The 3D release of Beauty and the Beast has got a lot of publicity during the past few weeks. It has been criticized and praised simultaneously. The focus of much of the controversy is on the message of the film as it relates to gender roles – a valid concern worth exploring.
Is Belle reinforcing gender roles in her relationship with Beast? Depends how you look at it. The Disney princess Belle is different from the rest. She is described as booky and intellectually ambitious. Her outside beauty does not appear to be the main focus; rather it is her inner beauty that changes the Beast (but she also possesses external beauty – this is not Shrek). She is shown as brave and self sacrificing which are very redeemable qualities. So, from the looks of it, you might be wondering what the gender debate is about? Next we must look at Beast. Beast is not the ideal man, he is not respectful or kind, but Belle is forced to love him because she is his prisoner (sound like Stockholm syndrome?). She has no true choice on who she can love.
The film begins with Belle’s intellectual pursuits, but the story moves away from her ambitions, and the size of Beast’s library seems to matter more. One of the first things that Beast can offer Belle in his attempt to seduce her into loving him is his large library. The library is an indicator of his wealth and thereby his manliness. What does this all mean?
It means that like any story or film, it is important to talk about these issues. There is much debate about whether watching such films negatively influences young girls or boys). That is why the conversation after the film is so important. Issue of gender roles will always be there with fairy tales that take place in the past, like Beauty and the Beast. This story is not a modern tale and should not be viewed as one. Rather, it should be seen as an opportunity to have a discourse about gender roles with our peers and kids.