OPINION: Why 'Brave' Is Good for Girls, and Why You Shouldn't Assume Merida Is Gayby: Posted:
There's a problem in Hollywood (and the rest of the world for that matter, but let's keep it small and manageable), and it is a lack of truly strong, independent female protagonists. It's not all the fault of the studios, either: in a world where "Twilight" makes billions, one has to assume that a character like Bella resonates with young females. And sadly, she does.
The problem isn't entirely that the female protagonists are poorly written or always stuck into a particular gender role. The problem is that nobody seems to want a story that doesn't involve men.
Consider this: how many movies can you name that has a female protagonist who isn't romantically involved at some point in the movie? Don't think too long about it; there are barely any. In Hollywood films, where male characters save the world or find themselves or crack codes or win back their estranged children (to name a few), the purpose of a female character is almost always to fall in love.
In Disney films, which have used a string of princesses to appeal to young girls, that rule is steadfast. Even Mulan, who cross-dressed as a boy, had a love interest. That's why Disney/Pixar's new movie "Brave" is a valuable (and unfortunately, bold and trailblazing) film, especially for the Disney demographic.
Merida, the film's heroine, doesn't fit into traditional gender roles, especially not those that Disney often lays out for its princesses. She's still a princess, but one who thoroughly enjoys archery, rock climbing, and other activities usually encouraged for boys, at least in her world if not ours as well.
Not only that, but Merida's story is entirely devoid of a love interest. She is courted by suitors but hates the idea of being sold off in such a way (as anyone rightly should), and is much more concerned about her own freedom to do what she wants than with the love of a man.
And that's fantastic. Here we have a strong, likable female protagonist who manages to be feminine and relatable to girls while still proving that her identity is not defined by a man, or by what society (read: men) thinks she should be.
So, of course, EW thinks she's gay.
Now, let's clear this first: there is nothing wrong with being gay. There is nothing wrong with having a character in a children's movie be gay. But something about the way EW speculates about Merida's sexuality based on her interests rubs me the wrong way.
Here we finally have a female character who can hold her own story without romantic involvement, and immediately the assumption is that she must be gay. After all, if she doesn't have any interest in getting married, or in being a princess in pretty dresses, then she must not have any interest in men whatsoever, right? How could she ever resist us so?
The point is, the message of "Brave" seems to be one of individuality, which is important for younger kids, especially girls. If you like shooting arrows and playing in the dirt more than playing with dolls, then you should shoot arrows (safely) and play in the dirt.
What you shouldn't have to deal with is having people label you based on what you like and how you act. "Tomboy" is bad enough (insinuating that a girl must be part of an abnormal set in order to want to play sports), but automatically jumping to the conclusion that someone is a lesbian based on her activities is just as bad, if not worse. It's insulting to lesbians, who are shoehorned into one specific sub-set of gay culture that purposefully tries to do away with traditionally feminine appearance and activities, when lesbians, who are just like any other human being (people still have trouble with that part), have different tastes, styles, likes and dislikes.
Plus, kids who might prefer different activities are once again given a label that may or may not apply to them to make them feel like an "other." Only instead of "tomboy," "weirdo" or "nerd," it's "lesbian." Again, nothing wrong with being gay (or being a nerd or a tomboy or a little bit strange), but slapping a label on people based on what they do is a dangerous road.
Can't a girl just be a girl? Who happens to have a bear curse and a bow and arrow?