Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Feminism and The Little Mermaid

Before I scare anyone away, no I'm not one of those man-hating feminists.  The entire male gender does not get the middle finger from me; I don't believe in feminism being about anger or revenge.  So don't worry about getting any "men = EVIL" rants from me, okay?

That being said, I wanted to share a link to an article and its comments that I found very interesting today!  I read the blog Feministing.com almost every day, and Disney is a particularly touchy subject with a lot of the writers and readers there.  Several of my friends and I have even had some great conversations and debates about Disney based on topics such as sexism, racism, religion, and class issues.

The article I want to share today is Consuming pop culture while feminist: Disney's The Little Mermaid.  It's about one feminist woman's experience with viewing the film as an adult.  Her experience was negative, unfortunately.  Other readers shared their opinions and experiences in the comments, and they make very fascinating reads!  Here are a few excerpts I particularly enjoyed:

From commenter Fortuna Impreratrix Mundi:

The thing is, though, that Little Mermaid and all the second-generation Disney films that followed it? Such a vast improvement on the previous "someday my prince will come" model. Despite all the craptastic princess marketing that's tainted the image of the Disney heroines, Ariel, Belle, and their ilk follow a pretty distinctive pattern: they are constrained and unhappy in their current situation, they want something else, and they go get it. And that something else is not a handsome prince to whisk them away. The fulfillment of their desire takes place through the traditional fairy-tale model, with the prince representing what they want, but the desire itself has nothing to do with finding a man. Yes, it's problematic that Ariel has been drooling over the human world for years and falling in love with a human dude is the kick in the pants she needs to get her to act. But that's a lot better than having no desires, or subordinating her own desires for the sake of getting a prince. The prince is the embodiment of her already-existing desires.
From commenter Leonorah:
I think what really appealed to me was that Ariel was a capable female heroine who made decisive     and difficult choices, and kind of rebelled against what was acceptable. She knew who she was and what she wanted, even though a lot of that did revolve around a man. 
I'm not trying to apologize for the problematic parts of the movie, I just want to say that recognizing them doesn't mean you have to condemn the whole thing and feel like you were deceived as a child. We live in a sexist society and there are harmful sexist messages in just about everything, and we should look for those messages and criticize them, but not let them ruin our enjoyment. There are still a lot of really good things to appreciate about that film, such as the animation and music. And Ariel does have a few empowering qualities. 
 From zes:

Ariel fights back in her thirst for knowledge and sexuality, that is set in contrast to her ditzy sisters who only care about putting on makeup. She does not want Eric in particular - she has never even seen him when she sings of how she wants to be in another world, one full of books and science and (very Prometheus / Plato) fire, singing, "Betcha on land, they understand, and they don't reprimand their daughters - bright young women, sick of swimmin', ready to stand." 
Eric is simply from that world. Indeed he is the feminist partner. He falls in love with her because she is strong, she saves his life. Then he decides to marry her because even without a voice, she is funny and interesting. He doesn't want to keep her down; it doesn't occur to him (and he still loves her to the point of risking his life for her when it turns out that she is trans!). 
Ariel eventually gets to be in that other world. Her father capitulates and realizes he does not own her and that she must be allowed to grow up. With a feminist partner her voice is not taken away and she goes to live in the brave new world on her own terms.
 From sara:
I always took the Disney movie as offering an almost feminist cautionary tale to young women about the dangers of sacrificing your voice and identity for a man. The deal the Little Mermaid strikes with the Sea Witch is so obviously a bad one, and the outcome is good only because her friends and people who love her make significant sacrifices to try to undo it. I certainly walked out of the theater (at 9) thinking I would never make a deal like that!

If  you have any opinions/experiences to add on The Little Mermaid and its messages to women, I'd love to read them so feel free to comment!  Take care, readers!


Abigail Nora said...

anna this is so funny because in my freshman theology class we had to do a whole essay on the evils of the little mermaid - i, of course, argued it was not purely evil and basically failed because my teacher was crazy... but it's still funny. :P

Brit said...

I had a professor that did a feminist critic in a English course of the Little Mermaid (but the book rather than the Disney Movie).... It's a big one for people to rip into. In the book (by Hans Christian Andersen) Little Mermaid turns into Sea Foam (dies) because Eric chooses to marry someone else. At least Disney allowed her to achieve her dreams in the end. The biggest critic I hear though is that women in the Disney movies pretty much always end up with their prince, or some form of. People need to get over it though, they are happy love stories.

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