Another Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, premiered in 1991 and introduced the fifth definitive princess, Belle. Gender stereotypes are seen through the film’s three main characters: Belle, a young French woman; Gaston, the film’s antagonist who arrogantly vies for Belle’s hand in marriage; and the Beast, a prince who was turned into a beast by an enchantress. In order to be changed back into a prince, the Beast must learn to love and be loved in return. When Belle stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, she discovers that he has taken her father captive. The Beast agrees for Belle to take her father’s place, as he sees opportunity to be released from the spell. In the end, the two learn to truly love each other, despite Gaston’s best efforts, and the Beast is transformed back into a prince. The music of the film was composed by Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman (Wikipedia.com). The first musical number entitled “Belle” reflects traditional gender stereotypes, including both contrasting gendered associations with nature and contrasting gender roles.
The song presents Belle as being closely connected to nature. For example, as the song begins, birds gently flutter next to Belle. Similarly, in the latter part of the song, Belle sits on the edge of a fountain. As she does so, passing sheep crowd around her as if they can understand what she is saying. Belle’s close connection to nature is consistent with traditional representations of femininity, as historical representations of women are often associated with nature. For example, the titles “mother earth” and “mother country” connect women and land as the givers and sustainers of life. However, while women are portrayed as being connected to nature, men are portrayed as being the masters and exploiters of nature. This stereotype is once again displayed in the lyrics of the opening number. For example, when Gaston is first introduced to the audience, he successfully shoots a bird as his sidekick states: “You’re the greatest hunter in the whole world…no beast alive stands a chance against you.” This statement reflects Gaston’s exploitation of nature and confirms the contrasting connections of men and women to nature.
The song also presents the gender roles of women and men. Women are portrayed as consumers and domestic workers, while men are portrayed as financial providers. For example, all of the business owners including the baker, the wig-maker, and the book-seller are all men. In contrast, the women of the town are only seen as performing domestic duties and as consuming goods rather than providing them. For example, one woman is depicted doing laundry, while another is seen purchasing a wig. These depictions are consistent with the traditional gender roles, with women belonging in the domestic sphere and men belonging in the public sphere. Although Belle’s larger social sphere promotes traditional gender norms, she takes interest in non-traditional activities such as reading. However, these activities do not hinder her final acceptance of traditional femininity by living happily-ever-after her prince.