Is Merida gay?

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

The Atlantic discusses:

[Merida]  goes to extreme lengths to avoid having to marry one of the three noblemen that her parents have chosen for her… watching Brave’s tomboyish heroine shoot arrows, fight like one of the boys, and squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes, a thought might pop into the head of some viewers: Is Merida gay?

Who knows? But I know that there is an ideological explanation for why that thought might pop into some viewers’ heads, and it has nothing to do with shooting arrows and everything to do with avoiding three noblemen.

If I polled the adult audience whether it was proper for females to chart their own destiny— shoot arrows, fight,  or be gay– 100% would say duh.

But if I asked them if it was natural, or normal, for a woman not to be tempted by three rich noblemen– they wouldn’t dare answer.

“I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t want to be a princess,” one woman says to another as they stroke their scented copies of Fifty Shades Of Grey.  “Weird.  Ohhhhh, maybe she’s gay!  Not that there’s nothing wrong with that.”

NB the movie doesn’t suggest arranged marriages are inherently flawed or unhappy.  The King and Queen are quite happy.

I am making a very specific argument: what occurs to some– the explanation that their mind naturally allows them to see– is that she might be gay.  Not the unrealistic explanation that some 16 year old doesn’t want to marry up, well, and soon. 

Related posts:

  1. Brave– the feminist Hunger Games?
  2. Are Hollywood Leading Men Are Becoming More Gay? They Certainly Are Smoking Less
  3. Black Women are Less Attractive (If Your Idea of Black Women Comes from TV)

20 Responses to Is Merida gay?

  1. BHE says:

    The way people read fictional characters sure says a whole lot about them. There should be a whole branch of psychology based on that.

  2. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    Your point is valid, but I also think speculating she may be gay is also valid. The big picture does suggest she may be gay, or at least, gender atypical. It’s not only her complete lack of interest in marrying but the fact she is interested in stereotypically masculine activities like bowing, and her personality is aggressive and tomboyish. When one looks at the whole picture it would be a reasonable interpretation (that her disinterest in the suitors is at least partly related to sexuality, and not just priorities).

    If it were a teenage boy interested in art/fashion, who did not want to seek out girls…would you argue people who assumed he MAY not like girls suggests bias?

    I suppose it does suggest a bias whenever we make an assumption without explicit stated obvious evidence, but I have no interest in being that politically correct, thanks.

    • Old Mike says:

      Is he actively seeking out boys? If yes, then yes. But seriously, most people in fashion are straight. Musical theatre on the other hand…

    • Guy Fox says:

      Your counterexample of the boy who’s into art/fashion more than girls doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work for an interesting reason. The code isn’t symmetrical, at least not with regards to sex. Women are supposed to want to have it all. Questioning how to get it is legitimate, at least in the Atlantic, but not whether the game should have a totally different prize or whether it should be a totally different game. Along with your pro-grade kitchen appliances, your brushed aluminium laptop, and your creative-outlet career, you’re gonna need a modern man, which is to say he should be upwardly mobile (and starting pretty high to begin with), sensitive and devoted, but still into manly-ish but non-threatening pursuits, like sailing. Whether he should want kids depends on your wanting kids and your views on ‘reproductive freedom’. That model is so taken for granted you can’t even deviate from it, so deviation has to be explained with reference to other categories. She’s not deviating from the Way, she’s just taking the Amanda Lee Rogers Portia di Rossi route. That’s okay so long as all roads lead to the suburban McMansion/big city loft.
      With Guys it’s a little different. It’s easier to deviate because the Way is narrower. You can be either a rapacious man’s man who pays lip service to stuff like gender equality (Paging Mr. Kutcher,), or you can be freakin’ Liberace. If you choose the latter, nobody will take you seriously, except perhaps as a serious comedy act. If you try to split the difference, you’ll fall into the Rock Hudson uncanny valley. That’s what the masculine code can’t accept. Masculinity has to be echoed off a vanquished feminine other, so you can either be the Man or a camp feminine other.
      If you want the male counterexample, it would be a gay Marlboro man or a seemingly obvious queen who still chases after pinups. Those are the guys that fathers will dread discussing with their sons.

  3. Sherri says:

    This isn’t a different brand of romantic fantasy, it’s just half of one.

    Act I:
    Our heroine isn’t interested in any of her suitable suitors. Not because the boys aren’t good enough, but because she’s different. Her dad is a scientist and he’s taught her to love logic more than clothes, or maybe she grew up in Egypt and spent too much time digging up archeology sites to notice boys and her nails are dirty. Now she’s post college age and everyone expects her to marry, but she’s just too passionate about something else. It doesn’t matter what. What’s special about her is that normal silly girls are only passionate about boys.

    Act II:
    Into our story comes some seemingly inappropriate boy or man who in definitely not suitable. They can’t stand each other but some how fate keeps putting them crazy situations together. Somehow against her will she falls in love with him in the last chapter. The surprise twist is he actually is a suitable match. He’s actually a prince or brilliant and just invented cold fusion. They live happily ever after.

    Brave is just part one of the story. In the sequel she meets a boy raised by wolves while hunting in the forest. They keep trying to kill the same deer. She hates him! But then she loves him. Turns out he’s actually a prince and is savage but noble.

    Since when does a romantic fantasy start with a women who can’t can’t wait to get married? Who asks how many children a man wants on the first date. Of course she ends up married with kids, but that’s not who she really is.

    • Old Mike says:

      “…Turns out he’s actually a prince and is savage but noble.”

      Wow. That is depressing.

  4. ExOttoyuhr says:

    Merida appears to be (apart from hideously ugly animation) squarely in the tradition of princesses who value physical activity and the great outdoors over dresses, ceremony, and suitors. (Heck, she’s twelve, surely she’s a little young for suitors?)

    Heck, Miss I-Don’t-_Wanna_-Wear-A-Gown is common enough to show up in about half of Limyaael’s (extremely useful and valuable) fantasy rants.

    I even note that she’s an archer; that puts her squarely in the tradition. Archery keeps you out of the main fight, and exercises muscles (in the back) that visible like some others are; so it lets the heroine contribute to the battle in her own right, while protecting her both from looking like a superhero, and from being disfigured or maimed by a well-placed sword blow.

    Has American culture really forgotten its favorite princess trope, in about twelve years since Pocahantas? (Conservatives are supposed to detest that movie, I think, but I don’t, and I’ve never quite understood why.)

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I pointed this out earlier, the princess in this fairy tale appears quite prepubertal physically, so her lack of interest in marriage is appropriate and parallel to lack of sexual maturity. There are a lot of overlaps between this tale and little mermaid, which was polar opposite in the sense the heroine was sexual and her main interest was getting the man she wanted.

      Your points are all excellent, but I would argue a more practical reason female heroines are archers and not smashers is because it would physically look ridiculous. Women are smaller, especially spunky 12 year old looking princesses.

      Other female heroines use knives/blades, magic spells, in addition to arrows. There are occasionally female characters who engage in direct combat but they are amazonian, and IMO that is only to be expected, as direct combat requires physical strength and size. Sort of how there will never be a wizard hero (or villain) who is described as being unintelligent, wizardry/magic use is generally considered a form of study and requires intelligence and wisdom (think, Gandalf or any wizard archetype is brilliant always and often very wise) The wizard can be evil (“Mad scientist”) or good but they are always going to be intelligent.
      In contrast, melee characters are characterized as oafish , untelligent, but possessing brute strength size or persistence. The direct combat attributes are usually not possessed by females, again, unless they are amazonian.

      • ExOttoyuhr says:

        That’s what I get for failing to tip my hat to reality… :) Women are generally not suited to close-quarters combat, in the real world as well as in fiction; I should’ve known better than to link to TVTropes without pointing out that this is a case where it does fit pretty well with the real world.

        Magic requiring study is another point where the conventions of story and reality intersect. Look at early-modern magic; it typically required knowledge of Greek and Hebrew (as well as bog-standard Latin), and very careful attention to detail.

        As for close-quarters fighters, I wonder when the change from “Sir Galahad” to “violent oaf” (i.e., for heroes) began. I get the impression it may have been as recent as the late 1990s; do you have thoughts on that?

        And I’m glad I’m not the only one whose response to a discussion of this heroine’s matrimonial plans was to recognize that she was too young!

        • AnonymousAtLarge says:

          @ExOttoyuhr Yes, whether male or female the archer stereotype in media is always possessing a firey energetic nature; they are nimble swift and agile; they may be a bit impulsive, as they are eternally youthful. They may be characterized as being in touch with earth and nature, as archery is symbiotic with camoflauge and being at one with environment (archer sees thing the target cannot see; the archer follows behind and tracks their targets in cover of wilderness or shadows).

          The achetype archer is a young man, but a young woman may occasionally be observed, a spunky tomboy.

          I have noticed this as well, it is interesting to observe the close quarters fighters stereotype has changed from valiant crusader to oafish brute; I tend to think this reflects the destruction of the “white male” dominant social archetype in general. It follows suit with commercials and television shows depicting the white father as an incompetent useless out of touch ineffectual moron, and catholic priests being described as money grubbing pedophiles. These are all related: down with the white man. More freedom for all.

          I believe TLP wrote about this on his blog. The 80s action hero is dead. I am in my late 20s and I remember growing up, still able to identify the “white male” dominant hero archetype from my early 80s television media. Kids today cannot say this. The hero is either NOT a white male, or he is a very corrupt weak flawed hero, not at all a source of strength to emulate or respect.

          • RobotBastard says:

            “I have noticed this as well, it is interesting to observe the close quarters fighters stereotype has changed from valiant crusader to oafish brute”

            The guys in “Lord of the Rings” didn’t seem to mind getting stuck in, and they could hardly be called Oafish Brutes.

    • RobotBastard says:

      “girls get bows” was a thing long before TVTropes existed. Like, Classical Greco-Roman Mythology long. Amazons? Atalanta?

  5. StMarc says:

    Would I be a total buzz kill to point out that at one point Merida believes that one of the Macintosh’s men is her potential suitor and looks quite interested until he moves aside and reveals the actual heir, who’s almost but not quite as entirely unappealing as the other two?

    People, the movie slaps you upside the HEAD with the fact that the suitors are all varying degrees of repulsive. Apparently it slapped some of you a little too hard, if you think Merida needs any more reason not to want to give up her freedom and living with her family doing whatever the Hell she wants. Stop. Trying. So. Hard.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      Okay, this may be true (haven’t watched the movie myself). Seeing as the heroine has no romantic interest as an alternative the possibility still remains she may not want a dude, she may want a Robin to her Batman… or that girl who followed Xena everywhere.

      I don’t personally agree with this interpretation (that she is gay) but I can see how some people can advocate for it.

      • StMarc says:

        The possibility remains that she is bisexual, or that she’s not interested in her potential suitors because she is a lizard-being from the Lesser Magellanic in disguise. (And the only reason she looked interested in the Macintosh man is that he was much larger and fitter and therefore a more suitable host for her clutch of eggs to mature inside after she paralyzes him with her poisonous spittle on their wedding night.)

        However, raising those possibilities, just like raising the possibility that she’s gay even after it’s been pointed out that she displays apparent interest in a male suitor, doesn’t make you keenly insightful. It makes you at best someone who is so open-minded their brains have fallen out, and at worst a tool with a round agenda you’re determined to push in every square hole that presents itself.

  6. WS77 says:

    My guess is that one of the reasons people are speculating about Merida’s sexuality is because Merida is a politically-correct stereotype (“warrior princess”) and therefore her actions aren’t particularly identifiable to most people…so it’s fun and trendy to attribute them to homosexuality.

    It also strikes me, based off the descriptions I’ve read, that this movie is really about upper-class white girl problems and that the message of the movie is potentially disastrous for non-upper class people. I recently attended some community college classes and I can tell you, traditionalism was not much of a threat to the women there. They were mostly – and I feel I’m being kind here – pigs (morally and personality wise), or they were otherwise nice girls who had gotten themselves into bad situations and were headed for tough, very tough lives – (too bad they couldn’t have married up, well and soon).

    Also, I haven’t seen Brave (because I have zero appetite for didacticism served up glowing cabbage patch kid people) but I have to wonder if freedom and individualism in this movie, and for Merida, are not, in fact, a kind of nihilistic slumming.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      So basically your synopsis is that women who want freedom/individuality are expressing the symptoms of upper class white girl problems?

      And women who are not upper class/white, are ignorant pigs who do better in their natural habitat, similar to chimpanzees and gorillas do better in the wild than in zoos… or they are the victims of unfortunate circumstances.

      Your response is like abstract art or techno music. It offends me with asymmetry and the discordant lack of flow and unexpected nature of it, but I want to stick a gold ribbon of success upon it as well. Such pleasing noise!

      • WS77 says:

        Nah, you misunderstand me…while I do believe that freedom and individuality are pretty much nonsense, my point is that what the movie is selling is probably just upper class white girl problems/fantasizing in the guise of girl power. (It’s so easy to flirt with being free and an individual when you come from a relatively stable family and you know, deep down, they won’t let you fall on your face too badly.)

        …The traditionalism this movie seems to be attacking is long, long dead for most of the women I attended community college classes with (if Charles Murray is correct, it’s still alive and kicking for the upper classes).

        The women I’m referring to were mostly working-class white. Most of them were pigs in the same way that the women on The Jersey Shore are (really a lot of them were far worse). And, as near as I can tell, there was nothing close to traditionalism anywhere in their life. ( I doubt they had over-bearing mothers trying to teach them poise, etc..) They seemed to take their cues from popular culture.