#GiveElsaAGirlfriend began trending on Twitter a few weeks ago in response to the news that Disney is planning a sequel to Frozen. (Imaginatively titled, at least for now, Frozen 2.) I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen the original movie yet – I know, I know. I want to READ ALL THE THINGS and WATCH ALL THE THINGS and DO ALL THE THINGS but there is only so much time in the day, so I don’t watch as many movies as I would like.
But I know enough about the movie to know that many people noted how well the story functions as an allegory for being closeted and then coming out. This is what prompted fans to start tweeting at Disney, asking them to make Elsa canonically gay in the sequel.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll have noticed that I devote a lot of posts to discussing diversity. I spend a lot of time rebutting arguments against including diverse characters in stories, and today’s post will be no different.
One thing I’ve noticed since becoming involved in the push for diversity a few years ago is that the same arguments tend to crop up again and again. A common argument against including LGBTQ+ characters is that those characters should be single instead, and this line of thought is EXTREMELY prevalent in the discussions surrounding Frozen 2.
Today, I want to examine the “we need more single characters” argument – which is so often directed towards LGBTQ+ characters – through the lens of Elsa and Frozen, and to challenge some of the assumptions we make in that conversation. Because the reasons given for wanting those characters to be single just… don’t hold up.
Consider, for instance, the claim that people are sick and tired of romance. Yes, people say that – but they don’t act that way. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a straight person complain, “But why does EVERYTHING have to be about ROMANCE?!” when someone brings up the idea of an LGBTQ+ character, only to turn around and spend hours fangirling about their favorite M/F ship from a book they read, or a TV show they watched, or whatever.
Straight people LOVE fictional romantic pairings, as long as they’re straight. Fandoms are full of it. The most minor het pairings with the smallest amount of screentime and/or pagetime are adored. But when an LGBTQ+ person says that they want a character like them? Suddenly the response is, “Um, not everything has to be about romance. I can’t believe you would say such a thing!”
I have a feeling I’ll probably end up with some folks saying #NotAllStraightPeople in the comments, so let me stave that off before it begins by saying: Yes, I know not all straight people are like this. But a lot of them are. A LOT of them. And their comments go unchecked.
If you’re reading this and you’re a straight person and you’re thinking, “Well, I don’t do that,” then I need you to think seriously about what you do do when someone says something like that. Do you speak up, pointing out that this excuse gets pulled out every time someone wants a character to be LGBTQ+, or do you stay quiet? Because if you stay quiet then… well, you’re not making hurtful comments, but you’re not doing anything about the problem either.
It’s equally important to examine what kinds of romantic stories are most prevalent because, let’s be honest, they are OVERWHELMINGLY heterosexual. There still aren’t very many M/M or F/F relationships in fiction, and the numbers drop even further when you count only the relationships that are long-term. Or that include protagonists and not just minor characters who say one line and then are never seen nor heard from again. Or that end happily, and not with one or both of the characters dead.
I think it’s really important to be specific about the types of couples portrayed in fiction. It’s time to do away with the notion that all sexual orientations are equally complicit in this. It’s not some vague problem having to do with couples in general. It has to do with straight couples.
To everyone saying, “Kids need to know that it’s OK to be single! Happiness doesn’t depend on being in a relationship!” I would like to say this: LGBTQ+ couples make up a tiny percentage of fictional relationships. LGBTQ+ people are not pressuring your kids to be in relationships because there are so few of us in fiction. You’re mad that people want LGBTQ+ romance because… there is a lot of straight romance? That doesn’t make sense. Like, at all.
Context matters. (This is actually the subject of my next post, which talks about – among other things – the importance of racial diversity in romantic storylines. But I digress.) It is still revolutionary to include LGBTQ+ romance in stories. I see so many people pretending that all romance is overdone and that making Elsa canonically gay feeds into the romance mentality just as much as making her canonically straight does, but that’s not true.
While we’re on the subject of context, let’s talk about single people who want to see themselves represented: There is an undertone in all of these arguments that the mean, mean lesbians in long-term, happy relationships are somehow taking representation away from the poor single straight women. That it is somehow INCREDIBLY HARD for single straight women to see themselves depicted in the media because there are lesbian characters in committed relationships everywhere, as far as the eye can see. Oh no, won’t someone think of the straight women?!
SHOW ME where this overabundance of fictional lesbian couples exists. Please. Oh, that’s right – it doesn’t exist. Lesbians are virtually invisible in media and when they do exist, they’re too busy having their sexual orientations erased so that they will end up with a man by the finale, or being murdered for shock value and/or the “character development” of a straight person, or whatever.
We don’t live in a world where just any relationship will do – it has to be a specific kind of relationship. There is enormous pressure to either be heterosexual, or to not date at all. Being single isn’t seen as being as bad as dating someone of the same gender, because at least then you’re not acting on your disgusting gay impulses. Even when straight people won’t outright say that they’re grossed out by it, there’s still a sense of being uncomfortable: “Why do you have to tell everyone? Why do you have to make it so obvious by dating a girl? We know you don’t want to date a guy, but have you considered just not dating anyone?”
As I said earlier in this post, you tend to see the same arguments used over and over again. I saw this particular argument used a lot by people who were upset that the Xena: Warrior Princess reboot is going to be super gay, and now I’m seeing it again with Frozen 2.
With both stories there has been an outcry of, “We need more strong female characters! Stop giving them romantic storylines!” In the original Xena and the first Frozen movie the female protagonists did not have any romantic storylines, and these new developments are seen as somehow contrary to the original spirit of those stories.
I have a few things to say to that. The first is that being in a relationship doesn’t make you any less of a strong woman. BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP DOESN’T MAKE YOU ANY LESS OF A STRONG WOMAN.
One of the things I cannot bear about pop culture feminism is its obsession with the “strong female character.” We toss that term around so much that it’s become watered down, with no real meaning. It’s become shorthand for a girl who is physically strong. A girl who says, “I’m not like other girls.” We’ve arbitrarily decided that, in order to show how “different” she is – in order to show what a strong person she is – she shouldn’t date or be married.
And I think that’s ridiculous. Writing “strong female characters” shouldn’t be about making your character literally strong or about having them rebel for no discernible reason – it should refer to their strong characterization. As in, your writing skills. Is this character a complex person? Do they have character development over the course of the story, or does this character remain static?
The “female” part of “strong female character” simply refers to the fact that female characters have traditionally not been afforded the same opportunities for complexity and character growth as the men. They were one-dimensional, or defined only in relation to the men around them, or whatever.
And that’s why I have a problem with anyone who says that a strong female character ceases to be strong if she is in a relationship, or that the lack of a relationship is what made her strong in the first place. Being in a romantic relationship isn’t weakness and I wish people would stop acting as though it is. Yes, female characters who were in relationships have traditionally had most of their character development and story arc revolve around the man they were dating/married to, but IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.
Somewhere along the way we’ve begun to equate “shitty male writers who are unable to think of their female characters as separate entities from the men with whom they are involved” with “any writers who give their female characters a romantic storyline.” And that bothers me. It bothers me SO MUCH.
If Elsa falls in love with, I don’t know, a princess from a different country in Frozen 2, that wouldn’t make her any less of a strong woman. One of the messages in Frozen was that you don’t need someone else to make you happy. But if you do find someone else, and they make you happy? That’s OK too. I really think it’s all just a matter of blooming where you’re planted – you shouldn’t feel worthless or lesser for not being in a relationship, but you shouldn’t feel weak for being in a relationship.
I could even go on a rant about how M/M and F/F relationships tend to be more egalitarian than M/F relationships because of the lack of an imbalance in power and status, and how that affects fictional portrayals of relationships, but I won’t do that here, because it’s a long rant. I will do it in the comments if you want me to, though, and I’ll even give you a reading list if you’re interested in learning more.
So, yeah. Elsa’s hypothetical love for another woman doesn’t make her less of a strong female character. But – there’s always a “but,” isn’t there? – the argument against that is that, “Why are all the strong female characters lesbians?” I’m not being hyperbolic here; this is something I have seen and heard countless times, word for word. Why are ALL of them lesbians?!
I would like to point you ever so graciously towards my previous rebuttal: There aren’t that many fictional lesbians to begin with. Most strong female characters are straight because most female characters are straight. This isn’t difficult to understand.
Straight women have been spoiled for choice because there are SO MANY characters like them that they’re just used to it and throw a fit when a strong female character isn’t straight. I grew up having to take what I could get. I found strong female characters who were my role models, and since most of them were straight I couldn’t relate to that part of their story, but I soon got over it because I didn’t have a choice. Straight women need to learn to do this.
Also? If we accept that a “strong female character” is defined as a woman whose story arc does not revolve around a man and cease to be about her, we must be sure to not forget about fridging. This is the phenomenon of killing off a female character in order to cause a male character – typically her husband or boyfriend – a great deal of emotional pain. (It’s called fridging because one of the most commonly cited examples involves a comic where a minor female characters was dismembered and her body was left in the fridge for her boyfriend to find.)
I won’t say that straight female characters have entirely moved beyond this trope, but it is certainly less prevalent now. Lesbians… haven’t moved beyond it. We’ve made a lot of progress in the treatment of straight female characters, to the point where most people can recognize fridging for what it is and call it out. This isn’t true of fictional lesbians, at least not among the general populace. (LGBTQ+ readers/viewers are a different story, and this outcry does have to start somewhere, but it hasn’t spread to the majority of society yet.)
So I’m shaking my head at this idea that ALL the strong female characters are lesbians because… let’s face it, they’re so rarely given a chance to be strong, so how it is possible for lesbians to make up ALL the strong female characters. It’s kind of hard to have a strongly-written and well-developed lesbian character when you keep killing her off – or when, even though it is categorically impossible for her to be attracted to men, you erase her sexual orientation and make her story arc revolve around having sex with the one man who is her “exception.”
I don’t think that these arguments are more prevalent when it comes to F/F couples than with M/M couples, because fictional M/M relationships face challenges too, but I think the arguments do take different forms. I have found that arguments against including M/M romances are generally much more overtly homophobic. It’s harder to be sneaky about what you’re doing.
With F/F couples, though, the arguments take on a much more insidious tone. As you can see throughout my post, most of the arguments are made under the guise of feminism. “But what about strong female characters? We need to EMPOWER little girls by showing them that it’s OK to be single!” It’s a lot easier to pass off homophobia as feminist concern. #SorryNotSorry, straight feminists – feminism is for everyone.
This post is extraordinarily long now, and I want to thank everyone who has kept reading this far, but I do have one more thing to say: Elsa can be single and a lesbian. Maybe she falls in love with a girl but ends up breaking off the relationship (in a non-tragic way, of course) by the end of the moive? Personally, I want her to have a girlfriend, since Frozen isn’t the only Disney movie about staying single – hellooooo, Brave exists – but either way, her relationship status wouldn’t make her any more or less gay.
Straight people tend to forget that. I mean, it’s heteronormativity at work, isn’t it? There is an assumption that everyone is straight until proven otherwise, and that your “proof” is a relationship with someone of the same gender, but that’s not actually how things work. I’m single. I’ve never been in a relationship. But it doesn’t make me less gay. As a protagonist I would EXUDE gayness. There’s no love interest in my story – yet – and I’m perfectly content with where I am in life right now. It doesn’t stop me from being the GAYEST little gay. I mean, just look at me. Here I am, writing a blog about post giving Elsa a girlfriend. That’s gay.
Come on, Disney. You can do it. #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. I’m going to turn the bigots’ favorite phrase against them and say: Think of the children! It would’ve meant the world to me if I had seen a princess end up with another princess when I was a little girl. That didn’t happen, but there’s never a bad time to change your ways and do something amazing for the next generation.
P.S. Now that I’ve written more than two thousand words about this movie, I feel like I should probably go watch Frozen now…. maybe I’ll ask my new roommate if she wants to watch it with me? She has a giant Olaf pillow. I love college students’ love of all things Disney.