Last Saturday I was at a house party with friends. We had cold cuts and cheese from Santi's, then watched a few Disney films - "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin" among them. It's been a long time since I saw these, so I remember them differently. The nostalgia and wonder will always be there, of course, but I had an interesting insight after watching both movies. I realized that they pander to powerful female fantasies.
"Beauty and the Beast" is a tale as old as time: in it, a woman heals and transforms a damaged man with her kindness and love. Sounds awesome, right? Maybe not. Many females like to think that they are the special one who will change that special man. They go through isolation, abuse, pain, and/or loneliness and sacrifice so much hoping that the one they love will be perfect for them in time. They believe that their love will exorcise the shittiness out of a person.
Sadly, this is rarely the case. That's why the beauty transforming the beast is such a powerful fantasy. We want it so badly to be true, but in the real world, bad men - beasts - will keep to their ways. They will always be Gaston if they grew up arrogant, vindictive, cruel, and with low regard for women.
We want to be the Anna Steele to our Christian Grey, the Bella Swan to our Edward Cullen, the Elizabeth Bennet to our Mr. Darcy, the Shan Chai to our Dao Ming Si. The problem with this fantasy is that in the end, many of us will become damaged ourselves or worse, monsters like the men we want to change. We have to choose those who value AND respect us from the very beginning. Men like these are hard to find and when we do it is difficult if not impossible to divine their true intentions...but they exist. It's just a matter of being patient and being totally fine and happy without a man by our side.
Perhaps though, I am warning moths drawn to fire.
"Aladdin" has a less insidious fantasy embedded in it, but it has its pitfalls just the same. It's about a woman innocent in the ways of the world falling for a man who can show her the world in all its shining, shimmering, and splendid glory. Jasmine, beautiful and perfect, has never been outside of the castle. Finally she meets Aladdin who can take her on a magic carpet ride. She resists at first, but the temptation to experience everything she has missed proves to be too much. She falls in love. He rescues her not only from an evil grand vizier but also from her loneliness and boredom.
One of the good things about this film is that it reinforces a woman's right to say no and to choose her own future (Jasmine rejects several princes in the start of the movie). The downside is that it is pretty much saying that that future must be with a man. He must be the one to open her eyes, to free her. Not her.
I am aware that we women live in a world of glass ceilings and remain powerfully pressured by cultural norms and expectations. But we can get past those limits by bettering ourselves as much as we can, dreaming as big as we can, and working as hard as we can to make those dreams come true. We don't need men to widen our horizons and to save us from our cages. We can do it ourselves, and what's great about DIY-ing our own freedom is that we don't owe jack shit to a man who can take it away when he feels like. We will never be held hostage to their money and their intelligence.
We can say no. For real. We can say no and succeed with our own strength and wit. We are not unmoving objects subject to the will of those around us. We can be more by ourselves.
Moral lesson: give up the fantasy if you want to be truly happy. I'm not saying we should give up on men. I'm saying that men should not become the center of our world and the hook by which our happiness hangs on so precariously.