Andrew Eaton-Lewis: The problem is Merida has been turned into an object
The new Merida is in a sexy, off the shoulder sparkly dress, is skinnier, has had her hair moussed and styled, and appears to be wearing lipstick and eyeliner. Oh, and her bow and arrows are gone. Not very ladylike, that.
Did no-one at Disney spot the gargantuan irony in this? This is a film whose entire point is that its heroine doesn’t want to be a trophy princess – or any kind of princess really. Merida is expected to get married for political reasons, and is forced into a pretty dress by her mother for the benefit of her future husband. She responds by messing up her hair and clothes and trying to win her freedom in an archery contest (in which she beats all the boys effortlessly). When that doesn’t get the message across she runs away from home. Disney’s casual disregard for all this has let the film down badly.
There has, unsurprisingly, been a wave of protest from parents who are sick of the everyday, damaging sexism their daughters are made to endure, and who, having enjoyed the relative absence of it in Brave, are once again filled with rage and despair. At time of writing, a petition to Disney’s bosses on Change.org has more than 40,000 signatures.
The prettification of Merida was a particularly depressing piece of news in a week which began with the revelation that three women had been enslaved by men in an Ohio house for ten years. And it is not trivialising that story to mention it here. The common theme is the objectification of women. It is a sign of how much we have all internalised this that even the petition to Disney says the problem is that Merida has been made “more mature in appearance”. No, this is not the problem. Merida, as the film shows, is mature enough to roam the countryside on her own, fire a lethal weapon, and get married. The problem is that she has been turned from a person into an object. Every time this happens the message is sent out that women can be used. Disney is helping to perpetuate a culture in which, at its most extreme, men think rape and even kidnap are acceptable.
Think this is too strong? Well, how else do we get the message across? Disney seems to be catching on a little bit, at least. Merida is not its first rebellious princess. Tiana in The Princess And The Frog and Rapunzel in Tangled were both more interested in getting a life than getting a man. But thoughtless, degrading decisions like this undo that good work. I hope Disney apologises and withdraws the design. I’m not holding my breath. «
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