I am all for the critical deconstruction of Disney Princesses, especially since now I see more of a commercial push for them as a collection than when I was growing up in the late 80’s. However, I too had a favorite princess growing up, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I lived next to the ocean and it made sense that she would be the most relatable Disney character to a Puerto Rican 5-year-old at that time; a character like Moana was not yet in site to appeal to this isleña. I remember going to the beach every week and hoping to find a fish or a seagull that could talk. What drew me into the film was her story and the whimsical animal characters, not particularly the “finding prince charming” fairytale.
Recently, as more modern and independent female characters continue to make their Disney debut, I hear people refer to Ariel as the worst princess of them all. ¡Ay bendito! Poor Ariel is always critiqued and looked down on for giving up her voice for a man. But in reality she was infatuated with humans and wanted to be “part of [that] world” long before she met Eric. She was an explorer, a questioner and as naïve as we all can be sometimes when we set our hearts to follow a dream. Regardless, she wanted more!
My days trying to find fish that can talk are over. I am now swimming in the world of higher education. So I ask myself, don’t we, those of us in the academy (or in any other institution for that matter), continue to give up our voices to gain upward mobility? Don’t we change who we are in society so we can walk in its dry land?! She wanted to leave her father’s patriarchal regime, and ends up entrapped in a new patriarchal scheme. In my experience, academia pushes the boundaries of thought but its culture can still reinforce the same oppressive colonializing paternalistic capitalist practices it critiques. Its freedom of thought does not equal an embodied freedom.
If this story teaches us anything, it is that women continue to struggle with and within patriarchy even when they think they are freeing themselves from it. All the secondary characters in the movie revolve around Ariel and another strong female character, Ursula. Ursula, does not conform to the “laws of the sea” and lives at the margins as the evil witch. For her the only way to get on top of the patriarchy and acquire power is through robbing the voice of the other female character. Patriarchy is never to blame in this “the end justifies the means” world. Individualism and capitalist practices of transactions and exchanges where the most vulnerable pay the higher price, are not questioned. But Ursula (the only other woman character that is developed in the story) is the evil one and Ariel la boba. The male characters in this movie just go about their day while the women struggle to “get above water.” Here we see that the fate of breaking away from the patriarchy lands you in the outskirts of society as an undesirable monster sorceress. It says that to find happiness and fulfillment––the “appropriate way”–– is to continue participating in patriarchy; just as Triton blesses Ariel and Eric’s marriage, for she is simply being reinserted in the system. El mismo perro con otro collar.
Have you noticed that Ariel’s father is a god? What better way to understand and interpret this hegemony of patriarchal control than to establish a system through a higher power? Ay bendito, poor Ariel never had a chance but to continue to strive to go above water. She moved through liminal spaces, and all of this came with a cost––the cost of her voice, her identity, her family. How else would she have found a world where she could follow her kindred spirit, or at least I hope she found that world after she sailed with Eric towards a “happily ever after.” If the Little Mermaid has taught me something, aside from not combing my hair with a fork, it is that women cannot find the fullness of God within the patriarchy. The limits and understandings of life and cosmology are restricted to the constructions of a man-made society. The only two alternatives in the patriarchal world are either to move towards a new/different patriarchal scheme or to become la bruja loca of the ocean. The only way Ariel could find ––within the world that is painted in the film––a fuller understanding of God was outside of the patriarchy, if she ever made it out. The liberating God of life does not live inside the patriarchy. And those who dare live on the borders of it and pursue its horizons, find Her.
 Female islander.
 Puerto Rican expression that denotes pity or sadness. Similarly used like the phrase, “bless her/his heart.”
 Expression: Same dog with a different collar.
 Crazy witch.