What the Brave Backlash?
By Christiana Paradis
Disney and Pixar’s highly anticipated and well marketed film, Brave, aimed to redefine the traditional presentation of Disney princesses. For years, Disney has been criticized for continually presenting stereotypical females that usually prefer talking to animals rather than humans and reading or cleaning houses while waiting for their Prince Charmings’ to rescue them. Disney fairytales are also typically marked by their lack of one or both parents.
Dr. Jenn Berman, Family and Child Therapist and author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids, says, “The hyper feminine focus on beauty and superficiality that is inherent in the princess culture encourages little girls to concentrate their energy in those areas. Little girls want to emulate these princesses who, while they have become more empowered over the years, still consistently lack meaningful friendships with other females, are not terribly ambitious, and rarely rescue themselves. The princess culture has become a Disney marketing machine, keeping our daughters focused on what new princess product they 'need' next.”
In an attempt to break the mold of past Disney princesses, the character of Merida was created. For the first time ever, Disney has introduced a strong, vivacious princess, with untamed hair, who spends the majority of the film rebuilding her relationship with her mother rather than trying to find a male suitor. Moreover, Disney premieres a character in which both of her parents are alive and have played an equal role in raising her.
Though there have been many praises for the ground-breaking female Brave presents, there has also been just as much backlash. For instance, several people have argued that despite the presentation of Merida as a strong female lead, the film does not go far enough; rather, most of Merida’s fiery spirit is presented in the beginning of the film, but tapers off as the film progresses. One reporter for Entertainment Weekly even argues the exact opposite, stating that Merida is presented as too tomboyish, and questions the intentions of Disney in presenting her sexuality. I find this particular observation infuriating. Why is it that the moment a female characters steps out of a stereotypical role, her sexual orientation is questioned--and why would it be an issue?
Moreover, it has been argued most outspokenly by blogger, Backpacking Dad, that the film presents no positive male role models and merely just one-dimensional characters. Specifically he states, “They are either spritely, voiceless, little boys, menacing figures, buffoons, or obstacles." He continues, "But there are no role models for boys in this movie. Men aren’t even presented as classic strong stereotypes: they are presented as lampooned stereotypes. In that respect, it is a step back in the evolution of prince characters Disney has been engaged in for half a century.”
Though I will agree with the fact that there are not many prominent male figures in the film, I would not go as far to say that it is a film that boys should not go see. I think that it is important all children--both boys and girls--are presented with many different perceptions of what it means to be male and female. I do agree that Disney has taken a step back in regards to their portrayal of prince characters. It seems that they have slipped from valiant rescuer to mindless drunkards. There are not any positive role models because they are no average role models. All of society in addition to children should be presented with characters that step outside of stereotypical gender roles. Therefore, in Disney’s attempt to focus on the female protagonist they have let male developed characters go by the wayside (not that this hasn’t happened to female characters for years).
A blogger, PhD student and self-proclaimed feminist on Balancing Jane states, “After all, they say, girls have been stereotyped for years, as if this portrayal somehow just works to even the score. But two wrongs don't make a right and, furthermore, a society with true gender equality cannot just focus on breaking down gender stereotypes for women. Boys need to see competent male role models just as much as girls need to see competent female role models, and all children need to see characters who make decisions based on ability and interest rather than arbitrarily assigned gender roles.”
Thus, my overall consensus being that as happy as I am to see hopefully a new generation of female princesses, I think it would be beneficial for both boys and girls to be presented with positive female and male leads that step outside of the typical gender stereotypes. Prince Charming no longer needs to ride in on a white horse and save the day, nor does the Princess need to wait around for him to arrive and save her. Maybe both should pursue their own goals and if they end up together, so be it. For years Disney has presented and marketed conventional princesses; however, the time has come to stand-up to traditional ideals of what it means to be “male” or “female.”
This force has already led to the creation of Merida, where will it lead to next? As long as society demands more realistic characters, they will be presented. Everyone must demand to see both stronger male and female protagonists in order for television and movie companies to respond. Our market is controlled by supply and demand, so let’s demand more positive film characters.