I wrote this essay for two reasons. Firstly to show some of the more subtle anti-male undertones in things which are seen to be pro male or even anti-female, and secondly to show how easy it is to use subjectivity to make a point that cannot be refuted. All others doing essays of this nature wrote about misogyny or negative stereotypes of women (Vanity, weakness etc.) I decided to go the opposite route both to credit my ideas and to discredit those of the others.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast can be seen as a very honest way of depicting how society feels about the gender roles of men and women. Firstly, of the main characters, two out of the three are in fact males. The interesting thing about this balance is that despite there being a higher number of males in the film, they are both shown to be at least partially villainous. Throughout the entirety of the film, the only two characters, main or otherwise, who truly embody and possess typically masculine characteristics (chivalry, a wish to fight to protect women, strength etc.) are both depicted as being wrong, evil, and negative. The first of these two men is Gaston, by all accounts the villain of the piece. His great crime? He believes that he has a duty to woo Belle, something which in context is not such a bad act. He believes, according to the long espoused value of men being the ones to make the first move, of men being the ones who are forced to take the rejection when it comes and of men being the ones who are forced to make themselves entirely powerless in the relationship, that he should try to make Belle love him. This value is not a misogynistic value, and is in fact a value that has been endorsed throughout the entirety of time, as it places women on a pedestal as special and deserving of extra privilege.
Gaston’s other crime as far as Belle and the audience are concerned, is that he sees a giant, monstrous beast, who appears to have kidnapped a woman that he is romantically interested in, and he decides that the best course of action is to ‘man up’ and defend someone helpless. Gaston in this action is a perfect example of the disposable male, the idea of men as tin soldiers that you can throw at a problem until enough of them have died that it is fixed. For very little gain of his own (simply another chance to ask a girl who will say no for a romantic engagement), Gaston feels and acts as if he is expected to risk his life. Which he does. And, this is depicted as one of the most evil acts of the film, because it does not allow Belle the choice to have been kidnapped by a giant monster.
The other character from the main three who makes use of any of the masculine traits is the eponymous Beast. He is part hero and part villain, and in this way can be seen to perfectly embody the current love/hate reaction that modern day society has when it comes to men being masculine. Until he meets Belle, he is simply what his name would suggest. He is unable to control his baser urges, unable to think or act on anything more than instinct, and not capable of emotions beyond the barest scratch of the surface. He is strong and independent. Everything he does is simply a masculine trait which is exaggerated. Except that is, for the one trait that is seen to be his redeeming characteristic, and the trait which turns him from villain into victim: his sadness, his wish to be what he truly is rather than what he is forced to be, his search for true love. Typically, these are things which we associate with femininity rather than masculinity. When you consider this in context, it becomes clear that of the dozens of traits that Beast possesses, the only ones that do not need to be toned down or removed are the ones which are feminine.
Society shares this opinion, evident in actions such as the banning of play fighting and toy guns, and the encouragement to sing and dance and to do other ‘girly’ playtime activities, right from the child’s young and formative years. But Beast is not only an interesting topic when discussing the hugely misandric elements of the film because of this, it is also worthy of discussion because of the tipping point, the turning point, the face heel turn, whichever name you choose. He fully makes the transformation from villain to victim when he meets and is guided by Belle, a woman. If we remove the fantasy and the characters, and look at it purely in terms of actions, then we are met with this path of characterization.
1: Horrible, evil masculine male who cannot control himself (Villain)
After meeting a woman he becomes:
2: Possibly a redeemable person, he has a few feminine traits
After changing to suit a woman he is:
3: A victim in need of love and affection to limit his masculine traits and become a feminized person, thus entering the stage of being worthy of society.
Yes, Beast becomes a good character we are expected to sympathize with, only when he has a feminine touch. When a woman enters the equation and puts her foot down, she brings emasculation and shame for his maleness, and thus begins the process of making him “acceptable”. This same value is shown through sitcoms, television shows, films and every other form of media. It’s one of the most basic story lines. Man has masculine traits (sleeping with multiple partners or demonstrating and taking pride in physical prowess, both are biological and social urges) and this means that he is a bad person. But then a woman, the paragon of love and emotional stability and all things good in the world, comes around and ‘fixes’ him. How does she ‘fix’ him? By emasculating him. By taking out all of the masculine traits and replacing them with feminine ones. By forcing this man to defy the biological urges which make him ‘less’ than a woman, and because of this, unworthy of love.
Being unworthy of love is another theme. Beast must woo Belle in order to make himself into a good person. His entire life literally hinges around a woman. She is necessarily, the centre of his universe, and the thing that matters most. He would do literally anything for her. And this is the only even semi-masculine trait which makes him a hero. This is the trait which makes him worthy of empathy. A willingness to sacrifice himself on the altar of womanhood, to better the life of a woman he does not even know.
Editorial note: Feature image by Loren Javier. -PW