Brave, Gender Identity, and my personal hatred of stereotyping.

So yesterday I saw something very interesting.  It was an article about whether or not the heroine in the new movie Brave is gay.  The argument was that she wasn’t interested in marrying one of the three ill-matched potential husbands her parents had lined up for her, was athletic, and liked hunting.  So, obviously, gay.  As the writer of the article argues, clearly she could be gay because she’s not interested in her traditionally proscribed gender role.  I had to do a Scooby double-take for that, because for some reason none of my gay friends have ever explained to me that the motivating drive behind their self-identifying as homosexuals is their lack of interest in traditional gender roles.  Here I thought that being gay was defined by one’s sexual indentity, not choice of hobbies.  How naive!

I’m bothered by the whole idea of Merida being gay.  Not because I think it’s a bad thing for anyone to be gay, but because I think it’s a bad idea to work off of mistaken stereotypes.  Merida’s struggle to define herself as strong, capable, and worthy is cheapened if the only reason she doesn’t want to get married is because she’s gay.  Making her a stereotype deadens the impact of her experience.  Not only that, but it more narrowly defines what a straight girl ought to be.  Are women not allowed to be athletic unless they want their sexuality questioned?  Are they not allowed to be brave?  Individualistic?  Are they not allowed to balk at tradition?

Human sexuality is a huge and complex thing.  Sociologists for decades have been pointing out that rather than being a distance between two poles of “gay” or “woah buddy definitely not the slightest bit gay”, sexuality is instead a plane of many spectrums, which as many possible manifestations as there are people.  Most humans, it’s been demonstrated, find themselves as a mixture of the attributes we assign to genders.  Women aren’t just “feminine”, they have some feminine and some masculine traits.  They can be athletic and domestic, compassionate and decisive, and the list goes on and on.  The same is true of men.  They don’t have to be physically strong brutes who negotiate like bulls and scorn the idea of washing up or cooking dinner.  I know men who can throw punches like it’s Fight Club and then cook a mean pasta primavera and help their significant other with the laundry.  (Straight men.)

Here is when the traditional side of me pipes up and says, “but men and women are fundamentally different!  Everyone knows this!”  To a point that is definitely true.  It seems impossible to argue that there isn’t something objectively masculine or feminine about the genders.  For the purposes of this particular discussion, though, I’m throwing that out of the window.  Why?  Because God was both masculine and feminine, and so was Jesus.  Jesus, the man who athletically overturned the tables of the moneylenders and also called himself a mother hen.  If God himself births creation like a mother and rears it like a father, who are we to say that just because He created us as Male and Female that somehow masculine and feminine were isolated and divided evenly between those genders?  Personally, I think that after the fall everything got a bit muddled up.  I think that masculine does need feminine to soften it, otherwise it becomes brutish.  I think that feminine does need masculine to strengthen it, otherwise it becomes too indulgent.  I think that we, as genders, need each other to create equilibrium in the world.  But I don’t believe that we are defined, individually, by our physical gender.  I think that we define ourselves by how we live it out.

In any case, when I take my daughter to see Brave I’m not going to tell her that Merida makes her own choices because she’s a lesbian.  I’m going to tell her that Merida was brave because she wasn’t afraid to be herself.  Then, I will tell my daughter to be brave and be herself.  I will buy her popcorn, and that will be the end of it.

Things don’t have to be any more complicated than that, for now.

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5 thoughts on “Brave, Gender Identity, and my personal hatred of stereotyping.

  1. Interesting post! I stopped worrying about gender roles a long time ago for me. I bought a house on my own. I almost always refuse to wear heels. I do karate and triathlons. I can fix my garbage disposal and change my oil. Does that make me less of a woman? I don’t think so.

    • See, you are a woman. A powerful, beautiful woman. And you don’t need high heels to prove it. Why do women put so many expectations on themselves and each other? It’s so hurtful and pointless.

  2. First off, it’s so nice to see you back here, Lindsey!

    And second… I think this whole thing (re. Brave as well as stereotypical gender roles and “ooh, she must be gay!”) is kinda, well… inane, maybe? Even idiotic?

    Sometimes people see what they want to see. In this case, I think the people who are taking up the “Merida is a lesbian” thing are… threatened by girls and women who are self-confident, capable, not afraid of physical exertion, not “princessy” enough… but whose princess stereotype are we talking about, anyway? the one peddled by Disney and John & Stasi Eldredge? If that’s the case, who needs it?!!

    Like Peggy Lee sang years ago “I can bring home the bacon /fry it up in a pan / and never let you forget you’re a man / ‘Cause I’m a woman, W-O-M-A-N.” (etc.)

    Personally, I think people who have self-confidence are attractive – sexy, too. And the three suitors in this movie are, apparently, dolts. (haven’t seen it yet, but the previews sure make it look that way.) So why should Merida settle?!

    (This all reminds me of the ongoing efforts of some writers to peg Katness Everdeen as a lesbian – say what?! So she’s focused on feeding her family and taking care of them and just plain surviving .before the games… and *then* she ends up with PTSD while simultaneously being maneuvered into a position as figurehead of a revolution. That’s a hell of a lot to deal with all at once – love comes in second to survival, I’d think. But that’s just me. And she does end up falling in love, marrying and having kids, but that's beyond the scope of the books…)

    • Woah. Katniss gay? That’s ridiculous. If she was gay there wouldn’t be the whole Gale/Peeta love triangle. Sheesh.

      I agree with you, I think people are scared of seeing their stereotypes threatened, because that makes the world less predictable and controllable. But who needs predictabililty? I think that strong women are extremely attractive, just like men who are in touch with their emotional side are attractive. People, as they are, are fascinating. Why boil them down to caricatures?

      And I’m SO glad to be back!

  3. Re. “Katniss is gay”: a lot of people seem to think so. Check Andrew O’Hehir’s review of the movie and also his piece on Merida over at Salon.com. He keeps insisting that Katniss is “coded lesbian” – wtf?!
    I think he thinks that because she hunts. Which is just so stupid; all about his mind and his stereotypes and nothing to do with the reality she faces – or, for that matter, that of girls and women who are gifted archers.

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