Saturday, December 17, 2005

The White Witch: Feminist of the Day?

I haven't written about the Feminist of the Day for the last couple of days, because they were poets, and poets intimidate me. Ursula Le Guin is the feminist of tomorrow, and I've already written about her.

So I thought instead I'd answer a question tenor horn wrote in the forums:

this may be a bit off the radar but it has sort of been on this site before; is the narnia white witch a feminist?

this is a serious question, she was such a killer character.

(the one in the film, not the one in the book).
Now I haven't seen the movie yet (I'm aiming for Tuesday cheap night, or possibly Christmas Eve with my family), so instead I'll try and examine in what senses the White Witch could be described as feminist.

She doesn't describe herself as a feminist - I think the most useful terms are those that people choose, and that is the only test I used when I was writing about feminism academically.

But there are a number of women that I have defined as feminists who didn't use the term themselves (This isn't to say that men can't be feminists - which is a question I remain agnostic on - but that I'd never feel comfortable calling a man a feminist if he didn't actively identify as such). If I was going to try and define under what circumstances I'd do that it'd probably go something like: "A woman is a feminist if she works collectively with other women to try and change the position of women in their society." (Because I'm all about the qualifiers, I think feminists can work with men, but they must work with women).

Anyway having had a definition heavy paragraph I don't think there's any evidence in the book that the White Witch works collectively with other women to try and change the position of women in society. The dwarf and the wolf are the only characters on her side that she relates to, and they are both male. Killing Aslan was certainly collective action, and there were other women involved, but there's no evidence that it happened becuase of any sort of awareness of women's place in society.

So I don't think you can say that she was a feminist. But if you were going to go a little bit further and ask can she be read as a feminist, or can she be interpreted as a feminist character, that's when it gets interesting (it's also when I have to reassure everyone that we're not about to go into a crazy lit crit path where I start using slashes and talk about intertextuality).

Aslan's world is obviously a patriarchal one, from his whole 'war is ugly when women fight' schtick (no war is ugly full stop, you stupid Jesus-substitute), to the relationships we see in the book. As far as I can remember there's nothing which shows that the White Witches World is patriarchal. So part of what she objects to could be patriarchy. You could certainly fill in the gaps and make gender central to the battle between The White Witch and Aslan.

But I'm not sure that she could be a feminist character in the movie (which I'm going to take a guess and assume doesn't recast the battle between Aslan and the White Witch as a gender war). I think you run into the Eowyn problem (is it Eowyn I'm thinking of, that annoying woman in Lord of the Rings who was played by Miranda Otto in the movie?). I've often have guys say to me 'you'll like this movie, it has really strong female characters', which often means 'it has one woman female character who acts in a traditionally masculine way.' To recast The White Witch as a feminist, without recasting the battle as one about gender, would require her to have qualities beyond a desire for power.

I'll ponder that question and give an update once I've seen the movie.

Although for this argument I'm ignoring The Magician's Nephew, which makes it clear she's not much of a feminist, but people can change in a few thousand years, and The Magician's Nephew is one of the crappiest Narnia books.


  1. yes it is Eowyn - I don't think she acts exclusively in a male way - her mooning over Aragorn for instance is stereotypically female and she does make comments (in the films, it's ages since i read the books so can't remember) about the injustice of the situation (that she isn't allowed to fight purely because she's a woman, despite the fact she is rather handy with a sword).

  2. Anonymous10:45 pm

    I'm pretty sure it's Father Christmas, not Aslan, who says that war is ugly when women fight. In the novel, that is. They cut that line out of the movie.

  3. Of course it's Father Christmas - my 7 year old self is so ashamed of me right now.

    I still think that the world Aslan is fighting for is clearly a patriarchal one. Although it'd be interesting to see how Horse & His Boy (which was always my favourite), fitted into that theory. Although the girl (again my seven year old self can't believe I've forgotten her name) was running away to avoid an arranged marriage, it was her step-mother she was running away from.