Eating Cake, or Why Elsa Should Not Have a Girlfriend

Frozen was not bad. As an adaptation of ‘The Snow Queen’ fairytale it bears, shall we say, a very loose relation to canon. And the timing of some of the funny songs where the protagonists have someone slowly dying on their hands makes my bunnies headdesk a bit. But for a kids’ movie, not bad.

And that’s what gets to me about the “Give Elsa a girlfriend!” cries out there. This was a kids’ movie. Not for teenagers. Little kids.

I’m going to be up front and say I was raised to believe that whatever happened between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedroom was their own business. And that’s the key phrase: consenting adults.

Kids ought to get to be kids. And that includes not diving into the boiling omnipresence of sexuality Hollywood pushes on the rest of us. Sexuality of any stripe is messy and confusing enough for teens and adults. Can’t we let kids have a character in a movie who isn’t dealing with that mess anymore than they are? Who’s got plenty of other emotional and physical messes to get out of – the most important one being “I’m not the perfect girl they wanted”? Because that is a big one, so big even adults get hung up on it, and none of us needs more problems gumming up the works while we try to work out that we’re not Horrible People just because our knacks and interests don’t fit what our family says they should.

Seriously, whatever the movie’s other flaws, it managed to hit right on target there. If you’ve got a talent no one else in the family approves of, hiding it will only work so long. Figure out how to use it in a way that helps, and a lot of people will come around.

Let kids have that message, uncluttered by anything else. It is so, so important. Because if you’re a potential writer in a house of scientists, a chef in a house of construction workers, a cop in a house of lawyers – you’ve got enough problems already.

Besides. If you really want movies to be inclusive and good role models for all of human sexuality, what about the ace kids in the audience? Shouldn’t they get a chance to see someone who is brave and powerful and, as far as we can tell, just Not Interested? Think about it.

 

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18 thoughts on “Eating Cake, or Why Elsa Should Not Have a Girlfriend

  1. As an ace person, I wish that there was a lot more visible acceptance of Just Not Interested. My parents have actually told me they are far more bothered by my asexuality than if I were gay. Yay for tolerance? Having to explain, and argue, and defend myself (sometimes physically!) from everyone for decades – yeah…

    The sexualization of kids just really thoroughly creeps me out. Parents around me talk about their 5 year olds as if they just found romantic partners! They talk about play-dates as if they are far more date than play. It disturbs me. Especially when they are aggressively enforcing gender or sexuality norms at the same time.

    I can totally see how we need more explicit representation of gay/bi/trans/everything else people in all kinds of media, but why not start with the characters that are already dating/interested in dating people? There’s certainly no shortage of those.

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    1. Oddly enough, I think it may have been easier to get by as an asexual in the 1950s than in today’s climate. Back then, the general consensus would have just been, “oh, he’s just a confirmed bachelor”, or “she’s just an old maid.” And people would shrug their shoulders and move on with their lives. Because while “romance” and “getting married” might have been expected, everyone knew that some people just didn’t, and it was Not Their Problem.

      These days? Yeah. Too much sex, too soon, in everything. Five-year-olds should be putting sand in each others’ hair, sharing crayons, and going “Vroom!” with the toy dump trucks.

      I like the old James Bond movies, for one, because while they might show Bond getting into bed with a girl, that was as far as it went on-screen. The rest was about the adventure.

      And yes. If people want X type relationship to show up more in fiction/movies/whatever, then why pester Disney? In fact, why wait for Hollywood at all? Get out there and do it yourselves. We have YouTube, CreateSpace, all kinds of other sites. Put together a great idea and Kickstarter it!

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  2. Yeah, I have plenty of feels on this topic.

    First off – I love Frozen, and not just because Idina Menzel (Elsa’s voice actor) is brilliant. For me, though, the big thing wasn’t having a talent that doesn’t fit with the rest of your family, but rather the sisters trying to connect when there’s something one of them doesn’t understand. I have two sisters, and we are all very close. I am also clinically depressed. This probably started showing up when I was very young, thinking back, but I was diagnosed in high school. For several years, there, we had a lot of friction because I couldn’t explain why I was so down, or why sometimes I would just want to hide in my room, or why certain things got to me so much. Even after I was diagnosed, I couldn’t really talk about it all that well, as there is still sadly a lot of stigma around mental illness. Fortunately, we managed to get through that. Years later, when Frozen came out, I saw it and loved it. When I next visited my sisters (who were off at grad school) I said we should watch it. During the “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” song we were in tears. The whole thing with one sister just wanting to play and the other sister unable to explain why she’s shut herself away really got to us.

    Second – while I think it would be neat to have a lesbian character like that, I am totally with you on the ace thing. I am definitely somewhere on the asexuality spectrum, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve been reading a science fiction/fantasy book and thought something like “why are we wasting time on this romance stuff when you’re in the middle of saving the world? Get back to the adventure, already!” It bothers me when people see sex in everything. And sure, sometimes I’m guilty of that too, where I see two characters and think they should really be a couple, but sometimes I just want to read about Epic Best Friends. (One reason I’m looking forward to Count Taka!)

    Finally, and *much* less seriously, while I do love Frozen I have to agree that there are some big flaws. Some of the songs didn’t seem to fit at all and seemed to be just kind of jammed in there, like someone decided that ok, there’s been x amount of time without a song, time to add another one. Also, while I get that they wanted the whole thing with the prince to really blindside you, I wish they had added a few more clues about it earlier in the movie. And while I get that it was a kid’s movie and they seem to really like him, I really wouldn’t have minded seeing less of the snowman, he was pretty annoying. I kind of wish they’d cut out some snowman stuff and added in more backstory.

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    1. I recommend Andre Norton and P.M. Griffin for SF/Fantasy where you find “Sex? We’ve got a planet to save here, worry about that later!” Also for characters who get up and Deal With Problems even when they don’t feel like it, because that’s what Good Guys (and Gals) do.

      Oof. Much sympathy on dealing with the neuro stuff. A lot of people I’ve dealt with just don’t grasp – or don’t want to – that what they find as fun or no big deal… may not be, for everyone.

      (Personally I make sure I get vitamins, oily fish, and regular sunlight, among other things. And avoid anything with artificial colors. For me, that tends to keep things under control. Mostly.)

      I’m honestly of 2 minds about the snowman. On the one hand, it was interesting to see a character who was honestly good-intentioned, just lacking in information. OTOH – the snowman knows about summer, but not what happens to snow during it? Logic. Fail.

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  3. Yes please. Whatever happened to (kids) entertainment being primarily about the story and the characters and not the audience?

    Two things that I think make having ace characters in media challenging. The first being a lack understanding of what being asexual is like. I’m ace myself and I have a hard time explaining being ace to people because I don’t know what being sexual attracted to people (regardless of gender) is like. What I do know is that when people describe how they feel about the people they are sexually attracted to, I literally have no point of reference for what they are talking about. It’s also probably not a coincidence that the few times I end up explaining why I’m not interested in sex because I’m ace, the next questions that come up are usually along the lines of “were you sexually abused/had bad experiences with sex before?”. And having to explain that, no, I’ve just never had the desire/felt the need to have sex and that I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Which is usually followed up by something along the lines of me not knowing what I’m missing. So yeah, dealing with a sex charged culture isn’t fun for some of us.

    The second thing is that the easiest way to show that someone is actually ace as opposed to just not interested in the individual characters the audience sees on screen is to have the ace character directly turn down the advances of another character because they are ace. Which turns most romantic conventions/tropes on their heads. So I could see a story where that’s the main romantic relationship not flying well with most audiences. Not to mention that a story could really only get away with that as long as it’s not a same-sex relationship that’s getting turned down…

    One fantasy author I really like becasue of how she writes characters viewing romance as a reason to go save the world as opposed to a distraction from saving the world is Patricia A, McKillip. Actually, her romance is usually just one of the “main” relationships (friends, family, politics) her characters have. And her fantasy world-building are such a nice break from all the Darker and Edgier fantasy out nowadays. IE: “Alphabet of Thorns” is primarily about librarians figuring out what threat is coming (and how to deal with) because of their translating and cross-referencing ancient poetry skills. It’s also about how personal and political desires don’t match up sometimes…

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    1. I’m Ace myself, and I always liked the donut explanation when trying to explain. To quote:

      “For asexuals, sex is like… a donut. When we see a donut, we do not have the urge to eat the donut. This does not necessarily mean we hate the donut, or think the donut is disgusting– many of us even like donuts. But we never have any urge to walk over there and eat it. Demisexuals will have the urge to eat the donut only if it their absolute favorite kind of donut in the whole world, and greysexuals sometimes will have the urge to get the donut, and sometimes not. Celibates are on diets.”

      It occasionally annoys me knowing there are so few characters like me in fiction, I rather liked that Elsa had no interest in romance. I mean it was a non-problem for her, usually when a character in fiction feels they are too dangerous to touch we see them agonising over never being able to have a proper relationship, or lusting after what they can’t touch or whatever. Elsa didn’t once spend a moment thinking about it onscreen.

      Fiction often makes everything too simple, life is complicated, but stories are great teachers of empathy so I hope we will start to see more diverse fiction become popular, it’s already becoming more widely available. But it won’t come from Disney or any of the big companies, it willl start with the little guys, self publishers, small printing houses, independent films. Disney (and companies like Disney) are watched too closely for the directors to make such a risky move, they have to consider their reputation and expectations of their customers.

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      1. I’m high-libido ace, so this is the explanation I’ve always used:

        You get home, and you feel your stomach rumbling – your body wants food. Okay, cool, you’ll just walk over to the fridge and open it and – oh. Nothing in here looks remotely edible. I mean, sure bread is food by definition, but you can’t see yourself eating it. It just comes across as nonsensical somehow. The same for that cheddar over there, or the tomatoes in the crisper – it’s just somehow Not Food.

        But your stomach is still being super loud and annoying, and you just know it’ll start wringing itself like a washcloth at some point.The jerk.

        Now imagine your stomach is in your pants and the refrigerator is your daily life full of people.

        It usually works, because EVERYONE I’ve met has had that “standing in front of the fridge” moment at least once.

        I’ve had a friend extend it to people who are sex-repulsed with having the sight/smell of the food make you gag; low libido is leaving out the grumbly stomach.

        (I might actually be demisexual – I’ve got a very small sample size of romantic attraction, which makes it tricky to tell – and would phrase it more as “if it’s a doughnut their friend made just for them.” The emotional connection is the crucial part)

        To digress a little, I’ve actually been trying to work out a more comprehensive system for describing attraction. So far, what I’ve got is basically four _kinds_ of attraction, and each has some set of _triggers_, each of which activates it with some _likelihood_ and at some _strength_.

        The four are (roughly – I have a good mental picture of them, but the words aren’t fully settled):
        – Platonic/friend attraction: You enjoy their company, want to spend time with them, have fun, and trust them.
        – Libidinal attraction: Your body reacts. As a guy, I find this to have a pretty clear signaling mechanism 😛
        – Sexual attraction: You feel some desire for intimate physical contact
        – Romantic attraction: You feel some desire for emotional commitment

        So for example, one person might find “libidinal attraction” triggered at a high strength and likelihood by a certain body type, low strength and high probability by the scent of lilac, and negative strength with middling probability by high boots.

        IOW, it splits the attraction into “what kind of attraction”, “to whom/when”, and “how strongly” – that captures high/low libido, asexual, demisexual, aromantic, demiromantic, greysexual, greyro, etc.

        It also avoids the problematic way “gay” and “straight” conflate the person’s sex and their sexuality, or the way “bi” presumes a gender binary.

        It also captures things like people who feel both sexual and libidinal attraction, but under different conditions for each.

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  4. I’m down with Ace! Elsa. We need more representations in pretty much all of the points of the sexuality and romantic spectrum outside of romantic heterosexual couples that the mainstream seems to think are the only possible type of OTP for characters.

    I’m demi-sexual. Not sure where I fall on the romantic spectrum but sexuality I know. My Mom’s supportive but has a lot of questions – she had never heard of demi or asexuality until I started talking about it. Heck, I had never heard of either of those things until I started reading Love Is For Children by ysabetwordsmith. Dad, I’m not sure he understands or even knows about asexuality of any description but has been very accepting of my “Not Interested” whenever dating comes up. So do my two younger brothers.

    I thank whoever might be listening for that acceptance. I know a lot of people don’t get it.

    Back to Frozen, my favorite bit was that the true love that saved the day was the love between sisters.

    On the subject of the snowman, I can usually tolerate and sometimes even like comic relief characters as long as said character or their bit / quirk isn’t overplayed. But sometimes they have those comedic characters center-stage so much that you forget they aren’t supposed to be the main characters of this piece.

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  5. Personally i am pretty much not on the ace spectrum. I had an apartmentmate in college that it just didn’t matter to a whole lot. One of the most famous saints of the New Testament was on the scale, Paul(hadn’t thought of that till this reply). I understand the concept. I can see how that would affect one. But as a very much people person who wants a family, parts of me just go “huh?” and then I have to think it through. But i think that part of that may be part of the hypersexualization going on seeping in.
    And i think that is one of the biggest dangers of where our society is at. It screws with a child’s head to have everything revolve around sex. It isn’t healthy. For anyone. Our survival as a a species does depend on it, but it is kind of like food except you don’t get fat from too much focus on sex, you get crass or awkward. On a side note, one of my biggest pet peeves is taking epic bros and turning them gay for the sake of fanfiction. Seriously. That is one of the things that keeps typical american guys from having physical affection besides a punch on the arm and a slap on the back. And it isn’t just guys either. Had some friends in college who were having trouble with people suspecting they were a lesbian couple and asking about it… they were just really good friends. It got a little ridiculous.

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    1. We need to see more of the work and partnership that should go into raising children portrayed in fiction, I think. That and portraying people having adult friendships; for example, the classic Fishing Trip Interrupted By The Crime Of The Week in detective shows. 😉

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  6. I love frozen and I wouldn’t mind an ace Elsa at all. Though I think there’s also another good reason for her to not have any official love interest. The creators have flat out stated that she suffers from anxiety and depression. As someone who’s had sever social anxiety I can tell you the thought of a relationship can be so terrifying it can be compared to the scene where Elsa’s powers are reveled. When interacting with people my first thoughts aren’t oh they are soon attractive, they’re more along the lines off omg their looking at me, what are they thinking, do they like me, do they hate me, do they see I’m nervous, are they freaked out by my behavior? Of course I know that my expectations of people can be fairly bad so it’s a fight with myself to calm down and see what happens. What I would really like to see is Elsa and Anna becoming closer and repairing their relationship. Having family and friends who you know will fight for you is sometimes vital as air and they only reason I’m not a total recluse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be awesome, yes.

      …And you just put your finger on one of the things that make me facepalm about a lot of fiction. When you’re facing “threat to my survival” level of fear, sex is very likely the last thing on people’s minds!

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  7. Interesting reactions to Frozen and Elsa. While we’ve had to deal with mental illness in our lives – it’s amazing how much a good endocrinologist can help – that wasn’t what we came out of the movie noticing. Well, ok, I did think Elsa should NOT rush into relationships, and probably had major people issues.
    But what I, my husband and our teen all came out talking about was how foolishly the parents handled the problem. Our teen was very opinionated about it. Two of us also spotted the prince as untrustworthy from the get go. We all appreciated the extremely non-sexual love being important, although it did seem like a cheat for Hans(?) not to get to do something important at the climax of the story.

    Actually, I can see the let’s have sex response as a way of hiding from threat to survival if it’s not visibly and obviously bearing down Right Now. In the middle of things, though, like .. oh, if in Net Aidan had suddenly needed to go have sex with his girlfriend(assuming one existed), while they’re running from Steven’s wolves, to Steven’s place to have it out with him. No. Just no. Afterwards? yeah, that’s plausible: We survived, let’s celebrate!

    Patricia Wrede is another writer whose characters keep their focus on what matters and save the other for later. Bujold, usually, too. Somewhere Wrede remarked on one of her writer friends pointing out that her characters are all the sort to take a deep breath and Get On With It (in the context of ‘can you write a different type?). Which we need more of. They are out there, not just Norton and Griffin, for that, and for non romantic relationships mattering. Cherryh, too.

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    1. *Nod* Agreed on the parents; they apparently took the trolls’ information that she had to learn to control her power, and somehow translated that to “suppress utterly”.

      I also have to facepalm at the trolls a little. Take away all Anna’s memory of magic, but leave memories of “I had fun with my sister” without the context of “while she was playing with her magic”? Recipe for utter, frustrated disaster.

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