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Is Merida Non-conventional?

So on the subject of movies, I ran across this awesome review of Brave (with no spoilers) and wanted to share part of it with you. (The teal section is quoted from the article)

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Today, crowds will line the streets of cities like New York and San Francisco for parades that mark the high point of LGBT Pride Month. At the same time, legions of kids will swarm into theaters to watch Pixar’s Brave, the animated story of a young Scottish princess named Merida who goes to extreme lengths to avoid having to marry one of the three noblemen that her parents have chosen for her. The two events don’t seem to have much in common at first glance. But it’s quite possible that while watching Brave’s tomboyish heroine shoot arrows, fight like one of the boys, and squirm when her mother puts her in girly clothes, a thought might pop into the head of some viewers: Is Merida gay?

While Markovitz’s appeal to lesbian stereotypes is outrageous, his underlying question isn’t. Merida really could be gay. She could be straight. She could be asexual. We just don’t know. Over the course of the film, she shows romantic interest in neither boys nor girls; it’s only by assumption that her parents—and, presumably, most viewers—think she’s heterosexual.

Is this ambiguity intentional? Almost definitely. Pixar is notoriously meticulous—the Easter eggs and subtle references in each of its works are legion—and it’s unlikely that the filmmakers simply didn’t think to give Merida any sort of love interest. No, this is a deliberate sort of ambiguity. With that in mind, here are five ways of looking at Pixar’s motivations for being so coy:

  •     Brave is about a daughter’s relationship with her mother, and sexuality would only distract from the developments within that relationship.
  •     She is gay, and Brave is Pixar’s subversive way to put a lesbian in one of its movies.
  •     Merida is a straight girl who likes to run and shoot and fight.
  •     She’s neither gay nor straight; she’s asexual. (This would be just as sexually radical—if not more so—than making Merida a lesbian.)
  •     The ambiguity is itself a message.

My thoughts on the subject matter (keeping in mind I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’m dying to) is that Merida is more non-conformist. She’s a self-rescuing princess if I’ve ever seen one, because she’s tougher and more talented than all the boys around her. She loves to shoot and ride and be rough and tumble with the guys, in her father’s image.

She clamors for the freedom to marry who she chooses because it’s such an important part of one’s happiness to choose who to be with. She’s the first Disney princess to have core values that resonate with me. She wants the freedom to be herself and choose her own fate. It does help that I hated wearing dresses as a kid, learned to shoot a gun and a bow from a very early age, and took riding lessons, so I very easily identify with Merida not only for her activity choices but in her non-conformity in choosing her fate.

As a hero, I think Merida will be enchanting girls and boys alike for years to come with her non-conventional ways. More people will see a piece of themselves in Merida than in Ariel. Merida isn’t dumbing herself down for any man, nor is she holding herself back in the hopes of pleasing anyone. To me, that’s a very strong message to be yourself and you will be accepted for who you are by the people who really love you.

What do you think?



  • I can’t WAIT to see Brave!!! She sounds awesome! And imagine a princess who isn’t obsessed with princes for a change! A princess with a real life– who chooses her own destiny!

    I’ve really enjoyed the more recent Disney princesses who are spunky and clever, such as Tangled. (And I adore Mulan).

    Hopefully in the future, there will be princesses who love climbing trees AND embroidery, riding horses AND writing poetry about them, having fun playing sports AND having fun playing dress-up. Who says Cinderella can’t be the belle of the ball in the evening and then hike up a mountain the next day?

    So glad times have changed since my mother was a kid watching the original Snow White! And even since my childhood Disney movies. This is a great time to be a girl!

    • I love the idea of the next princess having it all, being the Belle of the Ball AND racing horses or hiking a mountain.

      It’s no wonder I loved Maleficent as a kid. She got to turn into a Dragon.

  • Being tomboy dosnt mean being a lesbian… I liked the movie a lot! And not all the girls are living in the BS of getting married with Prince Charming.

    • I definitely agree that being a tomboy doesn’t mean being a lesbian. Like I mentioned above, I learned to shoot a gun and a bow from a very young age, hated wearing dresses and got dirty with the guys.

  • I’ve been wanting to see this. I like how Disney is trying to give women more power these days and not making them appear to be damsels in distress.

    • The damsels in distress storyline has gotten old. I love that Brave is a unique story (from all the non-spoiler reviews that I’ve read).

  • I think the ambiguity itself is a message because it divorces sexuality from its stereotypes. In other words, it shows that her sexuality is completely irrelevant to her choice of being nonconformist. This movie has the potential to show that sexuality doesn’t have to constrain anything outside of sex and I hope that Pixar never ruins that by revealing what Merida’s sexual preferences are.

    • I like this idea! The fact that the non-conformity is more important than her sexuality and her sexuality doesn’t detract from it.

  • Great topic. I always loved the Disney princesses and the stronger the better. Since Mulan was a strong willed girl who wanted to be a warrior(cut her hair and pretended to be male), I tend to think that
    Disney went with the latter and just made Merida a strong ,determined young lady who wanted to wait on the marriage and run with the wolves. The article stated about Pixar and the Easter Eggs which they are phenomenal. Its cool for us all str8t,LGBT, and mostly the children to enjoy her. For me its the red tendril curls all over her head the lets me know she is fierce.

  • I would like to think that the ambiguity itself is a message-that it doesn’t (and shouldn’t) matter if the protagonist is heterosexual, homosexual or asexual, but what should matter is the individual’s preferences, whatever that may be, should be respected.

  • This is great, thanks for sharing! Firstly, I think it would be great if Merida were gay, or asexual. Disney broke huge boundaries with Tiana being the first African American princess, so why not represent another group?

    I love how the last three ‘Princess’ movies have STRONG female characters. Tiana is self-motivated, strong, and practical. Rapunzel has a great head on her shoulders, and Merida (although I haven’t seen the movie yet) seems like a great rolemodel. Go Disney!

    • It’s nice to see a princess who isn’t waiting for her prince, a la ‘someday my prince will come.’

  • I love, love, loved Brave from the very first moment, to the very last surprise at the end credits! It’s refreshing to see that Disney/Pixar aren’t creating weak female characters that have to be rescued by a prince from a land far away.

    I didn’t even think about the association between sexuality and Merida, because to me the movie is more about bonds within a family, and a common Mother-Daughter relationship where they’re so much alike they butt heads, but don’t know how to communicate it to each other.

    Another awesome aspect- she rides horses like a man, she’s a terrific archer, she wears what she’s comfortable in… And that’s that. She is who she is, take it or leave it. It’s definitely a movie that will make it into our library collection 🙂

  • I think Merida is a step in the right direction, and I really like that Brave is a movie about a princess WITH NO PRINCE. I disagree with the quoted article that it would be “subversive” to put a silent non-het princess in a movie like this. Maybe a little bit, in the sense that it fails to conform to het expectations of romance in princess movies, but it’s not a big stride either, when you leave queerness as ambiguous, or subtext-only like Brave seems to. Kind of in the same way that Rowling gets very few points from me for Dumbledore’s after-the-fact coming-out – yes, that’s nice, but the real subversive thing would be to actually have it be textual, canon, overt, etc.

    I think my headcanon will be that Merida is asexual, though. Because the article is correct about that much, that an ace character would be far more subversive than a lesbian one.

    • I never felt like Dumbledore was gay, even though he ‘came out’ because of how it was hidden. It almost felt shameful, which bothered me, because it shouldn’t be.

      Yes, the whole princess with no prince is a nice change!

  • You know, her sexuality never crossed my mind. I think I spent the bulk of my time just relating to her which is the beauty of the character. I’m not sure her actual sexuality matters as much as people’s ability to see themselves in Merida, despite their own preferences which is something that couldn’t be done with past princesses because they were all blatantly heterosexual. The ideas presented in this post really tickled my noggin, thanks for the insight 🙂

  • I haven’t seen the movie yet either, but I’m very excited to see it for exactly the same reasons as you. It will be so refreshing to see a princess film, that does not tie a happy ending to finding love or a Prince Charming.

  • As soon as I saw the trailer for Brave several months ago, I knew it was going to be a must watch for me. Because I liked to run and play, my grandmother kept me out of skirts as an elementary school student. By high school, I wasn’t comfortable wearing dresses. I preferred tee shirts, jeans and sneakers and wearing my hair back. I ignored all the advice my grandmother gave me on being a lady–talking about sports, being loud, and lifting weights. (I was the only girl in my school’s weight lifting gym elective.) Sure I wasn’t getting boys to notice me. This did make me upset but not upset enough to try and change myself for a guy. Now, with two daughters, I find myself very hard trying to teach them that they can be a princess AND take care of themselves at the same time.

  • Your thoughts on Merida as a non-conformist brings to me one name: Mulan. I guess Disney DID create a self-rescuing, crossdressing tomboy for a princess before this one. 😉

    • I’m so glad you brought up Mulan! I totally spaced on her! And I even loved that movie. All I could think about was Ariel, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc.

    • Great point! Mulan is probably one of my all time favorite Disney movies. The reason being the fact that the “princess” kicks ass and she doesn’t need a man to validate her. I cannot wait to see Brave. I think Merida should be THE Disney Princess all girls should want to be.

  • I think she sounds like a great addition to Disney! I like that she’s strong and independent, young girls definitely need an image like that to look up to. I think the future generation of girls will be less forced to feel like they can’t be themselves, which is SO needed!

    Have you seen Tangled? It’s my absolute FAVORITE Disney movie! It’s basically like Rapunzel but it’s very cute. I think you’d like it 😀

    • Yes I’ve seen Tangled! I loved it. It was cute 🙂 Yes, to me she’s a great role model for girls because of her strength of character and independence. She really embraces who she is and doesn’t sacrifice herself for a man.

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