A study in summer last year concluded that men are intimidated by successful women, and that relationships will suffer from this. “Ladies, don’t try to outdo your partner,” advised the Daily Mail, painfully predictably. This is not the first time that debate has swirled round partnerships in which the woman is more successful than the man, nor the first time “science” has tried to prove it to be true. To many women, this fear and shame surrounding their success will sound all too familiar.
While women’s magazines preoccupy themselves with the horror that a woman might earn more than a man, in many countries frozen female work forces, paralysed by gender discrimination and sexism, have had negative and grave effects on their economies. A global fear and oppression of female power, ranging from everything from shaming women who try to work and therefore “have it all” in the UK and US, to literal bans on women working in the UAE, has and will continue to stunt our countries’ growths – economically, culturally, socially.
Recently, frozen female potential and fear of female power was depicted in an unlikely and unexpected form, true to its name. Lauded by Forbes as “genuinely feminist in the best way“, and even by the Telegraph as “revolutionary” and “boldly feminist”, Frozen was a landmark film, both for Disney and the ‘princess genre’ for young girls in general.
From their tongue-in-cheek poke at the old Disney plotline of marrying the first man you meet, to the dazzling finale of true love through female solidarity and sisterhood over the traditional true love’s kiss, Frozen set out to show audiences it was different, and to modernise more radically – more feministly – than any Disney to date. There is even a wonderful, subtle push for the importance of consent, with Christophe’s stumbling “may I… May we kiss?” at the end.
Yet it is not all blatant nudges towards thawing an ancient tradition of Walt Sexism. Delve a little deeper below the icy surface, and what you see is a tale of a young woman with great power – power to do incredible, important, world-changing things. Just like any power, that power can be dangerous, and that power can be even stronger than its owner realises.
But more importantly, just like many instances of female power across the globe, that power is considered shameful, it is hidden, battered down, controlled. That power is untapped, frozen.
In a film so intricately created and stunningly directed, it was never just going to be the script that shone, and we saw this when ‘Let It Go’ triumphed at the Oscars, whisking away generations of young women with its powerful go-getter, two fingers up to The Man and screw-all-oppression-on-who-you-really-are attitude. Unapologetic, elated, free – the song struck a chord, if you’ll pardon the pun, with generations of women singing along – all women who had been reprimanded that they shouldn’t aim for the top, ashamed of trying to have it all, and embarrassed by their successes.
The deep and extremely complex character of Elsa, sculpted out of fear at her own capabilities, a lifetime of shame and isolation imposed by her well-meaning parents, and a classic dose of healthy uncertainty at her own ability to be the woman and the Queen she must be weave into her narrative and her ice creations, a veritable metaphor for the sheer potential of untapped and oppressed female power. When she quietly but proudly gushes to Anna that “I didn’t know what I was capable of”, the metaphor is complete – away from the shame and the suffocation that society restricts her with, she can flourish, create, be, succeed.
It is a nod to the chains of a restrictive society, a hint of the freedom that embracing isolation and self-belief allow. But, ultimately, for Elsa and for all successful women, isolating oneself and achieving success only by working against or completely away from the rest of the world, must fail.
Above all, it is a nod to the femininity that can come with power. Now, in 2014, power is still a very male thing – a phallic spire on Big Ben, a female prime minister actively known to hate feminists. As Elsa emerges from her transformation, her hair cascades down, she whips out some power lipstick, her enormous hips swagger from side to side in her tight and feminine dress. Say what you like about Disney’s often-uncomfortable portrayal of female beauty and form (and I’m normally the first to criticise), in Frozen, they know how to do puberty.
Thus, and oh-so-simply, there must be great gravity in Elsa’s words “love will thaw”. In a realisation that begins with her knowledge that she can create life in Olaf, as she sees that she can be loved despite and even because of her power, she begins to use that power to do good, and so the ice flaws.
It is only through acceptance and support of her powers that Elsa’s power will do good in the world, and that she, in turn, can be herself and be happy. An idealistic metaphor perhaps, but one that we can learn from.
In Elsa’s parents’ “conceal it, don’t feel it”, we must see a failure and a life-threatening suffocation. In Elsa’s isolation and persecution, we must see a physical embodiment of the psychological outcome of shaming young girls with our discourses of “have it all” and have it not, of bossy and over-ambitious.
In Elsa’s tentative “ready?!” and subsequent presentation of her powers for the townsfolk, we must learn society-wide support of women who can achieve. Of Queens who can rule. Of daughters who can flourish.