Recently I’ve been seeing a lot of posts on Tumblr about fantasy creatures, especially mermaids and dragons in particular. Now this is nothing new; mermaids and dragons seem to be the two most favored magical creatures on Tumblr, so of course you’ll find a lot of posts and fan art talking about these particular mythical beings.
What I find interesting, though, is the recent feminist
reclamation of these two magical creatures.
Dragons and mermaids aren’t really in good standing with feminists, as their myths are often centered around harmful tropes that promote sexism against women. Legends about dragons feed right into the damsel-in-distress trope, as well as the purity myth, since many stories about dragons involve fair young virgin women being kidnapped by the dragon. Then a noble knight, who may or may not have known the kidnapped woman beforehand, will go and slay the dragon, save the woman, and sometimes he’ll even be offered the woman as a prize for his courage. Yeah… this mythology for dragons supports the idea that women must remain pure, and furthermore, that women’s purity must be protected from the evils of the world,
as represented by the dragon. Then, of course, women are presented as a prize to our male hero. On top of this, dragons will even occasionally be depicted as female just to emphasize how evil they are.
Mermaids, on the other hand, are just the just the opposite of the pure, kidnapped virginal woman. Mermaids fulfill the evil seductress trope. Mermaids distract sailors with their singing and naked bodies and cause unsuspecting sailors to crash their ships on the rocks. Or they’ll lure sailors close to the water and drag them under to drown them. The mermaid mythology shows how dangerous women are, especially women who are sexual. They will tempt you into sin and ruin you if you aren’t careful! Be strong, men! (Cue massive eye roll.)
But Tumblr’s feminists are taking these old sexist stories about dragons and mermaids and turning them on their head.
Recently, Tumblr user capitolhillofficial made the statement that dragons were henceforth a feminist symbol. I’m not sure why; whether it was Game of Thrones’s use of dragons in conjunction with strong female characters, or if the user was just feeling giddy about Smaug after seeing The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Whatever their intent, the post was made and even got tweeted about by Smaug himself.
There was of course backlash from anti-feminist blogs, but that only seemed to add kindling to the feminists’ dragonfire. Soon people started writing short little posts re-imagining the misogynistic stories about dragons into something much more pro-women.
While dragons were only recently reclaimed as a feminist icon, it seems like mermaids are a constant favorite symbol for Tumblr users fighting the patriarchy. I’m going to assume this is because mermaids are deadly, beautifully feminine, and alliteration is nice.
Why are these feminist re-tellings important? I think the two creatures represent different but
equally awesome parts of the feminist movement. The mermaids show women still engaging with stereotypical femininity and enjoying feminine things, but for mermaids that’s not a weakness. Rather, femininity makes them even more powerful. Dragons serve the exact opposite, but no less important, function. The dragon is being used as a symbol to show how societal ideals for women do not have to be followed and can be oppressive when forced upon people.
‘ladies sit with their legs shut’
well, excuse me for being a dragon
On top of this, dragons and mermaids are used to show how women endure, no matter what is thrown at them. If women can survive drowning and fire, and come back stronger, then surely we can survive and even destroy patriarchal oppression. There is also a reclaiming of female sexuality here through both mermaids and dragons. Instead of warnings about protecting a lady’s virginity, or avoiding evil promiscuous women, the narrative becomes one of choice, with women choosing to freely have sex or not based what they want rather than what society dictates.
Furthermore, there is the concept of storytelling and folklore. In today’s modern age, the internet becomes the proverbial campfire around which we tell our stories. There is an opportunity here to take sexist stories and to transform them into something empowering. Maybe if we tell and repeat these stories online often enough, people will believe they are true, and soon the old sexist stories about dragons and mermaids will fade away. Women are using social media to bring their stories into pop culture, and that’s pretty worthwhile.