Essay on 'Beauty and The Beast': Gender Roles

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Stereotypes are “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing” ('Stereotype | Meaning of Stereotype by Lexico', 2020) and either contribute to or contradict gender stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are very common in children’s literature as stories regularly present boys and girls in relation to specific socially defined norms as well as societal expectations. Thus, “The Beauty and The Beast” by Disney reflects the contribution to gender stereotypes through the use of the characterization of Belle, Gaston, and the Beast. By having a much broader selection of gender-neutral stereotypes it is able to contradict gender roles due to exposing young children to diversity which is evident in Kimberly Bruker’s pictorial illustration “Ballerino Nate” illustrated by Robert W Alley. Lastly, gender inequality is represented as there is an unequal balance between male and female roles. This is revealed in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” as the protagonist is male, exploring a sense of superiority on the male’s behalf.

Initially, A contribution to gender stereotypes for both males and females is being presented in children’s literature to fulfill societal expectations. Disney’s book “The Beauty and the Beast” has one of the most obvious and extreme stereotypes conceivably out of all Disney illustrations. In 'The Beauty and the Beast', Belle, similar to former Disney princesses, is being represented as white, thin, and beautiful. Although her relationship with the beast is firstly described as being an abusive relationship, Belle subsequently is seen as a nurturer and housekeeper, which is exposed to be two archetypal female roles. This depiction book emphasizes that it is tolerable for men to be aggressive and abusive and despite how they treat you, you will continuously love and take care of them. Moreover, Gaston is a rich bachelor whom the entire village population seems to drool over as he is big, strong, rich, and handsome. This immediately forms an ideal image for males that they will solitary gain women's responsiveness by obtaining those specific characteristics. Additionally, the beast interprets the typical manly image revealing his strength and toughness while lacking emotion. He begins to treat Belle like an object and displays clear authority by exploiting violence in order to make her submissive ('Female Stereotypes', 2020). The article “Harmful Stereotypes We Never Realized Our Favourite Disney Movies Taught Us” By Michelle Juergen, reveals that weight determines temperament in this specific book. Disney forces the readers to believe that being small and emaciated creates a sense that you are gentle and kind, whereas being larger and greater makes individuals become beastly, coarse, and being susceptible to anger outbursts. The juxtaposition comparing the Beast and Belle implies that an individual's dimensions affect mood, essentially teaching young children that corpulent people are intimidating whereas smaller individuals are good-natured. ('9 Harmful Stereotypes We Never Realized Our Favorite Disney Movies Taught Us, 2020) Thus, a contribution to gender stereotypes is reflected in “The Beauty and The Beast” by using the characterization of Belle, The Beast, and Gaston, in order to be able to accomplish community expectations.

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Furthermore, having a broader selection of gender-neutral stereotyped children's literature can essentially expose young children to diversity in gender roles, thus contradicting specific gender stereotypes. In Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's book 'Ballerino Nate'' illustrated by Robert W. Alley, Nate decides he wants to become a ballet dancer after attending a student ballet performance with his kindergarten class. Due to stereotypes, his second-grade, sports-devoted brother Ben exclaims 'you can’t… You’re a boy, “Boys can’t be ballerinas. They never, ever, ever can”. The repetition of “ever” in the statement illuminates that he is against Nate participating in a girl’s sport and unremittingly reminds Nate that his aspiration is for girls and will necessitate him to wear pink shoes and a dress. Despite his parent’s encouragement, Nate begins a class and learns that he is the only boy enrolled. Although he is classified as a ballerina, Ballerino is later used meaning that he is a male ballet dancer making him feel more involved and included. (2020) Throughout the story the repetition of ‘He loved’ in the short, powerful sentences “He loved the fluttery costumes that the dancers wore. He loved the way the dancers jumped and leaped and spun. He loved the way their movements looked like music” reinforces the idea that individuals should encourage peers to participate in their hobbies and interests regardless of gender role expectation. In the article “Bulletin of the Centre for Children’s Books'' reviewed by Deborah Stevenson exclaims how “It's refreshing, though, to see a book about gender opportunity that focuses on the widening of male, rather than female”. ('The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books | JHU Press', 2020) Further, Alley’s use of line, watercolor illustrations touched with colored pencils represents a sense of softness as the individuals are portrayed as dogs and are overstretched in physical detail. This enables dance to become welcoming and approachable, which is also revealed in the illustrations of the pleasant crowds which invite familiarity. Therefore, “Ballerino Nate” contradicts gender stereotypes by participating in dancing, but society has evidently viewed it to be specifically just for females, allowing him to affirm diversity in gender roles and go against expectations.

Also, the stereotypes withheld in children’s literature demonstrate gender inequality as there is an unequal balance between male and female leading roles. In the morality children’s pictorials, for example, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, and “The Three Little Pigs”, they all teach about good and well as evil, but they also convey implied and insinuated messages about gender. When paying attention to who gets to be the hero whereas, who needs rescuing, it is undeniable that we can see that the male and female roles are rarely replaceable showing the readers that males are dominating and preponderate characters. In the “Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter, the initial sign that complies with traditional gender roles is the colors being worn such as blue for the males and pink for the females. Another way Potter observes gender roles is in which women are to be obedient and create/ gather the food for the family which is shown through the three sisters, whereas males are conveyed to be adventurous, independent, and self-regulating, which is shown through the characterization of the main character Peter as he is the only rabbit allowed in the garden. Moreover, Mr. McGregor’s unremitting chasing of Peter highlights the traditional expectation that men are revealed to be aggressive and authoritative compared to females. Furthermore, the female gender role of being nurturing is portrayed at the end of the story when Mrs Rabbits tends to Peter’s wounds and puts him to bed with tea thus, signifying traditional gender role attitudes as although females aren’t as governing but they still have the responsibility to care for the males who are prevailing. The Article “Study finds huge gender imbalance in children’s literature” by The Guardian states that “From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the Car in the Hat, Peter Rabbit to Babar, children’s books are dominated by male central characters, new research has found, with the gender disparity sending children a message that “women and girls occupy a less important role in society than men or boys”, by reinforcing the gender system. (Flood, 2020) To back up this point, in “Pooh, Peter Rabbit & Clifford: Males Dominate Children’s Books” By Stephanie Pappas emphasis, the patterns that are found in children’s books strongly support the belief that female characters are less important or less interesting than male characters. It also demonstrates how it’s more challenging for males to connect with female characters when they are the protagonist. (Pappas, 2020) Consequently, children's literature demonstrates gender inequality, especially through the children’s illustration “The Tales of Peter Rabbit” as males have higher power and authority than females due to the unequal leading roles due to the main protagonist being a male.

Ultimately, it is evident that children’s literature both contradicts and contributes to gender stereotypes. A contribution to gender stereotypes is shown throughout the book “The Beauty and the Beast” due to the characterization of Belle, Gaston, and the Beast. Whereas, the illustration pictorial “Ballerino Nate” contradicts stereotypes as the author exposed young individuals to diversity in gender roles which is presented through the illustrations as well as the text. Alongside, gender inequality is also presented as there is not an equal balance between leading roles as Males are displayed a vast amount more than females due to their authority and dominance. This is visibly depicted in “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”, as evidently, the main protagonist is male. 

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Essay on ‘Beauty and The Beast’: Gender Roles. (2023, October 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2024, from
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