I’ve been in love with Cassandra Peterson and her alter ego, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, for as long as I can remember. I dressed as Elvira for Halloween when I was eight (minus the cleavage). I had her calendar, and I have seen her first movie at least a hundred times. Some might say that it’s a little odd for an eight-year-old to look up to a role model who makes bawdy jokes and looks a little different than your typical childhood hero, but looking back, I can’t think of a better hero for my younger self.
Today, Elvira remains one of my feminist heroes. Here’s a look at why.
Her first film, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, written by Peterson, is a feminist masterpiece.
Hear me out — Elvira comes to a conservative small town in Massachusetts for the reading of her late, great-aunt’s will, in which she is bequeathed a spellbook, a dog, and an old house. When she discovers that her evil uncle is a warlock who wants the power harnessed in this spellbook, Elvira must save herself, the town, and the world from impending doom. Throughout the film, Elvira is an empowered woman who doesn’t rely on anyone to come to her rescue. She relies on the fact that others misjudge her based on her appearance and proves that she is smart and capable of kicking ass. Meanwhile, Elvira stands up to sexism, empowers the youth of the town, and gets the guy (without waiting for him to make the first move).
She embraces her body.
Not only does Elvira use her body to her advantage, she knows that people will underestimate her for it. This is a form of activism in itself: by only reducing her to a pair of breasts and a pair of legs, you’re completely missing her intelligence, wit, and self-empowerment.
She’s in on the joke.
Part of Elvira’s character is a valley girl persona adapted from a character Peterson created during her improv days. She and the character are far from dumb — she’ll make a joke about her breasts but glance at the camera, letting her viewers know that she’s well-aware of what she’s saying. She also uses satire in her humor, even making political statements during election season.
She uses makeup as empowerment.
As a baby, over 35% of Peterson’s body was scalded in a kitchen accident. For Peterson, makeup became a way to cover the scars for which she was teased and gain self-confidence.
She challenges ageist norms.
Societal norms have particular expectations for what women over sixty can look like. Remember Susan Sarandon’s Cleavagegate? Elvira challenges this norm with her form-fitting, cleavage-baring dress, flipping the script on how a woman of a certain age should look. At 66, Elvira and Peterson look better than ever!
She’s made a 35+ year career out of a character she developed.
Peterson has had a long career in show business, beginning as a Vegas showgirl. She’s been an Italian rock singer, a model, a comedian, an improv artist, a radio host, and an actress. With the character of Elvira, Peterson has become the ghoulish gal with a heart of gold and a world-famous pop culture icon.