Sunday, July 1, 2012

"Brave," A Preliminary Feminist Commentary and the Story of the Brave Little Tampon that Could

*Note: This post was made possible by my high quality tampon. Always ensuring long-lasting support without leakage or discomfort.

A Blog (post) about "Brave:"
An accompaniment to my forthcoming (eminent, as in TOMORROW) review.

Are you brave? What kind of inner demons have you slayed today?

As for me, I managed to keep my tampon in while having a constipated bowel movement. And I'm proud. Truly proud. Thank you for being happy for me (for us, I should say). She, saint that she is, is always happy to help.

There you have it: bravery. Or was it something else, like perseverance.

What the heck is bravery, anyway? I understand it to mean doing something despite fear.

I've been brave before. Take, for instance, the first time I used a tampon. I was eighteen. I had already been having periods for two years, and had been dousing pads in blood, ruining jeans, creating dot art on the tulip sheets. Then I met... a tampon. I was introduced, very kindly, to one. Laugh all you want, I did not know or want anything to do with tampons prior to my eighteenth birthday. The first time I met a tampon, I was scared to let her in my house. She had a hard exterior, and I was afraid she would rough up my clean living space. I looked her up and down, felt her casing and, with a witness by my side, allowed her to come in.

When she entered, my brow was furrowed and I made a sound like "eeeahhhhnnnniiiihhhhhhaaayyy." Once she made her way through the entrance, though, we were fine. We hit it off, and she made herself at home. From then on she came for week long visits every month (except for when I was pregnant and breastfeeding, but I sent her on a vacation to Budapest, where my ancestors welcomed her and did what they could to make her feel at home), and now I don't know what I would do without the comforts of that darling gal. I tell her each time she comes to my door, "Be a dear, now would you, and get in here before you catch a cold."

The only time she ever caught a cold was a couple of months ago, when one of my daughters took her coat off and sent her into some cold vacated cabinet. I didn't know what to do with her after that. I that state. I had to send her off to repair herself. She really does well, considering the circumstances. She always comes back like new, in the best shape. It's almost as if she had a thousand twin sisters. She never looks a day over sixteen. The girl never ages, I swear! She's a doll, though, she never says much of anything about all of the changes in me that she has witnessed (even, shhh, the changes to my entryway - and, let me tell you, that area, particularly the foyer of my house, has undergone some MAJOR renovations...She especially likes to tell the story about the time the original woodwork was dismantled by that freak earthquake...).

So the moral of the story, which is actually quite linear, is that I was scared of the tampon when I first met her, but now she's an important part of my life. I'd even go so far as to say that there are times when I her. I even, how do I explain this...miss her when she's off taking care of other business. Of course I love My Pad. My Pad is always there, too. I love My Pad, but sometimes I worry that I rub her the wrong way. Still, however deranged and inexplicable, there you have it: love is love. It comes when it comes ( house).

Bravery is quite simple, like a tampon. It's either there or it's not there. But when it IS there, describing it - in context, in detail - and understanding how it affects and is affected by internal and external circumstances and conditions are not at all simple.

I had my tampon over my house yesterday, and we decided to go to the movies together. She went along with the whole McFadden family and our two friends (yes, we have two), Cat and Ton-E, to see Pixar/Disney's latest animated film, "Brave." Of course from the title I expected it to be about being brave, but bravery was only one component in a complicated non-linear storyline about the difficult nature of relationships, the power of acceptance, the need for evolutionary advancement, and the importance of being true to who you are. Bravery is required for those to exist, don't you think?

I wrote a review of the film for Gender Focus today, and it will make its way into the cyberlight tomorrow morning. My tampon was instrumental in making this happen, for if she wasn't with me for the film I'm not sure I would have made it through all the laughter and tears. She provided the tissues and moral support, I couldn't have done it without her. When I'm dead and gone, and all the bravery in me has run dry, just remember that inside every great woman is a tampon (staying put, soaking it up, just doing her part because she cannot help but help).

Tampon aside (actually, she's still in), there are a few things pertaining to the film that I did not have a chance to say in my formal review that I will say here, where I'm allowed to be dirty, crude and overflowing. These are kind of like the outtakes from the article I wrote. I still think they are worthy of your attention:

"Brave," as I said, is about bravery. Doh! Not just thaaaat. It's about the kind of bravery that is called for in problem-solving, in mending broken relational bonds, in restoring peace and in working toward our own individualistic personal evolutions (which serves a greater purpose in advancing humanity's evolution). "Brave" is not a fairy tale, at least not the kind you might be used to. It's a survivalist's tale and a progressivist's tale.

I'm always talking about ripple effects, yes it's true. That's because I'm a believah in The Ripple (like I'm a believah in The Tampon). When one person experiences a moment of realization and growth, there is a ripple effect that is produced. For instance, when you have that Aha! moment in which you say to yourself for the first time: "Ohhhh, the tampon slides in and doesn't hurt when you're bleeding heavily...I gehhhht it, that's why tampons are for heavy days..." those around you might see your relief or hear your words and be changed by them...forevermore.

When Elinor, the queen-mum of the Scottish clan, first realized that she had to listen to her daughter, Merida, in order to survive - Merida, along with her mother, was deeply affected by this. In turn, Merida saw another side of her mother that, in turn, deeply affected her mother. And the growth just went on and on, ripple to ripple to ripple. The domino effect, anyone? I never liked dominos because if you messed up, you really messed up. Case in point: if you put forth love, the love spreadeth! The advancement of one individual affects, and adds to, the advancement of the whole (community or culture or species).

Isn't the ripple effect, when it carries with it bravery or any other virtue, what education is all about? Survival and living are educational - through struggle we improve our understanding, of ourselves, of each other and of humanity, and can pass along or spread that knowledge in a variety of ways.

I liked this film for so many reasons that I cannot even begin to describe to you. Only my tampon knows how I feel (deep inside) about this movie. I am so glad it was named after a virtue and not a character. That was a good start. I also enjoyed the film short, "La Luna," that was played before the movie. My tampon gave me extra support during "La Luna," since she knew it was almost a full moon and that I hadn't been to a movie theater in a long time and that I get all dreamy and feel all magical when I see a movie (I need a super absorbent tampon whenever I come face to face with a giant glowing yellow moon...).

There's also the whole feminist thing. The thing that appeals to my senses. Maybe not to my tampon, she's sometimes unsure whether she wants to be a feminist or a man. But to my woman-centered mind. Hell yeah I loved seeing a princess possess agency and act on her own a survivor and someone who tries to do something to help herself instead of helplessly standing by and obeying while someone else, some past patriarchal law, dictates her destiny. Merida ends up having to fight against something, in a survivalist way. The plot takes off, though, when instead of trusting in herself to find a way to freedom, she doubts her own abilities and turns to the outside/to magic/to the witch for easy help. Turning to magic is just as bad as turning to her mother to dictate her freedom and happiness. It just won't work in the long run. Merida goes on a journey, with her mother, in order to find this out (to find out that she has the resources within her and to find out that help from others and control from others are two very different things).

"Brave" did a good job using a traditional patriarchal institution, the family, and doing something a little different with it. Traditionally, the father would take on the role of the family protector (and be the one to fight the battles); however, here mother and daughter go off on an adventure without the patriarch. They, the two women trapped by patriarchy's long line of confining roles for women, find a way to come through for one another and to face the wilds within and outside of themselves- they save the family (their individual family and maybe even the institution of family) by transforming it and changing it from the inside out. Without transformation and progress, the family would self-destruct.

Not fitting into a convention often requires not only the unconventional individual but those around her, in her family and community, to be brave - to face the dim realities of the day, to see what traditions are no longer working and what needs to be reevaluated and changed. Before any kind of break with tradition can occur, there is usually some kind of upheaval, some kind of battle that ensues. Progress is not a new (!) theme in Pixar films, but progress is relative and infinite. As long as there is life, there is evolution. Stories, like "Brave," are still necessary and educational.

And, knee-me-in-the-shin-right-now, it's still a new thing to see princesses -girls and women in general- as complex and role-defiant entities (not to objectify, just to describe...). Being a princess isn't exactly relevant to Western culture, yet the princess prevails in the strangest of propaganizing ways. Princess Mania. I'm a co-mother of two young girls, and though we ward off the excesses of Princess Mania and try to keep it all in check - we still recognize and sometimes scoff at its pervasiveness in our daughters' lives.

We, as parental guides who are sensitive to the heteronormative prescriptions of gender stereotypes, appreciate the reinventions of The Princess. We appreciate dynamic portrayals of princesses - the idea that a princess is not some pre-packaged cookie-cutter character, that a princess can come in all shapes and sizes, that a princess can wear pink or black, that a princess can dress for the ball all day or she can hide in her closet and read books all night. We appreciate films that, if they do include a princess, attempt to expand our (and our daughters') concepts of gender.

It is not just her love for and skill with archery that makes Merida an unconventional princess, it is her confidence and the way she trusts herself (at least by the end of the film) to know that it is only she who can know the path that is right for her. Early in the film, it seemed quite evident to me that Merida recognized, on some level, that living freely as herself is the only way to live. To do otherwise would be a kind of certain death.

If you consider historical figures who have challenged the gender norms of their times, such as Annie Oakley, who not only developed and practiced her sharp-shooting skills but also entered the playing field with other men and beat them at their game; there is a common theme of having to struggle to straddle the borders in order to find a place for yourself and in order to stretch the boundaries of social convention as far as they will allow. Whew, gees, that was a long sentence. See, I'm just that kind of queen - the kind that likes to write long, convoluted but mostly coherent sentences. Did you know that there are such queens, and that some of them tell stories about their tampons? Each woman is a pioneer in her own right, just by virtue of living in a patriarchal world.

Annie Oakley, who probably could have used a good tampon, was a great teacher. She taught her skill to many. Oakley's efforts to follow her passions and pursue her ambitions still teaches us now about ourselves, our culture, our ideologies and out humanity to this day. Yes, to this day. I say that because I often have a little voice in my princess-infected/infested head that tells me to do what's right, to do what's best, to please others and be self-sacrificing. I know Sandy, my wise parenting-partner, has that voice in her head, too. The woman can do anything, I mean anything, yet she would sacrifice all of her pleasures to fulfill her "duties." But do we ever question our duties or do we just become buried within them so much so that we forget, or never even figure out, who we are? Ah, well, that's a question for another blog post.

On an unrelated note, Mor'do, the demon bear holding hostage the ghost prince who was ruined by his pride (iye, yeah, it kind of has that effect in the film, too), might represent the ways in which certain traditions and our histories hold us, as families and communities, hostage - and hold us back from embracing the now, embracing ourselves and progressing. Mother and daughter (yay!) defeat this beast-demon by overcoming their own pride and freeing themselves from the binding and destructive dictates of the past.

There are two prominent perspectives in the film: old and new, past and present. They quarrel, as do Merida and Elinor. They hurt each other and nearly destroy each other in the process - one wishes to usurp, the other to rebel. They, in their pain, recklessly lash out and attempt to destroy what is precious to the other - daughter slashing the familial tapestry and mother burning her daughter's bow. Each tries to thwart the other's identity because each sees it as a threat to her ability to live in the present. Elinor, because she cannot make her daughter fit convention. Merida, because she cannot fulfill her role and her mother's expectations.

There is no magic nor are there tricks to following our own path, even if it is one not-yet traveled. It must come from within, from that place within us all that wants to be in its element, that wants to free itself from all pressure and expectation in order to be fully present in the now, that wants to maintain inner and outer states of being that are in harmony with one another.

One of the most powerful scenes takes place early in the film, when Merida rides on the back of her horse through the woods, freely shooting at every target. In this scene, she's in her element, free to be herself and be completely one with her joy. It's magical in and of itself, no magic from outside sources - only within. Also powerful is the scene in which Elinor, as a bear, discovers a part of herself that she previously had not known existed - the scene in which she allows Merida to teach her to catch fish for herself in order to please...herself (to fulfill her own hunger). Here, Elinor is not bound by convention, she is free to be one with the animal part of her nature.

Improving relationships by working together is certainly a commendable attribute of the film, but I would argue that it is more nuanced than reviewers are denoting. It is not about what's on the surface, it is all about what is bubbling beneath - the things, urges and impulses, within us that we try to repress and that by their repression bring about hostility, violence and destructive impulses.

I was scared there was going to be some sort of romantic love story involved, or that Merida would meet some dude along the way or pick someone in the end. She didn't, thank Goddess. What a relief. Her sexuality and romantic nature were left out of the story. Refreshing, I tell you (and that's coming from someone who loves a certain variety of sexual and romantic film other words, I'm a romance junkie, but I felt romantic without romance when I watched this film...I felt romantic about BRAVERY itself...). Self-acceptance, communal acceptance, coexistence might just be the most romantic thing of all.

Peggy Orenstein argues that "Brave" doesn't delve far enough or provide enough of a longitudinal example of non-traditional womanhood; however, I think the film sets the stage and leaves it up to the viewer to imagine the possibilities for Merida's future. Why do we need to know her future anyway? It isn't ours, it's hers. Isn't that what the film is about, that her future cannot be determined by any outside entity? We are not to know. It's hers, damn it.

By leaving it open, the screenwriter leaves it open for viewers to imagine. Imagining her future is better than writing it, because it always remains open. It also provides an open space in which young girls who watch the film can imagine a future for themselves. If the screenwriters had given an ending or conclusion in which we saw Merida's destiny, it would become another box in which young girls are prescribed what it is they should become. This way, any girl on the edge of youth can envision her own destiny.

A note about the lights in the stone circle. They can be interpreted as another force outside of Merida telling her what to do, as nature itself leading her down her path or as her own inner light leading her down the journey of her fate. If I am correct, by the end of the film, she did not need the lights to know where to go - she only needed herself, her intuition.

I think "Brave" is a realistic film. It doesn't matter how empowered we are, we will always face challenges - often ones which come from within ourselves and from within our closest circles. While not without its bumpy plot lines and a quick race to the end, not without having to appeal to various audience demographics (children, young adults, adults of every variety and persuasion), and not without the inevitable all-over-the-board critical banter ("You didn't do enough for the feminist cause, you should have done this, you should have done it as we would have done it"), the film does a lot and is notably and educationally progressive.

When it matters most, Elinor and Merida find that they possess some of the same qualities: above all, bravery. Bravery that stems from a deep empathy and love that they share. Merida is as flawed as her mother and through her journey with her bear-mother realizes this. They both see each other's flaws as well as the flaws within themselves yet choose the power of love over the power of their failings in order to save their relationship. It seems that each realizes individually her limits and flaws but that they discover collectively that their strengths, while not capable of eliminating their flaws and differences, ultimately can overcome them when it matters most.

What a beautiful love story. Mother and daughter. Person and person. Whomever and whomever. It's a romance. There, I said it. A mother-daughter romance. Not sexual at all, just exquisitely deep. Kind of like the way my tampon is loving me right now. Now that's what I call BRAVE.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This morning during breakfast we had a conversation about the movie. I was curious about what my small people had seen. We talk a lot about personal accountability, in as much as a small person can wrap themselves up in that, and so really hit on that angle of the story. We were able to wander together, as they retold the story, from the point when the mom first became a bear and the daughter was shouting "it's not my fault" to the end, after the great fight when she is shouting "it is ALL my fault". They are remarkably insightful, my small people. They see things quite honestly as they are and deliver them without all of the messy emotional baggage that ego brings in. Nicely written! Thank you for sharing!