The first time I became hyper-aware of my seemingly cold personality was during a Christmas dinner at my aunt’s house about six years ago. After the meal, we were watching Jurassic World, and my uncle made a comment about Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Claire, the leading lady of the film. Specifically, he zoned in on the moment where Claire forgets her nephew’s ages and appoints her assistant to pick the kids up in the fictional dinosaur-themed amusement park.
“This one’s an ice queen,” my uncle said.
His comment was received with quick approval from the rest of our family, all of whom perceived Claire as a cold-hearted woman whose disconnect with the world necessitated a man and kids to thaw her frozen heart. (Never mind that Claire’s character goes on to risk her life for her nephews by the end of the film.) When the movie ended, my aunt freely listed off the traits I shared with Claire: cold, distant, aloof.
The “ice queen,” often portrayed as a woman with a cold heart and frosty demeanor, is one of the most common tropes in pop culture. Stereotypical depictions paint ice queens as unsympathetic power-mongers whose hyper-professionalism is viewed as unfeminine and cold. In most cases, the ice queen is cool, reserved, and gives absolutely nothing away. She is often career-focused and her personality is used as a subject of insult, particularly by scorned men who like to sling the term when she turns them down.
The term has also been used in a non-romantic sense for women who reject (or are rejected by) the norms of society and prefer to be loners. Elsa, the Frozen queen who is shunned from her own kingdom for her uncontrollable power to create ice and snow, is the perfect (and literal) encapsulation of this. In other cases, “ice queen” is used to refer to women who rarely portray their emotions in public. Cultural illustrations of this trope always have a metaphorical “defroster”—someone who will break the ice and revert the ice queen back into a loving woman who successfully experienced character development into a nicer version of herself. This is the patriarchy at play—it forces women who refuse to conform to societal norms to change their personalities and submit.
The depiction of this trope in the media also suggests that career-focused, icy women can’t be focused and feel or give love. Take, for example, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who is rumored to have inspired Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada. However, in a 2017 interview with Business of Fashion, Wintour shared her thoughts on whether the fashion industry does everything she says, given her place as the industry’s elected queen. “I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “Honestly, without sounding pretentious, I don’t think about power or what that brings me. What does that really bring? A good table at a restaurant? I just try to use my position to help others.”
The ice-queen isn’t just a cold and cunning leader who reigns with an icy fist and piercing power as portrayed in mainstream media. She is a woman, just like the rest of us, who struggles with the complexities of the female condition.
As for me, despite encountering a fair share of challenges that come with the label, like being constantly misunderstood by people, that air of formidable fearlessness has driven me to get leadership positions in some of my previous workplaces. It also fuels a constant pursuit of knowledge outside of my career—I started learning tarot cards last week.
Being an "ice queen" lets me confidently put my foot down whenever I spot something that doesn't sit well with my values. And being a logical thinker, as opposed to an emotional thinker, has its perks (like becoming your own personal advisor because you're more practical in your solutions). As for the few friendships I have formed, they have morphed into solid bonds based on love and support which have spanned many years. Being labeled an ice queen shouldn't be viewed as offensive, rather, it should be something to be proud of. I know I am.