The Little Mermaid and Reinforcing Binaried Logics of Bodies

Watching “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me consider how relationships of power are constructed and reified in narratives meant for children. In “Poor Unfortunate Souls” we see Ursula show how bodies that are marked as deviant can be changed to inhabit normative definitions of attraction. Ariel is coerced into subscribing to these ideals— trading her voice for a pair of legs. Thinking in terms of the title for Tuesday’s class “Narrative Expectations”—The Little Mermaid is reifying the expectations that a narrative goes from undesirability to desirability and from deviant to normal. The snippet of Ariel’s narrative in “Poor Unfortunate Souls” made me think about the relationship between trans bodies and the state. Ariel is manipulated by Ursula, who holds an uneven power relationship over her, into changing her body and giving up her voice (which can be read as giving up her agency and her “voice” in the broader sense— her ability to speak out against oppression). The state, which is committed to reinforcing normative binaried expectations for bodies, continually coerces trans people into undergoing sexual reassignment surgery (SRS).

Reinforcing binaried logics of bodies assists the state in the creation and reinforcement of gendered, raced, and class hierarchies. Writer Andrea Smith outlines in her work, Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy, that the reinforcement of heteropatriarchy as the basis for the home structure reifies hierarchies of power in the intimate setting of the home so that racial oppression and hierarchy goes uncontested within our larger political, cultural, and social institutions. Judith Roof echoes this concept in Come as You Are, when she write about Freud’s binary premise, “The binarism of these life dynamics exists not only at the expense of other possibilities…but also as a result of a narrative of completion and wholeness that can result only from having all the of the parts and none too many” (Roof, 29). The state needs the narrative of completion and wholeness, as Roof writes, in order to create the fallacy that there are no other possibilities outside of a binaried model of gender and no possibilities outside of the US nation state and its gender, raced, and classed hierarchies. It is fascinating to think of just how important the materiality of our physical bodies is to upholding racialized cisheteropatriarchy– how can we give freedom for trans and gnc people to have agency over their bodies while also refusing and resisting the narrative of a “whole” and “correct” body? The state’s apparent anxieties over order and completion are played out on trans bodies, and the successful upholding of such structures is contingent on policing deviant bodies into binaries.


Vaught Ought To Know

This is one of the hardest articles I’ve had to read, and it’s not necessarily because of the content or the flow, but mainly the language that’s being used. It took me until about halfway for the article to start making sense, especially when certain words and phrases were being reused. This is what I got out of it:

  1. Structural liberalism is just a natural offshoot of the kyriarchy (the overarching social system that legitimizes oppression) in which we all live and have to navigate.
  2. By creating labels of “perpetrator” and “victim”, it becomes easier for the educational system to deal with problems on an individual level, consistent with the underlying philosophy of the system.
  3. This leaves the educational system–and the kyriarchy as a whole–blameless, since the focus is on the individual and not of any contribution by or from the system in place to influence these human interactions.
  4. Structural liberalism uses labels.
  5. These labels are essentially restricting because they do not allow for alternative perspectives (i.e. there has to be a norm in place, and the educational system has to enforce the norm).
  6. This leaves specifically gay Black men as just “perpetrator” because the system cannot accommodate the intersectionality of these three identities (and subsequently the inherent contradiction of considering “Black” as “criminal” and “gay” as “victim”). In other words, there has to be a place for everything and everyone.
  7. Even though the law enacted in 2010 has good intentions, it fundamentally upholds the kyriarchy, and therefore does not fundamentally change how the educational system works.

If anyone’s wondering, I did this mainly for everyone, because the language in this article is very hard to understand. It would’ve been nice if there were context from the author as to what she was trying to argue, because not everyone is familiar with the terminology she uses. (Nevertheless, I like that she uses it). Hopefully this is helpful.

Also I want to mention one quote on pg. 156 that mentions the difference between “marginalizing” and “privileging”. This reminds me of many conversations I’ve read that are trying to rediscover the identity politics within the LGBTQ+ community and the debate over “coming out” vs. “inviting in”. For anyone that doesn’t know, “coming out” is considered problematic to these groups of people because essentially you are announcing your deviance from heteronormativity, which sheds light on the potential of being marginalized. Privileged groups do not change just because there exists other, non-privileged groups. “Inviting in” (or that idea) is hailed as the solution, since it would fundamentally allow for the “norm” to be widened to “include” LGBTQ+ people. Therefore, LGBTQ+ identity would be normalized and accepted per se.

One question I have about this, though, is if there is any space for queerness if the goal is to “normalize”. If not, what does this say about the kyriarchy?

Hope this makes a bit more sense now,



Week 1: “Moonlight” and “Structural Liberalism and Anti-Bullying Legislation”

Welcome to the class blog!

To get us started, I want to propose a few tags for the blog posts to use as springboards. Remember that for the first round of blog posts, there’s no length requirement, so you can feel free to be brief (though you may also write a long post if you so desire!). Just make sure you are making reference in some way to at least one of the existing tags, and feel free to add your own.