While I’ve got a forthcoming review of the new live action Beauty and the Beast; I couldn’t help think about all that’s been said about the animated classic, particularly in regards to the feminist outlook that Belle was a poor role-model for girls and young women. Now here is one of several articles written based on studies of this film over the years and the message that some say it sends to young girls, regarding the normalization of abuse. I on the other hand have a much different look at the movie.
The article above links to a video at the bottom of this post, and it’s worth a watch, even if I disagree with it. Because if I can put it bluntly, I don’t think the movie sends what the video calls a “dangerous message”.
One issue I take with the video is that Belle is referred to as a “Pseudo-Feminist”. Because Disney only tried to make her a feminist…. because she likes to read. I have two big issues with this. The first is that there’s been a tempest in a teapot all week, because Emma Watson chose to bare a portion of her breasts in a magazine photo shoot, and that provided an opportunity for some to “question her commitment to feminism”. After all the good work she’s done, do people really have the right to take away her declaration as a feminist? So, my first point boils down to, who are you to say a woman (even a fictional one) is or isn’t feminist enough?
The second issue I have with this is the fact that being an avid reader is not what makes Belle a feminist. It’s certainly what makes her awesome, and hopefully a role model to ALL children, showing that reading is something that heroes in stories do regardless of gender.
Where Belle shows that she stand on feminist principles is when she repeatedly tells off the misogynist Gaston, who thinks that her purpose in life is to make babies, which is secondary only to her ultimate purpose of making him look and feel good. He’s the kind of guy EVERY girl should be encouraged to turn down.
Furthermore, when the Beast tries to command her, and force her into things she stands up for herself and refuses. She also only goes back to the Beast after he grew into a better individual, gave her freedom and showed her kindness.
Belle was the second Disney Princess (the first being Ariel) to begin pushing the boundaries on who could be the savior in a fairy tale. A prince doesn’t save her, instead she saves the prince, showing that love and strength are not mutually exclusive or specific to just one gender.
I’m not saying that the movie (or tale for that matter is perfect). I’m also not saying that anyone should stay in an abusive relationship. but what I am saying is there are positive lessons to be learned from it. As a teacher, I know that sometimes those that need the most love (like the kid who throws chairs in a classroom), show it in the least loving ways (by you know… doing things like throwing chairs). that doesn’t excuse the behavior, but if you treat unkind and hurting people (or in my profession kids) as monsters, they’ll NEVER grow to become anything else.
Some of my friends took to social media when Emma Watson was first cast, and weren’t happy about it, because of the feminist she is. I think that they’re only looking at the movie through one lens, And how you look at the movie matters. One researcher used the phrase, “and when you look at [Beauty and the Beast] with that eye, the abuse is horrific”. I however, if this post is any indication, look at it with an eye of fond memories and an appreciation for the trail Disney was starting to blaze for girls.
I recognize the research and opinions of those who criticize Beauty and the Beast. However, just as I don’t think video games make for violent children I don’t think that this film (or Disney in general) makes women subservient, or un-feminist.
What are your thoughts on the animated classic? Let us know in the comments.
Video regarding the abuse depicted in Beauty and the Beast.: