“Beauty and the Beast”, the animated musical, was produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1991. The generation of women I belong to, and hopefully relate to, grew up watching movies conforming to standards of gender roles and relationships Disney [and other such production houses] have made, and Beauty and the Beast used to be one of favourite films as a younger girl. The premise of the film is quite simple; a prince, after a series of unfortunate events, has been turned into a hideous beast due to his unkindness to a witch, and will not be restored back to his beauty until someone falls in love with him. Belle, which means beauty, is a town-girl who yearns for a life outside of her own jaded and rut-like schedule. Due to events I am sure everyone knows and understands, she makes the choice of saving her father and being forced to spend her remaining life in the castle with Beast. The beast keeps her away from her family for his selfish reasons, is extremely temperamental and has thinly-veiled rage issues. When Belle refuses to eat with him, he lashes out and decides that she not be given dinner at all. He almost causes her injury when she enters a part of the castle that he had told her specifically not to enter.
On a completely unrelated note, Psychology today defines abuse in a very specific manner. Some of the major characteristics of a textbook abuser are entitlement and an angry temperament. The abuser will relocate the victim socially and geographically to isolate the victim and claim possession. This will lead to the lack of a support system for the victim and he/she will be rendered helpless. This eventually leads to the hiding rage issues emerge in the form of either emotional or physical abuse, or both.
This is not only familiar, but strikingly alike to the behaviour that Beast shows Belle time and again. Let me also explain that whilst the Beast is shown to have a softer side, a side that he does not initially reveal to Belle, it should be noted that Belle had not yet seen that side of him when she pities him and decides to go back with him after running away from the castle. The character sketch of the Beast and the dynamics of the relationship he shares with Belle are fundamentally two-folds:
- He is a circumstantial hard-hearted monster who thrives on scaring others [evident from how scared the other residents of the house were of him], and does not understand basic human sentiments of fear and loss. This he hides by rage and anger, and lashes out on people closest to him. He is unforgiving and cruel; and the latter part of the movie shows him a changed man as Belle nurses him back to health and his desire to become a better human being.
- The major issue of the film lies in the perspective of Belle, the quintessential Disney girl [of those times, obviously]. Someone who is as forgiving as a woman should be. She has only seen the side of the Beast that is harsh and cruel [and possible incapable of love]. But it only takes the love of a woman to change an abuser. This is precisely the kind of belief that is supposed to be eradicated from minds of innocent young women and men alike, who have been victims of abuse.
Beauty and the Beast reveals to us how romantic relationships are perceived to be, and the generation old gender issues that no person needs to conform to. A hard-hearted man need not exist, and need not need saving by love and by a nurturing, young woman. An abuser cannot be enabled, and it is a lesson that we must be teaching young girls everywhere what the signs of an abuser are and to seek help if they understand the consequences and dangers of being around a person like that. That said, Beauty and the Beast is an old film that barely any young girls watch anymore.
Ergo, I will talk about other influences of the contemporary art.
2005 saw the release of the first book of a four-book long series about a vampire-human love story, the Twilight series. Even though the Twilight demographic has been admitted to be the internet-savvy young teenage females, recent statistics have shown that this demographic also consists of middle-aged women and young men. I will specifically talk about the young teenage generation that this series has catered to. Bella Swan has admitted numerous times to being extremely clumsy and socially awkward. Edward Cullen is described as the perfect male; he is enigmatic and extremely stable and caring. He is somewhat jealous and possessive as well. These are probably the qualities that have made him so charming and attractive.
My concern here is the fan base that Edward Cullen has developed. He coerces Bella into doing what he wants her to do, and Bella passively lets him. Edward Cullen becomes attractive due to his aggression and stalking obsession for Bella which makes her fall more in love with him. Bella shows typical characteristics of a weak, flat character – passivity, low self-esteem, immaturity and romantic irrationality. Millions of young girls all over the world are now calling themselves fans of a male character who, even though cannot be called an abuser explicitly, shows subtle characteristics that should not be in any respectable man, or woman. He makes it clear to Bella that he wishes to “feed” on her, and that her blood is attractive to him. His temper issues and his dangerous persona are attributed to him being a vampire, ridding him of blame for his actions and thus, making him seems like the nice person that he may not be.
Fifty Shades of Grey, which has a much older demographic, also consists of a man who is obsessive and jealous. Christian Grey mentions more than once that he has not had any “real” feelings for any woman, and he is 27. Let me clarify here that a man claiming to a woman he is sexually interested in, that she is not “like other women” is neither attractive, nor well. The fact that he has a low opinion of women in general, should be a ringing warning to step back and wonder about the vigour of a relationship.
Male characters are increasingly testosterone oriented, and violence is a facet in entertainment that has surprised me. Young girls are growing up with convoluted ideas of idealization in men, and in themselves. A song like “You don’t know you’re beautiful” is disturbing simply because it shows attraction towards someone who has a low opinion of herself. Women who have a clear idea about their thoughts, actions and life purpose, their strengths and weaknesses are somehow perceived as being unattractive. This is exactly why a woman wanting sex, or sexual experiences, is shunned a ‘slut’, a word that has no male counterpart. How that asserts the stereotype is that, that dominance in a relationship is held by a man alone, whether by pushing the female counterpart down, or fuelling relationship stereotypes with false definitions of manliness or feminity. And the worst part is, that vigorous, able women fall for it.
If a person with low self esteem gets into an unhealthy relationship, something very disastrous could happen. He/she will want to validate themselves by trying to change someone who may never change. That is why it is necessary to have a healthy perception of marriage and relationships by the people surrounding the victim. A person who is in an abusive relationship lives constantly in denial and fear and refuses to relate to other people, and is stuck in being a part of something that they could lose their lives over. I cannot possible imagine the psychology of living such a life, hence I refuse to hold them culpable for not leaving the relationship. But, it is necessary that such a person has friends and family such that they need not think twice before leaving a spouse who has, even once, cause physical or mental injury.
I would rather that if I have a daughter someday, her idea of a relationship, any relationship, sexual or platonic, be governed by her ability to understand herself and not anyone else. Women need to understand the subtle differences between genuine care and concern, and excessive possessiveness and unreasonable jealousy, and the latter is never attractive. Maybe after that, we will try to restore balance to the society.