Merida is, by far, my favourite Disney princess of all time, ever. In real life, I’m probably more like Anna from Frozen, but I like to dream that one day I’ll be as bad-ass as Merida. And as ginger.
Princess Merida is a feminist icon. There, I said it. Not only does she rebel against the restrictions of female fashion and arranged marriage, but she proves why these things are unnecessary. She rejects her parents’ selection of suitors in the most spectacular and poignant way – by proving that she is her own mistress. She is the only one worthy of her own ‘hand in marriage’ and she makes no mistake in demonstrating to the world her worth. She is her own best suitor (see Tracy McMillan’s TED Talk on marrying yourself). Quite right, too.
Best of all, she is imperfect, as are her relationships. The crux of the film’s plot is the no-woman’s-land between mother and daughter. Of course, this all resolves itself in the typical fairytale way with a family group hug, but Merida is savvy enough to admit her mistakes and to allow her female role model to be equally imperfect and to love her anyway. I love Merida’s strength, but also how she develops tolerance over the course of the film.
Another thing that makes my heart sing about Brave is that the protagonist is a teenager. Adolescence is a difficult and turbulent time, but it is also a vibrant stage of awakening and self-creation which ought to be celebrated more in the media. Part of the appeal of films such as The Virgin Suicides, The Breakfast Club etc is that the characters are teens asserting their new selves in all their messy glory. Merida is no exception (apart from the fact that she is royalty). Being a teenager is a total ball-ache, catch-22 scenario (you’re not a child anymore, but don’t ever think you are mature enough to know your own mind) and it shouldn’t be. We should learn to listen to our young people and help them to shape their future. Merida’s initial rejection of her mother is understandable; she is denied the autonomy to decide on her future’s course. It is a painful reminder that she is at the in-between stage of life. We need to stop telling our teenagers that their opinions are invalid and that mother always knows best.
Merida is funny, athletic, generous, adventurous and a talented archer. These are all qualities that, in an older person, would gain her a great deal of respect and renown (although she is female, so, maybe not). She has an honest heart and is deeply loyal to her family. But my favourite thing about her is her loyalty to herself. She doesn’t compromise on her own aspirations, she rejects convention and still manages to be diplomatic when dealing with delicate masculine pride. I’d say she’s quite the catch.
MERIDA FOR PRESIDENT!