Why Beauty and the Beast is Not About Stockholm Syndrome

waltdisneyconfessionsrage:

beeftony:

I want to take a few minutes to unpack a common criticism of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, namely that it glorifies abusive relationships, telling impressionable young girls that it’s okay if their boyfriends shout at them and get physically violent, because they can “fix them with their love.” While it’s easy to look at the movie’s reputation in pop culture and make that assessment based on the broad strokes, if you look a little closer you’ll see that this conclusion is complete hogwash. Let me explain why.

Keep reading

This is still one of my favorite posts on the subject:

beeftony:

I want to take a few minutes to unpack a common criticism of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, namely that it glorifies abusive relationships, telling impressionable young girls that it’s okay if their boyfriends shout at them and get physically violent, because they can “fix them with their love.” While it’s easy to look at the movie’s reputation in pop culture and make that assessment based on the broad strokes, if you look a little closer you’ll see that this conclusion is complete hogwash. Let me explain why.

I’ll start by referring you to this post about composer Howard Ashman and his influence on the film, which reveals that the movie is actually about the various ways that people get othered by society. The Beast is reviled because of his looks, which feeds into his anger issues and pushes him further away. Belle is a total bookworm who defies society’s expectations of her, which leads people to conclude that she’s not right in the head. Her father is a bit eccentric, and is locked up in an insane asylum for it. It’s about two people who have been completely ostracized by their society finding solace in each other.

There’s another theme that the post I linked to doesn’t mention, which is that Beast’s entire character arc is about learning the rules of hospitality. He turned away a guest, who turned out to be a powerful sorceress who cursed him until he turned 21. For some reason, he then had problems with anger and proportionate emotional response. When you keep in mind that this is a guy who has no idea how to treat his guests, his behavior towards Belle becomes a little more understandable.

There’s also the fact that their relationship is not romantic from the beginning, unlike a real life abusive relationship. Belle agrees to be the Beast’s prisoner in place of her father, which provides a context to Beast’s initial treatment of her that many people ignore. It’s not like he came up to her and said “wanna live in my castle and be my girlfriend” and decieved her. She knows exactly what she’s getting into. She’s a downright unruly prisoner too, and given that he still approaches his problems like the eleven year boy who was cursed for turning away a creepy stranger, the fact that he reacts to her defiance of him by yelling and throwing shit makes a lot more sense.

The Beast initially buys into his servants’ thinking that Belle is the one who can finally break the spell, but he’s crippled by self-doubt, wondering how she could ever love someone like him. And she’s not immediately enamored by him, since pounding on doors and telling girls to starve if they won’t eat with you isn’t exactly romantic behavior.

Things don’t actually get romantic between them until the Beast comes to terms with the fact that he’s been a gigantic asshole, and makes up for his behavior with a series of grand gestures, like giving her a library and taking her dancing. He makes the effort to change, and it has nothing to do with her hoping that he’ll get better if she just loves him a little more. She has no illusions about her situation. All of Belle’s attempts to improve the Beast’s mood come from her being a naturally compassionate person who sees someone in pain, and she wants to make him feel better. And again, all of this happens before they even begin to entertain a romance.

And once they do start falling in love, Beast displays none of the trademark abusive behaviors that typically dominate unlikely love stories. The one time he gets well and truly furious, to the point where Belle runs for her fucking life after he discovers that she touched his rose, he still beats up a pack of wolves for her (which, again, happened while she was still nominally his prisoner). She’s tough as nails when she treats his wounds after that too, and she succeeds where everyone else failed in getting him to calm the fuck down. She is not afraid of him, and he stops giving her a reason to be.

And then, after they do fall in love, and the Beast changes his behavior towards her, he tells her that she can go. That is not the behavior of a controlling abuser, and the only reason he told her not to leave the castle to begin with was because she was still his prisoner and he was holding her to the terms of the agreement she willingly made to save her father. He releases her from that agreement, and that’s when their relationship truly changes. When she comes back to the castle at the climax, it’s because she’s doing so of her own volition to save the man she’s fallen in love with.

Children do learn things from the media they consume, but the lessons we learn from cartoons are put into context for us and it’s up to parents to make sure children learn the right lessons from what they watch. And something that this movie has the potential to teach boys, especially boys who come from marginalized groups that are othered by society like the Beast was, is that you don’t have to be the monster society claims you were born to be.

Speaking as a man, I can confirm from firsthand experience that boys grow up immersed in rape culture. We’re told that our behavior is not our fault, that “boys will be boys,” and we’re not expected to be held responsible for our actions towards women. We see school dress codes having sections for girl’s attire that are five times longer than the one for boys, with school officials telling girls to cover up because it could be distracting to boys. We see cases like Steubenville, where a community of otherwise good, hard-working people comes together to defend rapists just because they happen to be good at sports, while blaming and demonizing the victim. We’re told that rape and other forms of physical and psychological abuse are an uncontrollable impulse rather than a tool of oppression.

A corrollary to this is that boys in underprivileged areas, mostly black communities, are further demonized by being expected to behave in hypermasculine, misogynistic ways because that’s how white people portray them in media. They’re painted as thugs, as hoodlums. As monsters. They’re told that it’s just the way the world works, as if no one can change that.

And what this movie demonstrates is that this line of thinking is wrong. The Beast is told his entire life that he’s a monster, and after a while he starts acting like one. When Belle comes into his life, he’s able to confront that behavior and move past it, but not because she “fixes him with her love,” at least not in the way you’re thinking. Belle is loving and compassionate towards everyone she meets. She doesn’t focus all of it on him. And it is her loving attitude that inspires him to be a better person, not just who society dictates he should be. Again,he is the one who makes the first move and apologizes to her, then changes his behavior and tries to make up for it. That is the furthest thing from an abusive relationship.

As for what this movie has to teach girls, it’s that you don’t have to fit into society’s narrow idea of what women are good for. That you can disappear into a book and fall in love with storytelling. That you can lose yourself in fiction and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And that if you are kind, compassionate and loving, you can make a difference in somebody’s life. But notice that this doesn’t make her a pushover. She doesn’t just calmly accept Beast’s treatment of her. She fights back in her own way, with words and ideas and the lessons she learned from reading so many books, and this helps to change his behavior.

Beauty and the Beast is a fantastic movie, and so much deeper than this knee-jerk “lol stockholm syndrome” criticism suggests. For a movie that’s about looking past the surface to what’s underneath, it’s ironic that so many people dismiss it so quickly by not doing that.

Anyway, hope this made sense. I have a sudden hankering to watch this movie again.

Why Beauty and the Beast is Not About Stockholm Syndrome

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.