He goes to the theater by himself, of course.
It was a dine-in movie theater. The server couldn’t believe I was alone. She kept serving me food for the family next to me. And the waiter just laughed at me. Right to my face.
Sure, American Hustle was playing in the adjacent theater. But when your daughter starts calling herself Elsa and throwing off pretend gloves while dancing in the middle of the living room, well, you’ll trade almost anything to find out what’s going on. Including your masculinity.
It was worth it, though, because Frozen was more than just entertainment—it was subversive.
You see, as a father of a little girl, I’m increasingly aware of how words and images impact my daughter. And the classic princess love story formula drives me crazy: adorable girl loses one or more parents to a tragic death, girl consequently grows up into a lonely young woman, and young woman escapes her loneliness by getting swept off her feet by a strong man who makes her feel special.
It makes me want to stand on my porch with a shotgun—not to keep the boys from getting in, but to keep my daughter from getting out to see any movies.
As a psychologist, I actually like the first two parts of the formula. Because whether our parents were lost to death or drugs or work or their own relational drama or were—like every parent—simply limited human beings, all kids grow up experiencing some kind of basic loneliness. It’s part of being alive.
And Frozen sets the stage with plenty of loneliness. Two sisters, Elsa and Anna, are kept locked up and separate for their entire childhoods, in order to protect them both from Elsa’s dangerous powers. While locked away, their parents drown at sea. So, when Elsa comes of age and her coronation day arrives and the doors of the castle are flung open, two utterly lonely women step out into a world full of men. Anna is eager to complete the love story formula, singing, “For the first time in forever, I could be noticed by someone.” Meanwhile, Elsa is determined to cope with her loneliness by remaining hidden, isolated, and alone—”Don’t let them in. Don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal. Don’t feel. Put on a show.”
The rest of the Frozen story is a meditation upon what a young woman can become if she isn’t waiting around for Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet and sweep away her loneliness. And the conclusions of the story make this dad a little less hesitant to take his daughter to the movie theater:
1. You can’t run away from your loneliness. You can’t build a false self and use it to isolate yourself from the world. People need you. The world is counting on you. Our attempts to hide and isolate damage the people around us. No more hiding. If we aren’t living vulnerably, in connection with others, we aren’t really living at all.
2. You can’t marry away from your loneliness. Life is not primarily about finding a man. When women live as if it is, they set themselves up for manipulation and abuse. Sometimes Prince Charming is the bad guy. If there is a solution to your loneliness, it will be found in your gifts and the power within you to redeem the world. Women can be kingdom builders, too. All by themselves. And men who know this are worth keeping around.
3. The truest act of love is not a kiss from a prince—it’s sacrifice. Love is not a narcissistic journey toward being protected and cherished. Love is an increasingly selfless journey toward protecting and cherishing everyone else. One truly sacrificial act can melt hearts and redeem pain and reverses curses. A life lived sacrificially can resurrect beauty and life and light in a cold, dark world.
Although, I have to admit, I also hope for a time when she will be greeted with more than subversive ideas—I hope the images will become subversive, too. I want to see animated princesses with human proportions.
Because the most subversive message of all for any growing young woman is this: it doesn’t matter what you look like, because your strength and power and beauty have nothing to do with the shape of your hips or the size of your eyes and everything to do with the shape of your character and the size of your heart.
I’m awaiting the next Disney movie, in which the princess is too busy falling in love with her ordinary measurements to think about falling in love with a prince.
When that movie comes out, I’ll put away my shotgun for good.