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Spoofmaster

The Wizard of Oz: an asexual film reading

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Spoofmaster

Mmkay, so for my big final paper in my gender and film class, I did a full-blown asexual reading of The Wizard of Oz. It's written somewhat in response to an article by Alexander Doty, which was a surprisingly convincing homosexual reading that had Dorothy as a lesbian, torn between femme Glinda and butch Wicked Witch of the West. Kept thinking when I read it, though, that it'd make even more sense if Dorothy was just asexual. It's unfortunate that Doty's article isn't available on the internet (you have to get one of his books to read it), but I think you'll still get the picture.

Someplace Where There Isn’t Any Trouble:

The Wizard of Oz as an Asexual Journey

The Wizard of Oz is not a movie that springs to my mind when it comes to discussions of sexuality, queer or otherwise. As an asexual, I had always automatically read the film as nonsexual…until I read Alexander Doty’s article “My Beautiful Wickedness: The Wizard of Oz as Lesbian Fantasy.” Suddenly, it seems that Dorothy isn’t a gender-neutral tomboy in pigtails, but a dyke waiting to unleash her lesbian potential. Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West are butch lesbians out to get a hold of Dorothy’s slippers, which apparently represent menses by virtue of being red, and Glinda is half drag queen, half femme lesbian. Granted, heterosexual readings are just as appropriative, if not more so (as Doty points out several times)—but what about the possibility that the entire film is about Dorothy’s lack of interest in “adult” sexuality?

While The Wizard of Oz does not contain any heterosexual romance, Doty’s assumption that all women who aren’t interested in men are automatically lesbians is, frankly, insulting. His statement that “viewers of all sexual identities persist in seeing heterosexuality where it ain’t” is particularly ironic from an asexual point of view, as it seems to me that sexual viewers in general see sexuality of some variety in everything, whether or not it’s really there. While I am generally able to follow sexual readings of films, I never cease to be baffled by the seemingly manic need of certain sexual critics to redefine the entire world according to the shape of their genitals. Even Freud once said that “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” but in this day and age anything that even vaguely resembles a penis automatically becomes a phallic symbol. Take Doty’s analysis of the cyclone as a representation of the butch dyke stereotype, for instance: “they possess and desire female genitalia (the vortex) while identifying with heterosexual (“phallic”) masculinity (how the cyclone externally takes the shape of a funnel).” Setting aside the question of whether butch lesbians really do identify with heterosexual masculinity, which is doubtful to say the least, Doty’s vision of the vortex as vaginal is questionable at best. One could argue his case in the light of the nature of actual tornados, but the vortex in the film looks more like a swirling, windy plane than a tube or orifice—hardly similar to what most girls probably have down below. That’s what I hope, anyway. You never know.

Taking Doty’s image and running with it, though, leads me not to conclude that the cyclone is representative of butch dykes, but that it is representative of sexuality in general. Doty refers to it as “a destructive force that sweeps through the conservative heartland of America, separating a young girl from her family,” which sounds a lot more like puberty than like specifically queer sexual tendencies. The central conflict Dorothy faces is, of course, the onset of puberty and her oncoming sexual maturity. As a child, Dorothy did not face societal pressures to be a sexual person, but now that she is a young woman, she has caught the attention of Almira Gulch, who will later become the Wicked Witch of the West in Dorothy’s fantasy. Gulch is either an asexual who has fallen prey to society’s assertion that all asexuals are “broken” people, or a sexual person who has simply failed at finding a partner. In either case, she has homoerotic tendencies and considers herself incomplete without sexuality, and her quest to “fix” herself centers on awakening Dorothy’s new sexual potential. Dorothy herself is curious about sexuality, as are all young people when they first learn of its existence, and engineers encounters with Gulch by insisting on walking past her house on the way home and letting Toto loose in her garden.

Dorothy’s raging teenage hormones, responsible for the destabilization of her childhood life, estrange her from her family after her antagonistic encounter with Gulch. When she runs away, it is with Toto, who may be seen as one of Dorothy’s non-sexual relationships. Gulch attempts to sever that relationship, and Dorothy’s aunt and uncle allow it to happen. This is the sexual world demanding that a male/female relationship either be sexual or not exist at all. The fact that Toto is a dog is simply indicative of the rationality of Dorothy’s asexual assumption that it was good, right, and salutary for her to be “just friends” with a male, as the friendly non-human creature is a good representation of the asexual attitude toward everyone: good for companionship, but not in that way. This is a theme that will return when Dorothy picks up her inhuman, damaged male companions in Oz.

Once in Oz, Dorothy soon meets Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. According to Doty, “there’s more than a touch of camp excess [in Glinda’s costume] that finally seems expressive of lesbian femmeness than of the straight feminine,” but between the enormous, puffy sleeves and skirt and the crown on her head, Glinda’s presentation of herself is more akin to an oversized fluffy pink five-year-old princess wannabe than to a sexual adult. She is glamorized in a feminine way, but also in a self-consciously silly, childish manner that displays her utter lack of concern for the so-called “adult” world of sexuality. While most asexuals do not have a Peter Pan complex, it is sometimes helpful to sexuals to think of asexuals as childish and naïve in order to reconcile themselves with the concept of a person with no interest in sex. Glinda perpetuates that stereotype, but with the end result that Dorothy is presented with a benevolent, asexual goddess figure who is concerned more with helping Dorothy to find her own way than with insisting that Dorothy choose some position along the commonly accepted spectrum of sexuality that runs from heterosexuality to homosexuality.

Dorothy also meets the Wicked Witch of the West, who continues Gulch’s attempts to hijack Dorothy’s sexuality, though far more aggressively than her Kansas counterpart. Dorothy learns that her house has fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East and crushed said woman, leaving only her ruby slipper-clad feet visible. The Wicked Witch of the East, like her sister, is easily interpreted as the sexuality Dorothy subconsciously wants to escape, regardless of her initial interest in the concept. However, by “burying” the issue of sexuality (under a house, no less), Dorothy achieves nothing as the other characters soon bring the topic up again when the ownership of the shoes comes into question. The slippers soon end up on Dorothy’s feet, despite her lack of desire to claim them. The slippers, as Doty says, represent “teenaged Dorothy’s physical entrance into adulthood (the start of menses).” While the comparison between the slippers and menses conjures up wildly inappropriate mental images, Doty is right in saying that they are a manifestation of Dorothy’s puberty and new sexual potential. They present a glamorous image, but subsequently bring her nearly nothing but trouble due to the Wicked Witch’s continuous attempts to pry them from Dorothy’s feet for herself. This can be interpreted quite easily as the Witch wishing to redo her own puberty and “get things right” by becoming a sexual person this time around, and setting out to do it by starting a homoerotic relationship with Dorothy. Dorothy, however, is having none of it.

Immediately after setting off along the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy meets and befriends three male characters. Each one looks at least mostly human and behaves like a human, but none of them are in any way appropriate as a romantic interest for Dorothy. Whether or not one believes that Dorothy’s companions are gay (which is at least very likely), they, like Toto, are unsuitable for romance due to their lack of real humanity. When one considers the fact that, as Doty points out, the Oz sequences are all Dorothy’s fantasies, the fact that she chooses incompatible males as her companions goes far to express Dorothy’s asexual attitude toward other people. Indeed, the fact that Dorothy is “the friendly, caring straight girl/woman,” who behaves supportively toward gay men (or a “fag hag,” to be less polite), reinforces her asexuality. While it is not known for certain, it has been hypothesized that a disproportionate number of fag hags might be asexual women, or women with low sex drives. It’s much easier to find a gay man than an asexual one, and any man without sexual interest in women is sexually “safe” company for an asexual girl.

Dorothy does come close to accepting sexuality when she is being held prisoner in the Wicked Witch’s castle. When Toto’s life is threatened, Dorothy is quite ready to give her potentially sexual slippers up to the Witch. This corresponds with the tendency of asexuals to put up with sex they don’t want purely to maintain the emotional bonds they desire. Doty claims that Dorothy’s imprisonment is an excuse for Dorothy to finally accept the Wicked Witch as a lesbian lover, but admits that even when she accepts the Witch’s terms, “Dorothy still shrinks from any direct physical contact. For after offering to give up her ruby slippers, Dorothy has the shoes give the Wicked Witch a shock as she reaches out to grasp them.” Obviously, sexuality is simply against Dorothy’s nature and cannot be reconciled with her mode of life, regardless of the consequences of her sexual inaction.

It is of note that the actual Wizard of Oz in The Wizard of Oz, along with his fortuneteller counterpart in Kansas, is unable to give Dorothy effective aid in returning home either time she comes to him. His preferred incarnation as the great and powerful Oz suggests that he, too, is asexual due to the fact that it lacks a body. The difference between Oz and Glinda, however, is that while Glinda sends Dorothy off on a journey of self-discovery, Oz tries only to push his own asexual identity onto Dorothy without allowing her to explore her sexual potential for herself. Glinda, however, knew that it was necessary for Dorothy to recognize and accept her asexuality on her own. Before Glinda reveals that the slippers are the key to returning to Kansas and that Dorothy had the power to go home all along, Dorothy’s sexuality was a thing out of her control that swept her up and set sex-hungry Witches on her trail. Once she comes to a realization of her true identity, however, Dorothy is able to take command of her sexuality and rise above society’s desire to render her a hetero- or homosexual woman. Once she has done so, she is free to return to her happy asexual state, secure in herself as an asexual woman.

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ily

Wow, interesting. (Yep, I read the whole thing-- yay procrastination! :wink: ) Your reading seems to make just as much sense as the lesbian reading-- vortex/vagina say what? Do you know if any of these readings were intended by the author/film-maker?

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Charlieee

That was really cool! :D I've never done anything like this project... now I want to :lol:

Well, I read that L Frank Baum used the Oz stories for bedtime stories for his children, so, probably not... but I don't know anything about the director of the film. :?

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Spoofmaster

Doty backed up some of his claims with information on the changes in costume design, and a scene from the original script that was removed. Like I said, it's a shame I can't point you toward a copy of his article.

Anyway, I seriously doubt that either interpretation was really what was meant by the filmmakers.

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Cicero

As you say, it's unlikely that the interpretation was meant by the writer, but you make a very convincing argument! I hope you get a good mark for it!

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yay

Wow, you've found deep meanings in everything! i would have never thought of all those. Very interesting perspective on the story, I never noticed anything sexual about it at all.

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pinten

I love things like this, especially when I'm in the target audience! I thought you did a great job over all, but I have a question. Perhaps this is a small thing, but if the Oz personalities are an intensification of the Kansas personalities- like you mentioned with Gulch/Witch of the West- how is Auntie Em pressuring a sexual orientation (loved the idea of Toto representing Dorothy's choice of a non-sexual relationship) reconciled with Glinda being a supportive asexual? But I really thought this was a fun read and well-thought out.

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T.Van

Hahaha! That was fun! I've heard all kinds of sexual interpretations of stories that it's good to find an asexual interpretation for once. :lol:

I've been in literature classes where it seems every story is interpreted to have hidden sexual meaning. It got really annoying because I was hoping the teacher and students would be able to find some other meaning of the text other than a sexual one.

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Charlieee
I've been in literature classes where it seems every story is interpreted to have hidden sexual meaning. It got really annoying because I was hoping the teacher and students would be able to find some other meaning of the text other than a sexual one.

My French teacher did this when we watched Beauty and the Beast. Yes, the Disney version. :shock:

(We also watched Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete, but I think that was too weird for any interpretation :lol: )

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jewel_box554

Wow, I never saw it that way! I think it's pretty good and well-written. It does seem like Dorothy is asexual rather than a hetero- or homosexual.

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Parth

I always hated doing readings of literature... 'cause you can make things look like just about anything you decide, and then when the teacher has a different idea you get marked down!

But that was a cool essay, nicely done.

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retrophile
It does seem like Dorothy is asexual rather than a hetero- or homosexual.

Especially once you know that Judy had to bind her breasts for the role. :shock:

Great paper, very well-written and well-reasoned. As you say, I don't think either reading was Baum's or even MGM's original intent, but your reading makes at least as much sense as the lesbian version. The only thing I would have brought up - and it might not even be relevant - is a mention of the Munchkins as permanently childlike and therefore de facto asexual people.

One other nitpicky point: you might want to put a citation for your theory about faghags, just 'cause professors don't like language like "it's been theorized..." without some indication of who theorized it.

Overall, though, an excellent paper on a fascinating topic.

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Spoofmaster
I love things like this, especially when I'm in the target audience! I thought you did a great job over all, but I have a question. Perhaps this is a small thing, but if the Oz personalities are an intensification of the Kansas personalities- like you mentioned with Gulch/Witch of the West- how is Auntie Em pressuring a sexual orientation (loved the idea of Toto representing Dorothy's choice of a non-sexual relationship) reconciled with Glinda being a supportive asexual?

Auntie Em and Glinda aren't the same person--Auntie Em is conspicuously absent from Oz, which is why Dorothy flips out so much about getting back to her. I guess Glinda could be an idealized version of Auntie Em, but in that case I'd argue that it would mean that Dorothy desires familial support in her orientation.

There are actually a few points that Doty makes that I didn't address, and a few parts of the movie I'd've liked to bring in and didn't, but I was limited to six pages, double spaced. Not fair, especially since Doty's article was twenty pages.

And I probably should have used a citation, yes, but I was lazy and also a little reluctant to cite a messageboard.

And I really like that bit about the Munchkins. I kept thinking I ought to include them somehow, but it didn't occur to me to bring in the permenant children angle. *thinks* Aargh, you're making me want to do a rewrite.

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pinten

Thanks for clearing that up. Are they played by the same actress? It's been forever since I've seen it.

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T.Van
The only thing I would have brought up - and it might not even be relevant - is a mention of the Munchkins as permanently childlike and therefore de facto asexual people.

Do the munchkins reproduce, then? :? If not, where'd they all come from?

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Spoofmaster
Thanks for clearing that up. Are they played by the same actress? It's been forever since I've seen it.

I know where you're coming from, since I always kind of equate Auntie Em and Glinda, but they don't even look alike. Auntie Em is much older.

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AnthonySmales

I totally agree that English Literati read all kinds of stuff into text that just isn't there. I suspect they are trying to appear clever or keep themselves on the gravy train.

To me, the Wizard of Oz is just a colourful, surreal, slightly scary but very enjoyable classic kids film.

Until someone mentioned to me that it is a 'gay film', I would never have thought that, and on reflection, I still don't think there is anything sexual about it.

It's just a perfectly innocent story - if there is any message behind it, it is to do with the deception of the 'Wizard of Oz' right at the end, and the reminder that 'there's no place like home'. So there u go, that's my 2 cents ;)

p.s. Watch it with Dark Side of the Moon synched to it for a new, quite dark perspective. This fluke was unintended to, but I had to be the one to mention it ;)

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LonePiper

Hehe... I majored in literature and love doing that kind of thing. Basically you can pluck any meaning you want out of thin air, and with enough evidence twisted around to suit you you can make any film, book whatever mean whatever you want.

That's not to say the meaning isn't right: just because the author didn't intend it doesn't mean it's not legitimate.

(With all of the various interpretations I've read about the wizard of oz I'm surprised there's any room left for a story!)

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Parth
Hehe... I majored in literature and love doing that kind of thing. Basically you can pluck any meaning you want out of thin air, and with enough evidence twisted around to suit you you can make any film, book whatever mean whatever you want.

See that's what I found so crummy about high school English class. They chose to teach us how to do this rather than galvanise our grammar and spelling skills. So while I've always been a good speller, the people that did well in English exams were people who were good at reading into things. It mattered not how their English actually was, as long as they made up elaborate readings into literature - and since I was no good at it, I always got a pathetic mark despite being better at the language in general. It made me really bitter about school and ultimately lead to my dropping out.

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Hallucigenia

And then you get into Gregory Maguire's Wicked, where Glinda seems to have had a crush on the Wicked Witch of the West but been too heteronormative to really admit it. :o

Or maybe that's just me being a ridiculous slasher.

*slinks back off to her non-English-class-having corner of the universe*

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AnthonySmales

Yes, I agree with that - I am good at spelling and grammar, but only managed a grade C, which was disappointing. If you express an opinion which the examiner disagrees with, they can mark you down for that.

It was the same deal in Art - if you draw or paint something the examiner likes, then lucky for you - you get a top grade. It's all too subjective.

Better to stick to subjects that actually have answers, like the sciences and Maths.

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retrophile

The only thing I would have brought up - and it might not even be relevant - is a mention of the Munchkins as permanently childlike and therefore de facto asexual people.

Do the munchkins reproduce, then? :? If not, where'd they all come from?

Mostly Austria and Germany.

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T.Van
Yes, I agree with that - I am good at spelling and grammar, but only managed a grade C, which was disappointing. If you express an opinion which the examiner disagrees with, they can mark you down for that.

It was the same deal in Art - if you draw or paint something the examiner likes, then lucky for you - you get a top grade. It's all too subjective.

Better to stick to subjects that actually have answers, like the sciences and Maths.

Yeah. While I like to write stories, I hate English, literature, and creative writing classes because of the subjectiveness of the critiquing. I don't mind some of the critiquing (like ideas how to word things better or make the story better), but some of it is crap. I guess creative writing classes aren't as bad as the other two (English and Lit.), but sometimes they get a little boring/tedious.

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T.Van

The only thing I would have brought up - and it might not even be relevant - is a mention of the Munchkins as permanently childlike and therefore de facto asexual people.

Do the munchkins reproduce, then? :? If not, where'd they all come from?

Mostly Austria and Germany.

Hahaha! LOL. :lol:

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Spoofmaster
Yes, I agree with that - I am good at spelling and grammar, but only managed a grade C, which was disappointing. If you express an opinion which the examiner disagrees with, they can mark you down for that.

It was the same deal in Art - if you draw or paint something the examiner likes, then lucky for you - you get a top grade. It's all too subjective.

Better to stick to subjects that actually have answers, like the sciences and Maths.

I guess I've been lucky, but I haven't had that problem since leaving high school. It did happen that way a few times back then, but now that I'm in weirdo Boulder the teachers are so accepting of different viewpoints that it's probably warping the way I look at other people.

Has anyone here seen Under the Rainbow? I need to get a new copy of that, since the old one we taped off the TV died.

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Charlieee

I actually like subjective classes like English and Creative Writing (actually, I'm doing some cr-wri homework right now :wink: ). Although, in cr-wri, our teacher bases us on whether we hand things in on time, the amount of editing we do, things like that.

And in English, I love odd interpretations. Like, it's so awesome how much a story can have besides what's printed on the page. :D My English class works sort of like a Socratic seminar... the teacher gives us a little topic on our book at the beginning of class, and we spend the whole time discussing that topic with evidence for the book, or we talk about something else. And, sure, people have said things we (as a whole) didn't agree with, but still, there was a lot of stuff we liked. :D It's fun.

(Yeah, I care absolutely nothing about grades until I'm physically holding my report card. ^__^ )

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EIito

I really like the idea and you make a lot of excellent points, but you also have to bear in mind the book that the film was based on. Baum never states her age throughout the entire series, but it's largely agreed upon that her book age is around 8, judging by her actions, speech, and the original illustrations (because one would assume the author wouldn't publish illustrations that didn't synch up with the character's age). The book itself reads almost like a populist satire and has some socialist implications. I realize the film and the book are two different things and maybe the movie was created with different thematic intent than the book, but it seems a lot of things that people read into the movie are countered by the book. The author was also involved in creating the film (hopefully i'm not attributing this to some other film, but I'm pretty sure I read this in a foreward to one of the books) and it seems like he wouldn't let the film stray too far theme-wise.

Without being familiar with the book, though, I wouldn't even have given what you wrote a second thought, because it makes so much sense in the context of the movie.

...and this is what happens after spending countless hours contrasting films with the text they were originally based on for class. I may be a bit stuck in that mode.

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Spoofmaster

The problem with bringing the book into it is that the script was not written by the author, and the film had a different focus and lacked the book's political bent.

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wombat99

Very interesting analysis of Wizard of Oz.

Now can anyone do an asexual interpretation of Boogie Nights? :shock:

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retrophile
The problem with bringing the book into it is that the script was not written by the author, and the film had a different focus and lacked the book's political bent.

MGM was concerned with making a high-budget, high-grossing musical extravaganza using new color technology. Populist satire was not high on their priority list.

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