Victoria Pedraza | 10/17/2023
Happy Halloween! Or almost Halloween. With the spooky season upon us, scary movies are all the rage, unless you’re like me and avoid scary movies at all cost. In that case, you may want to try children’s Halloween movies. They’re better anyway.
My favorite? The beloved 1993 classic “Hocus Pocus” is a combination of comedy and fantasy, focusing on the story of the Sanderson Sisters, three witch sisters resurrected in modern-day Salem, Massachusetts. In my mind, fascinating characters. Just for Halloween, let’s play Devil’s advocate, or witches’ advocate in any case, and look at the Sanderson sisters from a feminist perspective.
Introduction to the Sanderson Sisters
The Sanderson Sisters—Winifred, Sarah, and Mary—are the film's central antagonists, known for their pursuit of immortality and the havoc they wreak upon Salem's inhabitants. This analysis delves into the Sanderson Sisters through a feminist lens, exploring how they break stereotypes, challenge gender roles, and portray the strength of sisterhood.
The Sanderson Sisters: Breaking Stereotypes
Winifred, the Cunning Leader:
Winifred Sanderson, the eldest sister, embodies the archetype of a cunning and intelligent leader. She is portrayed as resourceful, strategic, and ambitious, possessing a keen understanding of magic and witchcraft. Winifred challenges the traditional gender expectation that women should be passive or submissive by assuming a dominant role within the sisterhood. Her assertiveness and ability to command authority over her sisters and in the pursuit of her goals defy the societal norms of the time, where women were often relegated to subordinate positions. Winifred's intelligence and leadership skills showcase that women can be formidable leaders and decision-makers, capable of navigating complex situations and asserting themselves in challenging circumstances.
Sarah, the Flirtatious and Naive One:
Sarah Sanderson is presented as the youngest and most overtly sensual of the sisters. She possesses a flirtatious and playful demeanor, often using her charm and allure to manipulate others. While her behavior may seem naive or frivolous on the surface, it challenges the conventional notion that women should conform to demure or reserved roles. Sarah's portrayal as a free-spirited, confident woman who embraces her sexuality without guilt or inhibition challenges the historical constraints imposed on women, encouraging a more liberated and open expression of femininity. By defying expectations and embracing her sensuality, Sarah showcases that women can embrace their desires and express themselves freely, challenging societal norms.
Mary, the Comedic and Loyal Sister:
Mary Sanderson is depicted as the middle sister, known for her comedic and loyal nature. She adds a light-hearted and humorous element to the trio, showcasing that women can embody a wide range of personalities and roles beyond the serious or conventional. Mary's loyalty to her sisters challenges the notion that women should compete with or undermine one another, emphasizing the strength that can be derived from supportive and nurturing relationships. Her comedic character challenges the stereotype that women should always be serious or demure, illustrating that women can possess a sense of humor and bring laughter and joy into their lives.
Together, these distinct traits exhibited by Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson demonstrate a diverse range of characteristics and behaviors that challenge traditional gender expectations. They collectively portray the message that women can encompass a variety of qualities and roles, showcasing the complexity and depth of the female experience beyond limiting stereotypes.
A Little Context
During the 17th century, the historical period in which the Salem witch trials occurred, strict gender roles and expectations heavily influenced society. Women were predominantly expected to adhere to certain roles and behaviors that emphasized submission, domesticity, and moral righteousness. This societal framework placed women in a subordinate position, where their main purpose was seen as serving their families and maintaining moral order.
In this historical context, Winifred Sanderson's character disrupts the traditional gender roles by showcasing intelligence and leadership. In a society where women were typically denied formal education and positions of authority, Winifred's sharp intellect and role as the leader of the trio challenged the assumption that women were incapable of strategic thinking or leading others. By positioning Winifred as a clever and assertive woman, "Hocus Pocus" challenges the prevalent narrative of the time that women should be submissive and not engage in decision-making or leadership roles.
Sarah Sanderson's overt sexuality challenges the perception of women as modest and demure beings. During the 17th century, women were expected to conform to strict standards of modesty and chastity. Sarah's flirtatious and playful nature subverts these expectations, asserting that women can confidently express their sensuality without shame or judgment. This portrayal challenges the notion that women should suppress their desires or adhere to prescribed roles of virtue and modesty.
Mary Sanderson's comedic and loyal character goes against the grain of the 17th-century expectations of women being serious and focused on their domestic duties. Women were expected to prioritize their family's needs and maintain a stoic and obedient demeanor. Mary's comedic presence and loyalty to her sisters showcase a different aspect of femininity, one that embraces humor, camaraderie, and a more light-hearted approach to life. This challenges the societal expectation that women should adhere strictly to serious roles and behaviors.
The combined character traits of the Sanderson Sisters—Winifred's leadership, Sarah's sensuality, and Mary's humor and loyalty—serve to challenge the rigid gender roles of their historical context. In a society where women were often oppressed and confined to prescribed roles, the sisters' deviation from these norms underscores the importance of questioning and transcending societal expectations. "Hocus Pocus" subtly advocates for a broader acceptance and celebration of the multifaceted nature of women, encouraging a reevaluation of gender roles and a recognition of the strength and agency inherent in all individuals, regardless of gender.
Female Empowerment: The Sisters' Quest for Immortality
The Sanderson Sisters' relentless pursuit of immortality and magical power reveals their determination to transcend societal limitations and take charge of their own destinies.
Their quest for eternal life showcases their ambition, a quality often disregarded or suppressed in women. Additionally, it challenges ageist perspectives that relegate older women to the sidelines, illustrating that ambition and the desire for growth are timeless, transcending the boundaries of age.
Their quest for eternal youth or immortality could be taken as a little sad, a depiction of the apparently diminished value of older women. Or, we could choose to see that by actively seeking power and striving for immortality, the sisters challenge not only the prevalent belief that women should be passive and subservient but also the ageist notion that older women should accept a diminished role in society. Their pursuit of eternal life highlights that women, regardless of age, possess the drive and ambition to defy societal expectations and reclaim agency over their lives. In doing so, the sisters challenge ageist stereotypes and demonstrate the strength and determination that can persist throughout a woman's life.
Sisterhood and Solidarity: The Strength in Unity
If you’re going to be evil, might as well have some company. The close-knit bond between the Sanderson Sisters serves as a cornerstone of the narrative, portraying a profound connection that transcends the bounds of family. Alright, so Winifred is a little bossy, and so is my older sister. This bond is depicted through shared experiences, memories, and a deep understanding of one another. Despite their differing personalities and ambitions, the sisters find strength and comfort in each other's presence. Their solidarity underscores the importance of familial and sisterly connections, showcasing the power of unity in navigating the challenges of life.
The sisters' unity is not merely symbolic; it directly enhances their magical capabilities and augments their pursuit of power. When they come together, their combined strengths become more formidable than the sum of their individual powers. This amplification of abilities emphasizes the potential for collective action and solidarity to propel individuals towards their objectives. The film portrays how working together and supporting one another can elevate women beyond the limitations imposed by societal expectations, allowing them to achieve remarkable feats.
"Hocus Pocus" challenges the age-old stereotype of women being natural competitors by portraying sisterhood as a potent source of strength and support. The sisters, despite their differences and occasional disagreements, prioritize their bond and collaboration. The film subverts the idea that women must compete for power, recognition, or resources. Instead, it celebrates the idea that women can achieve more collectively by lifting each other up, fostering an environment of encouragement and solidarity. Through this portrayal, the film encourages audiences to view female relationships as empowering, cooperative, and transformative, paving the way for a more inclusive and supportive society.
The Sanderson Sisters: A Feminist Takeaway
Just like with any piece of art, you can look at things from different perspectives. In my current reading of "Hocus Pocus," the Sanderson Sisters are depicted as strong, independent women who boldly defy societal norms. Each sister, with her distinct personality and ambitions, challenges the conventions of their time. Their characters epitomize resilience and tenacity, embodying the spirit of breaking free from prescribed roles and expectations.
The Sanderson Sisters' characters serve as a beacon, urging viewers to question and challenge established societal norms and expectations. By doing so, the film advocates for individuality and self-empowerment. Their narrative encourages audiences to resist conformity, paving the way for a more diverse and inclusive understanding of what it means to be a woman, ultimately fostering a society where authenticity and personal ambition can flourish.
Within the realm of popular culture, the Sanderson Sisters stand as feminist icons. Their representation in "Hocus Pocus" echoes feminist ideals, prompting a reevaluation of deeply entrenched gender roles. Their embodiment of unity and ambition reinforces the message that breaking free from societal molds is crucial. The Sanderson Sisters inspire a shift towards a more equitable and empowering future for all. Unleash the enchantment and embrace empowerment with the Sanderson Sisters, after all, it’s just a little bit of Hocus Pocus.