6 reasons girls should aspire to be like Alice (in Wonderland)

So let’s talk about the new film directed by Tim Burton, Alice in Wonderland. I saw it last weekend, and the Alice character surprised me in her multi-dimensionality and courageousness. It’s rare to see female characters portrayed so evenly. Herein I make my case.

You can read a synopsis of the film elsewhere, but here are my top 6 reasons why Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) is a very good role model for girls and women.

Reason #1: Girlfriend is scared to death, but overcomes her fear and kills the Jabberwocky anyway. It may be written that she’s fated to kill the Jabberwocky on the Frabjous day (calooh callay!), but she can’t believe it (“I don’t slay,” she says). After the delightful, caring White Queen (Anne Hathaway is hilarious as a floaty girly-girl) asks her to be her “champion”, Alice puts on her armor and picks up the sword. Though she’s shaking in her boots, she reminds herself of what her father used to say: “I believe six impossible things before breakfast.” She names off six impossible things (“There is a place called Wonderland…”) as she goes to face the Jabberwocky. And you’d better believe she is victorious.

How refreshing is it that she feels the fear and does it anyway? We really don’t hear much about great women feeling scared to go for what they want, but most gutsy women know that it’s part of their apparent courage. We may appear fearless, but we work very hard to overcome the fear first, and we sure do give ourselves little pep talks in the process. Little and big girls would do well to take note.

Reason #2: Alice has a mind for business. The dull guy may be asking Alice’s hand in marriage in front of 100 or more guests at the garden party, but when Alice returns from Underland, she (nicely) turns him down and tells his father — who owns her dead father’s business — that they “have business to discuss”. She goes off propose a brilliant strategy and becomes a business partner. Score one for the ladies! — or smart people who happen to be ladies.

Reason #3: She doesn’t have to be pretty. Being a “beautiful heroine” is not part of Alice’s character, and it’s not her main job in this film. Instead, she has sallow skin and dark circles around her eyes, and a mostly flat chest. This Alice is plain, and it’s her strengths that shine through.

But I’m a little bit irritated by the review of this film in the New York Times. Manohla Dargis wrote: “Alice… every inch a Tim Burton Goth Girl, from her corpselike pallor to her enervated presence, presents a more convincing vision of death than of sex.” Clearly Alice was supposed to be hot, and that would only expected of a female character. Sexism alert!

Reason #4: Alice fights to keep her spirit intact. The Mad Hatter accuses 19-year-old Alice of losing her “muchness” since she was last in Wonderland at age 6, and Alice spends quite a bit of energy proving that she has not lost her muchness.

This speaks to an actual phenomenon a lot of us go through as young women. We ask ourselves, “Am I as confident or strong as I was when I was a little girl, or am I losing that? How can I get it back?” And it acknowledges the well-documented decline of girls’ self-esteem around age 12.

Reason #5: This girl is no one’s pawn. Alice states multiple times in the film that her purpose is to be herself — not to marry someone she doesn’t love or even to slay the Jabberwocky. And she seems to have a pretty clear sense of who “herself” really is. She stands up for herself so she doesn’t end up in a loveless, stifling marriage, and she refuses to wear a corset in Victorian England. What more could a woman’s studies major want?

Reason #6: She’s kind, too. In all her strength, Alice doesn’t need to act “like a boy” or be self-absorbed — not by a long shot. The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is absolutely insane, completely not useful at all to Alice’s future goals. But he helped her escape the Red Queen’s henchmen and the Bandersnatch early on, so she is loyal to this guileless man. When he’s taken by the Red Queen, she courageously goes to her castle to save him, nearly sacrificing herself in the process.

But given these reasons, should we call this character “feminist”, as John Boot of Pajama Media did? Should we call Alice in Wonderland a “feminist movie”? I think not. Much has been written about whether “feminism” is the next f-word and whether young women even identify with that word anymore. Not everything a girl does that’s strong or courageous makes her a feminist. I would like us to think, collectively, as a culture, “It just happens that the hero of this film is a woman.”

And the truth is, women who identify as feminists want and expect female characters to be given the same full, brave roles as male characters. In Alice, we finally have a character who is equal to male protagonists, and then some. Thank you, Tim Burton.


12 thoughts on “6 reasons girls should aspire to be like Alice (in Wonderland)

  1. I loved the movie. Mia Wasikowska rocks.

    But I actually do think it’s a feminist movie, for many of the reasons you cite that girls should aspire to be like Alice.

    In some other time or place where girls are actually judged on a level playing field with boys, are free to be themselves, valued for their intelligence and various talents (not taught that their potential hotness is of utmost importance) , we could say this is a film which just happens to have a female hero but the film wasn’t made and isn’t reacted to in a vacuum.

    I also think whether girls identify with the word feminism or not the struggle for true equality is far from over. Any other word used to sum up that struggle would also soon be bashed and muddied by people who don’t support equality. Rather than refraining from using the word because it makes some people antsy we should educate people about what it really means.

  2. Cool that you liked the movie, C.K.. Thanks for your comment!

    I go back and forth on what we should do with the word “feminism” all the time. I hear what you’re saying, C.K. How do we reeducate them, though?

  3. I think starting young, with the kids we know, is a good idea.

    Check out this young feminist at Smart Girls at the Party:


    But also blogs and stuff (like the “this is what a feminist looks like” group), like this one, looking at pop-culture through a feminist lens and not being afraid to point out that’s what is being done. If we become nervous about using the word, it seems to hand over power to the people who start shouting ‘feminazi’ anytime someone points out problems with the way women are regarded and treated.

  4. I saw the movie just yesterday and I must say I didn’t notice Alice’s individualism until I read your blog (because I was too concentrated on watching the wonderful Johnny Depp playing the awesome Mad Hatter).

    After reading your blog you made me think back and realize that most of what you said was very true. Alice does not abide by another person’s will. She has her own will and her own mind. A good example of this would be when she went to the Red Queen’s castle to save the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) after he saved her. Also, like you said she did this to show that she did not lose her Muchness and prove the Mad Hatter wrong. Reason #3 stands out to me too because in the current day, most people expect the main female characters to be EXPCEALLY pretty/hot (not saying that Mia Wasikowska is not pretty/hot), but in this movie it did not seem like the producers tried to make her look like a fashion model or a pretty Barbie doll.

    When reading this blog it made me think of the novel (that has a main character that is the complete opposite as Alice) The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. In this novel, Pecola Breedlove, a black girl that lived in America around 1970,wishes to have blue eyes. She thinks that if she had blue eyes then everything that was wrong in her life would turn right. Pecola searches throughout the book and in the end she is tried into thinking she has blue eyes when she really doesn’t. She deluded herself into thinking that those “blue eyes” made her much prettier and more acceptable than before. Unlike Alice, Pecola is uncomfortable with who she is and tries to change it. If you compare Alice to Pecola, Alice is a much stronger character because she lives with who she is (not trying to change anything). During Alice’s time the style and trend was to wear a corset, but she refused because she didn’t like to wear it, by doing this Alice defines herself and makes a clear statement that she does not want to be like all the other aristocrats out there. Unfortunately, Pecola did not have the same mind set as Alice and tried to convert to the thing she thought was pretty.

  5. Jennifer,

    First of all, I really enjoyed reading your article and I was impressed at how you criticized all of a woman’s insecurities in modern society’s outlook upon women. Women of today believe that they need to feel insecure about the way they look, their personalities, their place within a modern society, and in the world of the film industry. Throughout history, women have always been neglected of their strengths because people have continuously portrayed women as objects. Because of this mockery, women have been lacking confidence within themselves to stand up for themselves and not be influenced by what other people say about them.

    This has been a common theme that has appeared in many films and novels that feature women. One novel that sparks this theme is The Bluest Eye, which was written by Toni Morrison. Morrison wrote this novel as a message to all women to break open from their shells and to reveal their inner selves. The women in this novel have been corrupted by the image of physical beauty and have thought to obtain high social status by keeping a certain level of appearance. All women today are continuously being corrupted by this same factor and will never quit until women begin to believe in their own feelings and be confident to break out of the barrier that has trapped women inside for centuries.

    People need to realize that women are equal human beings and that there’s more to their world than just maintaining a beautiful appearance. Women should be looking up to Alice’s character in the upcoming Alice in Wonderland film because of her protagonist qualities that bring out the true warrior from within. Women have lost the sense to be confident with their own feelings and have relied too heavily on other people’s opinions about their appearance. Women need to stand up for their own self and realize that they can’t always be judged based on their appearance, but who they are on the inside. That is the important quality that Alice has that she needs to exemplify to other women. Alice shows the unique ability to trust her own beliefs and keeps that fire inside of her glowing bright as the morning sun, encasing herself with a bright light of radiance. Women need to understand that there’s more to life than just looking prettier than the person next to you, but rather the importance of having personality and confidence within that slumbering warrior beneath all that so-called “precious skin.”

  6. I came out of Alice SO glad I’d taken my daughter with me to see it. We read the book together before going to see the movie, so I was a little dubious (Alice in the book is an obnoxious, flibbertygibbet, victim if you ask me). I knew the movie was different from the book, but I’m really, truly glad it was different in this way!

    To my husband, I explained that it is so rare to see a girl, especially a young girl, who takes charge of her life. There was no ‘boy interest’, there was no flakey, indecisive behaviour, there was simply a girl who stood before Bayard (the dog) and said “I choose…” God I love those two words when they come from the mouth of a teenaged girl. We should hold classes in high schools where we make all students practice saying them!

  7. Great text, well done. I did not saw the movie yet, but I’m certain it will be great. Maybe you gave me a new viewpoint with that text, before I even saw that.
    Thanks 🙂

  8. I haven’t seen the Tim Burton version of Alice yet, I did however see the short series, that’s more like a movie on the DVD called Alice. It also has a strong verson of Alice, and I found her to be very relatable. Also, I thought the actor who played The Hatter was just the cutest guy!

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  10. i think this is brilliant but i need a real person as my role model because its for english class and our teacher said the person had to be reall =( can you give me any reall people like alice???

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