Warning: here be spoilers.
I spent last weekend celebrating my niece’s fifth birthday – Ciocia loves ya, Kitten! – and the movie Frozen came up in conversation more than once, since it’s the kids’ current favourite obsession. It rather evolved into an ongoing debate happening between my brother-from-another-mother and me. Simply put: Team Elsa or Team Anna?
He’s very strongly Team Anna. He thinks her optimism and get-‘er-done attitude have been tragically undervalued because everybody’s too busy focusing on how she almost married a man she just met — and unfairly so, because who in the Disney Princess family hasn’t made that mistake? I see where he’s coming from, absolutely. But I also get kind of frustrated by it, not because I’m anti-Anna exactly, but because I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for Elsa and the way her personality has been shaped by her secret burden.
But for some reason, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that conversation over the past week, and I’ve come to reject the entire premise of the question.Forget Team Anna and Team Elsa. Why aren’t we looking at Anna and Elsa as a team together?
Before I came to this insight, I was Team Elsa, not because I disliked Anna exactly, but because I used to be her. Let’s be honest, through most of my high-school years I saw romance and marriage as a potential escape valve from the problems of my teenager-hood: feeling powerless, controlled, and misunderstood. Those are things every teenager feels from time to time, but I didn’t have enough real-world understanding to come up with a real solution or coping mechanism. So I turned to the all-purpose solution I’d learned from Disney movies and romantic comedies: a girl with a devoted Prince Charming doesn’t ever feel lonely or misunderstood, and her position in his life gives her power. I was not much of a feminist in high school.
Anyway, I got to live the fairy tale in some ways. I am the only girl I ever met outside of teen movies who ever started a relationship with her prom date at the prom. (It wasn’t happily-ever-after, but he was a decent guy and we’re still friends.) Then I married my very own personal Hans, who turned out to be a good deal less kind and understanding after marriage than what he’d presented beforehand – kind of like Anna’s Hans. (In Anna’s defense, my ex-husband gave me warning signs, but I lacked the knowledge then to pick them out. I’m good at red flags now, and let me tell you, Hans comes off as quite a decent mate until the moment he suddenly spits out, “If only somebody loved you” . . . which is, I guess, why you can’t marry a man you’ve just met.)
So part of my hesitation towards Anna is that I find her about as unsympathetic as I find teenage me. Nobody wants to be confronted with a version of their past ignorance. (In other words, Team Anna: it’s not you, it’s me.)
This is why I think people find Elsa more relatable. To relate to Elsa, you have to recall a feeling of becoming liberated. To relate to Anna, you’re going to have to think back to the unpleasant part of the growing process where you learn that sometimes the world isn’t very nice, or to the time before you learned that . . . and that’s rather unpleasant to remember.
Elsa, on the other hand? We’re looking at somebody who had to deal with very serious things (like almost killing her sister) from a very young age. Her parents made her ability a source of shame instead of celebration and taught her to keep very buttoned-down and out of touch: “conceal, don’t feel”. As a result of this shame and fear, she cut off her relationship with her sister for Anna’s own protection, which meant cutting off her major source of support and unconditional love. Those are standards of responsibility no child should have to meet, on top of the knowledge that she’d be queen one day and responsible for the entire kingdom, and it shaped her into “the good girl you always have to be”. Their divergent positions in the family made these two sisters polar opposites.
Here’s where we go wrong, though: we try to take a side. If you’re my friend, you see Anna as a sunny optimist who gets things done while Elsa’s busy hand-wringing and being closed-off. If you’re me, you see Anna as an irresponsible airhead whose impulsivity gets Elsa in trouble.
The truth is that Anna needs Elsa, and Elsa needs Anna.
Elsa is serious and severe, concerned with the opinions of others, burdened with responsibilities. She needs Anna to give her a nudge in the direction of fun and happiness once in a while. She needs to be reminded that it’s okay to be silly and playful every now and again. And she needs to be encouraged by Anna’s determination when she feels overwhelmed by the burdens she carries. Anna will be the one to keep her from getting so caught up in her own issues, she throws up her hands and runs off to live in the mountains. (Don’t think I’ve never considered it.)
But Anna is impulsive and emotional. She needs Elsa to remind her of how serious the world can be – that sometimes there are wolves like Hans at the door, that you can’t trust everybody and that it’s important to protect yourself. Without Elsa, Anna’s at risk of being used and discarded in ways that will hurt her and her kingdom. She’s also at risk of failing to use that can-do spirit of hers in a way that really makes a difference, because she hasn’t been serious and thoughtful enough to really see what needs doing.
Anna and Elsa, like most opposites, are better together . . . if only they can work around their differences enough to make communication possible.
Now here’s where I get to the deeper point of all this, and I hope you’ll forgive me for taking some sort of weird quasi-zen feminist perspective to do it. Because I’ve observed that in this (mainstream North American) society, we tend to spend a lot of time dividing into factions and camps, don’t we? For some reason, sniping at other women becomes a favourite pastime, and we justify our own decisions by taking down somebody else’s. There’s nowhere it’s more fraught than in the field of child-rearing. Stay-at-home moms versus moms with paycheques. Vegans versus meat-eaters, unless they temporarily team up to attack some poor woman who took her kids to McDonald’s. The mom who lets her kids watch TV, dealing with the sneers of the mom who doesn’t turn the telly on when her children are in the house.
I’m not immune from these tendencies. But because I’m not a mom, and because I’m also learning about different families and how to work with them, I have the luxury of stepping back and giving the issues a little bit of unattached, impersonal thought. (After all, nobody’s criticizing my parenting!)
If I could, here’s what I would wish for: that we would make a commitment as women to stop taking down other women who aren’t making the exact choices we’re making. We need to stop going over each other with a fine-tooth comb, pulling together enough arguments to write a thesis about why this or that person isn’t good enough at life. And I feel like the expectations on women in particular are an absolute mess: we need to stop demanding Supermom status of each other because the stress just keeps on building. It’s not realistic to expect that every woman will have an impeccable CV, perfectly-behaved children, a fat paycheque, a slender waistline, and a house that looks like something you saw on Pinterest.
Come on,ladies. Let’s be a sisterhood. Like Anna and Elsa, let’s come together and let our strengths and weaknesses balance one another out.