How to Teach Consent with “Beauty & the Beast”

As Inga Muscio states in her brilliant Declaration of Independence, rape’s best friend is silence (144).

So no more silence. Starting here. Today, we’re going to discuss rape culture and the value of consent.

Brock Turner was twenty years old when he became a sex offender. He was a grown man, making his own decisions. The way his parents raised him can no longer be an excuse.

But they sure could have given him better odds for not committing sexual assault.

Reading Dan Turner’s letter to the judge sentencing his son, it is clear that Brock Turner never learned the right lessons about consent or accountability.

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Dan Turner’s letter is what a parenting fail looks like. I can think of no better way to respond than with a quote by Inga Muscio.

If you have children, please make sure they know what consent is.

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As a parent, I wish my son would never need to learn what rape is. But in the society we live in, I know that conversation will need to happen someday. Because the only way to end rape is to end the silence that surrounds rape.

The conversation will be different depending on the age of your kids. But the fundamental concern you cover should be consent.

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This does not need to be a heavy or awkward conversation. In fact, you can teach your children about consent while watching Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

That’s right. It’s right there in the movie, just waiting for you to point it out to your kids.

Plenty of people claim that Beauty and the Beast is basically a Stockholm Syndrome love story.

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And this is an important point to bring up with kids. (“Do you think the Beast was wrong to put Belle’s father in the dungeon?” “The Beast is being mean, isn’t he? Do you think he’ll learn to be good?”)

But I like to point out that Belle did not fall in love with the Beast until he changed. She specifically says she wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she escapes on her first night in the castle. The Beast saves her from a pack of hungry wolves, then collapses, and Belle has the chance to get away. She almost takes that chance – we can see it in her expression as she gazes at her horse’s saddle. But now the Beast has saved her life, and she’s too morally upright to let him die alone in the snowy forest.

Their conversation upon arriving back at the castle is what shows Belle’s true character. The Beast yells at her, and she yells right back. She takes none of his shit. This is not an example of an abusive relationship – this is an example of an argument, which all couples have.

It is only after this exchange that Belle and the Beast begin to develop a relationship. Their falling-in-love song is all about the fact that the Beast is changing, for crying out loud!

Still, Belle does not love the Beast until after he has let her go. At the beginning of the movie, the Beast did not understand consent. He used Belle’s father as blackmail to entrap her. (This was unintentional, as the Beast did not even know that Maurice had a daughter. Nevertheless, he should not have imprisoned an old man simply for seeking shelter from a storm.) But through the movie, he changes. And part of this change is his understanding of consent. He releases Belle because he now knows how wrong it is to keep her against her will. It is only after the Beast learns this lesson and puts it to use that Belle is able to love him.

Now, think of the theme Beauty and the Beast shares with The Hunchback of Notre Dam: What makes a monster and what makes a man? Let’s ignore for a moment that Belle straight up answers this question at the end of the movie (“He’s no monster, Gaston, you are!”), and that when we’re introduced to Gaston even the Bimbettes who are lusting after him call him a “handsome brute.”

Ignore those statements and look at Gaston’s actions.

When he proposes to Belle, Gaston completely disregards her body language. He barges into her house uninvited, convinced that he’s about to give her exactly what she’s always wanted. He closes in on her personal space, even pinning her back to the wall.

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Her only way out is to fumble for the doorknob and duck away as he tumbles through the now-open door, which she promptly slams shut.

The whole scene could’ve been exactly the same and still so much darker if it were not a children’s movie.

Kids watching this scene know that Gaston is the bad guy. They should also be made aware of what Gaston does wrong: He blatantly ignores the fact that Belle’s body language is screaming, “No!”

Later in the movie, the Beast asks Belle if she’s happy with him. When she answers, “Yes,” the Beast smiles to himself, and the audience knows he’s preparing to declare his love for her.

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But when he looks back at her, he sees her sadness. And he responds to it.

Her words gave consent, but her body language did not, and he responded to the body language.

This is what we must teach our children to do.

Consent comes in many forms, and we must be absolutely certain they will know what is and is not consent when they see it.

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