So I was doing my morning browse of the #YesAllWomen hashtag on twitter, and I stumbled onto this tweet:
#YesAllWomen because even in stories for children, fictional women have to deal with men not taking no for an answer pic.twitter.com/2sR62Tbmrp
— SabrinaTheStump (@SabrinaStubbs) May 28, 2014
I responded with a joke (“Nooooooooooooooo oooooooooone BENEFITS FROM PATRIARCHY like Gaston no one DOESN’T UNDERSTAND THAT NO MEANS NO like Gaston o/~”), but I started thinking more seriously and have come to a conclusion.
Gaston is a flawless poster child for one frequent theme of #YesAllWomen: that generally speaking, men are socially conditioned to believe that they’re “owed” something by women, and that women aren’t ‘allowed’ to reject them without a “good reason” (like having another man— or beast —in their life).
Now, I don’t think anyone will disagree with me that Gaston is a big fat sexist jerk, especially with his lampshade statement about how icky it would be for women to think, but bear with me while I talk a bit about his story as we know it.
While Gaston’s childhood isn’t exactly addressed in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we can make a few assumptions based on his character and the song “Gaston”: he’s always been physically strong (“When I was a lad I ate four dozen eggs every morning to help me get large”), and most likely also attractive and popular as well. Within the movie girls fawn over him, men envy him, and everyone generally follows his lead. The society around him has trained him to believe that he is “The Best” and therefore— doesn’t he deserve The Best?
Early in the film, Gaston harasses Belle in the street, snatching her book away from her, dismissing her polite request to have it returned AND her reading hobby, throwing the book in the mud, and physically imposing himself in her way to prevent her from taking it back, briefly. He makes physical contact next, putting his arm around her and guiding her in another direction (while again attempting to withhold her book). She slips away shortly after that.
Later, Gaston uses physical and social intimidation to try to force Belle to marry him…but before he does that, he jokes to the gathered crowd that he has to go in to Belle’s house and “propose to the girl,” which is met with laughs from the male audience. When he does propose, even Belle, who is presented as a strong-minded woman with her own opinions and desires, finds it hard to give him a straight-forward “no,” instead proclaiming that she “just doesn’t deserve him.”
The next time we see Gaston he is complaining about being “rejected…publicly humiliated” in the bar with the townspeople. After the (yes, wonderful and amazing!) “Gaston” number, he hatches another scheme to force Belle to marry him, this time by threatening the well-being of her father: in other words, blackmail of a sort.
Belle gets her father’s situation sorted, but at the cost of showing the townspeople the Beast by way of a magic mirror. Gaston observes her face as she calls the Beast kind and gentle and accuses her of having feelings for him. It’s not hard to guess that he immediately sees the Beast as the obstacle between him and getting what he deserves— Belle. If he were to KILL THE BEAST!, Belle would certainly have to say yes to him, wouldn’t she? Gaston confirms this by proclaiming that “it’s over, Beast— Belle is mine!” before falling to his death.
What do you think would have happened if Gaston had lived and the Beast had died? I think we can safely say that Belle would still have rejected him, of course, but what then? Would Gaston, in his high-adrenaline state, have backed off to scheme again? Or perhaps attacked Belle herself, raging that she denies him what he has “earned”? Or something else entirely?
This is not to decry Disney or Gaston as a character— he’s a villain, after all, and the film doesn’t generally suggest that his behavior is acceptable. I guess what I am trying to point out is that Gaston isn’t some antiquated long-gone stereotype, he is a caricature of a way that many (not all, of course, but many) men still think and act every single day.
(That’s the end of my rant, but interesting tidbit: the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast is generally credited to a woman, Linda Woolverton, whose novel Running Before the Wind revolves around a young woman with an abusive father.)