Gender is a crucial subject predominantly occurring in children’s literature, portrayed in ways to scrutinize its symbols and stereotypes. Gender roles have been set by societal norms which reinforce specific expectations, attributes and preferences associated with one’s biological sex traits and behaviours. These standards are deemed acceptable and passed down through generations. The media and merchandising are major factors that infiltrate social consciousness. Social media platforms and commercials transmit preconceived notions of exterior appearances, evoking major ideologies of masculinity and femininity.
Walt Disney has been highly successful as a mass media corporation yet have also been a major factor in exposing kids to gender stereotypes through their fairytales. Disney’s fairytale ‘The Little Mermaid’ is a very well written play yet depicts gender bias views. This essay is written with the intent to show the ways in which these views are evidently manifested in the main characters’ roles.
King Triton is represented as a patriarchal figure to emphasize his masculinity and dominance, therefore portraying the stereotypical view of men being agentic. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America defines agentic as ‘being able to control one’s own goals, actions and destiny by self-centred decisions’. Triton’s presence is minimal which is considered a symbolic phenomenon of his position and power. He possesses characteristics of traditional masculinity which is known as the Old Man. Triton has these qualities which depict him as being authoritative, strong, aggressive and lacking sensitivity for the most part. He had all the required knowledge and information to overpower Ariel and does this through his physical strength, muscular body and stable mental state. Furthermore, the King’s body language is always assertive whereas Ariel’s is weak. “As long as you live under my ocean, you’ll obey my rules”. “Ariel, how many times must we go through this? You could’ve been seen by one of those barbarians. By… By one of those… humans!” . These quotes by the King illustrate his lack of compassion and understanding towards Ariel, demonstrating his dominance. It also shows how Ariel has to obey her father which further endorses his superiority. Thus, all the evidence provided shows that King Triton symbolized the stereotypical man. The set standard about the majority of men being dominant and all informed must be eliminated from children’s literature as children need to know that there are men who are gentle, caring and empathetical.
Ariel, on the other hand, showcased the ideal of a perfect woman, constructed and objectified. Naomi Wolf describes this unreachable ideal as “Barbie” in her book ‘The Beauty Myth’. These stereotypical views are strongly reinforced in the film as it is noticed that Ariel is caucasian, has a slim waist, minimal clothing, long hair and blue eyes which are all traits that attract the eye. Long hair is germane to the idea of femininity as it reflects youth and grace. This aspect is also noticed in various Disney princesses such as Rapunzel and Jasmine. ‘I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad”. “…a pretty pair of white legs and tiny feet as any little maiden had”. These quotes portray that mermaid is a symbol that deals with a clear femininity trait being sexuality and temptation.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America states that women desire pleasure and are flirtatious in order to gain attention through their exterior beauty and overall appearance. Ariel sacrifices her voice to become the woman her man wants her to be. This is an unrealistic and shallow standard set as it teaches girls that they could trade various traits in order to achieve bodily perfection which should supposedly be their ultimate attribute. Ariel is also represented by the notion that physical transformation is the finest way to win a man’s heart. Ariel is solely worried about winning the prince and does not consider other aspects of her life giving her the title of a trophy wife. Her appearance is that of a girl “embedded within the classic narrative about an adolescent girl coming of age being a contemporary notion about the costs, pleasures and dangers of a woman’s access to the human world”.