So yesterday, after being let down by the babysitter and Mini Dragon missing nursery as a result, I ended up being dragged along to see Beauty and the Beast 3D. That’s right, you can now get your annual dose of misogyny in 3 fucking D. How awesome is that, eh?
Now, the very few of my readers that know me in real life know that, deep down, I love my fairy tales. Be it the Disney remakes, the Giambattista Basile collections, the Hans Anderson… yeah… You get the point. But what I love most about them is tearing them apart and analysing everything about them. References to the Devil in Rumplestiltskin? Check. References to rape in early versions of Sleeping Beauty? Check. A possible historical reference to Snow White…. yeah, you’re right. We need another blog post for these.
Anyway. Beauty and the Beast. I first got dragged along to the cinema aged 7, as part of a family outing to see the cinema. I’ll admit, being a naive seven year old, I loved the film; I still do to an extent. I’m just not too keen on the predicament the writers put Belle in… “Do I choose abusive arsewipe number one? Or abusive arsewipe number two?”
That’s right. Belle pretty much turns down one abuser, Gaston. And ends up with another. But, you know, we can excuse The Beast’s abusive behaviour because for the majority of the film, he’s not actually human. This…. isn’t really selling the story too well, is it?
Anyway. We’ll start at the beginning of this sorry story. Act 1, scene 1. Or the prologue. Whatever you want to call it. Soon-To-Be Beast is acting a misogynistic arsewipe, refusing to provide an old woman shelter from a storm. But of course, once he finds out she’s a “beautiful enchantress”, he changes his tune. And probably not because she’s an enchantress, either… Pay attention to the other verb. Anyway, seeing as women are eternally evil, and what not, she decides to turn the prince into a beastly beast, and all of his servants, seeing as women are evil, are also punished for the Beast’s areswipery. Cos women are evil like that.
Fast forward a couple of years (I assume), and we wind up in a province in France. It’s a little town. Or a quiet village. It seems Belle hasn’t made up her mind which, yet. And it’s full of “little people”. Well, aside from Gaston, who’s roughly the size of a barge. Anyway, Belle, it seems, is supposed to be a free thinker. Emphasized by the fact that, aside from the book keeper, she seems to be the only person in the village who reads. Anyway. Gaston Le Barge has taken to pursuing Belle, who because she’s an intellect looks at him like a piece of dirt on her shoe. But, being good looking, abusive and dim, Gaston appears oblivious to this, pursuing her all over the town. “I’ll fooking well marry Belle, whether she wants it or not!”, he quotes at one point in the film. I may have got the wording slightly wrong. To say Gaston becomes obsessed with the idea of fucking… sorry, I mean… marrying Belle would be an understatement. I mean, what’s not to love about the guy who tries to blackmail you into marrying him? “You’ll marry me, or your father, who, just because he’s intelligent, is obviously insane will be sectioned.” What a catch, eh?
Luckily, Belle ends up with a lovely monstrosity of a man, who doesn’t imprison her father… Oh, wait… At least the relationship’s a bit more promising after that. I mean, rather than leaving her locked in a tower, he decides to leave her locked in a bedroom instead, and pretty much tells her she can never see her father again. We then see Beast dictate when Belle can and can’t eat, where she can and can’t go, and eventually, an explosive display of temper which sees Belle flee the castle. But, you know, after she nearly gets eaten by wolves, she tames the beast, and all is well, right?
Well, not quite… With Gaston Le Barge, as he shall be known in this household for the rest of eternity, Belle knew she’d be getting a consistent level of abuse to some degree… With the Beastly Beast, Belle would be entering what is known as the Cycle of Abuse.
Through imprisoning Belle’s father, it could be possible to describe this action as coercion; by doing this, the Beast eventually manages to lure Belle to the castle (although the film doesn’t show this as outwardly intended), thus, from the offset, Belle and Beast’s relationship is firmly in the “Tension Building” phase. However, the Beast’s progression into the “Explosion” phase is not linear. Leading up to the confrontation which sees Belle flee the castle in terror, we see the Beast toe the line between the two, with the explosion being the near assault, the smashing of objects in the forbidden part of the castle. After the Beast rescues Belle, we see the reconciliation of the two characters, in what’s known as the “Honeymoon period”; characterised by the “blame game” that takes place between Belle and the Beast whilst she tends his wounds, his decision to present her with the library, the overt romance, and the Beast’s final decision to allow Belle to return to rescue her father. Whereas the praise of the Beast, for allowing Belle to return to her father, is not uncommon, it is the only logical action for him to take, should he wish to “keep her”. The finale of the film is not actually a conclusion to the abuse, but instead a continuation of the abuse cycle; for the abuser to deploy “Prince Charming” tactics as a reward for desirable behaviour from his victim is not uncommon; it leaves the victim believing the abuse is over, and that her former abuser is now a changed man. This is rarely the case.
Whereas the Beast, whilst being “The Bad Guy” version of himself is supposed to be grotesquely ugly, Belle’s virtuous manner is, as per normal for Disney, is portrayed through “beauty” stereotypes. We’re sold a slender, petite heroine, with dainty movements and a beautiful singing voice. Admission to the Disney Princess academy relies on the female protagonist meeting these criteria. Belle, we’re told, doesn’t need to change herself. She just needs to change him, so he too can become beautiful like herself, and join the ranks of the Disney Princes. We’re sold the heroines who are apparently perfect, albeit oppressed, and their perfection is rewarded with two things; beauty, and becoming a Princess. As a side note, I’m now wondering why Kida, the female protagonist of Atlantis, despite being a princess in the tale, never qualified as a “Disney Princess”. Rumours have circulated that this is down to the fact she lacks a signature song. So, the defining characteristic of being virtuous enough to be a Disney Princess is the ability to sing? Crikey.
We’re fed the idea that Belle gets her happy ending, and all is well in the land of evil women and misunderstood abusers. But in the real world, this doesn’t happen. The abuse doesn’t end with the honeymoon period, it continues, gradually circling back round to the explosion. But the real danger with this tale is that Disney, in selling this tale to a young market, are idolising abuse with the message to young girls, the predominant audience for the Disney Princess market, being “If you’re really good, you can change an abuser; after all, he only does it because he loves you.” Surely it’s time Disney stopped marketing abuse as love, and started telling our children what healthy relationships look like?