WILLA v6 - Both Ursula and Ariel: Searching for a Feminist/Expressivist Theory of Voice

Volume 6
Fall 1997

Both Ursula and Ariel:
Searching for a Feminist/Expressivist Theory of Voice

Heidi Estrem

What do composition teachers mean when we use the word "voice"? What is an authentic voice? How does one get one? Why should one get one? What does Peter Elbow mean when he talks about voice? What does voice mean to feminist theorists?

These questions become insistent as I hear my mom and myself talking on the phone. They become nagging as I hear an argument between a woman and man in the grocery store about whose turn it was to go shopping. They become shrill as I watch a female student leave the classroom after telling me that writing her essay in third person "was better because I didn't have to sound like myself."

I'm listening to our "Disney Classics" compact disc while I read and respond to student essays. I'm writing, responding to the essays, questioning. Cajoling, too, even coaching, and perhaps midwifing? Suddenly words emerge from the background noise and I replay the song. Ursula, the female witch in The Little Mermaid whose part is sung by a man, cajoles Ariel:

"What I want from you is ... your voice!"

Ariel, innocent and in love, answers:

"But without my voice, how can ...

And Ursula replies:

"You have your looks

your pretty face