The University of Winnipeg



Work study leads to publication in international journal

Dr. Pauline Greenhill and Jennifer Hammond Sebring's recent publication examines disability and desirability in The Little Mermaid

Dr. Pauline Greenhill and Jennifer Hammond Sebring. © UWinnipeg

Dr. Pauline Greenhill and Jennifer Hammond Sebring’s recently published research uncovers contrasting cultural narratives of disability.

他们的文章,The Body Binary, is the result of a work-study project Sebring began after she signed up for Greenhill’s class,Gender in Fairytale Film and Cinematic Folklore(WGS-3005).

Sebring initially expected class discussion to revolve around narrow ideas of gender expressed by Disney’s typical princess archetype.

We quickly moved beyond princess archetypes to look at other implications of media and fairytales.

Jennifer Hammond Sebring


“We quickly moved beyond princess archetypes to look at other implications of media and fairytales, and the kind of cultural ideas they transmit, not just in terms of gender, but also morality and its many dimensions such as who or what is good or evil,” she said.

As Sebring and her classmates critiqued the popularity of Disney, Sebring began wondering about the ideas being taught through these films and the impact of their mass-consumption.

During this time she was also learning about the field of disability studies and how common it was for evil characters to be depicted with disabled features (such as eye patches).

“I wanted to learn more about this and see what other things fairytales had to say about disability,” she said. “I felt it was important to contribute more to the conversation of what disability representation could look like or mean in fairytale films.”

An alternative reading of The Little Mermaid

As Sebring began thinking about the connection between disability narratives andThe Little Mermaidstoryline, Greenhill suggested she explore these ideas further in a work study project.

“What I wasn’t so aware of before Jen started working on this was how Disney’sLittle Mermaidreally speaks to all kinds of folks who don’t feel entirely comfortable in their embodiment and desires, not only disabled but also queer and trans folks,” said Greenhill.

The mermaid, and particularly Disney’sLittle Mermaid,这是一个开创性的人物,帮助许多年轻人获得了主流世界不想接受的身份,但格林希尔不认为这是迪士尼公司培养这种角色的意图。

“It shows how art and media no longer belong to their creators once they’re out in the world,” she said.

Sebring went into the study expecting to end up with a negative critique ofThe Little MermaidandThe Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea. She was pleasantly surprised to find opportunities to read the storylines in a more progressive way.

“I’m not saying props to Disney, but I concur with what Pauline said in that art and media no longer belong to their creators once they’re out in the world, and we can get really creative with how we interpret them and find meaning in doing so.”

2019年,格林希尔鼓励Sebrin博士g to present her feminist/disability perspective on Disney’sThe Little Mermaidfilms atThe Folklore Studies Association of Canada conference. The experience was both inspiring and empowering.

“Dr. Greenhill has been a fantastic support and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with her,” said Sebring. “The whole process of writing this paper, and publishing and presenting it at a conference was very illuminating.”

Sebring is a writer, researcher, and artist focusing on critical health studies and narratives of illness. After graduating from UWinnipeg with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2020, she transferred to the University of Manitoba to work toward a Master’s of Science in Community Health.

This research was possible thanks to a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Development Grant, along with support from the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies (now the Margaret Laurence Endowment), the Work Study Program, and the Research Office at The University of Winnipeg.

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