Ariel is our favorite red-headed mermaid, and yet she never gets the credit she deserves. She kickstarted the resurgence of Disney Princesses in animated films, but she is pushed to the side for not being as progressive as the other women around her. Belle is a book lover and a caring soul. Jasmine is tired of the patriarchy, with Merida agreeing wholeheartedly. Pocahontas is an eco-warrior and Mulan is a legit warrior. We consistently hear “Not your average Disney Princess” as a descriptor for new films, and yet, the average Disney Princess now is strong, independent, and a proud feminist.
Yet, Ariel always get shoved into the grouping with Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora (Sorry, ladies). I firmly believe our favorite friend under the sea doesn’t deserve the shade being thrown her way. Ariel is just as feminist as the others and that should be celebrated.
People associate Ariel with “But Daddy, I LOVE HIM!” and “I’m 16, I’m not a child,” which is relatively damming evidence for adhering to gender roles, but we forget how independent she is from the get-go. She is very interested in humans from the start, but the force of her father won’t allow her to educate herself. She is placed in a box, that being a singer with her family band (very “Partridge Family”). Her father wants her to just sing, and in the words of Belle, can anyone be happy if they aren’t free? She doesn’t enjoy singing, she enjoys learning. Ariel is risking her life to acquire more human artifacts just to comprehend the world above her. She just wants to learn. Honestly, it’s a very Fahrenheit 451 situation, especially after her father destroys her grotto. Even with “Part of Your World” being her I-want-song, it is just a list of things she wants to learn about the human world. Ariel needs information, gosh darn it!
When Eric is introduced, it isn’t a strictly love situation. “But she says she does, like, blatantly!” Yes, I realize annoyed reader. However, the love is also towards the idea of humans. She wants to know what’s above her and that just happens to include Eric. Then she saves his life, y’all. Did Cinderella save anyone’s life? Um, no. Getting close to Eric during the rescue on the beach piques her interest even more as she’s never been that close to a completely new species before, especially one she’s been enamored with since birth. It was, in her mind, as if all these years spent interested and compiling information and looking on from a far were finally rewarded. I liken it to you finally meeting your favorite celebrity. You’ve followed their social media, you’ve watched their films/listened to their music/watched their every move, and now you are seeing them in person. You’d have some pretty strong feelings in that moment, too, and for Ariel, they occurred in her mind as love.
Ursula’s contract states that to become a human for good, she must receive Eric’s true love’s kiss. Now, the love is nice incentive and there is clearly a reason for its existence, but she wants to kiss him more to remain a human and not strictly for the relationship. Really, Eric is the one who is more in it for love. He is in search of the girl who saved him in the hopes to fall in love with her, strictly based on her voice. Eric is solely on this hunt for a wife with no concept of the repercussions or weirdness of the whole thing, easily making him the worst character in the film, even if his ship captaining does kill Ursula in the finale. As the film draws to a close, Ariel gets to remain human for the rest of her days as her father (FINALLY) sees what she’s been fight for her whole life. She was a human born in a mermaid’s body and she can finally live her truth. She can finally be where the people are!
Ariel is a feminist. She revolts against the patriarchy and gender roles her stern father has assigned to her and eventually gains freedom and the chance to be her true self. I love Ariel and will never be ashamed to say that.