“Gender Roles in Disney’s Brave” by Jessy Stanley

Not gonna lie, Judith Butler’s writing is extremely hard to follow. However, one line stood out to me; “The inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity” [1]. To simplify she is saying that gender is a made up concept and because of the way we identify gender with our bodies is both a true concept and false one. The truth comes with a sense of self to help define who we are, not the acts, or expressions that match societies expectations.

In the Disney film Brave, Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is faced with the gender roles of her societies tradition, that she finds herself hating due to her spirit of adventure. The gender roles involve a form of courtship and deny Merida almost any say due to her position of being female bodied. But she formulates a plan using a loophole in the tradition to rise above the gendered roles presented.

Her act of defiance is one of rebellion against the concepts of gender, more so than tradition. Merida’s sense of adventure is not compatible with the gender she has been given based on her biological body and the fabricated roles that belong to it. Her inner sense of self may be female, but her personal definition of what it means to be female embraces a more societal masculine side, so when forced by tradition into a specific gender role her rebellion becomes an act of defining her self with her version of her gender not societies. It is through her rebellion through the movie that her gender becomes accepted and considered in the gender roles surrounding her and her position.




[1] Butler, Judith. “From Interiority to Gender Performatives” in Gender Trouble: Feminism and The Subversion of Identity. (New York: Routledge, 1999) 174. 


  1. I agree that, through Merida’s acts, female gender gets to be accepted in the context of traditionally male roles; but I also think that the aim of the film, as in Butler’s text, is to show precisely that the conception of these roles as attained to specific genders doesn’t sustain itself (as it’s shown in the clip, strength or ability doesn’t have to be necessarily male qualities).

  2. As it is illustrated in this clip the prevailing trope of the movie is one of tearing and re-mending. Her Merida tears her dress to accommodate her needs, which are in contrast to the gender roles of her society, which aligns with Judith Butler’s binary yet still malleable, due to its arbitrary social significance, nature of gender.

  3. As a brand, Disney has suffered backlash for having sexist films, but also, more recently, for incorporating ‘progressive’ ideas into their films. To what extent do you think this film was a reaction to backlash? Or do you think the film is an example of Disney refusing to succumb to criticism?

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