This article is 3 years old

Holds Her Tongue


You’ll have your looks, your pretty face.
And don’t underestimate the importance of body language, ha!

The seas of The Little Mermaid (1989 film) are full of beautiful mermaids, handsome princes, and adorable fishes. They are also home to Ursula the sea witch: strong, confident, independent, fat… and evil. As the only other lead female character in the entire movie, Ursula represents the exact opposite of innocent Ariel. Modeled after drag queen Divine, she loudly taunts humans for their silly gender constructs and mocks the behavioral standards placed on women. The song she belts out, as she manipulates Ariel into giving up her voice in exchange for legs and a chance to get her dream man, is full of searing truths about the reality of our society. Villainous, no?

The men up there don’t like a lot of blabber
They think a girl who gossips is a bore!

I put on my mascara, crop my tops, and learn to filter myself. Women’s marches fill the streets and MeToo fills the screens. There is a place now for women who are ready to speak up, I hear. Be vocal, be an advocate, speak your truth. We want to know what you think, they say. Don’t hold back. Please, tell us, we are here to learn.

I have tried. Restorative justice, Title IX reports, walkout speeches, captain’s meetings, coaching curricula. And I have learned. I have learned that if I do not hold back, then they will not listen. They do not want to hear what I hold them responsible for. They do not want to know what it will take to change. Not at all. They want me to ease their guilt. They want to be able to say that they did the work. They want me to use my tools to fix the damage they have caused, and to fix the source of their errors, when the whole time the issues are deep within their own socialization behind impenetrable walls of masculinity and insecurity. 

Women should not have to fix all your problems. Leave us alone.

Yet on land it’s much prefered for ladies not to say a word

And after all dear, what is idle babble for?

Maybe it’s okay. Maybe we know that Ursula’s chants ring true, but we can acknowledge that separately from her villainous nature. We satiate ourselves with the theory that this unflattering depiction of her was done just to make a statement about the restrictive, judgemental nature of American society in the 80s. 

Or maybe we say that Ursula is irrational entirely, and remind the world that none of what she describes is true anymore. Maybe it was never true, and it was all bitter rhetoric from pathetic rejected women. Maybe the mere idea was malicious the whole time, a feminist ruse to sow distrust and hatred between the sexes. 

Or maybe the men are right. Maybe women should be seen and not heard, maybe the wife exists simply to serve her husband and children. 

Which is the true evil- Ursula, or a world so warped that her truth becomes despicable?

Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation
True gentlemen avoid it when they can

Ursula is killed in the end, impaled by Prince Eric who arrives on a shipwrecked boat to save the day. Ariel marries him after her father, King Triton, uses his magic to give her the legs she needs to run into her lover’s arms. The romantic interest destroys the dissenter and the patriarchal figure hands over the princess. Happily ever after. 

There is a fire burning in my stomach. Usually you smell the smoke and you understand that something is wrong. You tell me to let it out, and so I give you a speck of ash and you are convinced that now you understand me. Now you have been educated, thank you very much. But when you aren’t looking, I let the wildfire rage through my eyes and cheeks and tongue and that is when the truth comes out and you are far too flammable for my truth. 

Do not ask for my flame if you shrivel and turn to dust at the slightest breath of heat.

But they dote and swoon and fawn
On a lady who’s withdrawn
It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man