(this is a paper i wrote for one of my classes and felt like i should share it with you)
Poised, polite and perfectly behaved. Those are the three P’s I grew up with. Being part of the “high society” of a city can take its toll on you. Being forced into a mold of how a lady acts and of what her role in the world is can either make you or break you. Infinite classes of etiquette, cooking, baking, modeling, dance and arts & crafts are what defined my childhood. The expectations were incredibly high and all we could do was sit straight, smile and look pretty.
Being completely honest, this wasn’t as hard as one might think. When you are brought up to be the perfect hostess and housewife, everything just come naturally and it starts being fun. Endless parties where we had to make sure everyone had a drink on their hand and that the table was set to perfection, were one of the things I looked forward to, and still do. But there was one movie that changed my views of the world. Beauty and the Beast made me realize that I don’t have to follow the mold. I can dream, make mistakes, read all the books I want, and still be poised, polite and somewhat perfectly behaved.
Belle became my favorite Disney Princess since the first time I laid eyes on her. I felt like she was me, and that there was so much more than being a small town girl, being known as the Industrial Mogul’s niece. I can’t tell when and how many times I had to re-watch the movie to get my lesson from it, but I certainly did. I was being pushed into a mold that I didn’t fit into to its entirety. I was being judged for being different and I had to become what they wanted. I was a quite peculiar girl.
Following the challenge’s question: “How is the child taught the ‘roles’ that girls/women and boys/men are expected to assume (both positive and negative)?” This is easy. Let’s begin with the second scene of the movie: Farm girl going into town with a book at hand. Everyone is saying how she is different, how she’s always dazed and in a far off place, distracted and strange. All these things just because she reads and is sort of an introvert. For them it’s a pity and a sin that she doesn’t fit in because she is so beautiful.
Then we have Gaston, the tall, dark, strong and handsome brute. The man who wants to marry Belle at all costs because in town there’s only she who is beautiful as he is. After the “Belle (Little Town)” scene ends, he basically tells her to stop wasting her time with books and to focus on more important things like, him. His argument is that it is not right for a woman to read because then she starts having ideas and thinking. Gaston is portrayed as this strong, very hands on man. A “manly-man” one can say. But all I can see is a d-bag who clearly is trying to compensate for something else.
Kids unfortunately don’t see it this way. For some kids Gaston is a hero. He is tall and strong and can hunt. He is what every boy wants to grow up to be, a MAN. I remember growing up and going to school to talk about my favorite Disney movie and go on show and tells with my gorgeous yellow Belle dress. I would ask my classmates who their favorite character was and rarely any of the boys wanted to be the Beast. They wanted to be Gaston because he was a “macho man” and the Beast was scary.
I never understood why. To me the Beast was gentle and caring, he was mean sometimes because he was protecting himself from the rest of the world. He was cursed and didn’t want people to see what he had become, just for being shallow. In reality, the Beast has some of the qualities I would love in a guy. He cares deeply for Belle and goes out of his way to make her feel comfortable in this “prison”. He lets his guard down, forgetting about his fears and tries to make it work with her. He let her be herself and embraced her personality.
Going back to Belle, one of my favorite scenes is when Gaston tries to marry her and prepares this wedding in her front yard. He ends up headfirst in a pool of mud with a cute little pig for company. She then breaks into song expressing her disgust towards this entire situation. She asks her animals if they can imagine her, the wife of that brute. “Madame Gaston! Can you just see it? Madame Gaston! His ‘little wife’.” She refuses to be seen as just a wife, with no voice, waiting at home taking care of the kids until Gaston comes home from whatever he does for a living, demanding food and obviously somethings else.
Belle is a strong independent woman. She knows what she wants and she knows she will never get it in a small provincial town in France. She longed for someone to understand that she wanted so much more than they’ve got planned. As an adult now, I can see all this things, but when I was a child, all I saw was a smart girl and I wanted to be that. I wanted to be me and sing and ride horses and read books all day. That to me was the dream.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that there are things at flaw in this movie, as well as in all Disney animated movies (except: Mulan, Frozen, Brave). Women are taught that love is a fairy tale and that we will have a prince charming that will sweep us off of our feet and we will live happily ever after. We are taught that we are defenseless. We can try to save ourselves but we will always need a man to save us at the end. Doesn’t matter from who, we need a man to save us.
Belle did something different though. She tried to save the Beast from Gaston. This movie has both, hero and heroine. They both saved each other and made the world understand that women also have power and they can be as daring as any man and fight for what they believe is right. Belle was the princess, at least to me, that started the “I’ll fight for what I believe in” movement. We see this in Ariel, Jasmine, and Anastacia, obviously in Mulan, Merida, Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa.
This movie changed me. It took me towards another direction. It made me stop thinking that men should do everything and I’ll finish high school, maybe go to college, marry, have kids and be a soccer mom. Those were my ideals when I was a child. My Barbie’s had that life, the life I wanted. Until I understood the lessons behind this movie. I can be smart, I can fight for what I believe in. I don’t have to ever be just a “little wife”.