I have a special place in my heart for this movie for multiple reasons, one of which is that I finally gained a Disney/Pixar princess that shares my name (My name would, traditionally, be pronounced “Merida” in Scottish Gaelic) and another is that this movie came out at an time in my life where I was going through much the same series of fights with my own mother.
Well, I mean, she wasn’t trying to marry me off to a Scottish Lord, but the concept applies. My mom wanted me to live life the way she thought was right and I wanted to make my own decisions. As a 21 year old woman in America I had a lot more freedom to do what I wanted than Merida of course, but it was still morbidly hilarious to go see this movie with my girlfriend (who most of the arguments with my mother were caused by) and see the same scenario playing out.
Anyway, the story felt very empowering to me and in, what I felt, was a positive way. They didn’t make the mother out to be the villain nor was Merida entirely blameless in the story and I thought it was a very healthy way to show strong female characters who have to learn to compromise with each other and learn from each other, rather than insisting that their way is the only way to do things. Also, after that hellishly bad mother/daughter relationship in Tangled, they needed to clear the air as far as mothers go.
So, we have a Scottish princess who climbs cliffs, shoots arrows better than any of the men, rides off on her own adventures in the dangerous Scottish wilderness, and stands up for herself when her family tries to marry her off. What’s not for feminists to like?
Well…nothing, if you leave the goal posts where they where feminists placed them for Snow White (Merida presents a much stronger female lead)…or Mulan (Merida doesn’t rely on guardian dragons and she never once crushes on a man)…or even Rapunzel (Merida definitely doesn’t use kitchen implements as weapons and she has to clean up her own messes, not a man’s).
But what have we learned during the course of this series? Feminists can’t help moving the goalposts.
With Rapunzel they complained about her hair color, her weapon of choice, and who she chose to associate with.
With Merida, one complaint popped up multiple times.
But depressingly, she’s a princess, the most traditional role for female characters in children’s fictions. She’s a rebellious tomboy, but her concerns are still limited to those of a princess, the biggest of which remains, as ever, marriage
OH NO! SHE’S A PRINCESS! STOP THE PRESSES! WOMEN IN POSITIONS OF ROYALTY CAN’T BE FEMINIST!
The current queen of England would like you to shut your mouth.
No, but really…in the absence of any actual “misogynistic” content, they had to attack the very basis of the Disney Princess genre…the fact that she’s a princess.
Why is it a problem that Merida is a princess? Mary Pols at time would have us believe that it’s because little girls (or boys) can’t learn lessons from a princess, but apparently they can from Katniss Everdeen and Lena Dunham? How many of our daughters can realistically relate to the events of the Hunger Games or the experiences of Lena “voting is like sex!” Dunham?*
The point is the content of the character’s personality and the lessons they learn, not what job they have.
This wasn’t the only stupid problem other feminist website had with the story. Bitch Magazine had a problem with how white everyone was (yes, I forgot that medieval Scotland was full of POCs) and how there was even a hint of Marriage as a plot point (it’s like they never watched the movie and just heard “arranged marriage” and flipped. I wonder if they know that you need a point of conflict or contention for a plot to actually happen?).
Change From Within was upset that 16 year old Merida didn’t topple the entire patriarchy and take over the kingdom (talk about unrealistic expectations for girls to live up to) and Feministing seems to be upset that the whole movie has to be seen through a “sexual lens”, which doesn’t even make sense. Were they watching the same movie I was watching?
Merida learns to compromise, grows up and recognizes she has responsibilities, repairs a shaky relationship with her mother, stops outright war between the clans, and changes traditions that have likely been ingrained in the populace for generations. What more do you want from a 16 year old whose biggest accomplishments at the beginning of the movie were climbing to the top of a really tall rock?**
Brave definitely doesn’t have the most earth-shattering of interesting plots (I would have liked to see a bigger plot point made out of the old kingdom that was destroyed by pride and greed, but that wasn’t the point of the movie) but it’s definitely a movie that is good for kids, whether girls or boys. Merida and her mother have a lot to teach children and their parents, but lets ignore that in favor of complaining about her status as royalty, her appearance, and the fact that she’s a 16 year old who doesn’t particularly want to rule yet, so why would she even want to topple the patriarchy?
Never mind that you have completely conflicting views of what constitutes a feminist character. If she’s too feminine she’s enforcing a stereotype, if she’s too masculine then she’s indicating that you can only be strong if you act like a man. Refuse to get married and rule the kingdom and she’s childish, get married and take on your responsibilities and we’re forcing girls to think that marriage is their ultimate achievement.
Feminists, you need to stop. You’re embarrassing yourselves. You’ve got double standards on your double standards and you’re just confusing yourselves and everyone else at this point.
*Oh god do I hope my future daughters can never relate to Lena Dunham.
**Not that I’m disparaging that accomplishment. I have zero upper body strength, so I certainly couldn’t accomplish that.