Beauty, Be Careful, He Is A Beast
I’m not a Disney hater. I’m not a Disney lover. I don’t forbid my kids from watching Disney stuff, nor from owning other trademarked, plastic-y, main-streamed moral, gender normative, skinny-body-promoting tropes. There’s some good stuff in there. There’s some super shitty stuff in there. But until recently, I only saw the average shitty stuff in there, like implying that all girls should be femme-y and thin, and that too many Bad Guys are black or brown.
Now I see Emma Watson in the classic yellow dress, all lithe and precious, getting ready to fall for and caress Beast in the new live action movie. Ruh roh. Not only do I cringe because she is far too young for me to think she’s undeniably hot, but because I am now wary of beasts preying upon intelligent, liberal paramours who are prone to accepting too many differences. I know now that most beasts don’t get better; they often get worse than even their initial, charismatic abuse. We’ve acknowledged “rape culture;” maybe it’s time to see some “domestic abuse culture.”
I try not to be so cynical. I used to just cheer for Belle. Yeah, girl, you be super bookish and smart and brave and sweet and tough all at the same time, especially in the face of all of that aggressive, abrupt growling. Yes, Belle, stand between your unusual love and the villagers who are foolishly afraid! … Because there are so many invalid, stupid, oppressive reasons to be afraid of other human beings.
But should Belle have to place her body, mind, and heart alone on the line for a creature who has immense power over and minimal niceness towards her? Is that risk one we should celebrate or normalize? Should we really be leading our (especially girl) children to believe that they can change a scary love interest? Is it, in almost any case, realistic to imply to anyone that most villains are just mis-understood and will or can quickly become decent romantic partners when given many, many chances?
I move along the margins of society. Almost all of my beloveds are exceptional and marginalized in some way: queer, brown, speak English As A Second Language, old, fat, mentally ill, neuro-atypical, non-monogamous, differently-abled, poor, under-educated, obnoxiously overly educated, artists, freaks, addicts, stoners, sickly cripples, etc. I wouldn’t have it any other way. These are my favorite people. My natal and chosen family. The best people I’ve ever met. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t fathom that others don’t overlook their non-normative aspects to see their shiny, beaming, rainbow-filling unicorn hearts!
I am so used to accepting exceptions and bucking so many norms of society (yay!) that I have accidentally made too many, in my house, in my personal space, in a partner who was supposed to be a peer. I came to believe that I could facilitate any behavior, any outlook, any wildness, any glimmer of hope of a human being hiding inside. I excused red flags and giant, sparkling, warning signs as just non-normative. I assumed that any ol’ amazing freak was capable of being a whole, healthy, loving, supportive adult.
I still want to believe that. But instead of a lone, susceptible, vulnerable romantic partner taking on the bulk of a very risky situation marred by aggression, roaring, callousness, and despair, we should warn all of our inner and outer Belles to not take on that challenge alone. To be wary of beasts. Not to stand with the villagers, pitchfork in hand, but to also not leap into intimacy, kissing, fucking, and rhapsodizing about the silver linings of a captor and isolator who can’t pass the basic social requirements of her safety network of nearest and dearest.
Yo, Belle, you should be more careful with that beast. If he holds you in any way captive or isolated, it’s a serious problem. If he growls and snarls at you, it’s not a sign that you should try harder to impress him, because he’s just misunderstood. If he is actively aggressive, unfriendly, and unempathetic towards others, you should not insist that he is worthy of your complete trust and your most vulnerable heart and soul. Sure, stand up for him in the face of those who deny the importance of his life and story, but don’t date the jerk.
It’s ok to notice when you are faced with a beast. You don’t have to fish for and rescue everyone’s potential. Just offer some resources, vote for better healthcare and domestic support options for all, expect initial kindness from all humans you plan to make out with, and get the eff out of that castle! The magic isn’t worth the horrors that you would have to literally live with. Find a romantic partner with a heart of gold AND the ability to maintain a kind, thoughtful, stable lifestyle with more than just yourself.
It is the place of a village and activists and caregivers and friends and politicians and therapists and vocal neighbors to defend Beast and encourage him to engage in healthy ways, not the sole responsibility or impossible task of one vulnerable person trapped domestically up close and personal with all of the dangers and consequences of a beast who is not seeking self-change.