As a feminist dad, Ariel Chesler had to think long and hard about whether to let his little girl dress up as a Disney Princess.
These days, it is nearly impossible to avoid the rigid gender roles fed to our children through clothes, toys, and popular culture. As I have written previously, the extreme gendering of toys and the sexualization of young girls is a serious problem. This, of course, carries through to Halloween costumes.
Much of my role as a feminist dad raising two daughters is to keep my daughters from learning the scripts provided in classic Disney films such as Cinderella, which teach girls to be excited about fancy dresses, that their looks are the most important thing about them, and that they are objects to be rescued. This is why my daughters’ middle names come from the two princesses I most admire and want them to emulate — Princess Leia and Wonder Woman (Princess Diana).
So, while I generally do not encourage my three-year-old daughter to be like the princesses found in Disney movies, Merida from 2012’s Disney/Pixar film Brave is an exception. Here are the reasons (besides the fact that she loves Merida) I have decided to allow her to dress as Merida this Halloween:
1) She’s Beautiful the Way She Is: Merida is a princess with unruly loud red hair, who doesn’t particularly like wearing dresses. And, she’s beautiful that way. The outrage at the planned redesign of Merida’s look earlier this year was precisley because it was moving away from accepting the different version of beauty Merida presents.
2) She’s Amazing with a Bow and Arrow: She may be wearing a dress, but she’s deadly with her bow and arrow. Her shooting prowess puts all the boys to shame.
3) She’s Knowledgable About Nature: After Merida’s mother, Queen Elinor, turns into a bear and escapes the castle, Merida helps her survive by teaching her to fish and to avoid poisnous plants and berries.
4) She Challenges Tradition: When Merida learns that she is to be betrothed to a son of one of her father’s allied clans, she boldly challenges this tradition and insists on “shooting for her own hand” at the planned archery competition. Eventually, she convinces the clans to break tradition and to allow their children to get married in their own time to whomever they choose.
5) She’s Knowledgable About History And Commands A Crowd: After causing a riot by challenging tradition, Merida is able to use her knowledge of history and tradition to convince the clans to change tradition. She commands the room of male leaders with her words and wisdom.
6) She Loves Her Dad And He Loves Her: Merida’s Father, King Fergus, after all, is the one who gives her a longbow for her birthday when she is little and encourages her to train with it. Unlike the Queen, King Fergus loves Merida as she is – a free-spirited, horse riding, unconventional girl.
7) She Loves Her Mom, Saves The Day, And Renews Their Bond: After changing Queen Elinor into a bear via an enchanted cake, in the hopes that the Queen will change her mind about tradition, Merida regrets her actions and, realizing her love for her mother, desperately tries to reverse the spell. She shows her bravery by acknowledging her wrongdoing, and by literally putting her own life in danger to save her mother’s life from both King Fergus and the giant demon-bear, Mor’du. Merida solves the witch’s riddle, repairs the tapestry she destroyed and reconciles with her mother, thereby mending “the bond torn by pride.” In the end, she comes to realize her deep love for her mother and the importance of their relationship.