Why do I find love irritating

Why women love bad men - BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The new edition of “Beauty and the Beast” should be the most successful film of the year. That reveals a lot about the relationship between the sexes.By Eva Illouz

The remake BEAUTY AND THE BEAST with Emma Watson starts on March 16, 2017 in cinemas (D-CH)

Two recent events have more in common than one might think at first glance. The first concerns the trailer for the new Disney production “Beauty and the Beast”, which will be released in March. It was accessed over 127 million times in the first 24 hours. He beat previous record holders such as “Fifty Shades Darker” with 114 million clicks and “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” with 112 million. In all likelihood, “Beauty and the Beast” will be an overwhelming box office hit.

The second event concerns the inauguration of the new President of the United States, who had boasted that he could grab women by the "pussy" when he pleased. Who called women "pigs" and "sluts" and despises any kind of femininity that does not meet the strictest standards of beauty. This man received 53 percent of the vote from white voters. The New York Times wrote: “Many of these women said his humiliating comments were less important to them than their trust in him that as a politically independent and experienced businessman he would bring about change, create well-paid jobs and protect national borders. »

So the question arises: Why do women love "beasts"? It is inconceivable that 53 percent of African Americans or 53 percent of Jews would vote someone who would speak so insultingly to them and treat them so badly - but women supported a sex offender who so disparaged their dignity. To better understand this disturbing fact, one can use Beauty and the Beast.

Popular culture sociologists like to analyze blockbusters and bestsellers because - which is a little tautological - they reflect both firmly anchored values ​​and social structures. They also demonstrate a level of confusing and fear-inducing social experiences. The pleasure that a bestseller or blockbuster brings comes from the fact that such works often offer a symbolic solution to unconscious fears or interpersonal dilemmas. “Beauty and the Beast” is such a narrative.

Its original is the folk tale “La belle et la bête”. It was written in 1740 by a woman: Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Although the story was written in the 18th century and picked up on themes and motifs that were already virulent in late antiquity, it also resonates with some irritating aspects of contemporary heterosexual relationships.

Motifs from Cupid and Psyche are echoed in “Beauty and the Beast”. Painting by François Gérard (1798).

The story contains elements of a traditional myth of European culture, namely Cupid and Psyche. This tells of the breathtakingly beautiful psyche that is held captive by a man - the god Eros. She is forbidden to see his face. Nevertheless, she falls in love with him and spends the whole day waiting for him in his empty castle.

Another source of inspiration for “La belle et la bête” was a well-known Italian fairy tale from the 16th century by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, which is included in his fairy tale collection “Le piacevoli notti” (“Merry Nights”). It is about three poor sisters who - one after the other - are supposed to marry the king's son, who was born in the form of a pig and smells terribly. He murdered the first two sisters who expressed their disgust for the pig husband on their wedding night. But the third sister, who was kind and loving, was rewarded with the change of the pig into a handsome prince, who was immediately allowed to ascend the father's throne and enabled her to achieve maximum social advancement.

Many identical motifs are used in “La belle et la bête”. The fact that the narrative has so often been adapted literarily and cinematically is a clear indication that the myth expresses central aspects of our culture of love.

What is “La belle et la bête” about? The father of three daughters goes on a long journey. He wants to bring a present to each of his daughters. When he is about to pick a rose for his youngest, a beast appears and threatens to kill him - unless his daughter moves into the castle to join him. Belle, the most beautiful of the sisters, agrees to save her father from certain death and decides to go to the enchanted castle. There she is magically provided with the best food, servants, and the most beautiful clothes and furniture. She spends her days alone, the beast, the repulsive ruler of the castle, is her only company.

Your initial fear gradually turns into affection. When she visits her father once, she sees in an enchanted mirror that the beast is close to death. She immediately returns to save the lord of the castle. She kisses the ugly one lovingly, and her tears transform him into a handsome prince, freeing him from an old curse.

The 1991 Disney cartoon won two Academy Awards

This story is fascinating because it contains two common elements: the basic feminine fear of men and the feminine fantasy of how to overcome male superiority.

To understand this, we need to define heterosexuality. Regardless of whether sexuality is lived out or not, one way or another there is a power imbalance between men and women in heterosexual relationships. The majority is in his favor. Not only do men hold most of the world's financial and political power. The archetypal notion of masculinity is also defined in terms of man's ability to spread and exercise power.

The dominance is also evident in traditional role models such as the following: It is the men who initiate sex and courtship and should propose marriage. And: men are emotionally distant, while women provide emotional affection. In short, we cannot understand heterosexuality without being aware of the various types of power asymmetry and struggles.

«Pride & Prejudice» (2005) with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen as haughty Mr. Darcy

Although written a hundred years earlier, “La belle et la bête” already shows patterns from romantic “women's literature”, in which men appear frightening, cold and cruel. Works by authors such as Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Brontë are classic examples of this. They made, for example, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Sense and Sensibility”, “Wuthering Heights” and above all “Jane Eyre”. These stories, too, have always been popular templates for film adaptations.

The "beast" is just one of a multitude of examples of aloof men who turn out to be gentle and loving. Christian Gray from the “Fifty Shades of Gray” trilogy is a famous addition to this list. Both the beast and Gray want to hold a virgin captive.

The “Fifty Shades” trilogy combines traditional role models with sadomasochistic sex.

Both can only express their desire for her by submitting her. In both stories - as in much of the popular literature for women - love triumphs over male ugliness. This is the metaphorical expression of his need to control a woman. Through their love, an ugly face can turn into a pretty one: this is the core of an old female fantasy. For this reason, the erotic or pornographic content is not the secret of the success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy. Rather, it resonates with a relationship image from the late modern era.

At first glance, the gender roles in “La belle et la bête” seem to have been inverted, and women emerge as - supposedly - stronger. It begins with the fact that the father and the beast decide the classic trade between men, in which a woman represents the goods. But Belle's sacrifice undermines her father's masculinity in two ways: First, parents usually sacrifice themselves for their children and not the other way around. Second, it is usually men who fight monsters and other fiends, not young women. Belle not only reverses her role as a daughter, but also as a helpless woman.

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE (1946) by Jean Cocteau

At the end of the story, it is her tears and her kiss that save the monster and give him back his life as a beautiful prince. In this sense, Belle takes on the traditional role. This would actually be intended for the prince who kisses a princess and thus brings her back to life, as is told in "Sleeping Beauty", for example. But this reversal of roles, which enable women to see themselves and their love as the real saviors of the male condition, makes the key message of patriarchy acceptable: the social structure in which men control the conditions of economic and emotional dealings with women .

"La belle et la bête", like most of the feminine romantic literature, teaches women the role they are entitled to: women must make self-sacrifice. Only their love can melt away a man's cruelty or coldness. You have to be beautiful but accept the man's ugliness.

With Cupid and Psyche, with the Pig Prince, with “La belle et la bête” - everywhere only those women are considered virtuous who manage to do all of this. That is why the sisters from the story with the Pig Prince - according to the moral of the story - deserved death. Feminine virtue is defined as the ability to endure the cruelty and ugliness of men and to accept their captivity in the clutches of a monster.

But what makes captivity so tolerable, even acceptable? «Beasts» - like Christian Gray or Donald Trump - provide women like Belle with what rich men have made available to beautiful women since privacy was institutionalized: jewelry, clothes, furniture, food, servants. The plot of such stories represents the basic formula of heterosexual trafficking: economic security, protection and luxury in exchange for unconditional care by a beautiful woman.

With such a narrative structure, love for women is a profoundly confusing experience. Here it is promised that love, if it is self-sacrificing enough, will help overcome power struggles, inequalities and fears in the relationship. Through this kind of love, so the message, women finally experience dignity, autonomy and equality, which they are denied in many social arenas.

But it is much more true that this type of love merely reproduces and prolongs the power struggles between men and women. This is why love and heterosexuality are so irritating to women. Women are torn: they are deeply rooted in a culture that mixes care and captivity, love and power, self-sacrifice and cruelty.

This culture mixes the beast with that prince charming, the sadist with the lover, the man who attacks women, with the man who protects them materially.

After all, like so much of the patriarchal culture that led to Trump's rise, the story of Beauty and the Beast is a story that helps us familiarize ourselves with the beast. To accept his ugliness and to imagine that it conceals his supposedly beautiful soul.

That so many women in the US and around the world have demonstrated against a modern version of the beast gives hope that at least some of us will want to face the beast's ugliness with open eyes.

Translation: Regula Freuler

Eva Illouz

Born in Fès (Morocco) in 1961 and raised in France, Illouz teaches sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. She became known for her work on the effects of economic and technological conditions on the world of emotions, among other things. with the books “Why love hurts” (2011) and “The new order of love. Women, Men and Shades of Gray (2013). She takes a stand on politics in newspaper articles and interviews. Her volume “Wa (h) re Emotions. Authenticity in consumer capitalism »at Suhrkamp.