Brave Princess Fights Men, Women Holding Her Back

Bold, boisterous, untamed hair that will be ruled by nothing and no one suits Brave Princess Merida just fine.

Some try to control and limit her. Merida will have none of it.

Brave mirrors the story of women letting off shackles and moving into independence and empowerment even as societies – and some women – fight to sustain the status quo. It’s also a story of women at odds reconnecting.

As a young girl, Merida was let out of the gender box when her father, the Scottish King Fergus, gave her a bow and arrow. Riding horses and shooting, she lived a life of freedom and adventure. Her big confidence made her seem bigger than she was, as Manohla Dargis at the New York Times described it:

She’s a wee thing but her flaming hair and fiery daring — she shoots from the saddle, bull’s-eyeing targets — make her seem bigger. When she takes a breather, surveying the land (this is her land, you sense) while her horse rolls on the grass like a puppy, you see her at peace with herself… She slips into the ecstatic when she scrambles up a rock wall and twirls on its summit, laughing, happy, free and alone.

All to her mother’s chagrin. The Queen has a long list of DO’s and DON’T’s. Do: rise early and always be perfect… Don’t: chortle, raise your voice or place your weapon on the dining table…

Oh, and DO marry whom I want and when I want.

When Merida is told to marry a young prince among the kingdom’s royal allies, she refuses. Her mother tries to change her mind by telling of a prince who forsook his duty, causing his kingdom to crumble.

A contest is made for a worthy suitor. But Merida enters, herself, insisting she’s eligible to compete for her own hand. And in so doing, she fights for her life, her heart and will.

Her mother is furious.

So Merida runs away and meets a witch who casts a spell to “change her mother.” Unfortunately, mom is changed more than expected, leaving Merida to reverse the spell, which is finally broken through love and reuniting.

Brave makes me think of women’s march to independence and autonomy.

Once was, women had little control over their lives. They rarely had a career choice, motherhood being a hallowed, but lone, option. (Motherhood’s not the problem, having no option is.) Unable to make money, women relied on husbands to care for them, leaving many focused on financial security and not love.

It’s all reflected in a slew of novels portraying young girls as free and adventurous (think, Faulkner’s Caddy Compson) who grow into young women that are all about sexuality (think, Caddy Compson) and who move into motherhood, dissolving into household routines that tell them nothing about themselves and who they might be. Little wonder that moms in fiction so often disappear, mostly sick or dead (think, Caddy’s mom).

No wonder the brave princess rejected that script.

Even now, some women fight to cut off possibilities for other women. Like Merida’s mom, my own mother wanted me to focus on marriage and not career. She felt it was the right thing to do. What both God and Society wanted.

Others may be jealous of opportunities that they are, or were once, denied.

Some want other women to obey the men they control, as an overbearing mother-in-law might.

And some control women to gain favor with men, as some sorority sisters do.

But Brave also holds the possibility, and reflects the reality, of women working from a place of love and not fear or envy, uniting to help each other move forward.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 29, 2012, in feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Brave is an important and valuable film, as it focuses on the relationship between two women. In disney movies (although this is a disney pixar film, I feel it’s reasonable to compare it to disney films), the mother is often absent. In Brave, not only is she present in her daughter’s life, she has a close relationship with her, and their relationship is the focus of the film. Their relationship starts out very rocky, and it is shown that they have a lot of conflict with one another. As you pointed out in your post, Merida’s mother has a long list of do’s and don’t’s, and seems to be very strict. Merida feels limited because of this, and wishes to break free from the constraints of gender roles. Her mother is accustomed to adhering to gender roles and feels it’s best for her daughter to do the same; this is where the conflict comes in. It’s interesting how in this film, it isn’t the male characters who are holding Merida back (the father seems to be alright with disregarding gender roles), but the mother who is placing limitations on the main female character. In the end, however, the mother gains a new perspective and changes her mind. She reconnects with her daughter, which is a very refreshing storyline to see. Brave is not only a feminist movie because Merida is rebellious towards gender roles, it is also a feminist and progressive movie because it tells the story of two women reconnecting despite their different views. I hope women continue to, as you stated in your post, help each other move forward, and no longer cut off possibilities for other women.

  2. Norma Brambila

    I haven’t seen this movie but I sure will. After reading this article it describes how she refused to get married and fight by her own will as before other movies had the famous prince fighting for their women and winning battles. I believe through this movie we can understand that many women today are standing up for themselves and fighting for what they believe is right. The article describes how Merida mother wanted her to get married and she refused which shows how women had to marry man who they were forced to be with as in her case she refused and went on to do what she desired. Many women during those times or maybe even today still have the thinking that men have to be the workers that ones that provide shelter and food but now many women are the ones that are hard workers, being my themselves and choosing who they want to be with. Brave I believe is a great movie that seems to explain how a young brave women went to find her own courage and do what she wished to do even if her mother didn’t agree. I enjoyed reading this article.

  3. Prince King James

    you know? before women’s “liberation” a family used to survive and thrive on a bus driver salary. Meaning one person in the family could work a full-time job and cover the expenses of their significant other, their children, their home. their vacation. etc…. This America is dead and gone. now a double income is practically required to survive in america. The system set up for generations upon generations was a promise it was a mans duty to woman to work for her so she didn’t need to work not because she couldn’t women’s liberation is one the largest scams passed off on women in America. women always had jobs. they were always in the workforce. it is propaganda and lies that train us to believe that our society is somehow stronger and better than it was before.

    • I’m afraid you have your history wrong.

      Why would women working make it impossible for men to support a family?

      The real culprit is weakening unions, achieved through so-called “right-to-work” laws, technology, and off-shoring jobs to places where people can survive on $2 an hr. (The Chinese once worked for 2 cents an hr). There was also only a very short time when government wasn’t in cahoots with big business to suppress the unions — roughly FDR through Carter.

      During that period of time corporate heads made only 40 times as much as their workers. Now they make 400 times as much.

      Even as GDP has grown immensely over the years, nearly all of the increase has gone to the top 1%, leaving middle-class and working-class families behind.

      With the demise of unions, working women are the only thing that has allowed family income to hold steady since the 1960s.

      And contrary to popular notions, women have always worked. It was only during the reign of unions that most women could stay home with children. But even then 2/5 of women still needed to be in the workforce.

      Before factories most women worked on family farms and had little time to spend nurturing children. Mom woke up early to milk cows and gather eggs, and then made breakfast from scratch, and then washed and dried the dishes without a dishwasher. In between meals she had to make butter, candles, soap, chuck peas or corn, etc., make quilts, darn socks, scrub clothes, wring clothes, hang clothes on the line, make clothing, the list goes on… it wasn’t until industrialization, and “women’s work” moving to factories, that women who could afford it came to be focused on children. Poorer women worked in the factories or stores, restaurants, etc.

      And a lot of women today want to work for personal reasons. Why should they be prevented from this? I would be totally unhappy and depressed – as were many women of the 1950s – staying home and taking care of kids. Women’s widespread depression at that time is reflected in magazine and newspaper articles of the early 60s, as well as documented in a book by Betty Friedan called “The Feminine Mystique.” Why should men be the only ones to gain satisfaction and self-fulfillment through work?

      And if all women stayed at home and only men worked, then the world would have only the perspectives of men in business, law, religion, academia, literature, magazines, advertising, the press. How would you like to live as a woman in a world ruled by men, with only the perspectives of men available? Here are some of the things you would face, and it reflects the world of the 1950s:

      There were no baby changing tables in restrooms (it had never occurred to men to do that), sanitary napkins were attached with contraptions that didn’t work well, women were thought to enjoy rape and so it was difficult to get any convictions, there was no acknowledgment of marital rape, men were heads of families and so police and courts didn’t intervene with domestic violence, it was hard to get a divorce when women were beaten, and they couldn’t get a job to escape the abuse and support themselves, psychology came from a male perspective which didn’t understand women very well at all, it was difficult for corporations to market products to women because they didn’t understand them, what was considered erotic was only seen through male eyes so that only women were portrayed as erotic. That still has negative repercussions today, with men getting turned on by women but women not getting too turned on by men. See these posts:

      Men: Erotic Objects of Women’s Gaze
      Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze
      Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity
      Women Seeing Women as Sexier than Men
      Women Learn the Breast Fetish, Too

  4. Girls with crazy hair!!! They are the best, my daughter is one of those as well, got to love them. As a father I like these type of films that portrays women in a different light. My daughter is constantly getting bombarded with princess products as a result of the Walt Disney princesses’ beauty line. I’m glad and I strongly agree with the rest of you that it is about time we get a princess with strong brave character. I have two sons as well and my little girl has the strongest character of all of my kids and I’m planning on keeping it that way. Cant wait to see it….Cheers!!

  5. Beautiful–let us not control each other, but teach and learn from our differences instead, and celebrate them all. This is a wonderful, exciting time to be female; where biology is no longer destiny.

  6. “Bold, boisterous, untamed hair that will be ruled by nothing”… That sounds like my daughters’ hair, which is also auburn. I can’t wait to see this movie with my kids. It’s about time movies aimed at a young audience featured strong female protagonists.

  7. We’ve certainly come a long way haven’t we? I’m proud to be an independent, feisty red-headed woman. I’m proud to finally be BRAVE as well.
    Kudos for this excellent post.
    (I plan on watching this movie over the weekend. Really looking forward to it too!)

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