I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other night when I came across a post I’ve been waiting for…the “danger, beware the new Beauty and the Beast” post from the religious right. Being the masochist I am, I clicked on it to see the comments. I was curious if followers of the page that posted the link were all far right.
The reaction was mixed, which is actually a good sign, imo. But there was one comment that forced me to think. One woman claimed that Beauty and the Beast promotes abuse because Belle stays with the Beast and treats him kindly until he changes.
At first blush I agreed, but then, mostly because I am taking the kids to see it, I thought about it. I came to the conclusion that the commenter was wrong.
Unless the film deviates from the cartoon version, Belle is actually not a picture of a woman who tolerates abuse. Instead, she is a strong, self-sacrificing person who, though she is caught in what could be a living nightmare, refuses to bow to the demands of her captor.
Her captor (the person the commenter asserted was an abuser) is at his wits end trying to figure out how to get Belle to respond positively to him. His advisors/friends give him ideas of how to behave properly to make her like him. He finally takes the advice to heart and begins the process of changing.
A pivotal moment in the relationship takes place after Beast saves Belle from the wolves. Beast is angry with Belle because he was wounded. They argue vehemently back and forth. Belle gives the final argument, “You shouldn’t have frightened me.” And Beast finally concedes the truth of Belle’s words.
After that the Beast begins to change. Not as a result of her kindness but as a result of her standing up to him and him finally seeing how wrong he was.
If you have bothered to educate yourself about abuse at all (and most people don’t) you will know that abusers NEVER change, least of all because someone pointed out they were wrong. In fact, telling an abuser they are wrong can be dangerous in most cases. If you are lucky they will be like Zelena and will simply continue doing the things that are wrong to show you just how much they hate you. But in some cases, pointing out an abuser’s error will be met with violence, even murder.
The Beast in Beauty and the Beast is not an abuser. Neither is Belle a passive woman who decides to follow the lie that if you treat others nicely they will always respond to your love. She refuses to tolerate his selfish behavior and he sees that being selfish is stupid. In the end it is actually Beast whose kindness changes Belle’s mind about him, not the other way around.
There are many horrible movies and cartoons out there that teach girls to tolerate being treated like garbage. Beauty and the Beast is not one of them.
Beauty and the Beast is a film that teaches girls and women they can stand up to oppression, that they don’t have to submit to men who treat them poorly, that being passive is not the best way.
Of course, Emma Watson is the star, so that fact should not surprise us. Ms. Watson is one of the few women in “Hollywood” who stands up to abusers and the typical rape culture that is both behind the scenes and out in the open in that environment.
In short, it would appear that Beauty and the Beast is a dangerous film indeed. What if girls grew up to be women who stood up for themselves and what if boys grew up to be men who listened?