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Feminspire | April 17, 2014

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Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales With a Feminist Twist

Once Upon a Time: Fairy Tales With a Feminist Twist

Fairy tales with a twist are trendy right now. The retelling of old stories–but giving them strong female leads–is empowering for women, young and old. Retellings of Snow White where the title character is a hardcore warrior in her own right (like Snow White and the Huntsman) and shows like Once Upon a Time beat any bedtime stories where the beautiful maiden waits for Prince Charming to, uh, save her from whatever. Sure, every now and then a girl needs some saving, but let’s get real here – at least half the time, it’s the other way around. A big part of Once Upon A Time‘s appeal lies in its compilation of female characters that kick butt.

The show centers around its female leads, each of whom has her own storyline in which she tackles deeply buried psychological issues, struggles through social alienation, and beats off physical threats in worlds where reality and magic intertwine.

Emma Swan is the resident cynic. Over the course of the first season, viewers watch as the woman who trusts no one and has lived without any steady, healthy relationships becomes a mother and a community leader. Her character, played by Jennifer Morrison, begins to discover her past, a journey that is catalyzed by a surprise visit from her long-lost son. Her son tells her that her destiny is to bring hope back to the residents of Storybrooke. Although she doesn’t believe, she slowly begins to care for and help these familiar, cursed fairytale characters. Her persona is one many of us can relate to – someone with an acute sense of abandonment coupled with a desire to reject intimacy as a result of being hurt. She represents a transition from isolated and resentful to surrounded and hopeful. The woman can fight evil and will not give up, even though she spent most of the first season refusing the title of savior.

Regina Mills is the classic evil queen and represents the title in every sense of the word with her snide remarks, vindictive actions, and manipulative schemes. She is the conniving, manipulative character we all know, the boss we hate and the girl we’d love to see disappear. But, unlike the people in our circles, her evilness is backed by magic powers. Her character, played by Lana Parrilla, is essential in a realm of fairytales. However, this evil queen also has a relatable side. It hides beneath layers of malevolence and surfaces when she remembers her first love and her love for her adopted son, Henry. The tragic love story from her past has resulted in an irate woman determined to destroy the world’s happiness.

The ever-talented Ginnifer Goodwin plays the strong-willed Snow White. In Storybrooke, she is in love with a married man, but in the parallel fairytale existence, the man she loves is her husband, Prince Charming. As Mary Margaret the schoolteacher, she is a charming, beautiful, introverted individual with a love for all living things. Her character’s contribution to the show was debatable for much of the first season. For such an important character who puts such meaning into the phrase “true love,” she waffles between loving a forbidden man, hating him for not trusting her, then loving him again. Yet, her character is very complex. Snow White is someone who is fiercely independent, with a strong will and the desire to fight evil in the name of true love. However, she’s also capable of pity and empathy, even when it comes to the Evil Queen. It will be exciting to watch season two as her relationship with her daughter, Emma, develops.

In the finale of season one we see half a season of plot developments squeezed into one episode. Henry, Emma’s son, eats the poisoned apple (turnover) and falls into the deepest of sleeps. After denying the fact that she is the only one who can save the entrapped residents of Storybrooke all season, Emma goes down a steampunk elevator, kills a dragon and retrieves the true love potion, which Rumpelstiltskin then steals, but it’s okay – she didn’t need it anyways. She just needed true love’s kiss. When she kisses Henry, he wakes up and the curse is broken. But, not so fast – Rumpelstiltskin reintroduces magic to the real world. Cue credits.

In last night’s premiere of season two (spoiler alert) we are introduced to a slew of new creatures and characters in both the fairytale world and our own: soul-sucking wraiths, Sleeping Beauty (by the Disney name “Aurora”), and, of course, a new female powerhouse: Mulan (Disney does, after all, own ABC). It is revealed that there is a part of old fairytale world that Regina’s curse did not destroy, and through the Mad Hatter’s portal, Emma and Snow White are transported back.

Once Upon a Time’s new female lead, Mulan

Whew. You can’t miss this show. The women in it are powerful characters who drive the stories, and the plots are fantastic. It’s a dizzying blend of Grimm and Disney and myth, perfectly delightful.

Did you watch the season premiere of Once Upon a Time? What are you looking forward to seeing this season? Share with us in the comments below!

Written by Catherine Cross and Nikki Gladstone