How Kristoff Defies Hegemonic Masculinity in Frozen 2

By: Alyssa and Amanda Edwards

Image: Frozen 2 Title Card – The Disney Blog

It’s the same story we see in Disney Princess movies; the masculine, strong prince saves the innocent, fragile princess and they all live happily ever after. However, the tables turned when Frozen 2 created a subplot that might have seemed far from the norm. Even though Frozen 2 was a happily ever after movie, one character that defies these common masculine traits by having sensitive and supportive compassion towards the female protagonist is Kristoff. Kristoff is a great example of why hegemonic masculinity ultimately does not defy what a hero truly means, and the images used provide an understanding in how embracing your internal strength in feelings, vulnerability, and emotions is just as powerful as having external physical strength.

Image: Disney Princes – Disney Royalty Wikia

Disney Princess movies have a long history of creating uber masculine characters that insert themselves into any given plotline that not only benefit the female character, but their overall test of heroism. These “men” are “characterized by the journeys they must take to earn manhood after a substantial ‘fall from grace’, and to become true, good men.” (Towbin) Their skills, physique, and internal ideas are what shaped the female characters to follow after them, thus giving those men a higher sense of power when given the test to defy their strengths. Although these characters subsequently paved the way for female characters to live happily ever after, Kristoff goes against these common norms in ways that are both successful and personal for the protagonist and himself.

Image: Kristoff Bjorgman – Frozen Wiki

Kristoff was introduced in the first Frozen movie as a closed-off outsider who was raised by trolls. He had a very distanced personality and found company through his reindeer, Sven. He then met Anna and opened up to love. Though he rightfully judged Anna’s poor decisions towards love in the first movie (ie- wanting to marry a man she just met), he allowed her to make those decisions on her own without his entire input. Instead of taking charge of her actions towards the man she wanted in the first place, like most straight white cis men would do, he was overall supportive of her and never tried to control or “save her” from what she wanted to do. These traits of his lead into the second movie as he is still uncontrolling and supportive of Anna while creating a deeper connection with her, experiencing more emotions and vulnerability that might catch an eye to those who might have not seen that kind of portrayal by men like him.

Image: Kristoff and Anna – Hypable

Kristoff keeps the same vulnerable energy in Frozen 2 as his plotline revolves around the courage to propose to Anna in a way that he expresses his true feelings rather than forcing her to prioritize him first. Time after time he tries to propose to her, it does not go as planned as another subplot gets in the way or he messes up his wording. This leads into a spiral of Kristoff coming fully intact with his emotions, and he seeks to find healthy ways of validating both himself and Anna’s journey with her sister. He knows that Anna’s journey with Elsa is more important, and although he respects that, he realizes that he is falling behind on what he wants from Anna. Instead of interfering and lashing out with anger, he takes it upon himself to give her the space to be with her sister while coming to terms with his internal fear of losing her. This is a great example of stepping down the common masculinity traits by putting his pride aside and allowing her to take power in her situations while supporting her along the way. With this said, instead of fighting back and taking charge, he eventually lets out all of his emotions that were bottled up through a powerful yet vulnerable ballad.

Image: Lost in the Woods – Disney Wiki

This 80s inspired song sung by Kristoff was showcased during the midpoint of Frozen 2, breaking down multiple forms of insecurity, loneliness, and longing for love with somebody who has helped him get out of his shell. Before the song begins, Sven, the reindeer, gives Kristoff the space to share his feelings by singing, “You feel what you feel, and those feelings are real, come on, Kristoff, let down your guard.” From there, Kristoff sings about feeling lost with his emotions and overall sanity towards the bigger picture: marrying Anna. He expresses his fear of losing her while also finding signs of hope and validation within his own actions. His physical features during this song were substantially exposed, but his physical features did not equal his persona when singing about how he felt somewhat small in this situation. The expectation of seeing men hide their feelings for the sake of the woman can be destructive on all ends, as “masculinity is what a culture of what it expects out of men.” (Craig 3) The song not only had powerful lyrics, but overly dramaticized visuals and hard-hitting sound mixing. This alone played a major factor in audience reaction to the song, in which people saw this as funny rather than serious. Frozen 2 took a vital leap in catering the emotional, sensitive trope towards a male perspective, as most see female characters in Disney movies singing about their emotions and yearn to find their prince, or “true love.” Plotting the storylines for women to find love in movies like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Snow White” has been so normalized to the point where if a man takes on that kind of trope, it’s seen as rather comical or performative for the sake of entertainment, thus invalidating the man’s insecurities of not looking or feeling “masculine” enough. Lost in the Woods greatly reverses the roles of men and women searching for love while normalizing their emotions in the process, exfoliating new layers of internal masculinity and heroism.

Image: Kristoff and Anna – Hypable

Although the main plotline of Frozen 2 is about Anna and Elsa’s journey to finding the truth about their past, Kristoff strays away from becoming the overall hero of the story. He does not insert himself in any of Anna’s struggles with Elsa, but instead, he asks what she needs in order to feel protected and safe while helping her sister overcome this major situation. In most cases, princesses would look to the prince for further guidance on their own problems, but Kristoff does the opposite by allowing Anna to have her space to be the hero of her own story. He understands that Anna is her own person with circumstances that are much more vital than him getting in the way of it. In the end, they end up together, meaning their relationship boundaries and action were overall successful for their continued love for each other. Seeing this relationship become successful with uncommon masculine traits might come as a shock to those who are used to seeing the man become the ultimate hero, as “masculinity and femininity can then be examined as assets of social expectation, created and maintained in a patriarchal society.” (Craig 2) Because Kristoff backed off the situation and allowed himself to feel what he feels, it eventually worked out in the end since Anna not only felt power within herself, but realized that Kristoff believed in her enough to do the next right thing.

Image: Kristoff and Anna – Insider

Frozen 2 is quite parallel in terms of having the male dominated force taking over the female problems, as seen in many Disney Princess movies before. Although Krisoff does have the typical hegemonic physical attributes – white, cis, and straight, his emotions are what set him apart from the internal hegemonic attributes. “The idealized form of gender for men is often the ruggedly handsome hero who saves the world while for women it’s the beautiful and demure woman who becomes the object of the hero’s affection.” (McClearen) Kristoff opening up and expressing his feelings about his loss for direction and gear for love are what most usually see in women, as women are steered to be more “emotional.” Instead of pushing that boundary of heroism, stepping back and letting Anna pave the way for both her sister and herself allows Kristoff to defy what it means to be internally masculine. Understanding his own thought processes on top of setting space between him and his love interest weighs in on the idea that men don’t have to insert themselves in a situation that was not meant for them to save, as  “we need to recognize social struggles in which subordinated masculinities influence dominant forms.” (Connell/Messerschmidt) Disengaging with hegemonic masculinity allows Anna and Kristoff to have their own roles of dominance; Anna takes care of her sister while finding the truth about herself while Kristoff internalizes with himself to establish feelings that might have not been considered, which ultimately strengthens their love for one another. Kristoff proves that physical strength and male dominance does not fully equip what is considered to be a hero, as defined by societal norms in film. Going against these internal hegemonic attributes indicates that men showing their feelings is just as powerful, if not more powerful, as saving the day and embodying self-titled heroism.

Image: Kristoff Costume – Mom Endeavors

It is fair to say that Kristoff has paved the way for kids to take charge of the power they hold, as well as especially validating boys to have feelings, emotions, and vulnerability while still holding great power within themselves. Kristoff expressing his emotions and supporting Anna along her journey is a great example for boys to see a leader who does not establish dominance in a forceful way, as “seeing male lead figures are important to young male audiences.” (Butler)  Defying hegemonic masculinity internally has helped create a culture of men normalizing their emotions without having to physically save the day for someone else. A simple “what do you need?” or “how can I help you?” can go to the same measures as “let me guide you.” As proven by Frozen 2, being the hero of a story does not have to involve male dominance and superiority, but allowing oneself to validate and express their true emotions, build self-confidence and be a support system to the other heroes of the story. Some things never change, but this change of internalized male power by establishing validation, self-confidence, and security within oneself is something to hold on tight to!

Butler, P. (2016). Why Do Boys Love Frozen, a Disney Princess Movie? Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1029&context=bjur

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic Masculinity. Gender & Society, 19(6), 829–859. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243205278639

Craig, S. (Ed.). (1992). Men, Masculinity, and the Media. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=0W85DQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=Men,+Masculinity+and+the+Media&ots=MKCyB_sPGs&sig=kbm4qaWC-gVDjPBBX3G2Qb4QZUg#v=onepage&q=hero&f=false

Hine, E. (2018). The Rise of the Androgynous Princess: Examining Representations of Gender in Prince and Princess Characters of Disney Movies Released 2009–2016. Social Sciences (Basel), 7(12), 245–. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci7120245

McClearen, J. (2020). Hegemonic Masculinity and Emphasized Femininity. Retrieved from https://utexas.instructure.com/courses/1292860/pages/hegemonic-masculinity-and-emphasized-femininity?module_item_id=10134956

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