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Culture/Reviews > Movies
Movie reviews from Proletarian Internationalist Notes—news, reviews and analysis from a global perspective
Why isn’t Elsa asexual? Frozen possibilities of asexuality in the West
Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and others
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
PG, 102 minutes, 2013
Should Elsa be a lesbian in “Frozen 2?” That’s a hot topic on the Internet right now. The first movie broke numerous records in terms of money. “Frozen” continues to be a cultural phenomenon.
Elsa is the main character who has ice and snow powers. The princess’ powers are dangerous. There is accident, and afterward eir little sister, Anna, must forget Elsa’s powers for reasons that aren’t entirely clear and convincing. Elsa’s parents tell Elsa to hide eir powers. Elsa stops playing with Anna. They grow up, distant though in the same castle. Elsa becomes the queen. Anna introduces a male ey just met as eir fiancé. Elsa then reveals eir powers by accident at the coronation ball. It frightens people. Elsa leaves the kingdom. Outside, Elsa “lets it go.” Ey builds an ice castle in the mountains. Elsa unknowingly hurts the kingdom, Arendelle, by causing a permanent winter.
This isn’t a movie about a female who defies family and culture to run away for romance. (And there’s no struggle involving matchmaking or hiding a relationship.) It’s a good movie in that respect. There are plenty of romance movies. There doesn’t need to be another one. Movies are released into certain political environments. Maybe “Frozen” won’t contribute to support for war against Muslim and Third World countries.
As a princess, Elsa hurts eir sister while playing with eir ice powers happily. Elsa hurts Anna again when they are older. These incidents may make it hard to see what ice powers have to do with lesbianism. Anna suffers both when ey knows about Elsa’s powers and when ey doesn’t. It could be that being closeted to any degree hurts other people—mentally and socially—not just oneself.
Elsa shows zero interest in romance or sex with anyone, female or male. It’s not necessarily that anyone who gets close to Elsa might be hurt. There is no gazing at a distance, no dream or anything.
Some may perceive Elsa’s unenthusiasm about Hans to be jealousy of Anna or lack of empathy related to disinterest in males. It could just be that something reminded Elsa of their parents.
There is a reference to Joan of Arc, in a painting. Joac of Arc has an asexual image, at least a reputation of prioritizing politics above family life.
Elsa’s lack of control of eir powers gets worse as ey gets older. Some will think of challenges gay and lesbian people experience during puberty. However, asexual people also have struggles surrounded by dating culture in the West. One could want a relationship, but not want the sex the other persyn wants, for example.
In “Frozen,” trolls are “love experts.” The trolls try to pair ice-deliverer Kristoff with Anna. Kristoff tells them to drop the subject. Ey shows no interest in females for almost the entire movie. Ey knows that Anna has a fiancé, but something stands out about Kristoff’s discomfort even in that context.
Elsa could be asexual. As used here, the term “asexual” refers to (non-exhaustively) having little or no attraction to anyone, having little or no interest in sex, both, or one. Elsa could be asexual even if ey had some attraction or romantic feelings. Ey doesn’t show either. A female who shows no interest in males doesn’t have to be a lesbian contrary to what a disappointed male might think. A persyn could be asexual or just not interested in you in particular.
An individual who is asexual or lesbian doesn’t escape the patriarchy in being so. Ey can still be oppressed (or an oppressor as a monarch would be). Ey is still influenced by relationships between groups of people under patriarchy. Ey still lives in those relationships. Asexual people are targeted for sexual assault. Isolation can’t free somebody from conflict. The patriarchy is a system. There is no “escape,” to use a word Elsa uses at one point. Elsa eventually finds a way to live in Arendelle. Ey learns how to use eir powers to amuse eir subjects without hurting them.
Asexuality doesn’t offer freedom from sexual oppression now, freedom from involvement in sexual oppression, freedom from its effects, or freedom from complicity in it. However, asexuality is helpful as an idea. The different levels of high sexual desire people have in the West and certain situations aren’t eternal.
Lesbianism was more useful as an idea five or six decades ago in the West. Then it was less associated with the current liberal sexual patriarchal culture of the West. The idea of being able to do something other than marrying a male early was newer then to more females. Sleeping with several males wasn’t the only alternative to marrying one. Females should still ask themselves why they continue to have sexual relationships with males when they might not need them for anything. Is it really for pleasure?
Only males cut ice into large blocks in “Frozen.” Females work as servants in the castle. One day robots may do jobs like ice-harvesting. They may do housekeeping, too. Until then, males may continue to predominate in certain occupations. Females may exchange sex for work without knowing it. Males may do the same in the West to an extent that also depends on sexual desire differences.
Asexuality is the real threat today ideologically, not lesbianism. The idea of healthy people with little or absent sexual desire poses a problem for the West’s sexual culture, which draws from psychiatric justification. The amount of asexuality or desire could change in a population due to social forces and already varies between cultures.
“Frozen” is set in a Western white feudal society. There is a struggle involving trade. There is a basis for progress in such a society. In the non-movie world, all of the Western countries that had feudalism are now capitalist countries. They are now imperialist countries. The adults in those countries have a lot of social privilege over children. They have a lot of privilege over people in the Third World. They enjoy Western sexual life because they can. They enjoy Western sexual life because global pornographic/visual culture favors them. They try to gain more privilege. They try to keep the privilege they already have. Eventually, though, things such as virtual reality may result in less actual physical sex between people. This may be accompanied by an increase in asexuality or not.
Specifically Norwegian influence shows in “Frozen.” Even if more Britons, French, or Norwegians, or Amerikans, became asexual they would still be privileged. Asexuals experience social and spatial exclusion and inequality in Western culture. Yet, gender-privileged people—male or female—whether they have sex or not benefit in an oppressive sense from the effects of pornography in society and benefit from situations in which sexual abuse, violence and other oppression is possible. Westerners regardless of desire and interest benefit from various kinds of pornography elevating Westerners. They benefit from media that makes Western dominance erotic. It is possible for an asexual persyn to use sexuality to their benefit like others can. Ey can do so with or without having sex.
The ability of people such as the attractive to use sexuality without being controlled by sexuality can be useful in a variety of contexts. These contexts include political ones. The state has an interest in using people who don’t have sex (not just asexual people) in spying and other areas the oppressed have disadvantages in. But asexual people have extra time not spent on pursuing sex. They can use this time for anti-militarist and anti-imperialist activism. It is regrettable the Joan of Arc reference in “Frozen” could lead to supporting female Western military leaders.
When asexual people do have sex that isn’t for equal pleasure of both people, it might involve oppression, an exchange, reproduction, or a combination. A good principle in many contexts is that sex that isn’t for reproduction should be for pleasure, not prostitution etc. The more people who are asexual, though, the less sex there may be. Some people pursue pleasure in ongoing sexual relationships not realizing they may be asexual, or experience pleasure without having desired it (some abuse survivors).
“Frozen” explicitly refers to love, not sex. The idea of marrying for love can be progressive within a feudal country not facing capitalist colonizers. Not so in Western imperialist countries. Fortunately, “Frozen” messes with the idea of love. Anna finds out love at first sight can be deceptive. It can be deceptive even for a royal such as emself with lots of options. Royals and others may have few suitors to choose from, or no choice, for political/economic reasons. People take a chance even when there’s choice. Most males and females in the West have and enjoy frequent sex at some point. They don’t live outside the patriarchy, though.
“Frozen” doesn’t reject love altogether or romantic love. Anna finds somebody for em, but this is a minor part of the movie. In “Frozen,” an act of non-sexual, non-romatic sibling love can be true love. For some reason, elevating sibling love seems to require an asexual character.
Disney should leave Elsa the way ey is, without a romantic interest. To go from graphic frigidity to being a romantically interested female could be interpreted as saying people who don’t exhibit sexual interest just need to develop it. Also, children in the West are immersed in pornographic culture, some of which has been normalized for their age. Having an asexual princess might lead children to regard the whole culture with suspicion. That would be good. Those Christians complaining about the treatment of princes in “Frozen” or Elsa’s not having a romantic interest show they care more about indoctrinating girls into heterosexuality than critiquing the Western sexual culture they claim to disagree with.
Kristoff reveals that ey and Anna crossed paths as children. They were alone in different ways. Some may see a conventional romance story in this. However, what is important may be childhood itself. Anna forgets what happened to em years ago, but “Frozen” may evoke memories of childhood in adult viewers. And, Elsa is a non-romantic unconventional character who appeals to both girl and boy children.
In some ways, Elsa appears as a typical children’s movie princess. The overall effect of the character, though, may not be to suggest holding onto sex difference while negotiating an accommodation between the patriarchy and females’ use of new power. Elsa speaks to children’s experience of sibling conflict in a world dominated by older siblings and maneuvering and scheming adults, exclusion and unease in an adults’ world, being (un)wanted and (un)valued inconsistently, wanting to run away, and self-isolation that inescapably disturbs others. The character speaks to children’s experience of trauma in a world that doesn’t take them seriously or comprehend, and children’s experience of authorities who control and fail them. The character speaks to children’s destructive feelings that mask creative feelings, and their creative impulses that mask destructive impulses. The ending of “Frozen” offers “love” as part of a magical fantasy world solution. The ending may clash with reality after the happiness wears off. In reality, hope is found in the change that comes through making things easier for the billions of people outside the First World who are struggling against First World militarism and propaganda. They are moving the world closer to being without children’s oppression and sexual oppression. ◊