Brave– the feminist Hunger Games?

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Plot: little princess Merida doesn’t want to marry any of the suitors, she wants to ride horses, shoot arrows, be free.  Mom sternly disapproves.  “Sit up straight.”  An evil bear tries to kill everyone.

Brave appeared to be the feminist Hunger Games– this would be a movie about a girl with a bow that was not a fairy tale.  This archer would make choices, save herself and others– exhibit agency. And she did.   Boys would not continuously save her.

However, there was a subtle trick with Brave.  Typically in Campbell-esque “hero” stories, the hero must overcome something and change.

But in this movie, Merida doesn’t change at all.  She’s the same beginning and end.   The person who changes is her mother.  It is the mother who learns the lesson, changes her perspective, grows.  It is the mother who defeats the evil bear.  It is the mother who goes through the steps of the mythic hero.  It is the mother who learns that– get ready– girls should be allowed to make their own choices in life, including not get married.

But this is 2012. Are there little girls who need a movie for this message?  Are there little girls ducking suitors?  No.  Which is why Merida mirrors this and doesn’t change.

Are there, however, mothers who still quietly think their daughters need to marry well, up, quickly?  Are there mothers who still secretly think little girls’ main skills should be posture, dress, poise?

Oh, yes.  And these mothers love The Hunger Games.

Related posts:

  1. How Katniss Wins The Hunger Games
  2. The next phase in the evolution of action movies
  3. racial representation in postracial fiction and the banality of ultra-violence
  4. Sucker Punch
  5. 4 Unintentionally Revealing Things About “In Time”

37 Responses to Brave– the feminist Hunger Games?

  1. WS77 says:

    I hear that if you stay through the ending credits there’s a scene that shows Merida as a lonely old woman, surrounded by cats. (kidding)

    I hate to play this card, but, if this movie were made about a male character and had the same message, wouldn’t it be cause for alarm? I suspect Philip Zambardo would be doing a TED talk about it. Is it possible that this movie is not really about women or what they want and desire, but about corporate feminists and beta male Pixar nerds telling women what they should want, which, based on your description, seems to be a life of arrow-shooting, horseback riding loneliness.

    • max says:

      Or it’s what the beta male nerds of Pixar find most attractive. Believe me, the corporate feminists only want to give the audience what it wants so they will buy it. Corporate first, feminist last.

    • DataShade says:

      What’s the “same message?” It sounds like if this movie were about a male character it would be … Hop.

      • WS77 says:

        I really couldn’t tell you. I, like, most people, haven’t see Hop. I did just read the plot synopsis of it on wikipedia and, according to that, at the end of the movie, the characters end up accepting responsibility. They don’t get to live lives of “freedom”.

  2. BHE says:

    Just so long as she doesn’t want to marry a woman.

  3. JohnJ says:

    Something Marilyn vos Savant said recently was “Debate re: women, career, family. ‘Success’ always refers to status: money, power, honors. Both sexes should bin that. Success is happiness.”

    I have to wonder, what if what makes men happy isn’t what makes women happy?

    I don’t think the screaming throngs of teenage girls who love Twilight, The Hunger Games, etc., are all victims of systemic patriarchal programming. I think it is at least possible that those stories appeal to something that women inherently desire.

    • durand says:

      Setting aside the choice of language–what, exactly, makes you think these teenage girls aren’t absorbing patriarchal messages and performing the socially validated version of femininity? Were they raised in Skinner boxes?

      How do you get past multiple layers of social conditioning to that which is “inherent,” other than by asserting that you know what’s real and what’s socially constructed?

      • JohnJ says:

        I don’t believe that 100% of everything that people do is attributable to social messaging. Hunger is not the result of McDonald’s advertising. Even if McDonald’s didn’t advertise, hunger would still exist because hunger is caused by something inherent in the human condition. It seems to me that the more universal some attribute is, the more likely it has some inherent cause, even if it is also partially attributable to social messaging.

        • daniel says:

          I’m not comfortable asserting an argument one way or the other, but the argument can be made that social messaging is not born purely of the imagination of advertisers and movie makers. At some point, there are natural drives telling people what messages are appropriate, or even possible. Ultimately, it’s chicken-and-egg, and which you believe came first can only be a political statement (subject to the same questions, of course!) (Which explains my discomfort/indecisiveness).

          There are definitely cases where social messages are constructed ex nihilo, but it is also possible that some constructions fill our needs. Maybe McDonald’s tells us that McDonald’s burgers are better than others, but besides for hunger, maybe we crave hot meat as well, and just want someone to sell it to us in colourful packaging.

          Puts a different spin on

          if you’re reading it, it’s for you”

          which I’d never thought of until now.

          • JohnJ says:

            Think of it this way: male and female animals behave differently even without an all-consuming, patriarchy-reinforcing conspiracy. How much of the difference between men and women is attributable to natural causes? I don’t know, but I sure wish we lived in a climate that promoted intellectual inquisitiveness. There are a lot of great discussions that could be had, and maybe even some answers found that don’t rely solely on calling someone who disagrees with you a misogynist/misandrist.

        • CubaLibre says:

          There are people who train themselves (= are socially conditioned) not to respond to hunger, even to die from it while food sits before them. “Inherent” human conditions are so plastic that they can even result in the extreme of death, at least on the level of action (i.e. I admit that these people can feel hunger, but if they don’t respond to it that’s all that matters). If your inherencies are whittled to such de minimis dimensions, they aren’t worth much in terms of analyzing behavior.

          • BHE says:

            Unless their ‘inherencies’ are being exploited in a social context.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            First mistake is assuming compulsive starvation is not a biological disorder (it strikes women, which means it must be hysterical nonsense, right?). Ironic you are using an example of a biological illness (anorexia nervosa) to bolster your argument that people can use their minds to overcome inherent drives.

          • CubaLibre says:

            Actually I was thinking about hunger strikes, as well as a variety of the world’s aescetics. Ironic something something.

    • CubaLibre says:

      1. Tons of males of all ages love these media.
      2. Tons of females who are not teenaged love these media.
      3. Tons of teenaged females do NOT love these media.

      What’s inherent now?

      • BHE says:

        What’s the argument? That there aren’t behaviors that are more inherent in men than women? Separate your politics from reality.

        • BHE says:

          Which isn’t to say that every human shouldn’t be judged as an individual.

        • CubaLibre says:

          The argument is that you can’t declare what’s inherent behavior to female homo sapiens sapiens based on the rate of Twilight fandom.

    • Guy Fox says:

      @ JohnJ

      The idea that certain traits are inherent cannot be summarily dismissed, but it’s so amorphous that it’s hard to say it’ll get us anywhere. Certain traits are going to inhere in the species, some will vary by sex, some will vary by cognate gene, some will vary by individual, etc. Yeah, I tend to think that social structures do most of the heavy lifting in determining our meaningful characteristics, but that proclivity is more epistemological than ideological because evolutionary, biological arguments don’t work well when applied to groups. Never have. And “When you read studies about mate selection and evolutionary psychology in general, remember a simple fact: once we got consciousness, all bets were off.”

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      LOOK OUT JOHN, YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE ATTACKED BY A MOB OF STUPIDITY! Shame on you for saying something reasonable yet politically incorrect. Don’t you know psychology is actually real and not a kettle of social myths tales lies and randomness from the brains of crazy people who spent too much time holed up in their ivory tower?

      • Guy Fox says:

        While I don’t know what CubaLibre was referring to with the whole ‘people train themselves to starve’ business, there is no reason to assume that he meant anorexia. I thought he was talking about Sokushinbutsu.

        You’re projecting, my dear.

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          Your point regarding non-anoretic examples of starving to death is noted.

          Regarding the mob attacking john, I was referring to his unapologetic declaration that biological immutable differences exist between males and females. Get ready for a mob of stupid your way, here comes the tidal wave, woooosh :D

  4. DataShade says:

    So … it’s sort of a Mary Poppins, but for mothers instead of fathers?

    I thought that’s what Tangled was for.

    • DataShade says:

      Altho’ to be fair, in Tangled the controlling mother-figure was magically aged to decrepitude, then defenestrated, which is a little harsh; Brave sounds like it offers a path to self-reassurance, the “let’s go fly a kite” moment.

  5. ppkjxh812112 says:

    I didn’t really like the bit where Merida apologises and takes the blame for everything…

  6. Minerva says:

    “2012” is vastly overrated.

    Most women I know live like it’s 1952, except that they must work on top of it.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      It was the best trick right wing capitalist rulers conjured: convincing women they were MORE LIBERATED if they worked, on top of raising kids/cleaning house. Brilliant. With twice as many workers, you have instantly devalued labor, so now people are twice as productive for the same price (or half as productive for half the price, either way gets you to more profit).
      The most amazing part is how women are HAPPY about this. “Yessss I get to go to work, all fucking DAY, come home, cook, clean, and never sleep. I am so free and modern now!”

      • DJames says:

        LOL, perfect and on target. That what I said to many girls in college: surely the liberated woman ad campaign was concocted by lazy-ass frat boys who wanted the milk for free AND the cow to pull the plow every day. (Just kidding, the Campus Crusades dudes were wise to this, too.)

        It was funny only because, of my small and unscientific circle of acquaintances, far more girlfriends than boyfriends had jobs.

  7. Gabe Ruth says:

    Still with the Katniss has no agency because the author is a shill for the patriarchy (or has no imagination)? I thought you had been duly chastised by the hordes of indignant commenters informing you that she did too kill some kids.

    Good call on the true protagonist of the film corresponding to the people buying the tickets. However, I don’t think the point is to convince them not to browbeat their daughters into whatever it is they’re supposed to do these days. We are talking about the dumbest generation in history, after all. I submit that they are being invited to see themselves as victims of their own mothers’ browbeating, of being denied the opportunity to make their own decisions. And then feel better about themselves because they’re not going to do that to their daughters.

  8. CubaLibre says:

    I took it pretty much the same way as The Hunger Games, actually. The point of the movie’s plot is that there is a bleak political reality that Merida’s selfishness ignores, which threatens to result in a whole lot of real misery and death for a whole lot of people (i.e. if she doesn’t follow tradition and marry somebody, war). Instead of having to deal with that fact, the clans are subjected to a brief deus ex machina speech and suddenly agree that, hey, people don’t have to do that any more, they can just LOVE, awwww. In other words Merida’s one true clash with responsibility is absolved through no effort on her own part. It’s true I guess that she can bow real good, but fat lot of good that does against giant demon freakbears.

  9. Red says:

    I found that the film was centered on the Electra complex.

    The mother was threatened by Merida’s lack of desire for a suitor and her closeness to her father, and she subconsciously desires to see Merida married in order to remove the sexual threat, even though she says it’s about tradition.

    At the climax of the film, Merida is about to give in and accept a prince. Her mother, however, stops her before she can go through with it. Merida’s acceptance of marriage relieved her mother’s fear, thus allowing mom to lighten up on the whole “follow tradition” thing.

    In the final scene, mom is turned human again, dad embraces her in a sensual kiss, and Merida gives a sigh of disgust “aggh!” Threat controlled.

    As TLP said, this movie was for the moms.

  10. GospelX says:

    Saying this movie is mostly about the mother is 100-percent correct, but to say that Merida did not grow isn’t quite right. While Merida did not resolve the tensions caused by her refusal to take a suitor and follow tradition, that was not her hurdle to overcome. Hers was that her choices, and her actions, have consequences that affect more than just herself. Her choices led to possible violence in her own home, her choices led to changes in her family members, and her choices led to her father’s attempt on her mother’s life. By the end she realized that it was her fault, and she never took responsibility before that – she was a complete brat after all. Saying, “I’m sorry,” and, “It’s all my fault,” doesn’t seem like much compared to her mother’s acceptance of changes in tradition and acknowledging that her daughter is her own person, but it is a transition to another level. It’s a transition to acknowledging that, while the world doesn’t resolve around and cater to her, the world is affected by her choices and she is ultimately accountable for what she does.

  11. Supastaru says:

    I can’t help but noticing that Merida is ugly. Not extremely ugly and I don’t mean it because of the hair, but ugly as in uglier that the other Disney princesses.
    So as I see it, this story’s message translates to “if you’re a girl and you’re ugly then you’d better enjoy riding horses (solo) and shooting arrows because fairytales are for beautiful princesses”.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I would not describe her as ugly, as she lacks any of the markers of ugliness such as an asymetrical face, large nose/chin, etc.

      I would describe her as pre-teenish, pre-pubertal, and slightly androgynous. She appears as most girls do before puberty. She has thin lips and a flat chest and she’s skinny. Her behavior is not delicate or feminine but aggressive and tomboyish.

      The difference between her being “ugly” and her being “beautiful” is the pubertal growth spurt. She would be the antithesis to the little mermaid, who appears as a sexualized red haired adolescent in peak puberty, and I do not think this is incidental (the little mermaid was criticized for her sexuality, so this modern red haired cartoon princess is designed before sexuality occurs).

      This story is actually remarkably similar to the little mermaid (a struggle for adulthood and independence from parents), except it is inverted almost entirely.

    • Or says:

      A female character in something like a Final Fantasy game is designed for fanservice. But when you call a Disney princess beautiful, you register that beauty through a more mediated visual language. I think now that we have Disney princesses rendered in 3-D, their often grotesquely neotenic design is more consciously apparent to us. This movie looks like it’s a bit more on the “serious” side compared to Tangled (in which Rapunzel looked like a chipmunk), so we approach it with a lower level of suspension of disbelief, visually speaking.