Monday, February 15, 2010

Beauty vs Beast? (Article)

Beauty & the Beast

I didn't post half of what I wanted to yesterday for Valentine's Day so please forgive me if I continue with this love and romance in fairy tales theme for a couple more days yet.


I've gone back and forth on whether to post the link to this but fairy tales don't shy away from dark and difficult issues so here goes:

I found this post, originally by Rod Van Mechelen quite a few years ago, at a site labeled "What Every Man Should Know About Feminist Issues". (You read the warning above, right?) It discusses the problems one man has in using "Beauty and the Beast" as an allegory for a successful marriage/relationship.

The article/post appears to have been written in response to a book called "Why Women Shouldn't Marry", which should tip you off to the strong feelings/opinions discussed. (In other words, it's one guy's complaint at feminist expectations (and treatments) of potential male partners. And no, I have not read that book.)

Please note: I do not agree with the points the writer of the article is trying to make, though I do not mean any disrespect. I actually think there's rather a lot wrong with the whole thing BUT at the same time I can understand some of the concerns the article writer has, as extreme as they are. The reason I'm posting a link here is because this is - apparently - how some people think, and it's a good example of the sorts of problems people have with using fairy tales as templates for relationships. (And yes, usually people of this mind have not read the originals or read fairy tales in general at all but are responding to the pop-cultural impression of the tropes.) It also is a different example of how fairy tales can be interpreted and how, even from a negative point of view, they can touch on deep issues.
Beauty and the beast
by Johanna Ost

Needless to say (but I will anyway) the post is written rather defensively in its presentation of worrying-yet-interesting ideas. If for nothing else, here's a great example of how some disillusioned or negative characters might think, which can be very useful for writers of fairy tale retellings.

Here's an excerpt:
The essence of the myth of the marriage relationship, as it is endlessly replayed in the timeless allegory Beauty and the Beast, is that marriage transforms the "Beast" into a man, and thereby empowers the "Beauty." But today's reality is that women are helping to transform most men into sex starved "Beasts" by eroticising themselves as evanescent "Beauties," and then promoting their sex as a scarce commodity by making men beg and pay for it.

Every woman who "plays hard to get" or lets men make all the first moves, plays a part in this.

Told you it may read as controversial! ;)

You can read the whole post HERE.

One final note: if you wish to leave a comment on the article (or this post) I welcome all points of view - I just ask that you please be respectful in choosing your words and be aware that issues like these can be emotional (and sometimes confusing) for people in their personal situations.


  1. This is a complex issue because of the muddling of "original" (and that's a difficult concept to define in folklore that is not singly authored) fairy tales and the Disney/modern romanticized versions.

    I'm a person who believes in true romance and healthy marriages. I certainly don't agree that women should never marry or whatever the article author is trying to say. But I'm right on the same page with her that there are definitely disturbing elements of romanticized, victim-fantasy-imbued versions of dark, violent, un-romantic stories.

    I had a funny experience the other day--I heard the soundtrack to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" for the first time in years. Without the movie visuals (and maybe without a child's perpective) it was a whole new experience!

    Belle came off as a snotty, spoiled brat who thought she was better than everyone else and spent her days insulting the lovely village and neighbors who were so polite and cheery with her. Then she spurned the love of the hot guy with a lacking personality (Gaston), yet accepted the love of an ugly, ill-tempered, even abusive man with lots of wealth (Beast). Hey, if he's rich, or he imprisons you in his house... Give him a chance! It could work out great!

    The "Be Our Guest" song came off as a glorification of servitude--an almost laughable parody of the "happy slave" myth.

    Don't get me wrong. I have loved Disney movies since I was a little kid. They're magical and fantastical and beautiful... but wow, I see now that they really do harbor some twisted messages and implications, in the pursuit of a magical princess fantasy!

  2. OK, Gypsy, once again, you are forcing me to link to you! Your ideas are so good, you are making me look bad! I'll have to post about your post about another post!
    Seriously, this post is truly thought-provoking. What always confuses me about people's views on fairy tales and marriage is that people people take it as a paradigm for marriage in the first place. I mean, even B and the B is really about courtship. And anyone who actually reads the deBeamont tale would know that Beauty, if anyone, changes in the story. Thank you, Gypsy, for pointing out that the people who object to fairy tale messages and morals often are not referring to the originals.

    And Genie, you are absolutely right about the Disney movie.

    Interestingly, when the next issue of comes out (April 2), the theme is B and the B.

  3. Thanks for the post, Gypsy. It makes me smile more than anything because I don't consider Beauty and the Beast to be pushing the agenda that is discussed here. If I spent ten minutes on it, I could come up with much better examples, I'm sure.

    Beauty and the Beast is my favorite tale, based on my favorite versions, because I have always loved the theme of looking beyond the physical surface. My mom dislikes it and sees it as a textbook for abusive relationships. Some versions lend themselves to that interpretation, Disney's included, IMHO.

    But, as always, that is the beauty of the tales, their flexibility and many variants that lean to differing interpretations and influences.

    And I don't see any fairy tales inspiring a person's entire world view. I think they inspire us to lay our own views on top of them and take what we need or want from them. Some of us want the Disney, some of us want the more traditional, most of us seem to want something in between...

  4. I find this truly intriguing. Ever since I was a girl Beauty and the Beast was my favorite fairy tale. What's not to like? Good girl falls in love with bad boy and they end living happily ever after, right?

    And since I've grown older, I've read almost every book out there about Beauty and the Beast. They're all startling different because no two versions are written by the same people. I would like to think that's what it boils down to, people. Everyone has thier own version and thier own happily ever after, if they even want one.

    Reading your views, I think I've larned something: To me, and only me, the story has nothing to do with marriage, or love, or abuse- it has to do with hope. Beauty hopes that Beast is not a monster. Beast hopes she can make him whole. The servent hope that things will be settled peacefuly. The father hopes Beauty will live happily. Hope.

    Seeing my view written here, compared to all of yours, makes me laugh. It still comes down to people and thier opinions. That's why a fairy tale is a fairy tale and not the real thing, because no one knows the whole story, from all angles, without letting thier opinions get in the way.

    It's ironic, then, that that's all a story is, a persons opinion written to be read and understood, or argued over. Loved or hated. If that was a story IS, then perhaps it's not ABOUT the subject after all, but us, the readers.

    If that's the case, then all of us are right, and no one is wrong. I'd like that. And thank you for making me think. I've an idea for my new novel.

    (I truly am sorry for not responding to this sooner, but I had no idea it was here. I was just browsing and felt the urge to place in my opinion.)

    ~~Andie Dean