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.