The Walt Disney Corporation is a dominating force in the realm of children movies. Disney films have been notoriously laden with gender stereotypes. However, the Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast” appears to deviate from this trajectory by portraying a nerdy female lead, a handsome “evil guy” and a brute as “Prince Charming.” Nonetheless, further analysis reveals that this movie is in fact no different from its predecessors. In addition, the “Beauty and the Beast” also contains some stereotypes related to race and social hierarchy.
The Walt Disney Company is one of the biggest media corporations in the world. It has been dominating the world of children movies for decades (Lamb & Brown 2007).
Children’s idea of appropriate gender roles and behaviors has been incessantly strengthened by Disney movies. Parents and educators have recently started to challenge the Disney conglomerate regarding their stereotypes-laden products (Guenther, 2009). Many people believe that due to its unwavering influence on children’s imagination, it should be Disney’s duty to ensure that their films are free of gender stereotypes and racial or religious discrimination. The 1991 Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast” appears at first to defy traditional gender stereotypes. Nonetheless, a careful analysis of the movie reveals that it abounds in stereotypes, whether related to gender, race or social hierarchy.
Transcending Gender Stereotypes
The protagonists in “Beauty and the Beast” have several characteristics that transcend Disney’s archetypal characterizations of the “Disney Princess” and “Prince Charming.”
Belle is a nerdy introvert who loves to read. Moreover, her dream is to get out of her provincial town and seek adventure. Also, Belle is not fooled by appearances. She constantly rejects Gaston, the most sought-after bachelor in town. Even though he is handsome, manly, muscular, rich and respected by all the townspeople, Belle is not attracted to him at all. She sees Gaston as rude, conceited and ignorant who only wants to marry her to make her his “little wife”. He believes: “ It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon, she’ll start getting ideas, and thinking.” When Belle calls him “primeval” he answers by saying “Why thank you.” Belle is also very courageous. When she notices her father is missing, she goes searching for him at night in the most dangerous part of the woods alone. In addition, she does not hesitate to sacrifice herself and offers to trade places with her sick father as the Beast’s prisoner.
The two male leads also break traditional gender stereotypes. Gaston is described as “tall, dark, strong and handsome.” He is loved by all the residents of the town and has many female admirers. Nonetheless, he turns out to be the “bad guy”. On the other hand, the Beast is repulsively ugly and turns out to be the “Prince Charming.” For the first time in a Disney movie, the message that what’s inside is more important than appearances is reinforced. Gaston is rude, insensitive, and disrespectful towards Belle’s father. He wants to marry Belle because “no one says no to Gaston.” He does not care about her feelings, or what she really wants and is rejected by Belle. The Beast is sensitive, caring and loves Belle so much he lets her go. He ends up marrying her.
Reinforcing Traditional Gender Stereotypes
Despite the previously mentioned characteristics, an in-depth analysis of Belle’s character reveals that she is in fact a stereotypical representation of Disney heroines. First, her name itself literally translates to “Beauty.” In addition, Belle’s appearance conforms to Disney’s ideals of beauty. She is fair skinned with straight long hair and wide eyes. She is skinny, with a tiny waist and delicate hands. Her voice is charming and she sings beautifully. Also, it seems she has an inherent need to look after the men that are important to her. She constantly takes care of her ditzy father and tends to the beast after wolves wound him. Moreover, Belle is described as “strange”, “funny” and “peculiar” by the townspeople because she loves to read. They are baffled by her love of books. They seem to think it is useless for a pretty girl to read. Also, even though Belle loves to read, her favorite chapter is the one where the heroin meets her Prince Charming: “Ohhh, isn’t this amazing. It’s my favorite part because, you’ll see, here’s where she meets Prince Charming.” The film suggests that even though she likes adventure, the most important drive in Belle’s life is to find her “Prince Charming” and marry him. Thus, exactly like previous Disney princesses, Belle can be reduced to a happy housewife searching for a husband (Maio, 1998). All Disney princesses are incomplete without a man, and Belle is no exception (Lamb & Brown, 2007).
Reinforcing Racial Stereotypes
The characters in “Beauty and the Beast” are all white and “Disney-typical.” Nonetheless, specific racial stereotypes (French and British) appear in the characters of Lumiere and Cogsworth.
Lumiere is portrayed as a candleholder with a strong French accent and demeanor. He affirms that once he regains his human appearance, he will resume cooking and dating. He is a scorching and ardent romantic, which is a stereotypical representation of Frenchmen (Wynn, 2010). On the other hand, Cogsworth is a clock who is strictly obedient to the rules. When Belle’s father enters the castle lost and wet, all the other animated objects rush to help him. Cogsworth is the only one who is reminding them not to talk to anyone. In addition, he affirms that once he becomes human again, his dream would be to “sip tea.” Thus, the French are perceived as being obsessed with flirting and food while the British are much more stiff, strict and boring.
Reinforcing Stereotypes Related to Social Hierarchy
In “Beauty and the Beast”, the servants are portrayed as inherently happy to be serving their masters and never complaining.
Gaston’s sidekick, LeFou, constantly suffers from physical mistreatment and emotional abuse from his master. Throughout the movie, Gaston has dropped LeFou in a pile of mud, hit him with a gun, squeezed his head underneath a chair and smashed him against a wall, yet LeFou remains faithful to his boss. LeFou is a clever man. He successfully tricks Belle’s father into describing the Beast in front of the asylum doctors so they think he is insane and leads the townsfolk on their quest to find the Beast. Despite his resourcefulness, he is always portrayed as Gaston’s dumb sidekick. He has a comical physique, He is short and plump, with missing teeth and a big red nose. Thus, the “Beauty and the Beast” seems to vehiculate the message that servants are destined to serve their bosses no matter how badly they are treated. They are poor and ugly, so their feelings are not as important as those of the beautiful and rich protagonists.
Disney movies have notoriously been laden with gender stereotypes. A first look at the 1991 Disney classic the “Beauty and the Beast” may lead us to believe it is an exception, with its portrayal of a nerdy female lead, a handsome “mean guy” and an ugly “Prince Charming.” Nonetheless, after a closer look, viewers realize that all the traditional gender stereotypes are present along with some stereotypes related to race and social hierarchy. Since gender is a social construct reinforced by society (Guenther, 2009), it is thus critical for parents and educators to monitor what our children are exposed to.
Guenther, S. (2009). A Beauty or a beast? Textual analysis of stereotypes and discrimination in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Retrieved from: http://bmc277.blogspot.com/2009/10/beauty-or-beast-textual-analysis-of.html
Lamb, S. & Brown, L.M. (2007). See no evil? What girls watch. Packaging Childhood. Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes. St. Martin’s Press. Retrieved from: http://moodle.aub.edu.lb/pluginfile.php/154560/mod_label/intro/Packaging%20Girlhood%20Chapter%202.pdf
Maio, K. (1998). Disney’s dolls. New Internationalist Magazine, 308. Retrieved from: http://newint.org/features/1998/12/05/dolls/
Wynn, E. S. (2010). An analysis of stereotypes in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Retrieved from: http://earlswynn.hubpages.com/hub/An-Analysis-of-Stereotypes-in-Disneys-Beauty-and-the-Beast