LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Diary of Wimpy Men: the Feminine Males in Fairy Tales

on January 17, 2013 2:58pm

As Disney and society tends to make us believe, the men in any story should be brave, heroic, manly–knights in shining armor. But some of the men in the classic fairy tales, in the presence of a strong heroine, are suddenly helpless.

In Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, there is a constant theme of the weaker male in order for the heroine to succeed. brothers and the father “cried real tears” (De Beaumont, 36) whereas Beauty’s sisters had to fake them with onions when Beauty had to depart to the Beast’s castle in luau of her father. Beauty, the decidedly not damsel in would-be distress, doesn’t even shed a tear.

The father seems to be entirely helpless when he lost in the storm and at the hands of the Beast: “he heard a loud noise and saw a beast coming toward him. It looked so dreadful that he almost fainted…the merchant fell to his knees and, hands clasped, pleaded with the beast” (De Beaumont, 34-35). Beauty on the other hand, shows more composure upon first meeting the beast: “she could not help but tremble at the sight of this horrible figure, but she tried as hard as she could to stay calm.” (De Beaumont, 37). Beauty shows more composure in the face of danger than her father. The father even allows her to die in place, as opposed to finding a loophole using any sort of cleverness. So why does the male have to be less masculine in order for the woman to fill in as heroine? The perceived gender roles should, in theory, not have to flip in order to have them both maintain a sense of courage in the face of danger. Such a trade-off in traditional roles is not even something feminists can complain about!

Even the beast, who maintains his sternness in the early part  of the story basically commits suicide in the end because of loniless losses a bit of that masculine credibility. In order for the female character to be allowed as the heroine, the beast has to fail (as opposed the option of just finding her himself–he’s the one that owns the magic mirror!). It is understood that it just a fairy tale, but it shouldn’t necessarily mean that both characters can’t be strong.

Thus, this problem begs the question of why the female character is allowed to be more masculine and the male characters a little more feminine. It could be that in the father’s case, his obligations to his family cause him to be more aware of what the loss of his life would cost them, causing him to be more pleading with the Beast. One could argue that Beaut had already excepted her fate of death, made peace with that fact, and was rewarded for her kindness and virtue in order to accomplish the moral example that De Beaumont attempts to set for young girls. But the Beast has no apparent excuse other than any prior sins, which he actually could have improved on in his solitude.


De Beaument, Jeanne-Marie. “Beauty And The Beast.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York: Norton, 1999. 32-42. Print.


One response to “Diary of Wimpy Men: the Feminine Males in Fairy Tales

  1. dkamauf says:

    I found your analysis to be very interesting and relatable to the Jack Zipes essay we read. Specifically, I’m referring to the beginning of your analysis where you said that Disney empowers men. Disney also downgrades the wit and strength, physical and emotional, of women. As Jack Zipes mentioned, Disney is responsible for ignoring fairy tale tradition for gains of fame and fortune. For example, fairy tale tradition often involves feminine power and an urging of women to be able to overcome or outdo their ‘foes’. I also thought it was interesting how you mentioned that the men in Jeanne-Marie Leprince De Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast were very effeminate in a way. I’m inclined to agree with you. I would like to add that Beast was a complete wimp, physically and emotionally, despite his beastly stature. He made no attempt to nurture his emotions aside from just begging and pestering Beauty. I really needed to suspend my disbelief in order to take Beast seriously at all because of his complete absence of any masculinity. I also agree with you that the father is entirely helpless throughout this tale and that even Beauty’s sisters showed at least some semblance of formidability, even though with intentions of malice, by feigning affection and delight for Beauty’s arrival. While I see your point with some parts of your second statement, in which you mentioned that the men were weak for producing real tears, I’d have to take a different stance and say that brothers and father were actually stronger than Beauty and her sisters, because they let their emotions come to fruition rather than hide it. However, this entire conjecture entirely depends on one’s school of thought.

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