There is a story I heard at the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond's undoing racism workshop that makes me think about Regina. It's a bit long, but bear with me.
A villager was walking along the river, and he saw a baby floating and crying in the water. So he goes out and scoops up the baby, saving its life. The next day, the villager is walking with a friend, and they see another baby. So they team up to rescue this second child. The same thing happens the next day, and the next, and the next. So the village creates a system for getting babies out of the water. As time goes on, and they take more babies out of the water, they realize that these babies need food, diapers, and homes. So they pool together resources and set up another system, so that babies are rescued from the river then placed into homes. They’ve gotten pretty efficient at this. But no one asks, “Why are there so many babies in the water?” Or, if they ask, they never investigate it.
I see Regina (and Emma too) as a baby in the river. Emma is the one who got picked up and placed into the system for the babies in the water. The system is imperfect, but it is there. Regina, on the other hand, is the baby that went over the waterfall. And when we see this, we (and by we, I mean viewers) are saying, “If this baby is in the water, there must be something wrong with her. Otherwise no one would have put her there. Besides, if she really wanted to get out of the water, she would swim to shore.” What about the powerful currents pulling her toward the edge — sexism, misogyny, homophobia, abuse, trauma, and so on?
When young women turn into evil queens, we’re not seeing an aberration. We’re seeing the currents do what they’re supposed to do. For instance, when we link quality healthcare to wealth, it is no surprise that poor people die. If we link goodness to happiness and happiness to love and love to upholding gender norms, it is not unexpected when a person who does not uphold gender norms, feels unloved, and is miserable becomes what we call evil.
We also cannot ignore the importance of community in keeping us from going over that waterfall. Community can help us find out what our real options are. Community can help us through the hard times. Community can give us clarity when we’re confused. Community will feed us when we’re hungry and clothe us when we’re naked. And whether you’re organizing or just being a human being, there’s one thing that’s always true: you can’t do it by yourself.
But Regina is dealing with this all by herself. Daddy knows what she lives with, but he does nothing to protect her. Daniel supports her, but he doesn’t fully understand what she has to go through. Genie is utterly smitten by her, even going so far as to kill for her, but he also can’t truly relate to her. She and Maleficent are gal pals of a sort, but they are also in competition. There is no one in her life who will say to her, “Listen, girlfriend. You my sista, and I love you, but this thing you’re thinking about doing ain’t gonna help you. So you will come to my house tonight, we’re gonna talk; we’re gonna cry; we’re gonna eat ice cream, watch a couple of movies and work through this shit. Because where you are now is not a good place for you.”
Would it be great to see Regina find redemption through community and sisterhood? Definitely. Are we gonna get that? Probably not. So, fanfic writers, it’s up to you to fix that.