A Princess without a Prince

Posted By on July 10, 2012

As we pointed out in our last post, Princess Merida is a pretty conventional tomboy. However, “Brave” does not present a conventional happily-ever-after: its Disney princess is the first ever to not get a prince. From the beginning to the end, she is all the man she needs. …Which is handy, because in her world, there aren’t any others she can turn to.

Merida may not have been a particularly brave new kind of princess, but we believe that “Brave” presented the newest and bravest fairytale world in Disney princess history. Castles and tiaras notwithstanding, this brave new world is actually a lot more like ours, for two reasons.

For one thing, this fairytale kingdom is not a medieval patriarchy: It’s a modern matriarchy. Despite whatever clichés and tropes you might have been expecting (as we were), this is not actually another story about a progressive, free-spirited heroine kicking against old fogey men’s ideas about woman’s role. It’s a story of 3rd wave feminism kicking against 2nd wave feminism: the daughter’s rebellious, no-cause-but-myself girl-power versus her mother’s more self-sacrificing, cause-driven, authoritative woman-power; a girl who would rather be a bohemian than undergo training to be an educated, powerful future ruler.

This film is about “contemporary, modern women,” said co-director Brenda Chapman, pinpointing what few critics picked up on, “a contemporary kind of family set in an old world fairy tale.” Producer Katherine Sarafian points out, “Both the female leads are headstrong women. The princess is rebellious and yearns for things to change and the Queen is a working mother, a professional running the kingdom.”

Merida is supposed to be learning how to run the kingdom, from the only person in the kingdom who can.

The second reason is the realistic outgrowth of the first. True to a real feminist society, there are no real men in this movie.

Merida’s father and the rest of the clan leaders are rowdy, buffoonish children who have to be shushed, scolded, and dragged around by the ears by the queen. The suitors are all such that Merida’s clearly better off without one. And that makes her the first Disney princess who doesn’t want a prince, and who doesn’t get one.

This point got half-hearted “yay”s from critics trying to be consistently supportive of feminism’s a-woman-needs-a-man-like-a-fish-needs-a-bicycle ideals. “You’ll be relieved after you see her choices for prince,” wrote one reviewer. “However, I felt something was missing when she became the first independent princess……and, for the life of me, I can’t believe I feel that way.”  We can.  And there’s a world full of young women who are not excited to find that the feminist landscape they’ve inherited means they get to make the same choice Merida did.

The catalyst of the movie comes when Merida’s mother tells her that, for political reasons, her three horrifying suitor options are IT and she needs to choose one of them NOW. The situation explodes into a catfight that eventually ends happily, with the two feminist views reconciling, the mother happily continuing to rule the realm (essentially) alone, and the daughter happily pursuing single independence. It’s the kind of “happy” ending that a lot of women would dutifully applaud… but few truly want to live.

Unfortunately, it’s a premise a lot of girls watching feel like they themselves have to look forward to – no men leading, little fatherly guidance, no suitable suitors, and people still trying to pressure them into getting married faster.

We might all see Merida’s reactions to these crises as childish (which they were), but then we’re left with the question, “What would we do in her shoes?” One of the great things about movies is how they can give us practice analyzing scenarios we might have to deal with ourselves one day. So how should we respond if, for instance, we feel like: “I’m being pressured to marry someone I don’t like!”?

Hints from well-meaning friends, probing questions from relatives, introductions from prospective in-laws, or nudges from parents could all be scary if any of these people had the biblical prerogative to force you into marriage against your will, but guess what? They don’t.

Theologians believe Scripture sets a precedent for the daughter’s consent being necessary for marriage  (Gen. 24:57,58). We also see that the very essence of a covenant is that there are two parties entering into it of their own volition, and the covenant has to be between the two parties who have to keep it (the parents, siblings, or dog of one involved party can’t enter into it for them.) Even if you were told to take your pick of three slobbering buffoons (as Merida was), you could still , on biblical grounds, choose none of them. Remember, doing the right thing is always one of your options, even if it didn’t seem to be on the ballot. (Hint: Resisting by way of a magic potion, a temper tantrum, or a plan to publicly humiliate parents and suitors alike would not count as “the right thing.”)

Next, how should a girl respond to the fear that “None of the young men my age are mature/godly/serious enough to get married!”?

“Should I a) keep sitting around waiting for my prince to come (Old Disney Princess style), or b) decide that I don’t need a man anyway (New Disney Princess style)?”

How about neither of the above?

“Brave” critics were delighted that Merida made things happen for herself instead of waiting around for her prince to show up, and we had mixed feelings about that. Sitting around waiting for our ship to come in, our prince to come, or some outside force to get our lives started for us (sometimes called “Cinderella Syndrome”) should have no place in biblical womanhood (or, we would argue, princess movies). But neither should defiant, misandristic autonomy – “Yeah! Who needs men anyway?!”

We need to use this time of life actively, not passively; to bless and serve others rather than to complain and freeload; to be loving, edifying sisters to those fellows and not cold, critical harpies. After all, your “ever after” doesn’t start after you get married – it started the day you were born. Whether it’s happy or not is up to you.

But how should we respond to the fear, “There are no real men leading in the world!”?

As mentioned, this film has several elements of grim reality to it, but one of the most profoundly truthful is this: Whenever you see crude boy-men like King Fergus and the clansmen, you’re going to see women like Queen Elinor and Princess Merida right next to them – dragging them around by the ears, doing all their talking for them, beating them at their own game, making their decisions for them, treating them like four-year-olds, and scolding them when they act like males.

“Brave” is a very accurate snapshot of the symbiotic relationship between feminists and perpetual frat-boys, and why it’s in both of their “best” (and worst) interests to keep the cycle going. For as long as the men keep playing, the women can keep running things… and as long as the women keep running things, the men can keep playing.

This might sound hopeless, but should actually give us hope – and the answer to the problem of “no” real men leading in the world. When there aren’t many real men in the world, that means that there aren’t many real women in the world either. It means that most of us have been, in small ways or large, part of the problem. And it means we can now be part of the solution. We can become the women that the men around us need us to be – not the men we wish they were.

And then maybe we can help forge a happier ever after for everyone.

Recommended Resources:
A Biblical Worldview for Film
What Hollywood Knows that You Don’t, and What You Know that Hollywood Doesn’t
Walt Disney: A Christian Critique
True Beauty: Cultivating Christ-Centered Father-Daughter Relationships

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About The Author

Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin are the only daughters of Geoffrey and Victoria Botkin. They and their five brothers share their family’s vision for cultural reformation, and enjoy working with their father on projects affecting family, church, and state. They delight in discovering new things every day about the beauty and power of the biblical home and family unit, and in investigating the glorious and diverse opportunities open to young women at home. At 24 and 22 years of age, respectively, their interests include film making, orchestral harp, history, music theory and composition, theology, the reconstruction of the West, hospitality, classical piano, the persecuted church, and home-making. They’d be delighted to hear your questions or comments regarding So Much More or Visionary Daughters. Email them at damsels (AT) visionarydaughters (DOT) com

Comments

7 Responses to “A Princess without a Prince”

  1. defman says:

    Wow. Common sense. Keep up the good work.

    The perfect feminine biblical woman is Proverbs 31:10-31 KJB.

    Not many women are willing to go the distance.

    I hopes your words will helps them achieve a great way of life with Jesus.

    Good luck.

  2. Elena says:

    Saw it. Share your thoughts in this post and the other, and will add one of my own. Why does Merida go unpunished for her misbehavior? Not saying she needed to be beaten, but I think ending the movie with her getting a good, firm spanking would have sent children a better message.

    ~Elena

  3. Jenn84 says:

    A brilliant article.

    “Unfortunately, it’s a premise a lot of girls watching feel like they themselves have to look forward to – no men leading, little fatherly guidance, no suitable suitors, and people still trying to pressure them into getting married faster.”

    Nailed it.

    The human race has a terrible time finding balance, and the Disney extreme going from one end to the other is a good example. And look at our real world: even in brutality we go from one extreme to another. In certain brutal countries, women historically went through bodily mutilation for men. Now, much of our society rightly says that’s wrong, and that women should not only be free of forced pain, but free to be the sole owners of their bodies..so free that they’re allowed to kill and mutilate their unborn babies. This, our progressive society allows and sometimes fights for.

    Also historically, homosexuals were terrorized if discovered; now, society encourages their existence so much, real marriage is being torn apart and children are being cheated of a mother and a father. This is humanity’s deadly pendulum, and frankly it terrifies me.

  4. GrowingGirl says:

    Loved that article! Thanks so much:) Keep up the good work!

  5. EricMesa says:

    Just one correction – Merida is not the first Disney Princess who doesn’t want to get married – Princess Jasmine didn’t want to get married, either. Of course, you are right in that Merida is not the first to get one as Jasmine eventually ends up with Aladdin.

  6. This article resonates with me so much! I think you hit the nail right on the head. It is something I myself often encounter, as a 27 year old Christian woman who desperately wants to be a wife and mother in a Christian home. Yet at my age I feel I’m doomed to spinsterhood given the lack of godly men out there. What Christian men I do find seem to have bought into the worldly definition of beauty hook line and sinker, and I’m not up to their superficial standards. So, while they attend church, etc. they are hardly the type of men I would want to cleave to as the leader of my home. Nor do I want to marry outside of my faith, though many an athiest or agnostic man has expressed interest. What am I to do? And I fear the longer I go on being single the harder, tougher and more brazenly self-relient I become – not because I WANT to be my own everything, but because I’m forced to be by circumstance.

    I pray every night for God to give me a gentle and quiet spirit and to help me be ready for whenever He (hopefully) brings my servant leader, future husband into my life.

  7. Hobbit says:

    Dear Modernish, speaking as a single Christian man, can I make some further comment as to why too many young Christian women end up as a princess without a prince (I think). There’s aren’t enough Christian men to go round; and the reason is not so much feminism, but the way we do our evangelism.

    It ends up appealing much more to adult women than adult men, and the resulting imbalance means that all the good men do get married; and the ones who are left behind are simply regarded as unfit for purpose, esp once they turn thirty. Anyway, comments/criticisms of my views welcome.

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