Wednesday, May 6, 2015

BATB: The Beast as MALE Victim of Rape

Pavel Tartarnikov

We've been doing some discussion of Cinderella as an abuse victim, especially with the latest blockbuster Cinderella movie. Jenny from Halfway to Fairyland has a very interesting discussion on "Beauty and the Beast" and what it says about our culture that we have moved the Beast from innocent victim, to his beastliness as a deserved punishment.

Disney Beast Concept Art

Usually critics of BATB harp on the Stockholm Syndrome and how it could encourage abusive relationships. This always makes me leery, not only because I get defensive of my all time favorite childhood movie, but because Disney makes it very clear that the Beast makes changes over time and that Belle only starts to love him once she sees him making changes-especially sacrificing himself to save her from wild wolves.

But this is a new way of thinking about the fairy tale-that males CAN be victims just as much as women, and that in either case it's never okay to blame the victim.
Denis Godeev

In Jenny's words:
"Now, let’s talk about what we’ve done to this story over the years, and what it says about us as a society.
This awful thing that happened to the Beast was his own fault, naturally. A very young man is sexually abused, essentially, by an older woman who is supposed to be taking care of him, and we change this into the story of an unpleasant young man being justly punished by a good woman. And then—then we do the exact same thing Beauty spent the entire story learning not to do. We immediately assume that ugliness of body must signify ugliness of spirit, and we adjust the story accordingly.
This is meant to be a story about a girl learning to see past appearances—about Beauty becoming a better person. Instead it’s become the exact opposite—Beauty helping the Beast to become better. It’s a redemption story now. The Beast never needed to be redeemed. He needed to be rescued."
(Emphasis mine)

The change from Beast as a victim of sexual harassment in Villeneuve's to a spoiled child in Disney became the new norm for many BATB interpretations, but not all. For example, Robin McKinley's Beasts are always perfect gentlemen. But if you asked the average person on the street why the Beast was cursed, chances are the vast majority will tell you it's because he was a jerk and deserved it. Now, I do think this is a very interesting interpretation of the tale-a good way to explore beastliness as being an outward expression of what is on the inside-but the fact that this has become the new cultural BATB plot means that how we interpret the tale changes, and quite significantly.

Brent Hollowell

Basically, Halfway to Fairyland has a lot of really thoughtful posts on the evolution of fairy tales and you should read them if you haven't already

*Also-most of the images in this post can be found on Once Upon a Blog's/Gypsy's BATB Pinterest-a must-visit for BATB fans!
Julie Falques

18 comments:

  1. THIS SO MUCH THIS. Beauty and the Beast has ALWAYS been my favorite, but unlike so many other people who love the story, I've always disliked the Disney version, and I'm definitely not excited about the new remake, even if I love the actors. I would much have preferred Guillermo Del Toro direct it. I think he could have really captured the original meanings and messages within it.

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    1. I know I was so bummed Del Toro's project was scrapped!! I also get nervous about new BATB retellings, partly because I just take them so personally. I'm trying not to get my hopes up about the live action Disney...I'm sure there will be stunning visuals but there's still Gaston and everything so it looks like it will be much closer to the 1991 cartoon when I wish they would draw from the Villeneuve or Beaumont versions more.

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  2. "Russian artist whose name I can't translate" = Oksana Fomina

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    1. Thank you! Have updated the name in the post!

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  3. I think The victim-aggressor issue is very interesting... Just like in real life, a fairy tale character can be both. Just look at Snow White's Queen. She is a victim of The patriarchal society she lives in, a society who sees her as a baby-machine whose only quality is Beauty. But she's also an aggressor, she Could have got over her vanity and The idea of Snow White being fairer than her, but she didn't, she tried to Kill her daughter/stepdaughter, and because of it she was punished. We can understand the victim I think, but when he/she turns into an aggressor, we can do nothing but stop him.

    The Beast is a victim, but also a bit of an aggressor. He planned to eat Belle's father before knowing about Belle, didn't he? It's not common to see a man as a victim in fairy tales (I can only think about The Beast and Hansel) so it's sad when The victim is nowadays perceived as a jerk who deserved it. Women are portrayed as victims countless times, but men can be victims too, we can't forget that. Never

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    1. You're right, so much about what I'm learning about fairy tales these days is the cyclical nature of fairy tale characters...and how culture really tends to produce its own villains simply by the pressures it puts on people. It's tragic and yet doesn't excuse the evil continuing.

      And how aggressive the Beast is depends on the version. In the Disney cartoon he imprisoned Belle's father because he was ticked he dared take shelter in his castle. In other versions he makes it seem like he's going to kill whoever comes to him, but as the Villeneuve version explains, it's all actually part of breaking the curse, because whoever agrees to marry him has to expect she'll be eaten first. And this discussion has a lot of connections to the Phantom of the Opera as well, where the book goes into his story more and how society's horror of him caused him to go over the edge...

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  4. Oh, I didn't know how The magic worked in Villeneuve's book... I only know Disney's BATB, Beaumont's short Tale (which is like villeneuve's version's little sister) and some oral versions.

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    1. I'm no expert on the versions of the tale, but that sounds pretty morally complex too... so the Beast has to imprison an innocent woman, or at the very least to psychologically torture her with the threat of death, in order to lift the curse, and thereby sort of become a beast in personality in order to throw off the beastly form? Man, that fairy was a jerk. But nevertheless, the most moral choice would really be to resign himself to being a beast forever rather than choosing to hurt somebody else.

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    2. You're right, it is kind of a moral gray area...although the Beast is following the instructions of a good fairy who is telling him what to do, because the ending of his curse, which was meant to be impossible in Villeneuve's version, will also be able to end a curse that Beauty doesn't even know she has (her mother is a fairy and an evil fairy was angry she married a human and cursed her daughter to marry a monster). It's really complex and not the most realistic but everything ends up working together. Which is why future authors simplified it to "the Beast was really angry the father took a rose" even though wanting to kill him for that is also unjustified. I think the authors just wanted to make the story scary in the beginning without implicating any of the main characters, which doesn't entirely work.

      I'd read a version where the Beast resigns himself to never breaking the curse because it would be too cruel...

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  5. Great post, Kristin, and thanks for the link to Jenny's thoughtful piece. I've been grappling with BATB issues in my own work lately, and the historical overview is so interesting. So much depends on one's perspective, particularly on what constitutes beauty an beastliness. And cultural perspective evolves (or devolves) over time, too.

    It's a measure of just how potent this tale continues to be that we're still having these discussions centuries later! (Which, of course, is true of all fairy tales.)

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    1. Yes, so much going on beneath the surface of this fairy tale (much like, beneath the surface of the Beast!). And you're right, the classic fairy tales really do transcend individual cultures and defy having one specific "meaning"

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  6. Thanks for this post! I try to talk about this, but folks seem so removed from the original tale that they can't grasp Beast's predicament and personality.

    After reading the comments, I'd like to offer some food for thought regarding Beast's scenes with Beauty's father.

    Our culture has lost its ancient understanding of Hospitality, and the sacred obligations between guest and host. Bonds of Hospitality were once a very big deal. What the Merchant did to Beast was very wrong.

    Beast sheltered, protected, fed him, lavishly met his every need, provided his transport home. The Merchant commits three serious crimes when he plucks that rose. (1) He broke the social contract between host and guest, taking more than was offered, without permission or consideration, dishonoring his host's generosity; (2) he stole property that happened to be Beast's most prized possession; and (3) the property he stole was: a rose. Of all the fairy tale symbols of beauty and fertility, the rose is special.

    What might the plucking of that rose might mean to Beast? Ponder the meaning of the word: deflower. Given Beast's history, the theft of his rose is no paltry offense. Even in ignorance of his host's circumstances, the Merchant's ungrateful choice to steal his host's rose is inexcusable. If we cannot in good conscience blame the victimized Beast for being cursed in the first place, how can we then blame him for his anger when he is revictimized by yet another questionable parent-figure?

    The Merchant's act was a sexual insult toward a character who expressed nothing but compassion toward a stranger in need. I think this is why the offender's crime can be answered only by either death or a fulfillment via marriage of the "deflowering" the offender initiated. Since marrying the Merchant is out of the question for Beast, once Beast learns who the rose is for, a path toward mercy is revealed.

    For all that it's a grim choice to ask a man and his daughter(s) to make, it's still a choice. A choice that can satisfy the interests of both justice and love, unraveling the horrors of rape for all the characters. Beast insists that it's Beauty's choice whether or not she will intervene to finish what her father started (a clue about Beast's true character that Disney dismantled). Would it have been better for Beauty and her sisters if Beast killed their father on the spot in repayment for the man's crime? Offering Option #2 was Beast's way of giving everyone, including himself, a way to survive the encounter. Perhaps even do more than survive. Beast is such a hopeful, gracious character! The father/criminal could see only wrath and outward ugliness. That is all the Merchant expected (or deserved) to see. But Beauty? Well, she is different.

    The story reveals that Beast never intended to harm Beauty at any stage of their romance. Not even in the moment when he offered the Merchant a chance to take the rose to Beauty, along with the implied marriage proposal that accompanies the bloom. When Beauty arrives in his home, Beast does everything in his power to communicate that she is safe, her father and her family are safe, and he is Beauty's slave. It is Beauty's agreement to live with Beast, not her father's agreement, that Beast requests and receives. He does not imprison Beauty or her father. Both are free to make their own decisions about how to respond to their circumstances. The big surprise (in an era when men arranged marriages for women for many reasons) is Beast's complete respect for Beauty and her freedoms.

    Beast does not allow an injustice to go unanswered, but he also commits no crime of his own during his efforts to resolve the harm done to him by others. Instead, the enchanted bridegroom turns his own curse into a blessing for Beauty and her family. Choosing to pursue his own liberation, he liberates Beauty, her father, and Beauty's family back home. The moral choices of Beauty and Beast combine to make their happy ending possible.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing, I've never heard the Beast's encounter with the Merchant put in that light before. In fact, would you be interested in sharing this via a guest post on the main blog?

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    2. Kristin, wow. Thank you for offering! Sure, I'd love to share this as a guest post. I'd be honored. Your blog and SurLaLune Fairy Tales are my top go-to sites for all things Faerie.

      This scene in the story, when the Merchant meets the Beast, has always especially fascinated me, along with the moment when Beauty decides to return to Beast after her reunion with her family. To have a huge part of your curse involve the inability to explain the curse to anyone is so true-to-life for victims of abuse in the everyday world. On top of everything else, many survivors must cope with all the outside (often wrong) assumptions about who they are and what they have experienced, and the all-too-common fear of being condemned for somehow "deserving" what happened to them. Beast capably standing up for his rights with the Merchant can be viewed as a powerful step toward healing from his trauma.

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  7. This isn't really relevant to your article but I figured that since you're such a fan of BATB you might get a kick out of this (if you haven't already seen it). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veMnTQW1LwI

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    1. I can't believe I've never heard of this before!! The youtube link was blocked for copyright but I found it on the SmithsonianChannel.com. Thanks so much! Will be posting on this shortly!

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  8. Okay I realize that this has been here for several months, but I'm just now noticing it and I'm so incredibly excited because your blog is one of my favorite things ever and you mentioned me!

    Hi. You're awesome. Thanks for reading my blog.

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    1. Thanks! You're awesome too! You help me to think about fairy tales in a completely different way!

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