I had a student write a rhetorical analysis on Frozen discussing Elsa and Anna as feminist characters. I struggle with this reading of the movie. I then recently read an introduction to a feminist collection reading Frozen in similar ways. My struggle is with Elsa as a feminist.
Elsa hurts her sister as she struggles for control over her powers, and after the death of her parents, sequesters herself away from everyone in the castle until her ball. At the ball, when she loses control over her powers she flees the castle and the land instead choosing a life of solitude in a castle of her choosing.
I appreciate and embrace the feminist action in mainstreaming female narratives, especially highly popular female narratives (still have issue with the huge number of male support characters Disney felt necessary to sell the movie). Depicting female narratives in the mainstream, celebrating those narratives, and selling them as stories for everyone is very powerful for an accepting of feminism as an everyday word important to our society. My concern is, Elsa leaves everything for a life of solitude, while most feminists, and much of the feminist debate in mainstream society, relates to how different ideas of feminism can coexist and work together for better equality across society – which requires remaining an active member of society. The Suffragettes worked within culture for the right to vote and a have a say in society, subsequent waves of feminism followed similar paths, maintaining their connections. So while I agree Elsa’s narrative is a powerful female narrative, I question the message of feminism mainstream society reads into her story when she leaves everything for a life of solitude due to her inability to control her power. I can see serious implications for discussion surrounding biology, pregnancy, periods. If a woman can’t control her moods due to hormone swings should she be sequestered during specific cycles of the month for this reason. Is that feminist?
I have no answers, just struggles with this movie and this particular storyline. When I raise these struggles, students who love the movie or love Disney see me as an extreme feminist and distance themselves from conversation, making it difficult to engage in discussion that could open these narratives to both critique and support within mainstream culture. I see this as problematic when Beyonce is lauded for her feminist acts, and Patricia Arquette is demonized for her white feminism. I guess I do have an answer, there is no answer. Feminism needs discussions, not answers.