Disney’s newest movie, Brave, features a theme common to (almost required for) a story about a girl in the Middle Ages—Princess Merida is forced to marry against her will, pawned because she is female by a well-meaning family who fail to acknowledge her dreams. The courageous princess “confronts tradition and challenges destiny to change her fate.” Merida’s hand will be promised to whomever wins an archery contest. We cheer for her as she tears the bonds of her restrictive clothing, declaring that she will be shooting for her own hand.
Brave teaches some valuable lessons to little girls: courage, bravery, pursuit of their dreams, and the importance of understanding and communication between mothers and daughters. However, movies like this consistently suggest that girls had little value during the Middle Ages.
Wikipedia says that Brave is set in 10th-century Scotland, but I see no indication of a date in the movie or on the movie website (EDIT: it no longer says that). The movie itself appears in a misty Scottish past, which makes pinning it to a time period or location difficult. Since the geography is unknown, it’s also hard to decide whether a girl in Merida’s position would have felt a stronger influence from French or Gaelic cultures. Since Queen Elinor appears as a queen fit for continental courts of the time (and because I’m not experienced in medieval Gaelic studies), I’ll examine the movie from the position of Anglo-Norman medieval cultural standards. For a detailed analysis of women’s roles during the Middle Ages, see “Misuse of the Word ‘Medieval’ Part 4: Women.” Here, I’m going to address some of the individual problems of Brave.