There are some concepts that are fixable, but others that are not. The Patriarchal Storytelling structure is often misused to sell concepts that are not very good for people in the real world, even if they sound like romantic theories on paper, or at least a guarantee for better ways if you follow the instructions to the letter. Many young women’s lives have been forever altered, and even ruined thanks to the toxic mindsets of Patriarchal stories, and we, at the very least, should acknowledge it.
My disdain for the story came from the get-go, but it wasn’t until I was a twentysomething newspaper columnist when I interviewed a social worker who specialized in dealing with teenage girls who were in abusive relationships that I could actually put my finger on the exact reason the story was repulsive to women. She was someone who genuinely cared about the young women she saw staying in relationships with men who beat them black and blue.
Some of those girls, she explained to me, were shackled by the Cinderella syndrome, in that they thought their abusers were their saviours (financial, for example, but there were other carrots dangled that these young women misconstrued as positive reasons to keep a man who was giving them black eyes and broken ribs).
But the other was the Beauty and the Beast Syndrome.
These young women thought their beauty was going to tame these beasts. The tale suckered these girls into staying with a batterer because their love was somehow going to magically transform these beasts into their prince charming, except it never did.
The scam takes advantage of something women do an awful lot by nature — what Arlie Hochschild coined as “emotional labour”. Women are the ones who keep families together, and that takes work — emotional work.
That focus on “fixing” a man means she will have to sacrifice that focus and ignore other things, such as her career, well-being, and happiness.
So no, Belle is not some sort of sexual social worker who is going save her man, she is just being distracted as she wastes her life.
Notice that Belle doesn’t stand up to the Beast from the get-go. She doesn’t start her own business to get her family out of poverty. She hooks up with a monster who financially supports her. The end. (And there is the threat of dire consequences if she leaves his castle, a common feint cults use).
So Beauty and the Beast merely encourages young women to settle for abuse with the promise that if they behave in the correct way for long enough, the payoff will be that her beast will become civilized. The notion is truly sickening — and is a waste of that emotional labor women are adept at expending.
It does not surprise me that this movie did as well as it did. It should not have, of course. It should have been denounced and Watson’s backside kicked hard from here to tomorrow as her right to call herself a feminist gets revoked until she actually understood that no feminist would have ever agreed to play a Disney Princess under any circumstance, especially as Disney cagily banked and exploited her feminist label to prevent people from denouncing a sexist story.
While Disney gets Matriarchal Storytelling when it comes to their more masculine properties, such as Star Wars and Marvel, it is clueless when it comes to their more feminine concepts. The problem is their Princess Line is too profitable for them to merely scrap it all in favour of something far more stable and liberating.
Princesses in stories have made a mess of a lot of women’s lives, encouraging them and instructing them to not cut their losses because if she holds on just long enough, her will can overpower an abusive male partner and he will just change for her, never mind that he has found the advantage of stealing all of her focus: she fusses over him as she helps his career at the expense of her own. She rewards bad behaviour by staying with someone who has earned to be alone -- not some who is owed a servant.
Belle is not the only one whose story is unfixable: Wonder Woman is just the same: she takes off from paradise at the first male she sees, and slums it as she keeps saving her crush’s hide, all while prancing around in a modified Playboy Bunny suit.
The 50 Shades series and Twilight are adult retellings of Beauty and the Beast.
They all sell books and movie tickets, but at what price?
If you are a woman who has stayed in a beastly relationship or beastly job because you thought you could transform it into something functional, you may very well have been shackled by the toxic life philosophy of Belle.
I always said women could turn any Hell into paradise, but the point of life is not to ever reward those conniving demons with a paradise from your labor: if they want it so badly, let them clean up their own act, and not use you as their source of energy and servant.
It is not a talent to be proud of — it is a bad habit to question. Life is not easy, but we do not have to make it more complicated, either.
Matriarchal Storytelling doesn’t put up with the Beasts or the Belles as it a method of questioning our untested truisms, not continue to perpetrate them.
I have played around with the concept of Belle in my character of Alena Love — a teenage girl from Texas from the late-1800s who once came from obscene wealth until her mother died — and then her braggart father blows that fortune in less than a year, but in his need for money, he strikes a deal with wealthy older men, promising his two daughters’ hands in marriage in exchange for some cash.
Yet Alena Love is nobody’s fool. She figures out that a party her father threw was, in fact, a trap for her and her sister. She may have been the belle of the ball at the party, but the price was too steep.
If she were a character in a patriarchal yarn, she would have gone through with the marriage as she fought to save her soul.
But she is a Matriarchal heroine, and instead of playing the role of a sheep who is being taken to the market, she grabs her sister Vivian and gets the hell out before her father has a chance to see his plan through.
They never see or hear from their father again, but they meet up with a young Cajun teen in Louisiana who narrowly escaped a lynching — the three girls are tired of being second-class citizens due to their sex, and in Liselle’s case, race, and decide to find a town that will treat them as equals.
They are repeatedly chased out of town, mostly due to Alena’s little public sermons extolling equality for all regardless of sex, race, and even sexual orientation.
While Belle tap danced for the beast, Alena and her companions tell those beasts what jerks they are, but eventually find a small forest, and along with two other young girls they meet along the way, decide that if they cannot find a town that sees the world the way they do, the five, eventually known to the world as The Rocking Hand, will make their own town from scratch.
It is a hard road as they must build their houses, gardens, and make their own clothes and food, but eventually, twelve other young women join them in creating their own home.
They face obstacles and even stand up to violence, but they are not princesses expecting men to do their dirty work — they do it themselves.
They still find their loves along the way, but on their own terms. They are seen as rebel outlaws to the rest of the world, but their grit and determination defeats the fear of others.
The Matriarchal thrives with the concepts of innovation, invention, and re-invention. It is about the thrill of creating something new when the old is rigged to hold you back unnecessarily.
Belle gives in to the system. Alena thumbs her nose at it as she inspires generations after she breathes her last. In the Matriarchal style, I can write about a young Alena in her early days, but then also show an elderly Alena as she inspires her granddaughters in their own respective stories — and see how her descendants thrive with her legacy — and how those unrelated to her take her words and actions to heart as they are guided to build their own worlds to make a better tomorrow.
Feminism is about building new foundations. It is an exciting way to shake up the world from Sleeping Beauty’s passive slumber. It kicks Cinderella in the backside for relying on her looks instead of putting stepmom and stepsisters in their place.
And it also shows the ugly side of Belle who sacrifices the future of young women with the false promise that they are heroines who can change the ways of their abusers instead of showing them self-reliance and defiance in a world that has too many pleasers and enablers, but not enough rebels bringing people back to their senses.