Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Why Emma Watson's feminism speech worries me

As a preamble to this piece, I would just like to say that I think “He For She” is a great idea for a campaign and I would encourage everyone to give their wholehearted support. I have already signed up – apparently I am “man number 59,043” to do so.

OK, let's begin this story in the dark and murky days of 2009. I was just starting at university, and like most freshmen, I was getting overexcited about new intellectual ideas that I was being exposed to.

“But WHY”, moaned 19-year-old John plaintively, like a pathetic, mewling toddler, “WHY is everyone so concerned about women's rights, when gender inequality affects men too!?

“I have to go to formal events in HORRIBLE BLACK CLOTHES, whereas women get to wear beautiful dresses in every colour of the rainbow,” continued this awful version of myself, literally believing that this was in any way a valid point. “Also, I don't really fit in when other people expect me to drink beer and talk about football. It's UNBEARABLE.”

I won't link you to the piece I wrote for Gender Agenda along these lines. To this day I can't figure out why more people didn't hate me after I wrote this. Instead, let's fast forward to early September 2014, and I am sitting in a pub in Clapham. The guy sitting opposite me reminds me of my younger self. He's interrupted a conversation about harassment in the workplace by saying men also have problems. He thinks he's being rational and academic about things. The internet is also full of people who remind me of my younger self. It is a constant prod in the face that keeps me feeling nice and guilty. But I can sympathise, right? So I try persuading this guy with arguments that I think might have worked on me, back in the day.

“So imagine tomorrow, for some reason, the entire world is split into two groups. Half of all people are given one million pounds for no reason. The other half have everything they own taken away and are forced to live on the streets. And the people in each half are selected entirely at random.” It's a heavy-handed analogy, but at this stage in the conversation, I'm desperate.

“So you are one of the lucky millionaires, and you're at a party with a group of friends, half of whom are also millionaires, and the other half have lost it all. And the conversation turns to the horrible plight faced by the losers – they can't afford basic food or shelter, they live in unsanitary conditions, all kinds of things. And everybody is chatting about this and saying how awful it is. And then, you, who by pure dumb chance happen to be sitting pretty, suddenly blurt out 'yeah, but the millionaires also have problems – no one ever talks about that!'

“Would you agree with me that such a statement would be callous?”

“Yes,” says the guy I'm talking to.

“Right, because you've derailed the conversation, as a member of the privileged group, and made it all about you. Even though your situation is objectively not comparable. Callous.”

“But you don't have to be part of the privileged group,” he says. “You could choose not to participate in any of the bad things that group does.”

“No, because whether you wanted it or not, you still enjoy all the benefits of being a millionaire, or in the case of real life, being a man. Not enduring daily sexual harassment, not having a one in three chance of being domestically abused, higher pay for the same work...”

“How do you know men don't get harassed? I mean, if they did, they wouldn't tell anyone, would they?” persists the incorrigible man.

“That's not even an argument I'm going to engage with.”

“All I'm saying is that men have problems too. And people really don't talk about them. Men are committing suicide in record numbers. It's a massive problem.”

Of course, the man I was talking to in Clapham was not Emma Watson. But I think he would have been very sympathetic to what she had to say to the UN on Saturday.

Watson said that feminism is too often perceived as man-hating. She said that really, feminism is just a belief in gender equality. She extended a formal invitation to men to join her in this belief. She said that men are imprisoned by gender stereotypes. She said her father's role as a parent is undervalued by society. She said not enough men were invited to Hilary Clinton's speech about women(!?).

She said:
In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and heart disease.

In my mind, I suddenly saw the waxen face of the Clapham man, as he completely failed to reconcile my arguments with his world view. Suicide is the biggest killer of men. The Biggest. Killer. Of. Men.

OK. Suicide, in any context, is awful. It is a major problem for society in the UK and many other countries. It should be taken very seriously. Of course it should. But it doesn't have anything to do with gender. The primary risk factors include mental health problems, alcoholism and poverty. Currently, four times as many women attempt suicide in the Western world than men. Even if more men attempted suicide, and it is true that 75% of successful suicides are men, it wouldn't remotely suggest that there are systemic problems that affect men every step of their lives that are even close to as bad as those faced by women.

Of course, suicide isn't the issue here – it's just what caught my attention in Watson's speech. The real issue is this: Why was a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador talking about men's issues?

We've heard the arguments a million times. Ending gender inequality means making things better for men and women. We can't make progress on women's issues until we get men on board. Some wise guy comes up with this stuff everywhere you look. And you can't argue with it, because it's self-evidently true. These kind of statements are so obvious and bland that they form a kind of background noise in most discussions. Did anyone at the UN really think that pre-Watson feminism had no interest in men? Let's explain things one more time:

There are few feminists, least of all me, who don't want men to be free of gender stereotypes. There are even fewer who don't want men to be on board with the feminist project. But the thing is, feminism has long ago learned not to think about things as men and women. That's because it's clear that the problem doesn't lie with individuals doing the right or wrong thing. The problem lies at a more fundamental social level, one that necessarily implicates everybody. Just as you can't choose to be privileged or not – if you look like a guy, you'll get the befits of being one – so you can't just choose to be part of the solution rather than the problem. That's why feminists look at trends in culture and video games. That's why we care about religion and politics and advertising. That's why we DON'T really care if some specific men (or women) are put off by the strength of our message.

So I ask again, why was the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador talking about men's issues? Why is she using that massive platform for a campaign to help people suffering to a much lesser degree than women, who are the people her job was created to help. It's not that I mind about the campaign itself, which as I've said, I support, and which will clearly do a lot of good in the world. It's that I'm not really sure that UN Women is the place to launch it. UN Women, especially if it's getting celebrities to promote it, should be leading the global conversation about women's issues. And it absolutely should not – like the Clapham man – be derailing this conversation by focusing it on something far less important and far less relevant. Doing so marginalises the much greater problems faced by the women UN Women is supposed to stand for, and suggests that these problems are of a comparable seriousness to men's.

Personally, I find this implication callous to say the least.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they really freaking change

Just watched a fantastic BBC thought-piece about the "new misogyny" - how in the internet era, abuse and disrespect towards woman has moved into a whole new gear. I was expecting not to be convinced that modern sexism is any different or worse than that of the past but in the end I completely was.

And it really made me realise how the horrifying misogyny we see today is a consequence of, or reaction against, culture shift. A really huge culture shift that is changing one of the most fundamental elements of human society - the gender binary. Ever since society officially (theoretically) acknowledged that men and women should be equal, we have indeed started slouching towards equality. But the more equal things become, the greater the upheaval of traditional roles and social structures. This causes crises of identity and a sense of fear among the dominant group, as it always does. In the past, you didn't need to overtly threaten women with rape, because that threat was at all times implicit. Women were so obviously subservient that you didn't need to abuse them to feel secure about your position.

So the show did end up persuading me that this is one the VERY rare cases where the Golden Age Fallacy does not apply. Things really are changing. We're in a moment of vast cultural shift, the first time that the foundations of gender, itself a social bedrock, have ever been challenged in the millions of years of human history. Just think about that.

And the consequences are awful. Unspeakably awful. At times watching the program, I felt overwhelmed and just immensely distressed at how people could foster and enact such hate and cruelty. It's not the vicious examples that get to me, it's the ubiquity and frequency. The scale more than qualifies as an epidemic of vile proportions. If I think about it too much, I just want to be swallowed up by the earth and cry in the dark for the rest of eternity.

This is the price we pay. And by we, I mean women. Today's women pay this hideous, hideous price for history's greatest cultural shift - a shift that once complete, will benefit everyone, including the men who resisted it. Is it worth the cost? The answer doesn't matter - we can't stop it now.

But despite all this, the program also gave me great hope. More than anything, I got the sense that the awfulness is not in response to perceived threats, but to real ones. Things are changing. And it's only because they're changing so defiantly and so rapidly that the backlash has been so terrible. And most of all, the backlash won't stop them changing. It won't even slow them down. The women who bear the burden of modern misogyny have kept fighting against it, to different extents and in a million different ways, often with a strength that beggars belief. And there's no sign that they're lagging. Yes, they are exhausted. Yes, it is an unrelenting, uphill stuggle. Yes, the issues are incredibly complex, and it is often difficult to know the best course of action. But the simple fact is, women have right on their side, and everyone knows it. It may take many years, but losing the battle is unthinkable. Never has Ghandi's annoying aphorism been so pertinent: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." We're nearing the final stage.

I also get a lot of hope from children today. From what I can tell, they seem much more thoughtful and less bigotted than previous generations, including my own. I'm sure a lot of them are still as nasty as ever, but as a whole, they are not as hardwired to nastiness as they might once have been. It seems to me that prejudice is something they have to learn or are taught by specific social influences - in the old days, it was the default, and had to be unlearned if you were lucky. Thus the wheels turn, slowly and surely.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The romance of life without tech

You've probably seen the video going around of someone reciting 5 minutes of soulful couplets about the problems of modern technology, over footage that cuts between him looking sincerely at a camera and some images of pretty people using and not using phones and computers. Did I mention the cheesy emotive music? There's cheesy emotive music.

If you've read much of this blog before, you won't be surprised that it made me quite wrathful. Let me start with one particularly irksome rhyme:

All this technology we have, it's just an illusion:
Community, companionship, a sense of inclusion

He asserts that the sense of community and social connection we experience using virtual technologies is just an illusion; this is factually incorrect. And not just a little bit incorrect, it's the exact opposite of a really fundamental truth. It's a lie on the scale of climate change denial.

Virtual socialisation has been the subject of a vast amount of academic research. And I mean vast. I spent years studying it at uni and only scratched the surface. There are dozens of peer-reviewed journals and international conferences every year dedicated solely to online society. While the work done in this area has covered a huge scope and there are many different theories and models that have been advanced, there is one issue on which there is complete consensus: virtual socialising is real. It is meaningful and important for those who engage in it.

It's interesting, therefore, that no one questions our youtube poet when he flat out contradicts the mountain of evidence. In fact, I think the analogy of climate denial is quite apt - saying that socialising online is not real makes intuitive sense in our culture in the same way that saying climate change is a conspiracy makes intuitive sense among certain conservative cultures.

Yet when we think about it for a moment, the idea that social interaction that occurs using virtual technologies might not be real is clearly nonsense. For one thing, why would so many people do it if they didn't find it meaningful?

There are several factors at work. One is a culture that has deep roots in a tradition which sees technological change as automatically bad. Socrates thought writing was a terrifying, unnatural technology that would send the world to hell in a handcart. Multitudes of writers and filmmakers have reinforced similar notions through the ages, to the point where suspicion of change - and its association with evil forces - just comes naturally.

Secondly,  there's the Golden Age Fallacy, one of my favourites. The poet assumes that ever since we started using computers and such, we've started isolating ourselves and started having less real-world social time. In the old days we would have spent the time we now spend texting hanging out in the park instead. This is again a factual error. Phones, computers and such are almost entirely used when we would have been alone anyway. For example, there's a bit in the film where a girl sits down at a bus stop and the two other girls at the stop ignore her because they're on their phones. The implication is that without phones, the three women would have burst in to spontaneous and joyous conversation.

No. Obviously, in the old days, they would have still sat ignoring each other, but they just wouldn't have had phones to use in the meantime. Do we really think British people used to talk to strangers on public transport?! LOL! In fact, this is a classic situation in which the phones allow us to be more sociable, because we can use our downtime to socialise when we would otherwise be bored.

Similarly with going on facebook while alone in your room. In the old days, you would still have been alone in your room, you just would have been staring at the ceiling rather than at a screen. We still go out to see friends in the real world whenever there's a social reason to do so. In fact we probably do it more than in the old days because of our shorter working hours and better transport connections. But we can use our alone time to stay in touch, which we couldn't do before.

The dude says he has 422 friends yet he is alone. The figure caught my attention because I happen to currently have 420. Maybe there's some magical barrier around the 421 mark, because I am not alone at all. That's because I contact my friends fairly regularly, using facebook and yes my phone, and I reinforce my friendship with them via the age-old method of talking to them and sharing stuff. Sometimes I do this while they are physically close to me, sometimes I do it while they're far away. In both cases I feel equally less alone.

If you want to build a case that a technology is bad, you have to ground it in real, research-based evidence and not instinct. As a culture we simply have to get over this idea that there is some qualitative difference between virtual and actual socialising. There is zero evidence that one is better than the other. If you think about it, what factor could there possibly be that could make one better than the other? They're both about connecting with other people. That's what humans do.

In his groundbreaking study of the virtual world Second Life, anthropologist Tom Boellstorff points out that his findings (which show that Second Life society is very similar in every fundamental way to offline society) might be explained by a simple truth: socialising has always been virtual. The psyche that constitutes you or me as an individual is formed by billions of neurons. These receive signals from the outside world and interprets them. Other individuals that we encounter are nothing but concepts put together in our brain - we have no experience really being them. We have a concept in our mind for "friend", "soulmate" or "that guy I know" - all our interactions with these concepts take place via some kind of intermediary communication system, whether it be touch, language or social media. In this sense it is absolutely fair to say that there's no real difference between talking to someone using the sound waves your larynx creates over short distances and talking to someone using fibre-optic cables. The media are not important - or at least not compared to the content that they are communicating.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

When is a pixie not a pixie?

This post is about the Disney film Frozen. YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM. You must see it. This post will assume you have seen it, so DO NOT READ until you’ve seen it. Go! See! Now!

Ah, what can I say about Frozen? Its virtues are as uncountable as the stars. It’s got all the good points you’d expect from a modern animated feature - breathtaking visual splendour, supreme attention to detail, perfect timing - as well as the best of this genre’s screenwriting talents: good pacing, a compelling narrative, spot-on dialogue (including great comedy), rounded characters with personal journeys that play off each other. Also, and this is no small matter, it has an awesome and actually quite novel use of superpowers. Oh yeah, and the music is joyous beyond all reason.
And there's a frost giant! What more could you want?

But most of all, the reason why I wholeheartedly embrace the Frozen cult, why the whole thing makes my heart thrum with delight, is its treatment of women.

But how can you say this, I hear you cry, when the film is set in a fairytale medieval kingdom with useless princesses, where men have most of the positions of power, and the characters are all more or less gender normative?!

Hear me out while I explain why I think Frozen is the most gender-revolutionary film to have ever come out of Hollywood, or the most revolutionary film with a talking snowman at least. Yes, Frozen doesn’t do much to challenge gender stereotypes. Rather, what makes it special, I will argue, is that it completely overturns how such stereotypes are capable of being used as actors in a mainstream motion picture.

The Sexy Villainess

I have heard it said that one of the potentially troubling ways in which Frozen conforms to conventional gender narratives is that when Elsa first unleashes her ice powers, she simultaneously transforms her appearance, suddenly taking down her hair, developing new curves and acquiring a suggestive new cut for her dress.

This plays to an old and ugly trope of women only ever being openly sexy, or embracing their sexuality in any way, when they are also evil. This trope in turn plays to the even older and uglier archetypal dichotomy of the Madonna and the whore. So much of Western fiction, including Hollywood, has deployed this horrible vision of all women as either chaste and virtuous, or depraved and sexual.

But Elsa utterly and exuberantly overturns all this in the course of her magnificent solo “Let It Go”. The song is clear beyond the slightest doubt: she is not turning evil. Rather, she is embracing her own power, and staking a claim for her own freedom. It’s a song about about doing as one choses, free from the demands of a judgemental society. Elsa’s unleashing of her powers is a metaphor for becoming a fully-fledged actor, in the true sense of the word. This is a theme throughout the film and it’s at the crux of why I find it all so exciting and revolutionary.

Yes, the new dress reveals a shapely leg, but this is the same leg that with a single stomp is capable of raising up an entire castle. Her ice powers are linked to her sexiness not because they are both bad things, but because they are both glorious and awesome to behold. And because they are both things that she is now free to enjoy fully as a responsible adult, an actor in control of her own body and her own actions - all on the very day that she has come of age.

I first saw Frozen with my ten-year-old sister. She absolutely loved it, and the bit she liked most was “Let It Go”. All through Christmas, she’s been strutting around the house doing the sexy-empowered walk and miming Elsa’s ice powers. I couldn’t be more thrilled. My older sisters never got such awesome role models. 

My sister should aspire to nothing less than magical superpowers.

The Love Thing

For all her sexuality, Elsa doesn’t get a love story. This is another clear statement that embracing sexiness doesn’t mean you have to find a guy if you don’t want.

Instead, it is the other sister-protagonist, down-to-earth Anna, who gets the romantic subplot. This is another complaint I’ve heard made against the gender roles in Frozen. At the start of the film, Princess Anna, alone in the big empty castle, dreams of finding a man to love. How predictable.

But again, Frozen’s treatment of romance is a lot more nuanced than you might expect. First of all, the song in which Anna mentions she wouldn’t mind finding a boyfriend is the “First Time in Forever”. The first part of the song has Anna singing about how she can’t wait to meet other people for a change:

Don't know if I'm elated or gassy
But I'm somewhere in that zone
Cause for the first time in forever
I won't be alone

Then she has a brief bit about how as well as meeting new people, she might meet “the one”. Then the song switches to Elsa, who sings about how she has to stay strong and “don’t let them in”:

Conceal, don't feel, put on a show
Make one wrong move and everyone will know

Then they duet, with the same lines:

It's only for today
It's agony to wait

Where Anna is looking forward to it, and Elsa is dreading it. In short, the song is fairly straightforward character development, highlighting the very different kinds of people the two sisters have become. Anna’s thoughts about “the one” should be taken in this context - she’s open to meeting people and sharing her life with them, while her sister is not.

When the guests arrive, of course, she does meet Prince Hans and enjoys a whirlwind romance. But this is again a set-up - transparently so, as the rest of the film’s events unfold. The love scene, where Anna and Hans have so much in common and are supposedly made for each other, is clearly a parody. With its “Can I say something crazy”s and its “Jinx”s, it’s openly making fun of how silly this popular notion of easy, unrealistic love is, just as much as XKCD #807.

Later, when Hans is revealed as the villain and the extent of how facile their love really was becomes clear to Anna, there’s an incredibly poignant moment where she sits miserably quivering with cold by the fire and says “I don’t even know what love is”. But the film does in fact have a whole song about what love is - the very intelligent yet comic “Fixer Upper”. Among the lyrics of this fun number is the elegant insight:

We’re not sayin' you can change him,
‘Cause people don’t really change.
We’re only saying that love's a force
That's powerful and strange.
...True love brings out their best!
...We need each other to raise
Us up and round us out.
Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper...

These thoughts underly the all the changing relationships between the various characters in Frozen. The result is that the film presents a thoughtful, uplifting and kind vision of what genuine love is. Again, it entirely overturns the tropes we’re so used to seeing in these kinds of stories. And the message we’re left with is delightfully progressive: there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit romantic, but you should try to come to a fuller understanding of the complexities of love and of human interaction in general.

Manics Are People Too

Another complaint I’ve heard, and something which originally bothered me but which I have learned to embrace, is that Anna exhibits a lot of the features of a certain kind of romantic heroine - at least at the start of the film. She thinks of herself as dorky. She’s carefree and clumsy. She doesn’t know how beautiful she really is. She talks a lot about how she likes chocolate. She’s girly but has a tomboyish side. She’s whimsical, excitable, has big dreams, is in love with life and moves around everywhere really fast.

There’s no two ways of saying it: Anna is a manic pixie.

In the standard post-Whedon model of thinking about gender in mainstream movies, manic pixies are the Enemy. The are the antithesis of the Strong Female Character. We hates them, we does, my precious.

Who are you calling manic?

But a lot of pixie anger is misplaced. People often - understandably - get annoyed by their sheer annoyingness. No one likes a good looking person who pretends not to be good looking. And we instinctively distrust those who seem to be too perfect. And with good reason - manics have often been used by boring screenwriters as the dream girl for their male protagonist, basically just an object to be admired, with no real agency. They aren’t afforded basic character rights such as development over time (other than to reveal a tragic side which they already had). And they certainly don’t make any decisions or take any actions which meaningfully impact the course of the story.

But what if a manic pixie wasn’t written in such a lazy fashion? Despite all the aggravating outward appearances, Anna is not abandoned in the traditional manic pixie fashion. Indeed, she becomes the central protagonist of the film. Never does she rely on men to move the story forward for her. At every stage, she makes her own choices. It’s her story, she owns it, and at the end of the day it’s not at all difficult for even the most hardened pixie-hater to get behind her. Plus, she talks to Joan of Arc, so...kudos.

There are only two female characters in the film, but they get all the action. Everything hinges on them, their choices, and importantly, on their relationship. In this respect, Frozen brings to full fruition a trend that’s been slowly growing in Disney films over the last seven decades. Disney started with princesses with no agency whatsoever. Snow White has things done to her, never doing anything herself. The true love has to come and kiss her prostrate body to allow her to even live.

Later, in the 90s revival, princesses got a slightly greater share of the action. At the end of Beauty and the Beast, my personal favourite, it’s Belle’s love that saves the prostrate Beast. But Belle spends most of the final act locked up or weeping uselessly, and many of the film’s key decisions are not made by her. Later still, the likes of Pocahontas and Mulan brought the strong female character to Disney. But these films still depend on plots largely dictated by men, with the romantic element remaining central. 2010’s Tangled takes another step on the path, with the strong, pixie-esque Rapunzel taking the initiative to embark on her own journey of self-realisation. But after the realisation is achieved (the lantern scene), there’s a whole other weird section of the film where she gets kidnapped twice, is locked up at the first sign of defiance, tries to help but is stopped by a man who cuts her hair - her defining feature and a symbol of her sense of self - without asking her. The ending undermines her agency. And the only other female character in the film is a sexy villainess. So...yeah I was disappointed by Tangled because in many respects it has all the makings of a stellar film.

Frozen transcends all this and completes the journey properly this time, with female characters who are true actors. This is nowhere more apparent than the spectacular climax itself. Anna, on the point of death, is waiting for true love’s kiss to save her (although even at this stage she’s still trying her best to get to him on her own steam). Elsa is on her knees weeping into her hands, with another man approaching her to put her to death. The tropes are set up on their pedestals - the powerful sexy sorceress always has to die, the manic pixie needs a man’s love to happen to her.

At this point the sledgehammer comes down and smashes both tropes to smithereens in the most satisfying fashion. Anna leaves Kristoff in the dust and goes to Elsa’s rescue herself. She blasts Hans away, and is left frozen in a moment of pure action. Her own act of love and self-sacrifice saves them both.

The most obvious inversion here for audiences, I expect, is that a man’s love for a woman (true love’s kiss) has been turned around to become the sisterly love of two woman - a powerful epiphany in the character arcs of both women. But the greater inversion for me is that of action - instead of the lover saving the cursed victim, the cursed victim saves herself on her own.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

A few months ago, I wrote about a great article in the New Statesmen that powerfully demonstrates how ostensibly strong female characters are not good enough. One of its best points is that when men want to be strong, they can do so in many varied, interesting, complex different ways. When women are strong it typically just means they know kung-fu and are angry a lot of the time.

Frozen has shown Hollywood how female protagonists can be done right. Anna and Elsa are not Mulan with her sword, or Merida from Brave with her bow. They don’t know any martial arts. They don’t talk mean. They don’t take on traditionally male roles. Yet they are perhaps the strongest female characters Disney has ever created. And everyone loves them for it - remember, Frozen is Disney’s best performing feature since The Lion King. If we needed any confirmation that women can be gender normative and still marvellously strong, this is it. In fact their normativeness arguably makes their strength all the more thrilling.
It's not exactly ice powers though, is it?

But most of all, they’re complex. They’re more deeply and interestingly developed than many many male protagonists in Hollywood, and certainly much more so than the other male characters in the film. I particularly like Elsa’s story in this regard. She starts the film already troubled and multi-faceted. A sense of daughterly duty and respect for her parents clearly motivates her to stay disciplined and keep to the conceal-don’t-feel regime, despite how much she desperately misses Anna’s company. The coronation sequence is a masterclass in portraying the build up of these competing motivations, until they explode in a wall of ice-shards. Her self-banishment leads to the first major development in her story - the “Let It Go” song - where she finally lets all her pent up anxiety out, frees herself from her lifelong prison and embraces her empowered inner self.

This alone is more than most female characters can hope to achieve, but for Elsa it’s just the beginning. The “Let It Go” epiphany is only the first stage in her journey. The song, for all its glory, is also an acceptance of isolation. The ice castle makes it very clear that despite her empowerment, Elsa has merely imprisoned herself in a different form. And, rejecting those who try to help her, she soon winds up in a literal prison. It is here, and on the ice-sheet blizzard, that she realises the futility of such a shallow form of empowerment, and it is Anna’s love that teaches her a much more genuine form of self-realisation, one that embraces others. When Elsa says “of course! Love!” and then turns winter back into summer, it is ostensibly the height of Disnified cliche silliness, but audiences don’t react to it that way. Rather, for the audience, it feels natural, cathartic and uplifting - and this is entirely because it represents the final stage of Elsa’s difficult and complex character journey, where she finally heals the fractures inside her, completely masters her powers, and becomes a better person. She has thawed her frozen heart - and then you realise this was the theme from the very beginning, starting with the tone-setting opening song, “Frozen Heart”.

For a Disney princess to receive such treatment is nothing short of a revolution.