Can a female character be a “brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, polymath genius”? Well, I don’t see why not, and nor does Sophia McDougall at the New Statesman.
That a female character is allowed to get away with behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous) may seem – if you’re MRA minded, anyway – an unfair imbalance in her favour. But really these scenes reveals the underlying deficit of respect the character starts with, which she’s then required to overcome by whatever desperate, over-the-top, cartoonish means to hand.
Another essay on the subject comes from Carina Chocano in the New York Times.
“Strength”, in the parlance, is the 21st-century equivalent of “virtue”. And what we think of as “virtuous”, or culturally sanctioned, socially acceptable behavior now, in women as in men, is the ability to play down qualities that have been traditionally considered feminine and play up the qualities that have traditionally been considered masculine. “Strong female characters”, in other words, are often just female characters with the gendered behavior taken out.
The movie really brings home (especially through the song lyrics, which are just PERFECT) that this Good Girl / Bad Girl dichotomy is damaging to Elsa, and the only way she can really be free is to reject them both. She doesn’t need to be (and fundamentally can’t be) a perfect good girl, but she won’t find freedom by moving over to the bad girl stereotype offered to her by a restrictive society. She’s only free when she throws both of them in the trash.
Also amazing, and very rare: a cursed girl saves herself.
Strong female character? Perhaps.