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Frozen: Disney's Display of Feminism

Updated on February 8, 2015

Lets look at the Characters:

Yep, no ethnic diversity here!
Yep, no ethnic diversity here!

A Film About Women, Made By a Woman

Frozen a Disney Pixar film directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. It was a massive success on release, with nearly everybody talking about it for months after. Many people even saw the attempt to make Disney films more female friendly, unlike the old classics which dehumanized the female characters, and portrayed the old tradition female roles as the most important aspect of the film, ie: finding a man through any means necessary and marrying him immediately (The Little Mermaid). So in the past few years Disney have been making some changes to their heroines, adding ethically diverse characters, giving the female characters actual opinions and leaving the films without happy ever after marriages.

Although Frozen sticks to these new guidelines, many see the film as false feminist. While it displays outright changes in its female characterizations, lets see what else has changed...

Two Female Protagonists?

That has to get the feminists off our backs!
That has to get the feminists off our backs!

The Protagonists!

First off, yes the two main characters are women. But do they represent actual women, hell no they don't. They represent all white, unnaturally thin, incredibly beautiful women that surrender to the male gaze. The rest of the female population is totally forgotten about in Disney. Proof of this lies in the fact that both Elsa and Anna have the exact same faces, with no attempt being made to individualize either one apart from the clothes they wear. Not only that, but similar to the issue surrounding the Barbie Doll, Disney Princess are too unrealistic a body shape to live up to, and yet every girl watching these films wants to be that princess.

More and more women are attempting to live up to this standard, as the Human Barbie Doll stories that fly around the internet prove. These women do dangerous things in order to be more like the Barbie, so its safe to assume the Disney Princess look will also be much sought after.

Not only that, but much like the Disney adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid, Frozen was also an Adaptation of 'The Snow Queen'. Disney changes these stories a lot so that they are fit for child audiences, as Anderson's originals were much more dark. An issue with Disneys Frozen is that they reconstructed some really good female characters into male characters, and ridiculous snowmen. The original cast of people that helped Gerda (Now Anna in Frozen) were a varied collection of female characters, from wise old women to helpful female animal characters. These were all either rewritten as male or dumped completely. Where the Snow Queens story follows Gerda on a journey to help her friend, a boy who has gone missing in the hands on the Snow Queen, Frozen follows a girl trying to find and save her sister from herself, since she has the power to control frost and snow and can't control it. She does with the help of two male characters and a snowman, that actually do very little to help her. In this way Frozen could be seen as a statement towards how women are mostly alone on their journeys. Anna and her sister are both alone in their issues, and while Elsa runs from hers, Anna must save them both.

Run for Your Life

I've read a few articles that comment on Elsa running from the kingdom after years of hiding her abilities. She suddenly can't control them anymore and runs to protect her sister and country. I see where they are coming from, the song 'Let it go' seems to directly contradict this though. When Elsa is a child, she hurts Anna by accident and then keeps herself locked away. When she does have to appear in public she wears gloves so as to keep her abilities in check. When they get out of control she runs, far away and sings a song that seems to be saying she should be open with her issues, let her problems go because they aren't problems, its simply who you are, and you can't run from yourself. And yet, she's still running. She's also using her abilities to build castles, and bring snowmen to life, which blatantly says she can control them, so why is she sill hiding and pushing people away? It doesn't make sense. If she controls her power then she shouldn't have to be locked away anymore, which she seems to acknowledge in her song, yet she isolates herself even further by staying hidden in her frozen fortress not letting anyone in. It's a conundrum, and one that directly flies in the face of anyone who says Elsa is a feminist. She is not, she's a girl who has locked herself away because she no longer wants to deal with her 'problem'. She also totally leaves the kingdom alone with no one in charge, was that responsibility just too much to handle for her? Or was it that she just didn't care and thought herself too important to be dealing with such trivial things? Either way, it makes her look bad and perpetuates the idea that women cannot be leaders.

Yeah, She's Totally in Control of Her Powers!

Feminist or Not?

So, we have a film that's basically butchered a classic story that's been getting a lot of heat for being anti-feminist and then a lot of defending for being totally feminist. I think the film falls somewhere in the middle, yes, Disney has made some headway in creating female characters that aren't simple minded and dainty, as they have been known to do in the past. I do not dispute that having two female lead characters is a massive leap forward, but female lead characters are not sparse in Disney films (Cinderella, little mermaid, snow white, Sleeping beauty etc etc etc), so really, the fact there are two, doesn't actually have any value in the feminist argument. Films can be based totally around women and still be misogynist towards them. Frozen wasn't as revolutionary as other films in this genre, such as Brave which was without a doubt a different story and female lead than ever seen before.

There are small aspects of Frozen that don't do women justice, Elsa has no sense of loyalty to her city, nor does she have much of a sense of family, since she attempts to hurt Anna in order to keep her away. What these negative attributes do portray is the fact that women have demons too. In most cop films and tv shows, for example, there's usually a man who has some demons due to his work, stress, some killer escaping justice or whatever. These emotional scars make the character more identifiable, more human. Its not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately for Elsa, it did appear that way, with her being the Villain for most of the film. But this addition of a female character with some heavy emotional scars is being seen as negative, and why? Because we all agree she's wrong? Yet we understand her pain.

When she sings her song and walks out to the balcony, the directors themselves said there was an air of sexual awakening in her, she flicks her hair and blinks with her big lashes in a come hither fashion, shes rocking a brand new, handmade outfit, and she's in control. She is a sexual being, something Disney has finally acknowledged. She has gotten rid of her modest princess dress, and swapped it for a revealing, slit to the thigh dress that oozes sexuality. She does it for herself though, which is the most important part of it. She's not doing it to show off to any man, or make another woman jealous, she's does it alone, for herself, showing that she controls both her power and sexuality.

The debate over whether or not Frozen is a feminist film or not continues. Certainly, there are aspects of the film I too despised. The script was a bore, the plot a shambles, the songs too cheesy and the characters, cheap knock-offs that affect the film very little. for the feminist argument though, the film falls in a grey area. No there wasn't a wedding at the end, but there was an engagement of sorts, as those weird, never really explained trolls tell Anna she's basically picked the wrong guy with Hans and sort of forces her into marrying Kristoff under the guise of an upbeat song before she collapses but we know she will be marrying kristoff in the future. So no, not really much different from the oldies in this sense. Elsa is the really the deciding factor, but one that really can't be categorized as either because she portrays both feminist aspects of herself, and then anti-feminist issues, like not being emotionally capable of having any sort of power, or high ranking job. She is sexually strong, yet she never confronts her problems, they are sorted or her, but all's well as she lives happily ever after with her sister. The fact that the film isn't wholly and completely feminist is irrelevant really, the fact is, Disney made an effort not to be misogynist, and it paid off, sort of. No its not the revolutionary feminist film we thought it was going to be, it does portray aspects of false feminism, but honestly, all I can say is, Disney's getting there. Yeah its kinda slow, since women have been seen as equal to men for like decades now, and Disney are still throwing in underhanded anti-feminist tricks into their films, but.....maybe soon they'l be able to make it to the finish line on this one, we'll just have to wait and see.

Why 2?

Honestly, the film was just that bit too princessy for me. Overall the story was meh, the characters were...likeable? No not really, they were, certainly...unforgettable, the songs, as i said, too, too cheesy. Then there's the ridiculous, never elaborated on side characters that have nothing to do with actual story whatso-bloody-ever. The snowman, the reindeer, the fricken trolls....ugh! Nonsense the lot of it. How did the snowman come to life any way? Elsa can make snow and ice, not animate inanimate bloody objects. Like I said, lots of stupidity. I suppose they did need new film character toys for the MacDonalds kiddy boxes....

Rating Regardless of Feminist Argument!

2 stars for Frozen

Trailer that really says it all....


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    • RC-Reality Check profile image

      Reality Check 

      3 years ago

      Extremely interesting analysis of Feminist themes in Frozen. A really great hub. Was fantastic to see a different take on the character of Elsa, as both a symbol of feminism, and of the old-school Disney princess incapable of facing reality by herself.

      I think, however, that the character of Anna deserves further analysis. Yes, I agree - rather than make the journey to save her sister by herself, she enlists the help of male characters. However, the initiative to seize control in the chaos after Elsa ran away (as a princess who has been locked away from the world her entire life) is certainly an interesting part of the film. She is quick to take leadership as next in line, and appoint a regent (Hans) in her place whilst she goes to recover Elsa, the rightful monarch. Yet, at the same time... recklessly appointing Hans, a man who she has just met, and - also recklessly - charging off alone into a frozen wilderness when the throne is insecure, there being no other (known) heir than herself, could be seen as Disney branding a female as incapable of strong and wise leadership. Two sides to the story here, not sure which one - if either - is wholly right.

    • profile image

      Miran Shuleta 

      4 years ago

      I love the themes you have explained in this Hub! As a person that appreciates all movies and enjoy analyzing them in detail, I find the concept that a man has to always rescue a woman extremely aggravating. Snow White, Tangled, Hercules, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, I could go on forever.

      In regards to the feminist theme, I think Disney over the years have been misogynistic in many of their movies, The Little Mermaid (again), Snow White (again), even Aladdin (again) have extremely sexist themes. Not many people notice because they disregard it as 'endearing' or 'funny', and its NOT, it is disgusting, hence why I have never been a massive fan of Disney.

      Frozen is a (very) small step forward however Disney still has a long way to go, I won't even begin on the racism of Disney movies, I may write a Hub about this in the future. Mulan (my favourite) is the only Disney film I can think of that shows us women are just as strong, intelligent, and influential as men, if not more. One is not good enough, our younger generation must be taught differently, and if this does not change, I can guarantee that my (future) children will never witness a Disney movie in their lives,

      Great Hub!

    • belleart profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Ireland

      thanks for the comments. The film is a muddled one, and I've had many a conversation with people over whether or not Disney stuck to its traditional misogynistic ways. Disney will always be scrutinized for their historical portrayals of women, its just the way it is.

      Elsa can be seen as both feminist and anti-feminist, probably due to the shambles they called character development, but there are definitely to valid sides to the argument. As for the story being written in the 1800's, its actually one of Anderson's most female diverse stories, so for the time it was actually progressive, not by our standards no, but still.

      I agree that the feminist aspect is the least of their problems with film though, and I absolutely hate that song......way too catchy! :)

    • BeyondGS profile image


      4 years ago from Ohio

      I think overall Frozen was one of the better newer Disney movies, but highly overrated. I agree that it could have fixed some issues but it wasn't horrible either.

      One of the biggest reasons it became such a hit though is the focus on women being the main characters and the music. I don't think Disney has had such catchy songs since maybe Tarzan. Great job! Voted up.

    • Ally Lewis profile image

      Ally Lewis 

      4 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      I agree with you that Frozen is riddled with inconsistencies, especially with Elsa and her powers, and that the story wholly was underwhelming and didn't live up to Disney's standards (I wrote my own review of the movie too!).

      As for the racial monotony, the movie is set in Norway and Norwegians are arguably the most "white" looking humans on the planet, which would account for the lack of racial diversity. The characters look that way because they're supposed to (just like Jasmine looks Middle Eastern and Pocohantas looks Native American - it's what they are).

      I've also never heard someone claim that Elsa is an example of feminism; I've heard more often that Anna could be. Elsa is actually supposed to represent depression. I don't really think feminism was the goal of the movie or either character and people just injected that notion into their opinion of it and blasted the film for lacking it or praised the film for having it. (Sidenote: when a movie is based on a story written in Europe in 1844, how gender progressive can we expect it to be?)

      Overall, the movie could have benefitted from major story improvement and further character development, but feminism (or lack thereof, if that's what you think) was the least of their problems.


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