‘Brave’ has a gender problem

Image Via Brave Wiki

*If you haven’t yet seen Brave and want to avoid any spoilers at all, avoid this post.  If you don’t mind minor spoilers for plot points (but not outcome) continue reading*

I avoided any reviews or spoilers before seeing the new Pixar movie Brave yesterday.  I wanted to go into the movie about a young heroine archer Merida unbiased by group think.

While I enjoyed the film, I was underwhelmed. Perhaps, I was in need of a plot, centered around this medieval Scottish princess with firey red curls, that packed more of an emotional punch.  After I got home I went to read my favorite culture blogger Alyssa Rosenberg over at ThinkProgress who highlighted one of the more problematic themes in the reviews of Brave.

Alyssa cites EW.com’s review which includes this nugget about Merida’s propensity for outdoorsy activities like horseback riding and archery:

But could Merida be gay? Absolutely. She bristles at the traditional gender roles that she’s expected to play: the demure daughter, the obedient fiancée. Her love of unprincess-like hobbies, including archery and rock-climbing, is sure to strike a chord with gay viewers who felt similarly “not like the other kids” growing up. And she hates the prospect of marriage — at least, to any of the three oafish clansmen that compete for her hand — enough to run away from home and put her own mother’s life at risk. She’s certainly not a swooning, boy-crazy Disney princess like The Little Mermaid’s Ariel or Snow White. In fact, Merida may be the first in that group to be completely romantically disinclined (even cross-dressing Mulan had a soft spot for Li Shang).

I agree with Alyssa that, “The movie takes a strong stand against the idea that the best way for girls to be good daughters, or to perform girlhood correctly, is to become sexually available when they’re expected to. The prize to be won isn’t a prince. It’s autonomy and self-knowledge.”

It’s particularly problematic that Merida can only be viewed through a sexual lens even when the entire theme of the movie in many ways is her rejecting this frame and instead opting for more independence and free will.  Her desire to postpone an arranged marriage until later was not because she has a preference for women versus men, it’s that she simply was not ready for either in a romantic context.  The idea that because Merida enjoyed outdoor activities she must be gay lacks creativity and is downright offensive.

In addition, it was extremely disappointing for Pixar to have so much hype surrounding Brave and it’s expert arrow shooting heroine in a year when The Hunger Games smashed records. And to have an overbearing mother as the central plot point and subtext of Merida’s struggles.  Sure having a controlling mother might be relateable to the masses, but it’s also a particularly stale and uninspiring challenge for a breakthrough character to overcome.

Apparently, EW.com isn’t the only place creatively challenged.


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