A Point on Frozen and False Feminism

Dani Colman has an article called The Problem with False Feminism, in which she talks about the movie Frozen and why 1) she hated it and 2) it isn’t a “feminist” movie. It’s a long, well-researched article, and Colman makes some valid points. While I don’t agree with all of what she says — particularly when it comes to her description of Anna and Elsa, which feels like victim-blaming to me — I think some of the things she points out are worth thinking about.

There’s one particular point I want to talk about, though. Colman discusses the praise being heaped on Frozen, and responds to it point by point. Toward the end, she gets to the following:

We get to hear the words, “You can’t marry a man you just met!”

Oh, and do we ever. It’s actually one of the few moments in the film I enjoyed: when Anna falls over herself with enthusiasm for her whirlwind engagement to Hans, and Elsa reacts with unfettered horror. We’ve established that Anna is an idiot, but at least the voice of reason is somewhere in the room. We later hear the same words echoed by Kristoff — a lot — and, in a different form, by Hans himself when he reveals his true colours.

It’s a lambasting of the Disney princess tradition, and theoretically a fairly incisive one. You shouldn’t marry a man you just met. It’s unquestionably stupid, and poking fun at the fact that Disney has been not-so-subtly encouraging that approach for decades is a smart move. I mean, come on: how many Disney princesses or leading ladies have fallen in love at first sight with a man they barely know?

Four. That’s how many. Rather than boring you with more tables, I’ll just name them: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Ariel. Disney ladies actually tend towards quite extended courtships, and the men are more likely to fall in love at first sight than the women are…

Fair enough. But there’s another message here, and it isn’t just about falling for a man you just met. It’s about the fact that the charming fellow you just met — the man who flatters you, says all the right things, and makes you feel so amazing — turns out to be flat-out evil.

Welcome to the reality of domestic violence. Unlike most Disney villains, batterers don’t come with their own foreboding soundtrack. They don’t sneer like Scar and Gaston, or twirl their mustaches like Jafar. They’re not openly slimy like Clayton.

They’re charming. They’ve learned how to don that mask, how to flatter and manipulate and say just the right thing. They look completely normal. They deliberately seek out victims they think they can control … and what better target than socially awkward, isolated, hopeful Anna?

It’s no coincidence that “Quick Involvement” is one of the potential characteristics of an abusive relationship. This does not mean everyone who had a whirlwind romance is in an abusive relationship, by the way. Only that this tends to be one aspect of such relationships. It’s one of many tactics and strategies batterers use.

I’ve been talking lately about the power and importance of story. Story is how we relate to and understand the world. Whatever else Disney did or didn’t do in Frozen, they provided a story to help understand how what starts out as a perfect relationship can turn into a nightmare. How someone like Hans can be so cruel behind closed doors, but play the perfect gentleman as soon as he sets foot in public.

Whatever else the movie did or didn’t get right, I’m grateful for that story.