“Legends are lessons.”
That’s how the movie BRAVE begins its story. Set in the feudal age of Scotland, we meet Merida, a teenage princess with fiery-red hair hurtling down a path created by history and enforced by tradition. I would totally have wanted to ask her out when I was 16.
We all know, by now, that Merida isn’t your stereotypical Disney princess. She scales mountains, cares for animals, hunts, plays, and LIVES while trying to come to terms with the state of her royal gender identity. Merida struggles against the conformity of her daily tasks, and yearns for freedom. Nearly every song in the movie is about freedom.
But the question arose: is this film not simply a victory for women, but a slap in the face for men?
A few bloggers have found BRAVE’s depiction of men somewhat two-dimensional if not sexist. Other publications have gone so far as to say that the male characters are insulting or somehow negative.
I happen to disagree.
If you’ve not yet seen the movie, which by box office standards most of you have, then I caution you about reading further because I’m about to paint a picture about my watching the film using crayons, spray cans, and a bit of my Irish hot-blood. And if you hate spoilers or previews of any kind, now would be a good time to go and visit MY WEBSITE instead of reading this article, because honestly, you’ve probably been thinking about doing that for at least 60 seconds now. AMIRITE?
First, King Fergus (played by Billy Connolly) is the only one who substantially relates to Merida in a relevant way. He doesn’t enforce his reality upon her and whether that’s through some flaw of his or by choice, I don’t really care. He’s a confidant and a friend to Merida. You can see the admiration he has for her in nearly every scene. Those are great tools in parenting. The King understands his daughter better than most and lobbies his wife to let her be who she is. If or when I raise a daughter, I hope that I could protect and care for her in the same way, with such good humor.
Next, we have the the triplet sons. These mischievous ginger-heads pull off very funny pranks and absolutely garnered my affection. Chalk that up to the Celtic twinkle in my eye that surely belies I’m part Leprechaun or Elf, but they helped solve the overall crisis at hand. And for me, they reminded us all that mischief has a place in raising children. We’re far too scared and running an Olympic-level race to be perfect. Some of my most important learning was done in moments when I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing. I’m not espousing kids be delinquents, but they learn to use judgment and discretion in what they chose to rebel against. The ability to decide is almost more important to me than responsibility. Responsibility sorts itself out when we can understand and decide.
But now, let’s talk about the other men in the movie. The clans. The young men vying for Merida’s love are pretty ridiculous in their own ways. Their fathers even more so. But here’s a newsflash: THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. When did we start taking ourselves so seriously as men that we can’t enjoy the flaws of comedic characters? Do we have to turn their foibles into a generalization about gender? I know dumb dads. I know stubborn, buffoonish people. If we have our eyes on the prize of gender equality, we need to be able to own up to our faults and our history. These men are also a tool to recognize the flaws in our patriarchy. We aren’t above reproach. We can sometimes be misled by stubborn pride. Or, if you’re Irish like, ALWAYS… I kid.
I have to underscore that it’s a story, and more importantly, a comedy. Comedies rely on satirizing faults in logic and character. The character flaws allow us a chance to recognize our own ignorance and foolishness. If we can’t laugh at ourselves, what can we do? Be serious? Screw that. And for the record, feudal society and it’s sexist, classist systems are ripe for satire. I loved seeing Queen Elinor walk across the room of fighting men with a cooler head, only to drag the clan leaders back into civil posture by their ears.
BRAVE is a movie about legends and sewing back together the bonds of family despite disagreement using the simple task of getting to know the people in your family. It can certainly teach us about conforming our children to our expectations, and those society that forces upon us. Merida’s mother and father form an alliance with their daughter in bravery and friendship. Check, please.
Lastly, this may all be case of being infected by GINGERLOVE, but I really found myself emotionally invested in the movie, and if I can be so bold, yearning to have a daughter I could raise and support in her desire to be her own person, flaunting the rules of archaic gender identity aphorisms. I want my son to know that girls, that women are great contributors to the dusty, old word, “Mankind.” He should know that men didn’t always think the way we do now, and women had to fight tooth-and-nail to arrive where they are today just to vote, to earn wages, to choose for themselves what lifestyle they want.
And to the publication who made the implication that Merida must be gay for denying her suitors, enjoying “non-princess” activities and traditions, blow it out your behind, you literalist, link-baiting swine.
Merida says, near the end of the movie, “Our fate lives within us. We only have to be brave enough to see it.”
I hope you are brave enough to see the movie.
PS: If you got all the way to the bottom of this post, then you should read a better post than mine, in regards to this controversy: “Why I Think Pixar’s BRAVE Won’t Scare and Scar Your Kids”