Two days ago Ace and I finally joined the rest of the world and saw Frozen in theaters. With all the criticism surrounding the film, combined with the fact that about ninety percent of it is available on Tumblr in gif form, I didn’t exactly think it was worth my time to spend the money to see it. Yet, now that I’ve returned from the magical land of overpriced snacks I realize that I was entirely incorrect.
As a general note before I go into this post proper, I would always recommend viewing a piece of media yourself before closing the book on it; you never know what viewpoints may change once you see the media with your own eyes. I will admit that most of the opinions I held before seeing the film did stay the same—the film was terribly white and the romance was unnecessary—but this post isn’t directly about the film, but more about the precedent it sets for the fandom. The latter part of this concerns me more.
As I mentioned, before actually seeing Frozen, I was exposed through Tumblr to many of the important aspects of the film. Though after the twentieth round of reblogs I started to skip over the gif sets, something I never got tired of was the fan art. Frozen’s fan art on the whole is gorgeous, mirroring how completely gorgeous the film itself is.
However, I began to notice a worrying trend. As with any series, fans take it upon themselves to place the characters in many ‘what if’ scenarios, one of the most common ones being genderbending (otherwise known as rule 63). In theory there’s nothing wrong with this: it gives artists a chance to play with different designs for the characters as well as a potentially entirely new set of conflicts and prejudices for the characters to deal with. All of this can be interesting and compelling. However, the issue I’m seeing is an issue with imbalance. That is to say, about four-fifths of the genderbent art I see focuses entirely on turning Anna and Elsa into handsome boys, but the female versions of Hans and Kristoff are sadly MIA.
This is not a problem that is unique to the Frozen fandom, but it leaves me wondering if fans didn’t understand or care about the intended themes of the movie. As I stated before, I do not have a problem with genderbending, but I will admit that morphing the main characters of a film that is female-centric in theory into dudes irks me. But that’s not the brunt of the problem. The problem is when you remove all traces of women being the film in the first place. By giving Elsa and Anna a new male-ness while at the same time omitting Hans’s and Kristoff’s female-ness, the message is that the presence of women is unimportant to the film. Obviously, as Frozen is a movie about sisterly love, that is not true.
On this blog, we’ve previously discussed the possible reasons for discrepancy between fanfic authors who write dude-slash as opposed to femslash, and I’m willing to believe some of the same reasons from that study are also mirrored in fan art. But why is it so readily available from Frozen fans? Following this hypothesis, Brave—another Disney film featuring a relationship between two women, this time a mother and daughter—should have just as much genderbent art. Yet I barely saw any at all. I think I have an answer for my question, however, and it leads me to blame not the audience itself, but rather Disney’s values. That is to say, the movie’s focus on romance forces attention away from the women.
Full disclosure, I think the twist in Frozen concerning the romance is fantastic, and if this film absolutely had to have a romance plot, I’m glad it was done like this. But at the same time, by having two love interests for Anna as well as a kingdom predominantly filled with males—did any of the secondary characters of royal women have substantial speaking parts? I don’t think so—sets up a message that maybe the women themselves aren’t so important. Anna and Elsa by themselves are strong, compelling female characters, yet all the actions they take are very heavily influenced by the men around them. Anna is completely played by Hans and wouldn’t have made it to Elsa if not for Kristoff. Elsa was driven out by the Duke of Weselton and her entire character arc is instigated by her father. Arguably, there would not have been a movie without the men, and for a film that is supposedly focusing on the importance of a relationship between girls that’s terrible. Straight-up terrible. With male characters taking the agency that (in this narrative) they didn’t deserve to have, is it any wonder that it’s so easy to genderbend one way, but not the other?
Doing a Google image search presents a slightly more optimistic outlook on this situation: there are more designs for fem!Kristoff and even a couple for fem!Hans. Despite the sorry state of my Tumblr dash, it’s nice to be reminded that some fans are thinking about this. I just wish that they seemed as excited for a burly, stand-offish woman who talks to her reindeer as they are for a shiny, sassy ice king.