From the Author
"Slaying the Mermaid" grew out of personal experience, particularly my volunteer work at a shelter for homeless women. The concept sprang from an episode, described in the book, in which the nuns who ran the shelter were taken over--brainwashed--by a male volunteer who briefly created a mini-cult there.
Eventually I discovered that the weakness he played on to gain influence over them was their training in self-sacrifice. He undermined their self-confidence by accusing them of not being willing to give up absolutely everything for the homeless.
As a volunteer, I too had struggled with the question of how much to give--where I should draw the line. But I realized that, while this question might be particularly compelling and difficult for nuns, it's also one that most women grapple with, because almost all of us have been trained in self-sacrifice.
So I decided to explore the concept of sacrifice in relation to women's experience. Even given my assumption that this was a critical issue for women, I was amazed by what I heard during interviews: that ordinary women had had such astonishing, intense experiences; lived with such wrenching, violent inner images; and held such powerful ideals. I also discovered that the central image of the book, Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid--whose willingness to walk in pain and sacrifice everything for the prince had always haunted me--resonates for many other women as well.
In exploring this issue, I try to demonstrate how feelings and behavior that may seem entirely personal are in reality shaped by external cultural and historical forces. I also hope to show how it's possible to strike a balance between selfhood and sacrifice, so that altruism can be both transformative and empowering.