The Self-Sufficient Beauty and the Entitled Beast
Growing up means growing up with stereotypes and gender roles following behind like an annoying friend. They mature, starting from being expected to playing with and nursing dolls, or destroying toys and playing in the mud, and from there never seem to end. As a young child, girls are taught that if a boy belittles her and relentlessly harrases her, that he must like her and she should just shut up, accept it, and be happy to let it happen and to hide her shame. “Shame leads to silence — the silence that keeps other people believing that we actually approve of the things that are done to women…” (Kimmel 34) This is not only taught by our society, but also our media starting with movies shown to children. One of the culprits to presenting these stereotypes and making them “normal” is Disney, who can be infamous for instilling this into little girls — and even boys — minds. This only further brought to light by making the female’s roles in their movies as innocent, pure, and — whilst very rarely — independent, while the men are big, burly, aggressive and pushy. One of Disney’s most prominent offenders is “Beauty and the Beast” which came out in 1991, which is a good sign that this is not a new issue.
In “Beauty and the Beast”, Belle is a young independent woman who doesn’t seem to need the attention from any male figure in her life other than her father. She is the embodiment of a self-sufficient female, until one of the main male characters comes into play. This character, Gaston, is the conventional image of a male that is typically aggressive, as he is very belligerent towards Belle and anyone who crosses his path. The way he treats Belle is a stepping stone to further the plot in the movie as Belle is not interested in Gaston which only promotes his hostility. While this seems as just an essential plot point in a little kids movie, it seems to go much further as some women could probably relate with what Belle is going through. In an essay by Paul Theroux, he explains that “It is very hard to imagine any concept of manliness that does not belittle women, and it begins very early.” (97) This can be applied to the well-loved Disney movie because as little girls are told it is “okay” for boys to be entitled to them, and to show “affection” by bullying them while none of the supporting characters seem to realize that what Gaston is doing is actually wrong. In fact, it seems that the issue in the “Beauty and the Beast” isn’t regarding stereotyping women, but rather that they focus on and accentuating the male stereotype.
Gaston is accompanied by his sidekick, Lefou, who reminds him that he can in fact get whatever he wants. Yearned for from all of the women in the town, with even the men wishing they were as “godly” and looked as good as he did, Gaston ignores all of “lesser” looking women and expects Belle to be his wife. He explains how he would want her to maintain the house, rub his feet, and bear his many children, regardless of the knowledge that Belle is completely uninterested in being his “little wife” who conceives his progeny. Gaston furthers his idiocracy by claiming that women should not read and not exhibit intellect and taking a spiteful insult delivered by Belle as a compliment. This also breaks into the conventional standard that men do not have to be smart to be accepted.
Entitled males is a recurring theme in “Beauty and the Beast” and it does not stop at Gaston. When Belle finally meets the Beast, a prince whose fate has goes awry and was turned into a monster, she is overcome with his quarrelsome personality and is in fact locked up so she would not leave him. It is gathered from this point on that Belle is simply a way for the Beast to retrieve his former looks, owing to the fact that as soon as he can find someone to love him, he will be “normal” again. At one point, Belle cleans up after the Beast following one of his outbursts, be it because she felt she needed to or she was just being kind, it was incredibly unnecessary as she is literally being held captive in his castle. Barbara Ehrenreich, in her essay “What I’ve Learned from Men” states, “The essence of ladylikeness is a persistent servility masked as ‘niceness.’ For example, we (women) tend to assume that it is our responsibility to keep everything ‘nice’ even when the person we are with is rude, aggressive, or emotionally AWOL.” (139) As the Beast became violent, Belle was inclined to take initiative to clean up for him, even after what he did to her.
Despite all of what the Beast puts Belle through, she still undoubtedly falls in love with him and he reverses back into the “beautiful” prince he once was. Nothing anyone with common sense would question why Belle would stay with the Beast would have to realize that there is no reason, this is just another stereotype provided by Disney. As a consequence of this, young children are introduced early to stereotypes of the way manliness “should be” and how women are “expected” to be. Nevertheless, the main target generation of these movies happen to be the same generation that has grown up to break these cliche “norms” and understand that these gender roles and expectations are ones that should be noticed. Perhaps the parents of the kids who watch these movies still today can use it as a teaching lesson, showing that being presumptuous is not the proper way to express interest in someone, and that being hostile and expecting one to succumb their expectations is wrong.