I keep hearing—mostly from news anchors and talk-show hosts—how “Frozen” has many positive messages for young girls, and how groundbreaking it is for a mainstream children’s feature.
So a few weeks ago, when I saw the DVD at the library, I scooped it up. I’m all for better representation of women and girls in entertainment. And while I am no Disney fan (I will never buy any princess garbage for either of my nieces—sorry, girls) I was curious to see to what extent they ventured beyond the standard princess storyline.
My husband and I sat down and watched “Frozen”. We both laughed, especially at Olaf, who was my favourite character. I cried at the parts where they mean for you to. We both found the songs catchy but typical Broadway stuff, ultimately forgettable. Positive messages for kids? Yeah, OK. The importance of family, making sacrifices for people you love, not getting engaged to someone you just met that day. All good stuff.
As for the groundbreaking portrayal of female empowerment… Sure, I guess, if you compare it to Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which came out in 1937, before Rosie the Riveter, before “feminism” was even a word.
In “Frozen,” all I saw were two rich, pretty, skinny white girls who have first world problems. (Albeit fantastical ones. Poor Elsa and her magical powers.) Yes, they have some adventures and show bravery and independence. But they both end up back in their hometown, in the roles they are expected to play, and Anna ends up paired off in a traditional heterosexual relationship (though they get points for making her suitor a working-class ice-man rather than a prince).
This is where some people will argue that we should be satisfied that Elsa and Anna have been presented as brave and independent, or that at least Elsa isn’t paired up with anybody at the end. And that’s where I get really annoyed.
We should never, ever, be grateful or satisfied that our cultural outlets present human beings as individuals with agency rather than stereotypes. We should demand it. And we should communicate this with our purchases. (Hence, no princess gifts for my nieces. At least until there’s a truly pioneering portrayal of a female protagonist in these movies. How about a Latina scientist? Or a lesbian artist? I’m serious.)
The fact that Disney’s main female characters are almost exclusively princesses is hugely problematic to begin with. It immediately limits the range of experience the characters can have to, once again, first world problems. Not exactly mind-expanding content.
“Frozen” was entertaining and all, but if this is what we consider groundbreaking in terms of female portrayal, that’s pretty damn sad. And we should hardly be praising Disney or any other film studio for creating female characters that aren’t subservient simps.