Merida and Disney Princesses: a rant

Here’s a list of all the Disney princesses who were the main characters of their movies.*

Snow White: Princess whose stepmother is trying to kill her runs away to stay alive, is almost killed by her stepmother, and is brought back to life through the love of the prince.

Cinderella: Daughter of a wealthy aristocrat whose stepfamily is emotionally abusing her wants to marry a prince to escape her family, which they try to prevent. Becomes a princess.

Aurora: Princess who is cursed at birth, is lied to about her family her entire life, falls in love but isn’t allowed to marry the man, is attacked by the evil faerie, and awakened through the love of the prince she fell in love with.

Ariel: Princess/mermaid who falls in love with a human man, puts her family in danger by pursuing him, and when he saves her life, is granted her wish to become a human.

Belle: Peasant who is being pursued for marriage by a narcissistic violent suitor dreams of escaping to a more enchanting life, sacrifices her freedom to save her father, and falls in love with a prince who can’t become a whole man until her falls in love with her too. Becomes a princess.

Rapunzel: Princess who is kidnapped at birth by an evil witch, wants to escape her life inside a tower and see the world, is pursued by the witch and saved by a rogue, rediscovers her family and marries the rogue.

And then there’s Merida: a princess who is living in a well-adjusted household with both of her living parents (as well as her brothers), and wants the freedom to decide who she’ll marry on her own terms. Makes a few bad decisions and has to change her behavior and her outlook to [redacted].

***

Dear all the men who have told me over the past few days that Brave is boring, slow, too much like Brother Bear, or otherwise not really worth watching:

It’s not for you. You don’t have Disney Princes to look up to. You have your storybook characters, your fantastic role models, your rogues, your nerds, your geeks, your outsiders-looking-in, your heroes-that-shouldn’t-be-heroes who get into car chases, sword fights, laser gunfights, and epic battles, solve the mysteries, figure out the path they’re supposed to follow on their own, get the girl or don’t, win the prize or don’t, and who become better people through the process.

Your heroes start out (or are quickly thrust into) bad situations, but most of them are not being threatened by violence or death just for existing, or being told that their primary purpose is to fall in love and marry. Frequently, they’re in crazy situations because their own selfish actions put them there. Your heroes pull themselves up by the bootstraps and get to work to fix an issue without singing animals or magical faeries or dancing furniture.

With the possible exception of Ariel, who really should’ve considered therapy, none of the Disney Princess we’ve been given for role models can really say that. I’m not sure Disney could tell a princess story with a real girl if they wanted to. Pixar nailed it on the first try.

Until now, because we have Merida.

Brave is for me, and all the other girls who grew up in a not-so-bad house but still managed to go through horrible growing pains from pre-teen to twenty-something, who weren’t looking for a knight in shining armor, a prince, or an escape route, who wanted to shoot arrows and hit baseballs and not-wear skirts if we didn’t want to wear skirts, and go where we want and do what we want and control our own fate. We wanted a princess who ignored her status as a princess, not because she didn’t know she was one, but because she knew she was a princess and just didn’t care. She isn’t a prize to be won, she isn’t defined by the roles people try to place her into, and she isn’t waiting for someone else to fix her problems.

Merida is our princess, and she tells a story I suspect a whole lot of us could tell too.

No matter who you are, you’re allowed to think the movie was slow or boring or even dislike it if you wish. But please, don’t discourage the rest of us from seeing it. Remember, you just might not be the target audience for this one.


*I dropped Mulan, Pocahontas, Alice, and Tiana because none of them were strictly princesses, though Tiana did become one.** I also dropped Jasmine, Esmerelda, and Jane because they weren’t the main characters, and Lilo because she’s just a kid.

**But I haven’t seen The Frog Prince and to be honest, I’m not sure she’s the main character, so I ignored it.

3 Responses to “Merida and Disney Princesses: a rant”

  1. jzimbert says:

    I don’t want to get in a fight about sexism in cultural role models, because of course your side has all the ammunition. But I will point out that it is POSSIBLE to find a man and get married. If I go to my grave without having saved, at the very least, one city from destruction, part of me will consider myself a failure. All of the guys I grew up admiring can either fly and lift cars and shoot lasers, or spend their time doing that cool stuff you mentioned, all of which would result in my instantaneous death.

  2. kirabug says:

    True – but – we girls admired all the same guys that you did, and also wanted to grow up to be Batman, but we were told right out that it’s impossible, not because of the instantaneous death thing, but because we’re girls. All I’m saying is that it’s nice when someone forgets we’re girls and just gives us the opportunity to have heroes like yours. :)

  3. jzimbert says:

    But Batgirl! No, no, you’re right.

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