Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Thoughts on the Little Mermaid

Disney's The Little Mermaid is many things to many people, especially once you start looking at the gender issues in the film. For some it is the belief of dreaming for the impossible, an obvious dominant theme of the movie, and one needed for women in our current age where they are striving to be a real part of the world around us. For others they see the many gender based portrayals, themes, and stereotypes. And you may not realize it, but there are as many for the male gender as for the female gender. For feminism to succeed, our current and future understandings of our gender roles must be considered and addressed.

The main plot of The Little Mermaid advocates following your dreams, however impossible they may seem, and it is one of the movie's best contributions to modern culture. Though the thought may have originally come from Walt Disney who believed that anything is possible (Williams, 48), it has now been passed down to one little mermaid, a girl. This is an important step forward in our strides toward gender equality. Although as a culture, even though it is being acknowledged that women too can dream for the impossible, there are inevitably still boundaries being placed on these dreams by those around them (and not just by men). But, as the inclusion of it in this movie shows, these boundaries are definitely loosening up. More women are able to dream the impossible than ever before, but what are they going to dream for?

The typical dream for people of the female gender as shown in the movie The Little Mermaid is one that feminists have complained about the narrowness of for some time, the dream of falling in love and marrying. Even so Ariel had to give up much to follow this circumscribed dream, her current life, her family, her voice, possibly her friends, and even full access to the world she was longing for (your life being dictated to you by your husband) just to get this new dream of love. But as Luara Sells pointed out in "Where Do the Mermaids Stand?", through this process Ariel also gains a richer, less innocent understanding of being a woman, one where the constrains of the female gender are recognized to be a performance through her interaction with Ursula (Sells, Conclusion), thus possibly helping us towards loosening these stifling gender roles that constrict us all in narrow sections of behavior and possibilities, and maybe even expanding our dreams.

Now to speak about one of the areas that is most lacking in the film, male gender roles. Especially that of fathers. Ariel's father is one who is selfish, dictates other's lives, and thinks nothing of rages where he destroys much around him. He believes this is fine in dealing with his daughter because he really does love her even though he has never tried to understand her. Why is it that this archaic model for a father has not been addressed more? Could it be like Giroux states that we are viewing children as a problem and not an asset (Giroux, Ch.1 The Eclipse of Childhood Innocence) perhaps to keep from admitting our culpability in their outcome by not seeing or treating them as human beings for most of their young life? If our children are acknowledged as being fellow human beings, instead of a little me that I get to shape and mold or just ignore, what freedoms and understandings might we discover. But instead we create male gender roles that teach our young males that they can never understand women, and thus are giving tacit permission to never try, therefore negating the voice of half of the population. What new understandings should we be creating in our male gender roles instead?

In so many ways a true freedom for all of us from the slavery derived from our current gender system will not be ours until we address our current gender definitions. They must be deprived of unhealthy stereotypes and differences, and be supplied with new language, expectations and basic equalities. Our gender roles and understandings , both male and female, must be created anew to get the freedom we truly desire.

  1. Williams, Pat and Jim Denney. How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life. Dearfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 2004. Google Books.
  2. Sells, Laura. "Where Do the Mermaids Stand?: Voice and Body in the Little Mermaid" From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture. Eds. Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas and Laura Sells. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Kindle Edition.
  3. Giroux, Henry A. and Grace Pollock. Mouse that Roared : Disney and the End of Innocence. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. Kindle Edition.

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