The Pregnant Body and HIMYM Mermaid Theory analogy

For those of us who like comedy and TV series, How I Met Your Mother is normally high up on the list.

Barney Stinson one of most beloved characters on the series is a caricature of a patriarchy society in which most of us live in and in some cases the spitting image of some men.

One of the great tools of comedy is to pick on particularly upsetting issues of life and turn them into a joke or a comic situation.

On episode11 of series 6, Barney explains to Marshal the Mermaid Theory:

Barney – ‘You see; every woman, no matter how initially repugnant; has a mermaid clock: the time it takes for you to realize you want to bone her!’

How can a woman be ‘unmermaid’? Asks Marshal.

Barney – ‘Once ‘mermaidefied’ there is only one way a woman can go back to being unattractive again. But… it’s pretty gruesome!’

Marshal – ‘Death?’

Barney – ‘Worst. Pregnancy!’

And so here begins my analysis of the titled analogy:

In 2012 the great director Christopher Nolan is bringing us the final Batman: Dark Knight film.

Nolan rarely ever disappoints and so most of his female fans’ hopes and expectations are very high, hoping that he can change the portrayal of super heroines in the big screen for good.

Last February, Anne Hathaway was announced as the chosen actress to play the role of Selina Kyle (Catwoman), the very sexy and fierce woman, who lives by her own rules.

On a Yahoo article whilst telling the reader about Hathaway’s success, the writer gave a list of names of other actresses originally considered for the role. Amongst the listed one name was singled out, the ‘pregnant Natalie Portman’. Why is this statement so important to the article?

The problem we encounter here is that women have been reduced to a biological procreative function. A functionality which insists upon women’s full participation to the detriment of any other life’s roles or tasks. The result, of course, is placing women who become pregnant in an identity which is characterized by incapability, and inaccessibility; an identity which renders women as one-dimensional, as only ‘mother’.

This article shows that patriarch and misogynist views, pathologize the female body and still consider the body/mind duality, negating women the power or capability of cultural, political and social achievements only existent to men, who are free from body restrictions thus more intellectually successful.

But is it really a matter of incapability and inferiority that makes the patriarchy discriminate against women, or is it fear of the latter’s power? As any evolutionary biologist can confirm women have the power of reproduction, and what men look for ultimately in sex is the survival and immortality of their genes.

It is also interesting to look at the dual significance of the word pregnant and how that uncovers contradictory reactions at the same time.

This word not only means, a woman that is carrying a baby, but also a woman who has had sex (not necessarily a fact anymore, considering the possibility of artificial insemination). This specific idea was so repugnant, that religion felt the need to portray Mary as a virgin.

Another reverse reaction is sexual attraction. If one considers how idealized the female body is, such as it is portrayed in graphic novels and films with large breasts and big hip to waist ratio, one can determine that a pregnant woman can be the subject of prurient interest, as her body changes, her breasts get bigger and hips expand which can be very arousing

So going back to the Mermaid Theory, Barney explains:

Barney – ‘There is another addendum to the Mermaid theory! A pregnant woman who has become a manatee can become a mermaid again through one simple act.’

Lilly – ‘What’s that?’

Barney – ‘Breastfeeding! Hot!’

Lilly – ‘Really?’

Barney – ‘Really. Once those things swell up to three times their normal size, so do I’

Lilly – ‘That’s so sweet.’

The question remains, why is it so relevant that a woman is singled out of a list for being pregnant in the art industry?

One can adventure a conclusion that, the female portrayal in art, as the subject not the artist, is in its majority a corporeal concept, as the female body is the basis for selection of talent, idolatry of icon (the perfect body to which every other woman should compare to) and reproach for their flaws or changes (being or becoming fat, unattractive, and/or pregnant).

Unfortunately change is yet a long way ahead. So all we can do is keep raising the issue whether it is by the form of active protest or as a joke in a comedy show.



  • November 2, 2011 - 00:00 | Permalink

    I am thoroughly convinced in this said post. I am currently searching for ways in which I could enhance my knowledge in this said topic you have posted here. It does help me a lot knowing that you have shared this information here freely. I love the way the people here interact and shared their opinions too. I would love to track your future posts pertaining to the said topic we are able to read.

    • November 3, 2011 - 19:36 | Permalink

      Thank you very much for your comment.
      We are very passionate about gender and cultural studies, so do keep checking for new posts.


  • November 23, 2011 - 21:31 | Permalink

    I studied the female body and the psychological and social complexities it brings in my 3rd year and it truly fascinates me. I read Laura Mulvey’s “the male gaze” and I am very interested in theories linked to our primitive instincts….
    I loved reading this, I totally agree with you on the whole article but when I bring this topic up in a conversation I am told I sound like a nagging, moaning feminist.

    • November 23, 2011 - 21:42 | Permalink

      Unfortunately we all have that problem Katie.
      Sometimes I myself wonder if I’m being too nagging, but if it bothers us, it’s because it is a problem. And that’s why we need to keep talking about this issues.

      I would recommend reading ‘How to be a woman’ by Caitlin Moran, it’s a great, funny and fresh view on modern feminism.

      Keep making some noise!

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