and want lives in the outside world, and cute young men who love them and would gladly die to help them reach their full potential? I suppose a Christian animated adventure would have had Rapunzel simply make candles and paint and read her three books until she died in captivity.


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  • I knew it.

    I knew the moment I watched this movie (which I loved, BTW) that someone out there would interpret it as an attack against domesticity and “traditional womanhood”. I even told my husband when we watched it at home, “You know, the only thing they left out of that list of normal homemaking activities was having babies.” I just absolutely knew someone was going to get their tail feathers in a tangle over that, har har.

    My husband was very skeptical that it could be interpreted as such, but of course that’s because it was clear to him that bashing homemakers was, you know, NOT the point, and you’d have to ignore most of what actually happens in the movie to MAKE that the point. I do not entirely enjoy being proved right in this case 😛

    I mean, how can people so completely, utterly miss the point of such a wonderful film?

  • Celestine

    It reminds me of the brouhaha that was raised over “Beauty and the Beast.” Apparently, some people didn’t like a heroine who read books, talked back to guys, and rescued her rescuer.

    “There must be more than this provincial life!”

  • O my! This is hysterical. It exactly all the stuff I was taught as a child. That is one blog (ladies against feminism) that I won’t be going back too. To many bad memories.

  • nicole in paris

    As a homemaker, I am deeply excited about this movie. I would love to see it. I am a homemaker by choice, it is my vocation and am happy doing so. But it should never be imposed on anyone, just like any other underpaid job!

  • Jenny Islander

    Has anybody who is critical of the movie on such grounds ever directly addressed that horrific little production number, “Mother Knows Best?” It’s a perfect carbuncle of things that Gothel does to Rapunzel to keep her prisoner. Displays of aggressive dominance disguised as affectionate gestures. Attacks on Rapunzel’s character, appearance, and behavior delivered in a sweet tone of voice. Systematically shutting away the light that Rapunzel needs and then putting out every candle she tries to light–with a smug smile, no less. Vamping like mad and then telling Rapunzel to stop the drama. Systematically terrifying her with a list of horrors that Gothel knows very well are exaggerated or outright lies, then begging Rapunzel to stop upsetting her!

    Did you catch how Gothel’s loving looks and gestures are all directed at Rapunzel’s hair, while Rapunzel gets the putdowns? And of course, Rapunzel wouldn’t even be there if Gothel could’ve just cut her hair. She’s only there because of what Gothel can get out of having her.

    The climactic scene can be read as the final escape from a toxic home as the head of that household sees her power broken.

  • africaturtle

    funny because the critical voices I heard concerning this movie took it a step further in saying the story was immoral because it promoted beastiality! yup…

  • betcha

    I think the defining moment of their relationship comes when Gothel returns to find Rapunzel gone.

    Instead of actually worrying about her–a real mother would be terrified!–she is furious with Rapunzel and begins plotting to sabotage her love life and return her to the tower. Her only emotions seem related to her loss of Rapunzel’s hair to keep her young.

    From the beginning, it appears that despite her sick ways she may actually have grown to care for Rapunzel, but nope!

    (It reminds me of when Solomon offered to cut a baby in half to figure out which of two women claiming her was the child’s real mother! The mom was horrified and offered to give the child up to save him and was promptly reunited with her offspring. The other lady would have actually been satisfied with half a baby, just to validate her ego.)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Amaranth, there are people who read books and watch movies under a microscope for no other reason than to find something just so they can get into a snit over it. And it’s not just Church Ladies and “Kyle’s Moms”.

    I’m trying to jump-start a second career as an SF writer, and in any sort of “Hard SF” there are Experts (TM) who will parse your physics and biology letter-by-letter just so they can catch you in some scientific error and crow about how Stupid You Are.

    And Kyle’s Moms take this ego-boo one step further; they always have to be on some Crusade just so Everybody Can Know How Important They Are, Saving those Sheeple from Their Own Stupidity. In the 1950s it was Comic Books. In the 1970s, Dungeons & Dragons. In the 1990s, Harry Potter. Same pattern, same snit, same Righteous Activism. Why should Rapunzel be immune?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’m in Furry Fandom. I have been (falsely) accused of bestiality in an email smear campaign for no other reason. ANY romance between a human and a nonhuman or semihuman (note: NOT animal) is going to get denounced for “promoting bestiality”. Especially if said non/semihuman has “bestial” appearance. It’s something that comes with the terrirory.

    Just Google “Furry Fandom” for similar smears all over the Web. (Compounded by the fact that there ARE some pretty crazy types in the fandom who invoke Rule 34 on any pretext and/or like to Jerry Springer before the media.) Accusations of Bestiality are so common that hearing Thundercats denounced as “Egyptian Paganism” instead sticks in my mind after 20 years.

  • I watched this movie with my not-quite-two-year-old son this weekend, and we both loved it. However, from a QF/P standpoint, the part that stood out in my mind very strongly since watching it occurs in the first rendition of “Mother Knows Best”.

    Gothel is the EPITOME of QF/P logic when she derides Rapunzel’s desire to go out into the world “underdressed”…despite the fact that she has been the one keeping her locked at home barefoot. She allows her no means of being prepare for going out into the world…and then tells her she can’t go out into the world because she’s unprepared.

    That’s like homeschooled cult 101.

  • Laaate post.

    [Trawling some blogs here, sorry of this is a little too late to be posting here. D;]

    Having experienced abuse by my own mother, this movie struck such a chord with me. Every time Gothel came on the screen, and especially during Mother Knows Best, I was distinctly and uncomfortably reminded of my mother. From the fear-mongering, personal attacks disguised as a helping hand, shaming and blaming, and ESPECIALLY every time she made an affectionate gesture that seemed genuine—but you could never really figure out if it was or not. Gah.

    Not to mention the possessiveness, manipulation, “I do so much for you and look how you repay me!” and God, that sneering, judgmental tone. Yeah. Serious deja vu.

    And then it reflected my own experience—the whole teetering between, “I’m such a horrible person!” and “I’ve done the right thing and I’m so happy!”. So been there.

    So you can imagine how incredibly uplifting and encouraging it was for me to see a movie that says, “Hey, get out of there! Live your own life!” I think I’m just realizing now how many amazing parallels that movie has for survivors and victims of child abuse. Especially the part on a little rebellion being healthy. Tangled affirmed so many of my doubts—the good doubts, the ones saying, “Maybe this is wrong,” “Maybe this is hurting me,” “Maybe I should get out of here.”

    Yeah. So all I have to say to anyone calling this movie ‘immoral’: come back to me when YOU’VE made a movie as inspiring to those who have experienced abuse. Also, I have to say I fear for your children. I’m sorry, but I do.

  • What it comes down to, I think, is this: our worldviews come out in the art we make; with Tangled, the worldview of the artists is a fairly modern, liberal one, despite being an interpretation of a fairly old tale. And we can detect a difference of worldview in others. When someone makes art that’s misogynistic or racist, those of us sensitive to it will notice. The truth is this: we shouldn’t wave away this criticism of the movie because it’s inaccurate; we should wave it away because there is nothing wrong with the modern, pro-gender equality undertones of Tangled.

  • Daniel Schealler

    I knew it the moment I watched it too.

    It gave me a lovely warm glowy feeling inside.

  • Leah

    I was not raised in a Quiverfull family–not by a long shot. However my mother was/is a malignant narcissist who kept me unemployed, poorly clothed, barely fed, without physical health care, and denying any and all adult/age-appropriate opportunities until i was TWENTY SIX. I was an only child, with virtually NO skill set; i didn’t even have a short-term part time job till November 2010. I had NO money of my own, no life skills, NOTHING.

    I’m 27 now, engaged to be married. For the time being i am a stay-at-home wife BY CHOICE, living with my fiance’ and his family. I watched “Tangled” with my fiance’ in October. It was painful–incredibly painful. It was almost as if they had taken everything that my Narcissistic Momster ever said to me, did to me, every reaction i had, everything, and boiled it down to an hour and a half and put it to song, and then threw in some magic flowers, a horse that thinks he’s a crime dog, and a cute chameleon with an attitude. I cried through most of the film…

    I would like to say that i think, from my personal experience, that the Quiverfull movement is symptomatic of narcissism and sociopathy, possibly psychopathy, and not Christianity. It simply supports those personality disorders and the behaviours associated with them for men more than women. My N-Momster claims to be an atheist and a feminist, and her construct tends to support her own narcissism. I have a close friend who is Mennonite and is going to a college in Massachussetts for a double major of chem and physics, who never wants to marry or have kids, yet she is devout and solid in her faith.

  • Pam

    I think what is most offensive to me about the movie is that it seems to have an underlying assumption that no girl or woman could be happy staying at home and doing crafts.  I used to have a high-profile, high-paying job, but now I’m way happier staying home with the kids, doing crafts, gardening, and cooking.  Rapunzel asks when her life will begin, which implies that the type of life I live happily, and that I teach my girls to live, is no life at all.  That is insulting.  Furthermore, Rapunzel does not feel any fulfillment or joy in her life until she rebels, which Flynn says is “healthy, even.”  Why would I want to show my kids a movie that teaches them the way to true happiness is to reject everything they have been taught?  Also, I disagree with the author that Flynn is the hero of the movie.  It is clearly Rapunzel who is the heroine, because it is she who is able to change her situation for the better, become self-reliant (which is how the movie buys into the ethic central to “The Scarlet Letter,” about another female rebel), and save Flynn’s life with power she has possessed within herself since birth.  How does she accomplish all this?  By leaving the protection of the woman she believes to be her mother.

    This movie is humanist and has an almost pagan, worshipful attitude toward women that I don’t want my girls imbibing.  It teaches little girls that the best way to live is to rebel against authority and rely on their own inner power to save them.  I don’t believe that.  That is not what I have experienced in my life.  I’ve lived alone and hated it.  My husband is not abusive, and to teach women that if they submit to authority they will be abused is wrong.  It’s humanist philosophy that leads to poverty and hard times. Rebellion is not a virtue.  It’s only right to oppose wicked people, so that is how the movie tries to win us over:  by portraying homeschooling parents as evil oppressors who lock their girls in virgin vaults.  They’re not trying to protect you!  Nooooooooo!  They just want to leach away your life essence until you die!  Quick!  Escape from your prison!  

    There is nothing anywhere in the movie to support the idea of protecting children from materialism, wrong ideas, drug use, alcoholism, unplanned pregnancy, STDs, broken hearts, and so on.  In fact, the idea that you should listen to your parents’ advice because they know best is mocked!  I certainly am not saying that people should stay with their abusers.  But this movie has underlying assumptions that are false.  Rapunzel wasn’t unhappy because she was protected.  She was unhappy because she was abused.  Similarly,  women who stay at home aren’t unhappy because they are at home.  Lots of women, like me, are happy at home.  Women become unhappy when they are treated badly.   A woman can’t remain submitted to the authority of a man who doesn’t submit to GOD’S authority.  I have seen this happen in many families over the years, that the woman is happy if she is treated well, and not otherwise.  That’s why I really don’t think feminism would be necessary if men would only act rightly toward their wives and children, but ours is a broken world where divorce and child protective services are sad necessities.

    Furthermore, a woman who is treated well at home and still feels unfulfilled probably won’t find lasting fulfillment elsewhere.  “No matter where you go, there you are.”  This movie teaches girls that we can run away from our problems, which isn’t true, because many of our problems are coming from within us.  Disney has gone past the “princess” icon representing women and actually deified women by implying that any problems they may be having are coming from other people, which is consistent with the feminist ethic that says women are perfect and can do no wrong.  That is why there is so much talk of women’s “choices.” The idea that a woman could make a bad or unethical choice is anathema.  But Rapunzel only has to use her superpowers to solve any problems that come along, and the bad guys at the bar that her mom warned her about turn out to be sweet, harmless dreamers.  It’s a disservice to teach girls these lies.  There are people out there waiting for more fresh meat to post pics of on the Internet.  Where is the warning of that, in this movie? I like Disney and we went to DW last spring, but I can’t get on board philosophically with a movie that teaches my kids that I’m trying to hurt them by homeschooling them, that rough characters are nicer that mothers, and that they have to renounce Christianity and all authority in their lives to be happy.  Those are lies that lead to death.

  • Pam, I like crafts too! Crafts could be meaningful for you if you do it for or with someone, but Rapunzel obviously did not.

    “Furthermore, a woman who is treated well at home and still feels unfulfilled probably won’t find lasting fulfillment elsewhere.”

    I have experienced what it is like to be treated well, but I only found fulfillment when I started using my gifts in a way that help others. You found it in home schooling, believing that your children need that protection, right? Now, home-schooling is not staying where you are treated well, but doing what you find meaningful.

    The secret to fulfillment does not lie in staying where you are treated well, but in finding something meaningful to do.

    If the quote is true, then fulfilment could be found by booking into an expensive hotel, where waiters and cleaners and everyone else will treat you well. And if being treated well and still being unfulfilled mean that man/ woman will not find fulfilment anywhere, then the well-treated non-Christian cannot find fulfilment in Jesus.

  • Juniper

    “I used to have a high-profile, high-paying job, but now I’m way happier staying home with the kids, doing crafts, gardening, and cooking….Why would I want to show my kids a movie that teaches them the way to true happiness is to reject everything they have been taught?”

    So…in other words, you found happiness by rejecting something that you had been told would make you happy and finding out for yourself what would make you happy? I see.

  • I just searched and found your article, after I had just written about this. I think the tierra is a good symbol for sex. It works for me because I grew up hearing just that. “guys will leave you if you won’t have sex.” which is not true but was a tactic to keep me out of dating. But I did miss the drops from the sun god. guess some people can never have fun with fantasy. oops.

  • Juniper

    If you watched a movie about a woman who locks a child in a tower, terrorizes her, and prevents her from interacting with the outside world in any kind of meaningful way, and you think, “They’re misrepresenting my kind of people,” then you’re doing it wrong. Whatever “it” is, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Kairon Woulfgang

    I just want to add that from a male stand point the guy is suppose to be
    a rebbal thief who “is the bad guy” but a few knocks on the head with a
    frying pan turns him into the “perfect man”? I hate how women view men
    as the enime unless they follow women and do everything he can to protect and serve them even if it means dying.

    The only thing redeamable is that they hinted she may have been the one to ask him to marry her but played it off as a joke.
    Final note: What was with his obsession about looks? most guys I know don’t care nearly that much about their looks.

    This movie is so sexist against men.

  • Alan

    I think you’re reading WAY to deeply into this movie. It never implies that homeschooling or being a protective parent is bad. It outright states that emotionally manipulating children to keep them under your control is wrong. If you take issue with that someone should call Child Protective services on you. And as to your bit about humanism leading to poverty and hard times, prove it. There is far more evidence of Christianity causing harm by encouraging witch hunts, execution of nonbelievers, slavery, and all around bigotry. It apparently also influences people to completely miss the point of movies and go on self-righteous rants.

  • Alan

    I think you’re misinterpreting some things, Eugene was never meant to be “bad”, just misguided. Also, I don’t think women view men like that, at all.

  • Jane Crone

    I would have liked Belle a lot more if she read more about math or science or creating/building something. SOMETHING.
    She didn’t try to be creative like her dad. She read romance novels. (Gag!)
    Her Dad found a way to live a life that was not provential, even though he was surrounded by the cloddish villagers. She could have followed the example right in front of her, but she just complained about life and escaped into fiction instead of trying to find her own meaning and creativity.