When my oldest daughter was around 4 or so, she finally learned about Princesses. I sort of panicked. She wanted more from me than I was ready for. Princesses? Surely not. I felt like I had to be really careful about how I handled this. I didn't want to be restrictive, because princesses are a part of life, but I didn't want to just leave it all, willy-nilly with poisonous ideologies settling in and corrupting their brave and strong little minds. And keep in mind these were the earlier days of my mothering. I got every single book in my entire library network about princess. I read the originals, the cross-cultural comparisons, the newer remakes of the classics. I learned a lot about princess stories, thought a lot about the different women they represented. I felt like I could tackle just about anything she threw at me, my clever four-year-old. We settled in to read Cinderella, we read the hell out of it for a few nights in a row and then she basically lost interest. So then I learned about princesses and not over reacting. Two for one!
So, I've relaxed a bit. The girls are getting older and they have been exposed to all sorts of stuff. Princesses, mild simulated violence, the inappropriately adult jokes put in all the modern kid’s movies. And Disney. There are a few “classics”’ they still haven’t seen. One of them is Beauty and the Beast. It hasn't come up and so I've been able to avoid it. It’s not my favorite story line But they know the story, and it came up while we were trying to find their room under all their stuff. The girls said they liked the story and I asked them which parts they liked. They said “Belle.” They really just like the brunette in the yellow dress as packaged. After considering the story a little more, my older daughter said she liked that the beast changes and becomes nice. I asked her how she thought that happened, what made him change? She said Belle changed him because she’s so nice.
I told them the full story. About the father who takes the rose from the beast. The daughter he gives as payment. Her willing grace to pay her father’s debt. And her seduction, through finery and opulent living, and in many versions, the beasts's kindness, until she finally falls in love with him, helping to transform him into the prince he once was with her love. There's more in it, of course, magic mirrors, teleporting rings and roses.
My daughter asked me what I thought of the story.
I said I thought about it in two ways. In one way the story of Beauty and the Beast makes me feel sad because it reminds me that some women can’t make choices for themselves. I explained times in history and places in the world now where women can’t choose what they do with their own lives. I told them it makes me think of women who are with people who aren't good to them or they didn't choose and they can only hope that they will change.
I told them that some people think that in fairy tales, all the characters in the story show a part of yourself. If I think about it that way then I think about the woman in me who is naive and doesn't know her choices, or of the selfish part of myself, or the part of myself that is willing to sell myself out, or even the angry and wild beast that lives inside of me.
I looked at my five-year-old and said, "and if the beast that lives inside of you is a part of you, what can you do?
“Marry the Beast.” she said.
Oh, hell yes, little wolf cub. Marry the Beast.