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Gender Expectations in the Disney Film “The Little Mermaid”


This essay conveys messages about gender expectations in the Disney film, “The Little Mermaid”, and the article “Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminism Disney Princes.” “The Little Mermaid” is one of the Disney’s animation movies, which create fully developed women characters whose thoughts are unique and they act independently without waiting for fate to shape their destiny. These two works are well designed to appeal to both children and adults.

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The two sources explain issues on feminism and gender construction based on events that led to the formation of the Women Suffrage Movement during the second half of the 20th century. However, this Disney’s work reflects new ideas about feminism and gender expectations in the contemporary society. This article will show that the Disney’s work magnifies the evolving roles of women in society, and despite the existing tensions and backlash, women are integrating successfully into the male-dominated society.

Critical review

Disney suggests that following the First World War and the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, women engaged in household chores of which they were not satisfied with, but they were reluctant to seek other roles. Therefore, they needed further enlightenment to take better opportunities outside the household. Disney offers an account of a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess referred to as Ariel. In the beginning of the film Musker and Ron Clements, who are both script writers of “The Little Mermaid”, suggest that due to the patronizing life that Ariel experiences, she is agitated with underwater life, and thus she develops the urge to try human life on the land (The Little Mermaid).

Her father who doubles as the ruler of Atlantica, King Triton, warns her that interacting with humans is unacceptable. This aspect reflects the Disney’s perception of the gender relations at the time of women enlightenment in the United States between the 1960s to the1990s. At this time, women not only in the US, but also across the world, were expected to be submissive, dependent, and loyal to men. Even when feminist movements granted them the right to vote and equal access to opportunities, most women were not ready to take the new challenge (Andersen et al. 40). The few women who managed to compete in the changing world had to depict a masculine character, which was most preferred in the patriarchal society.

In the film, everything that Ariel achieves has to come through untold struggles, as nobody is pleased with her desire to be independent or make personal decisions. The film entails several fights between the male characters. The film appears masculine, in the sense that even women are compelled to demonstrate physical strength to achieve their goals. Disney passes the message that masculinity is what everyone needs to manifest in a bid to establish his/her place in society (Viva Voce).

In addition, this aspect implies that everyone has to fight hard coupled with confronting backlash and aggression before s/he earns a reputable place in the society. Disney presents women as subjects to men. In addition, in most cases, men married to express their dominance over women and they never helped women to develop themselves. This message strengthens women to fight for their rightful place in society and help little girls to develop the ambition to fight hard for equal opportunities.

Ariel’s rebellious character and independent thoughts show how women started to gain insights into life and what they ought to do to come out of the cocoon of male dominance. Ariel defies her father’s wishes when she decides to examine human life on earth. In the human environment, the Disney princess, Ariel, depicts a completely changed woman. Her dress is decent, thus embracing empowerment and commanding respect and at the same time initiating a state of post-feminism. This new form of female dressing and advertisement underscores a shift to encouraging women to come out strong and show their worth to the world. While in the 1970s there were organized efforts to depict women as homemakers and submissive beings, Disney appears to represent the as beautiful, independent, and competent individuals by using the Disney princess.

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Encouraging women to make authoritative public statements viciously rather than being passive illustrates that women have to show unity. This assertion holds because even determined women would easily find themselves cowed into silent. When young girls see and analyze these images, they develop the capacity and the urge to associate with determined female personalities. According to Disney, Ariel embraces post-feminism through dress code, and this aspect motivates little girls to grow up as women of independent character.

The post-feminist Disney princess creates new frontiers for women to display their abilities in the 21st century society. Although some of the critiques of this Disney chef-d’oeuvre claim that playing princess dents girls’ ambitions and lowers their self-esteem, it is worth to note that the topic of feminism is very critical and it can only be addressed only if it is debated extensively (Stover 4). The rise of Ariel depicts that females are capable of self-actualization and advancement in spite of the challenges that they face in life.

The ability of women to break the traditional mode of thinking and the desire for independence shows how they have developed masculine mentality to fight for what belongs to them. Another moral lesson borrowed from the film by the current female activism is standing up for others. In the film, Ariel resolves to defy her father’s wish and decides to determine her own fate rather than staying passive. She is ready to fight the war on behalf of other women in similar situations. She demonstrates progression of female characters that embody strength and leadership that the traditional society could not withstand. In similar context, the influential women in the American society stood up and orchestrated campaigns against patriarchy (Stover 7).


The Little Mermaid” plays a significant role in the upbringing of young girls and consequently it has flourished into a scholarly consideration of the 21st century. The princess is represented as a beautiful, self-sacrificing, and determined young woman who illuminates the evolving state of a modern day woman. The moral messages presented in the film show that just as Ariel blossomed in a patriarchal society, girls should dream and fight for social advancement in the contemporary society.

It is somewhat difficult for young girls to realize that even princesses can still be subjected to patronage and subordination. This realization conveys the message that advancement is never granted and it depends on one’s determination to move from subjective to desirable existence. Generally, the film enables viewers to develop meanings of the images and characters that aim at empowering females. Consequently, young girls and adult women have developed the ability to reason beyond critique and act against backlash. This aspect has been witnessed in the way women have taken influential positions in elective offices in the contemporary world.

Works Cited

Andersen, Christian, Pedersen Vilhelm, Helen Stratton, and Henry Paull. The Little Mermaid: With Original Illustrations, Australia: Hythloday Press, 2014. Print.

Stover, Cassandra. “Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminism Disney Princes.” LUX 2.1 (2013): 1-10. Print.

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The Little Mermaid. Dir. John Musker and Ron Clements. Disney Classics, 2006. Film.

Viva Voce: Sexism, Strength, and Dominance: Masculinity in Disney Films 2007. Web.

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