Society dictates what encompasses the ideal man. When discussing the importance of the gaze, I showed that women decide what values make up the perfect man. Which in turn, helps shape phallocentric society. It’s almost a what came first, the chicken or the egg. While women decide what they want in a man, men have been deciding what they want in a woman, shaping again what they (women) want in a man. Shall I continue?
Belle and Snow White’s choice of men, coincides with society’s view of phallocentric society. This occurs because there are few important characters in these fairy tales. The important characters include: the hero, the heroine and the villain. All other characters are depicted as either a-sexual or old (Lieberman, 391) and therefore, are not considered as potential suitors.
The 1937 Disney version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs “reinforce[s] the patriarchal symbolic order based on rigid notions of sexuality and gender” (Zipes, 27). The film focuses on a young virginal girl’s wish for a rich, white male, of high social status to find her. While she encounters other males throughout the tale, none fit her high expectations of what a man should be. Therefore, all of the male characters are defined in relation to Prince Charming (Barzilai, 525), and as a result, none surmount his status.
The huntsman is one of the many male figures Snow White encounters. He may be considered a-sexual (or impotent) as he does not fit into societal norms. The forest scene, where the huntsman encounters Snow White, parallels a rape scene. Instead of killing (or raping) Snow White, as he is told to do, he succumbs to her beauty and cries at her feet. His whimper “I can’t do it” shows him as a less then masculine man as he can neither kill nor have sex with her.
Moreover, the seven dwarfs are not only desexualized but are also infantilized. Each dwarf is depicted with either a physical or mental weakness creating a setting where Snow White can nurture and care for them like children (Solis, 126). There role in the tale helps maintain Snow White’s virginal status, but also helps prepare her for her future role as mother (126). Therefore, the Dwarfs are used to educate Snow White and allow her to practice being a domestic woman.
As a result of these character defects, neither the huntsman nor the dwarfs can possess Snow White. This responsibility can only be fulfilled by a male that is part of phallocentric society.
In Beauty and the Beast (released in 1991) there are two male figures vying for the fair maidens attention. Both Gaston and the Beast represent certain aspects of Dominant culture. These characters are an archetype for the ‘80s and ‘90s man. This fairy tale shows how men were archetyped as aggressive, violent men who gain emotions and realize the consequences of their ways. Furthermore, it shows a shift in the way society views the male body and the importance of internal reform (Jeffords, 165). All other men in the film are either small, boyish, old or inanimate objects.
Both Gaston and the Beast are artistically depicted with exaggerated male bodies. “Each is drawn as comically ‘phallic’, [with a] top heavy figure [that] rises and swells when he is angered” (Erb, 63). This physical depiction shows the way society views the ideal man. In an era bombarded with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone films (both releasing action films in the early ‘90s), phallocentric society dictated that men needed to be strong, violent, aggressive with some redeeming traits.
Gaston represents the old ideal of the perfect man, he is the epitome of the ’80s man. While everyone in the small provincial town adores him, the audience does not see him in the same light. This is because Gaston represents the stereotyped image of male attractiveness (Jeffords, 170). Gaston acknowledges his beauty and relishes in it. Unlike most men, Gaston also likes to be viewed as an object of pleasure (which is not a masculine characteristic). Furthermore, Gaston values are old and outdated. His search for a mate it solely based on beauty, once he acquires a wife, he wants her to fulfill all domestic responsibility: bearing children and being the domestic woman. He hopes to find this in Belle.
Gaston’s depiction in the tale is a reflection of the Prince’s (better known as Beast) flaw. As a result of all these character traits, arrogant, aggressive and insensitive, the Prince is cursed and turned into a monster. This change depicts the problem in the way society views men like Gaston. Through his transformation, the Beast becomes a new man. He learns and acquires new qualities that society values. Through his growth, the Beast is able to conform into Dominant Society and turn into a man. It’s interesting to note however, that while the Beast represents the new man, a man that is more sensitive and compassionate. Physically, he is still depicted as the ‘80s man, physically strong and muscular.
As a new man is immerging into phallocentric society, the old man must fight for his right to maintain his reign as the ideal man. This is what happens between Gaston and the Beats. Since the ideal woman (Belle) has feelings for the Beast, Gaston must protect his reputation. Therefore, Gaston tells his society all that is wrong with the Beast – what makes him not part of Dominant culture.
The Beast will only fight Gaston once he sees that Belle cares for him. Belle’s acknowledgment of the Beast ensures that he is part of Dominant culture. During this fight scene, Gaston attempts to emasculate the Beast by saying he’s to weak or sensitive to fight. Gaston further masculine’s himself by using a phallic weapon – once Gaston shows his weakness by begging for his life, he can no longer be part of the phallocentric society. Gaston further separates himself from this valued society as he cowardly tries to kill the Beast. This final act leads to his death and emphasizes that there is only one true man in phallocentric society. He is strong, honorable, companionate, rich, white and a prince!