Nowhere in the universe is the gender gap more evident than among merfolk.
Mermaids have hogged the spotlight cast upon merfolk — mermaids and mermen collectively — for hundreds of years, and are culturally depicted as beautiful women who just happen to be a fish from the navel down.
More than 3.5 million viewers tuned in to Animal Planet during its “Monster Week 2013” promotion to watch the faux documentary, “Mermaids: The New Evidence.” Viewership numbers like those experienced by Animal Planet prove, just as the stories swapped by sailors 700 years ago were then, mermaids are still hot.
Mermen have not had the same cultural success with their image. Sure, when they are depicted in art they are typically well-sculpted men with chiseled human features and shiny scales leading to their massive fish tales, but stories and images of stunningly attractive mermen are rarely encountered in modern pop culture.
The problem is they are rarely depicted when compared to their female counterparts.
Mermen deserve to have their opportunity to glisten in the sun. The time has come for mermen to step into the spotlight and earn the same pop culture status enjoyed by their sisters in scales who shot Animal Planet into the ratings stratosphere, and finally close the merfolk gender gap.
The Merman, the Myth, the Legend
Most of us can name at least two mermaids, even if it is just Ariel of The Little Mermaid or Daryl Hannah as the Mermaid in Ron Howard’s “Splash.”
Even the most popular of mermen aren’t household names in households not occupied by mythologists.
Merman Oannes, of Babylonian lore, is credited with teaching Babylonians how to write, build cities and churches, and how to establish a government. In Greek mythology Triton is the son of Sea-King Poseidon, and he could control the waves of the sea by blowing on his conch shell. He is also credited with helping lead the Argonauts from Tritonis, a massive salt lake in the Libyan desert, back to the sea for a voyage home.
Dagon, a merman from Philistine culture, was a fertility god who earned a biblical mention in I Samuel, Chapter 5, when the Philistines take the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites and store amid images of the merman in a Dagon Temple.
In Danish culture, a merman known as The Neck patrolled local waters preventing boating accidents and drownings by guiding boaters away from dangerous by making bird calls.
In Finnish mythology Mermen had the ability to heal the sick, remove curses, and create powerful potions. Finnish mermen also had the power to destroy civilizations.
Despite these heroics, mermen don’t receive a fraction of the cultural buzz of mermaids.
Mermen Get the Short End of the Trident
By using one of the oldest tricks on the Internet to measure cultural popularity, doing a Google search and comparing search result numbers, it appears mermaids are 18 times more popular than mermen. A Google search for “Mermaid,” generated 78,100,000 search results, and a search for “Merman,” returned only 4,260,000 results. These results are not scientific, but certainly paint an unflattering circumstantial portrait of mermen’s lack of popularity in modern pop culture.
The results themselves aren’t flattering to the reputation of mermen.
Among the results are links to stories about the Hartlepool Merman, the Zwaanendael Merman, the Banff Merman, and the Fiji Merman, all of which have one key similarity. All three of these famous mermen are novelty items made of monkey bones and fish parts, and were once publicly touted as being a mummified Merman. In the case of the Fiji Merman, it was P.T. Barnum who made it famous. The Fiji Merman was displayed along side other oddities of Barnum’s popular touring show.
Most of these sideshow-staple, monkey-bone mermaids were made in China and sold to sailors as good luck charms. On top of them being fake, these mermen are just plain ugly.
Noticeably missing from the first wave of search results are modern-day, pop-culture mermen, ranking on the fame scale along side the likes of Disney’s Ariel.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there trying to close the merfolk gender gap.
Real-life merman flips wigs in Florida
Eric Ducharme was recently featured on cable channel TLC’s show “My Crazy Obsession.”
He spends his free time dressed in a hand-made merman outfit swimming in Florida’s crystal clear waters.
Ducharme swims for hours in local waters astonishing passersby when he surfaces for air, which is something he does about every four minutes.
He started his dress-up obsession while working as a performer in a Little Mermaid water show. Now, in his early 20s, he’s been going merman for more than five years.
His obsession has made him a local celebrity, and the appearance on TLC’s show spread his exploits to a mass audience. Perhaps his efforts will spur a pop-culture shift toward honoring the myths and legends of mermen in ancient world culture, and close a gender gap thousands of years in the making.