Frozen II, and its message of female empowerment, is coming to cinemas. Ahead of its release, Suzanne Harrington profiles the real-life feminist heroes changing the world
To the fizzing excitement of millions of tweens everywhere, the Disney movie Frozen II is almost upon us. This time Elsa and Anna will take off somewhere even more frozen, accompanied by a freezer full of songs and Olaf the snowman. Cue merchandising tsunami. As before, it’s the sisters who are the stars of the show; there is no male lead. No prince, no hero, no rescuer. The heroines are self-rescuing.
In real life, the world is increasingly recognising its much-needed kickass girl heroines, taking on the patriarchal status quo one heroic action at a time, wielding their super powers like lasers. Let’s meet them.
Or just Greta, to her millions of global supporters of the school climate strikes she initiated alone outside the Swedish parliament in August 2018, when she was 15. A 21st century Joan of Arc, she recently crossed the Atlantic on a racing yacht to avoid flying (“like camping on a roller coaster”), to address the UN about climate catastrophe, calling angrily for immediate action. At one of her most famous speeches at Davos, she said, “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic….I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” She has been savaged by a series of powerful old men, from Donald Trump, who mocked her, to elderly French intellectuals who discussed her in terms of her appearance (not like the sexy Swedish girls of his youth, according to 84 year old Bernard Pivot; her face is scary, said Pascale Bruckner, 70; body of a cyborg, said Michel Onfray, 60). Oh, and predictably, the increasingly irrelevant Jeremy Clarksons and Piers Morgans of the world have waded in with pointless insults, with Fox News going even further, calling her a “mentally ill Swedish child” – for which they had to apologise.
Greta’s superpower is fearlessness, which she attributes to her Asberger’s syndrome - being trolled does not faze her, or soften the urgency of her message. She remains bulletproof and relentless – she ridiculed Trump by using his sarcastic description of her (“a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future”) as her Twitter handle. She continues to rattle the powerful: “If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you.” By the time you read this, she may have already won the Nobel Peace Prize – she had been this year’s favourite. Not bad, for the girl with plaits and a yellow raincoat, who just a year ago was sitting alone with a homemade sign outside a parliament building.
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Thank you for all the birthday wishes and love. 🙏🙏 I'm spending the day with education advocates in Ethiopia. Everywhere I go, girls are breaking down barriers that have held them back for far too long. I am proud of everything these young women have accomplished — but we must keep fighting and making progress. My dream is to live in a world where every girl can choose her own future. The greatest gift you can give me — and our world — is to support @MalalaFund so we can send even more girls to school next year. Link in bio. With gratitude, Malala
Already a Nobel Peace Prize veteran, Malala was the youngest person (so far) to ever receive the award - when she was 17, she shared it with another education activist, Kailash Satyarthi, in 2014.
Malala’s superpower is bravery – she was shot in the face aged 15 by the Taliban, while travelling on a school bus in the Swat Valley, Pakistan. She had been blogging under an assumed name for the BBC about life for girls under Taliban influence since she was 11, her actions supported by her family. When she was shot at close range by men who boarded her school bus and asked for her by name before opening fire, nobody expected her to survive. She did.
She now lives in Birmingham with her family, having received medical care in the UK after being shot, where she finished her studies – having initially wanted to be a doctor, she is now interested in politics. Although still just 22, she has won more than 40 awards, and a Grammy for the audio version of her book I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up For Education & Changed The World.
When she was 18, she opened an all girl school for Syrian refugees, and has since caused the Pakistani government to issue a Right to Education bill – her motto is “books not bullets”. She even has an asteroid named after her.
Marley is 14, and has been campaigning for cultural representation since she was 10. Her super power is vision. When she was 10, she realised that the literature of her school curriculum in the US did not reflect her or her friends at all: there were no black girls in the books she was assigned. Just stories about “another white boy and his dog”, the same books that her grandparents had read at school that the education system deemed ‘classic’. But this literature was only classic if you were white.
Marley decided to collect books that had black girls as the main characters. She aimed for a thousand, and began an online movement #1000BlackGirlBooks.
“We live in an unfair world and we have to fight,” she told an interviewer, adding how she sees her role being to “motivate young girls, regardless of their race or their experience, to get out there and do the things you love and that will help other people”.
Marley gathered over 12,000 books since her campaign launch in 2016, and has written a how-to book, Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You!, for girls who want to get stuff done. After collecting the books, she sent them to Jamaica, where, despite the island’s black majority, black lives are still under represented in literature. Since then, she has organised a reading event at the White House (with the Obamas), appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show, met Oprah, and guest edited Elle magazine. All because she had the vision to see that she was not being seen by the American education system.
Now 19, Emma Gonzalez took on American gun culture with her famous “We call BS” speech, which went viral after surviving another school shooting in the US. Gonzalez’s super power is oratory – “you’re either funding the killers, or you’re standing with the children.” She used the four syllable call and response – “we call BS” – to the crowd, and instantly became known as a gun reform activist.
In February 2018, Gonzalez was at school in Parkland, Florida, when a former student, still in his teens, shot dead 17 pupils. She survived by hiding for two hours, and talked about her experiences in an impassioned speech in which she demanded gun control be reformed (it hasn’t – every year 36,000 people are killed and 100,000 shot and injured by guns in the US). She spoke for six and a half minutes at an event in Washington, March For Our Lives, in March 2018, because that’s how long it took the killer to murder her 17 fellow students; Gonzalez named those who had died, then remained silent in front of thousands of people for the remaining four and a half minutes – before urging students to “fight for your lives – before it’s someone else’s job.” She and her fellow teens created the #EnoughIsEnough movement, made the cover of Time magazine, and even endured a backlash, being called ‘TragedyCelebs’ by gun advocates.
AMIKA GEORGE from London founded the #FreePeriods movement in 2017, when she realised that girls in the UK were experiencing the same kind of period poverty as girls in the developing world. She campaigned for free sanitary products for girls at school, which the UK government put in place in March this year. She is now studying history at Cambridge University.
BANA AL-ABED The little Syrian girl, born in 2009, who tweeted heart breaking updates from the besieged city of Aleppo, is now ten and resettled in Turkey. Thanks to her mother, she was able to tweet in English about the horrors of war - running out of food, being hungry and cold and frightened, and the death of her small friends at the war’s peak in 2016. When she was still just 8, she and her mother Fatemah wrote a book about their experiences.