My Brave review, or why I haven’t yet seen a review I like

Brave movie posterThe big news about Brave, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, is that it’s the first Pixar movie with a female main character. Twelve other Pixar movies, and each has focused on a story about a male, leaving females to be love interests (save Finding Nemo). I was pleased when I heard Merida, a girl, would be the main character. Then I was disappointed the other twelve movies have been male-centric. Then I was embarrassed that I’d had to have that fact pointed out to me.

And now we can’t seem to let it go. We, as a culture, especially as a feminist culture, can’t seem to talk about anything else. Every review I’ve seen has focused on this aspect, and found Pixar lacking. Why a princess, some wonder? And I suppose this point of contention has some truth to it—too often female-centric movies, especially animated ones, have to center around a princess or around a male (or a group of males, such as Ice Age or UP). Feminism is not a concern of the past, and questions or gender roles, gender performance, and gender stereotype should be asked.

I’m a feminist, but I’m also a writer. I write fiction. I make up stories, and while I usually write about women, I’ve found that forcing overt feminist messages into my art cheapens it. I’ve written about a girl who rebels against her conservative father and questions her faith—and his authority. I’ve written about another girl who believes, truly, that a sexually and emotionally abusive male might be the love of her life. I’ve written about women stuck in relationships where there’s really nothing wrong but there’s not really anything right either. I’ve written about a girl too self-conscious to wear her mother’s swimsuit on vacation when she forgets her own.

As a writer, I often have trouble squaring my beliefs as a feminist with my number one belief as a writer: that it’s a writer’s job to sometimes look at the parts of society the rest of us would rather forget, or look past—the parts that we ignore. There’s story everywhere, in every character, if you know how to tease it out.

And this is where feminism—at least the kind I often see splayed across the Internet—fails for me. The stories feminists want are imbued with feminist meaning. But what is feminist about criticisms such as Merida being skinny and Pixar continuing the myth that skinny is beautiful? Critique the cause, not the effect. Critique the fact that all we ever see in animated media is skinny women (even animals in animated films meet our country’s beauty standard), but how can each individual piece of media be held accountable? Yes, we need more diversity in age, color, size, etc., and yes, ultimately the change will come through individuals making changes,  but the writer in me gets offended when critique of one aspect becomes critique of the whole.

To bring it back to Brave, there is no mention of looks. The closest thing to it is perhaps the scene with the corset. Merida is not prized for her beauty, and since her beauty is not integral to the story (it would change nothing in the writing), to critique the story’s validity based on this is to miss the mark. Instead, consider what would change if Merida were black, or overweight. The story being told doesn’t change—what changes is our interpretation of it, how we, as a collective audience, respond.

And this is the crime, but it is not one committed by Brave. Brave is a step forward, taking the princess narrative and flipping it on its head. Brave tells us that stories about princess do not have to be sloppy love stories about women giving up their liberty, their family. Brave shows us a woman who refuses to be bound by gender roles.

Stories about women are not universal.  It’s a sad but true fact that a man’s experience is considered human while a woman’s is considered niche. And to me, this is where Brave’s largest strength comes in. There are special concerns still held by women, concerns that are overlooked because they are not applicable to men—they are not universal. Yes, Brave is set in 10th century Scotland, but the idea that women have a narrowly defined world to inhabit is still true today. Brave tells us that doesn’t need to be so. Brave tells women and girls—and everyone, really, if we could all accept that the message is more broad—that you do not need to meet anyone’s definition of yourself, even when the one doing the defining does so out of love. Brave tells us that we can change our fate, that we can change our reality—and that the only way to do it is by being ourselves.

How can anyone think that is less than feminist?

A man’s world

I went to a concert tonight at a local bar-slash-music-venue. It’s a band that got its start at the MSU Battle of the Bands and that I first (and last) saw perform seven years ago when I was a sophomore at Michigan State. It’s a band that I like, that has a female lead singer, that has non-offensive lyrics. So I went to see them tonight. I listened to three cover bands that did little to impress me (I’d say they did nothing to impress me, but one of the three bands actually had my attention for a little bit). And then the Real Band got on to play. My friend and I were in the middle of the crowd, not in the front but still close enough to see (somewhat).

Now first, let me emphasize, I went to see a rock band, but it’s sort of an indie rock band. It’s not hard rock, and it’s not punk, and it’s not metal. The group consists of guitar, keyboard, and drums (vocals by the keyboardist and guitarist).

So when they played the song that started them on their path to success, and a group of men next to me started a mosh pit, I was really quite at a loss. I was right at the outer edge of it, behind a man and his girlfriend who were trying to stay clear but kept getting slammed. I only got slightly jostled. But still. Five minutes later, a guy dove into the crowd to crowd surf. He was coming my direction, and I told myself I would not touch him.

I have a right to go to a concert, to listen to music, without risk of injury. I have a right to not have to decide between touching a strange man in a spot that makes me uncomfortable and having him dropped on my head. I have a right to go out in public without always having to watch my surroundings, having to listen in on all the conversations around me to make sure there isn’t something sinister going on. I have a right to stand somewhere without being groped (as happened a few months back in a bathroom, while I was washing my hands). I have a right to my personal space, to my autonomy, none of which (save for the lack of groping) I had tonight. My friend and I were on our own as the group of all men careened into one another, bodies crashing together, trying to do who-knows-what. We left a few minutes later. There was no enjoyment left in the evening.

So tell me: When did this become a man’s world? When did something as simple as listening to music become something so male-centric? When did personal safety become a privilege rather than a right? Why do I have to leave a concert that I paid for, why do I have to step back and away, giving up my space? Why aren’t we teaching men to respect the space of others? To notice those surrounding them? Why aren’t we teaching men that this world is inhabited by a wide scope of people, including women? When will we understand that respecting women is more than cheering for a female singer on stage, it’s more than opening doors, or refusing to wrestle a female opponent. Together we must recognize these spaces that have been so thoroughly claimed as male, and we must work to make them for everyone.

7 reasons why I’m a feminist

Today was the first night of my feminist theory course and so I decided to do a feminist blog post tonight.

1. I do not believe women are inherently inferior or should only strive to support and complement men. I do not believe the story of Adam and Eve.

2. I do not believe we live in an equal or post-feminist society; I see injustices in our world; I see sexism and misogyny everywhere.

3. While feminism is not perfect, I see in it the possibility for both the change and inclusiveness I seek.

4. It has given me a purpose and freed me from pressure to get married and have children on society’s schedule instead of mine, and allowed me to consider never following that path.

5. I once stood in a crowd of people and listened to a man tell the story of how he sexually assaulted me, and everyone laughed.

6. It has made me more knowledgeable of the world around me and, at the same time, made me more interested in learning and understanding more.

7. While I do not think I can change the world single-handedly, it only takes one person to make a change, and the more people involved, the greater the chance of success.