I was traveling so much in the last month that I somehow managed to miss the controversy about the “new” Merida makeover, right up until I posted a photo from the ceremony at Disney World where Merida was inducted as an official Princess, and someone asked me about it.
I’m grateful, frankly, that I had no idea such a controversy was happening, because it allowed me to just enjoy the event. As I said in my blog, the Merida that was on stage that day was fully the Merida from the movie. Unlike the other princesses who posed carefully with dainty hand gestures, Merida was all long strides and swinging arms and posed, strongly, holding her bow with her (very non-sparkly) crown on.
It was pretty awesome.
My daughter loves Merida fiercely, and she hasn’t fallen for any of the other Disney princesses (although she’s quite fond of Rapunzel too) nearly as hard. She has worked hard to master her Merida bow and arrow, successfully managing to shoot an arrow at least once across the entire length of the house (and no, I’m not really interested in hearing why she shouldn’t be shooting play arrows in the house, thanks). When she’s nervous about something – say, a ride at Disney World – she always brings up Merida and how brave she is and why she needs to be brave too.
That’s not to say that I don’t have issues with Merida and Disney. I was saddened when Brenda Chapman was removed from directing the film; I’d hoped that Disney would finally allow a woman to direct a movie about a princess. I also have issues with the whole packaging of the Disney Princesses. When I was a child, Cinderella was just a character in a movie, and she and Snow White had little in common. The wholesale packaging of all the princesses – with Mulan and Pocahontas awkwardly shoved in there – drives my inner feminist batshit crazy, as does the pink aisle at the toy store.
When I saw the “new” Merida, yeah, my eyebrows went up a bit. But was I surprised? Hell no. Come on, people, is ANYONE shocked by the fact that Disney – one of the world’s biggest corporate brands (that owns this website, remember) and is VERY careful with its branding – would create a version of Merida that would could fit in seamlessly with the other princesses, who have always been tiny waisted and girly?
But does it change the influence Merida had on my daughter? No. Not at all.
Catherine Connors wrote about this controversy and she clarified – in her official Disney capacity – that this gussied up version of Merida was a temporary thing for her coronation and that the version of Merida we know and love isn’t going anywhere. But I really love what Jenny the Bloggess wrote about the controversy too; she asked the important question, and I think we need to keep it in mind.
Why are we looking at Disney – a large, for-profit institution – to teach our daughters about strong women?
I’ll admit that in the past I might have reacted differently to this; I remember getting damned upset about the revamped Dora the Explorer a few years ago (whatever happened to teenage Dora, anyway?). I don’t know what role working here at Babble and therefore working for Disney plays in my reaction to this issue. But I do know that the combination of constant bombardment by the internet combined with my advancing age has come together to make me just feel so damn tired when a big controversy like this comes along. I’m tired of people telling me how to feel about issues – on both sides. I’m feeling more willing to pause a bit and let myself process the issue on my own instead of leaping on the outrage bandwagon.
When my daughter was little, I deliberately made the choice to step back and let her indulge fully in sparkly and princess and pink, even though I worried about it as a feminist. I’m happy to say she’s come through fairly unscathed. She prefers purple to pink now, has skinned knees and bruised shins from playing rough, climbs trees and would generally rather not ever brush her hair. She’s a great kid, and Disney hasn’t hurt her a bit. In fact, I think Merida in particular has helped.
I think, ultimately, the “new” Merida provides yet another perfect opportunity (as Jenny also mentioned in her post) to deepen the discussion about gender with your kids. When my daughter saw the new Merida, she said, “Did her mom make her do that?” She didn’t feel betrayed or horrified, so why would I inject that into the conversation? I don’t want to make her feel badly for loving Merida. So I’m just going to let this one be.
Merida is Merida, and my daughter loves her. For me? That’s all that matters.