June 27, 2012
A very thought-provoking piece. I definitely agree that women shouldn't have to become uber-masculine in order to count as heroes. (In my book, it was one of Tolkien's great failings that the only women who leave their mark on Lord of the Rings's plots were the shieldmaiden who passed herself off as a male knight, and Galadriel whose name literally means man-maiden.) While I've not seen "Brave," everything I've read about Merida makes it sound like her story has an interesting comment to make on that whole tradition.
But I must say, I sometimes get a bit irritated with the assumption that there is such a thing as "femininity" that plays out the same for everyone concerned. Must swordsmanship and archery be any less central to what it means to be a good woman than sewing is? Speaking as the natural tomboy who never did master the "girly" skills I was supposed to care about, I don't think that makes me any less a good woman. That said, I really do like the idea that for some girls those skills are needed and useful, they're part of what it means to reflect God's image in the world. (And I suspect, those "girly" skills fit naturally with some boys too.) It's about using our gifts in a way that honors God and helps us participate in tikkun olam, not whether the way we use those gifts matches up with what people expect of men or women - and it sounds like Merida honors that truth. Good on her!
Thanks for the analysis, Josh. You are so right about the princess movies resonating throughout culture. I haven't seen Brave yet (my all boy crew isn't all that excited about it), but I'm glad for more heroines I can point to and say, "See, this is the type of woman you want to be worthy to marry."
Belle is my favorite too, Josh. She's a complex and multi-dimensional character for all the reasons you mention, in addition to her varied interactions with Gaston, her father, the castle servants and especially the Beast. And after all, it is her kiss that awakens the Beast back from the dead, not the other way around.
Another one that challenges the sterotypes is Shrek. Neither of the main characters play out in typical male and female fashion. It reminds me that the choices we make with what God has given us are important, not whether we are able to mimic a culturally imposed set of expectations to look or act a certain way.
Thanks for bringing up Shrek, Tim. It's not Disney, but I've always thought Fiona was an encouraging retort to the fairy-tale concept of princessy beauty. When she remained an ogre - and that was seen as a victory - at the end of the first film, it was shocking and darn-near revolutionary.
Right, Josh. Unlike Belle, whose love re-formed the Beast back into the handsome Prince (who actually is almost as pretty as Belle herself), Fiona embraced her beastliness and her love for that ogre Shrek grew.
I heartily concur with your impressions and with the overall thrust of your piece here, Josh. And I think the comments so far have well summarized the main theme, so I do not want to belabor that point. But since my wife and I just saw BRAVE last night, I simply can't help commenting about one more dimension of this issue.
There is a profound demonstration of how gender roles both complement and reinforce one another in the way Fergus and Elinor interact in their relationship with each other and in the way they each participate in raising their children. At various points in the movie, both are protectors, both are providers, both are teachers, both are leaders, and both are parents--yet each in his or her uniquely individual way. Merida's story is, in some ways, an exposition of the best and the most difficult qualities of both her parents.
I think the most satisfying thing about the plot resolution--which I do not want to give away--is that, in the end, Merida's identity is reducible neither to her gender nor to her inner rebelliousness. The "bravery" that the movie inspires is the moral courage to be who one is created to be--which includes both obedience to and pioneering challenge of societal norms.
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