The spotlight is back on Beauty and the Beast's favorite bro today, as a video surfaced of a Disney World Gaston schooling a tourist in a push-up contest. And while I applaud him for flexing his spare biceps, let's never forget that in the extensive collective of Disney villains, it is Gaston alone who's most terrifying in real life. In fact, Gaston is the very essence of sexism and unwarranted male aggression; it's so obvious, even a child can call him out on it.
Now, that isn't to say that other Disney villains don't have their own sexist undertones. Jafar pulls a Jabba the Hutt and shackles up Jasmine in some scarlet slave girl attire. Claude Frollo (of Hunchback of Notre Dame fame) has some complicated pent up lust for Esmerelda that's waaaay too frightening for a children's flick. But there's something about the boorish and aggressive Gaston, revered in the poor provincial town, that strikes fear into my heart. I guess it's because Gaston, void of magic power or political influence, is just your everyday alpha-male trying to mansplain to you when you're just trying to live your life. I can't speak for everyone, but very rarely has my evil lion uncle ever thrown me off a cliff. Let's prioritize.
To be fair, I'm repulsed by machismo, but that stems from my own experiences from being the weird girl in a small town and being terrorized — and I use this word with no exaggeration — by the jocks at my school. Whether their intent was sexual or just plain cruel, they made forceful demands for my attention, simultaneously condescending and threatening. And while they all graduated and went to whatever lower-level state school would accept them, that hyper-masculine force, that sense of entitlement, that very spirit of Gaston is still prevalent in many, many men.
Think about it. When Gaston corners Belle into a surprise wedding, he's that guy at Applebee's trying to get your number. When Gaston tells Belle that reading is stupid, he's that guy at your community college trying to chat you up while you're reading The Rules of Attraction. When Gaston talks about how he must have Belle because of her distinct beauty, he's that guy that's "87 percent enemy" with you on OkCupid yet messages you saying you're gorgeous. He badgers you day after day, and finally after a week of no responses, calls you a whore and states he "doesn't date fat chicks anyway." These are the Gastons of the world, they are very tangible entities. And it is important for us to take a page from Belle and not tolerate any of that shit.
Even when backed against a wall, she puts up a bold front. I cheer when Belle tackles this monolith with assertiveness and a dash of wit. "I'm very sorry, Gaston, but I just don't deserve you," she snarks, pushing him into the mud outside her house. How can anyone favor Ariel when this flawless female character exists?
To be clear, not all sexism can be identified as an unsubtle musclebound package, and a good counterpoint to that would be Prince Hans, he who masks his cruelty and manipulates the pure-hearted Anna into giving him a place of power. Now, when I saw Frozen in theaters with my friend Jennette, we were able to call that from a mile away. At our age, we've long learned that not every first love is true, and having that validated on screen is refreshing. Yet while this IS an important thing to show females, there's not really much you can actively do about it. Inevitably, that's more of a live-and-you-learn lesson, and there are other empowering things little girls are more likely to take from the film than something as nuanced as that.
With Beauty and the Beast, though, misogyny has always been a villain, at the absolute forefront. And because Gaston is the walking embodiment of patriarchy at it's most comically aggressive, anyone, anyone from a 3-year-old to a 23-year-old can look at him and be like, "THAT. That's the enemy." Beauty and the Beast, like everything Disney, is not without its problematic elements, but I will always value the film for teaching me not to put up with everyday Gastonry.
Although, let's face it, he has the best song in the movie.
Images: Disney, Giphy (3)