And now, some sexual….academia!

Beastly Gender Trends

          Throughout my study of “Beauty and the Beast” type fairy tales, defined here as tales wherein either the hero or heroine spend time as both a beast and a human, I paid special attention to the differences between the way each beast was handled based upon their gender.  Many fairy tale scholars have claimed that these “Beauty and the Beast” stories are intended to portray proper marriage roles, or to instill hope in young people consigned to arranged marriages.  While several of the tales do indeed support this theory, I discovered several versions that quite simply did not fit the mold.  Both Austrian versions of this tale, only one of which contains an actual beast, in the other he is simply an old man, end without a marriage between the human and the former beast at all.  In both, the protagonist finds himself rich and free to marry whomever he chooses, or not at all.  Additionally, many of the stories containing a female in animal form portrayed her as preferring the role of animal to that of woman.

            As my research progressed, I found a theme that I contend is more consistently portrayed in these tales.  Namely, the reflection of not only the female’s lack of power throughout history, but also of her enduring ability to create her own self-image, in spite of the world and its rules.  The heroes become recluses as beasts; they are determined to shed the curse through any means necessary, including terrorism and bribery as well as kindness.  And when restored to their human forms, their happiness and relief are immediately apparent through their gratitude to Beauty, and the rejoicing celebrated by himself and those closest to him.  The males associate themselves and their own merits very closely with their exterior form, there is nearly always mention of their restoration to their “true form”, or a proud announcement of their true character.  These heroes not only appeared as beasts, they thought of themselves as animals, despite the knowledge that they were beautiful princes.

           It is true that in “The Pig King”, the hero can don and remove his pigskin at will, and only gives up this power when his parents burn the pigskin.  Yet, even this phenomenal hero behaves only like the beast that everyone believes him to be until he can no longer hide beneath the pigskin.  He remains a beast until after his wedding night, and reveals himself only to her, presumably to keep the option of his animal form open.  Even after his permanent renunciation, perforce, of his animal exterior, he remains known throughout the kingdom as “King Pig”.  Nevertheless, this hero essays to act the part of a human king, because this is the personality he is left with.  When he looked like a pig, he acted like one, and when appearing the beast was no longer an option he acted like a man.  Once again, his exterior form determined the hero’s behavior, regardless of the fact that for most of the story he controlled his own shape.

          On the other hand, heroines who take on animal forms stay consistent characters whether they end up as human or beast.  Those who begin as animals are held captive in their human form by the theft of their animal skin, and the story ends with their repossession of their animal form, and subsequent escape.  These brides act as good wives only until they can discover the whereabouts of their stolen property.  They do not deliberately take on the role of a human, it is forced upon them, and they do not adhere to the rules of faithfulness, loyalty, or honesty when it suits them to do otherwise.  These tales do not detail the time these creatures spend as women; they are animals throughout, the only real difference being that when human they are captive, but when beasts they are free.

Human brides who begin the story as animals, but happily regain their form also reflect this dual philosophy of the female figure, concerning her exterior and interior natures.  These animal brides feel no guilt or remorse at imposing themselves on young men in marriage, not because they are desperate to relieve themselves of their curse as the male beasts are, but because they are confidant that they are still capable of fulfilling the demands of both groom and in-laws.  These animals demonstrate their human personalities by weaving shirts, baking bread, and other feminine tasks assigned to them by either their groom or his father.  Moreover, they always accomplish the best results for their work, and are never surprised when others envy them, even in their beastly shape.  Nor are these characters astonished to learn that their husbands love them, they simply take it as their due.  These females know their worth, in the face of worldly eyes and their own altered skins.

On the other hand, the quality of the love these women are unsurprised to find is highly suspect.  While their husbands grant them appreciation and respect for their merits in fulfilling the general role of wife, male characters cannot accept such general esteem and claim the right to be seen as individuals that is denied their female counterparts.  The male beasts usually require a beautiful maiden to either love or agree to marry him, to appreciate his individual personality.  Heroine beasts, on the other hand, are freed through more general means.  Either it’s a simple matter of taking her animal hide, or the man must prove himself worthy of her through a test.  These tests do not prove any affection for the individual female he is rescuing, they merely establish that the hero is a good man by, for example, offering him multiple gifts and judging his vanity or lack thereof by which one he chooses.   So, while these beastly heroines may be comfortable in their own skins and aware of their own merits, their stories end without anyone else truly knowing them.

In short, whenever a woman onscreen mourns “He was such a good guy!”, or one in real life worries whether she should have break up with someone because “It wasn’t like he was being a jerk,” the remnants of these trends are apparent.  No one really just wants “a nice guy.”  We want to be ourselves and have people respond to who we really are.  I think it’s important to note that even in the genre of stories famous for encouraging people to really get to know each other, and not just judge others by external traits, there’s often still an entire gender being excluded from that consideration.

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