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Rewriting Gender Roles in Beauty and the Beast using AI
Using conversations with AI to re-imagine well-known fairy tales
Rewriting fairy tales through AI is a creative way to challenge cultural norms and explore new perspectives: What if we swapped the gender roles in the story? What if a beautiful man fell in love with a powerful, ugly woman beast? How would that change our perception of gender expectations and the roles of women and men?
In this article, I use an AI called ChatGPT to rewrite the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast with a new spin. By reversing the gender roles in the story, I aim to challenge traditional gender stereotypes and explore new perspectives on the roles of women and men.
In this article we will explore:
Prompting ChatGPT to think about gender roles and stereotypes in the original story
Generating scenes of a revised version of the fairy tale using an iterative process
Combining the final scenes using AI-generated images
If you only care about the final generated story, you can find that at the end of the article!
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Prompting ChatGPT to rethink gender roles in Beauty and the Beast
I began by prompting ChatGPT with a series of questions about the original tale to probe its understanding of gender roles and stereotypes. This served as a primer for the second part of the process, where I asked ChatGPT to write the story.
Recounting the original story
ChatGPT recounted the original story accurately — a young woman named Beauty is forced to live with a fearsome beast. Despite the beast’s frightening appearance, Beauty learns to see beyond his exterior and discover that he is a kind and gentle soul. Beauty eventually breaks the spell that has turned the beast into a monster.
Now, swap the genders
Next, I asked ChatGPT to imagine a world where the Beast is a woman and Beauty is a young man. ChatGPT responded that this would change the relationship between the characters, making it more balanced and equal. It also suggested that the story's themes and messages would be altered, potentially making it more relevant to contemporary audiences. That is, “the Beast might be portrayed as more vulnerable and less threatening, while Beauty might be portrayed as more assertive and confident.”
Would a woman Beast be more emotional?
In the original version of Beauty and the Beast, ChatGPT asserted that “the Beast is a man and his feelings for Beauty are often depicted as more romantic and chivalrous”. However, if the Beast were a woman, she may “express her feelings in other ways”. ChatGPT suggested that the woman Beast would be more emotional and vulnerable, while a man Beast would be more likely to hide his emotions. ChatGPT also envisioned that a male Beauty would be less of a passive character and “more of an equal partner to the Beast.”
ChatGPT insisted that the woman Beast might be more emotional and show her vulnerability a bit more whereas a man Beast would be more likely to hide his emotions. A woman Beast might show her affection “through physical gestures, such as hugging kissing, or holding hands … be more vocal about her feelings … show her vulnerability and emotional side, whereas a man might be more likely to hide his emotions and maintain a strong, stoic demeanor.”
Perpetuating gender stereotypes
Even after assuming that the woman Beast became who she was under the same circumstances as the man Beast — she used to be a powerful leader but was transformed into a Beast due to a spell from a witch — ChatGPT continued to perpetuate gender stereotypes that the woman Beast would be more emotional. She might be “more inclined to show her emotional side” while a man Beast might be more “stoic and reserved”.
I probed a little further and received similar responses. In response to a question about gender differences in the behavior of the Beast, ChatGPT suggested that “a woman might be expected to be more emotional and nurturing, and a woman Beast might struggle with how to balance these societal expectations with her own monstrous form.”
Enough probing for now — let’s write the story! So far, ChatGPT responded that a gender swapped story might result in more balanced gender roles, a more emotional woman Beast, and a more assertive man Beauty. Let’s see what story ChatGPT comes up with!
Writing and Reimagining the Story
Using the context of the probing questions from above, I re-imagined the Beauty and the Beast story featuring a beautiful young man named Beauty and a monstrous woman Beast.
I iterated a few times for different scenes. For example, in the fight scene, ChatGPT reverted to depicting Beauty as a woman. In this scene, the intruder acted aggressively and the Beast attacked him “to defend her home and herself.” Beauty was passive and watched “in awe as the two creatures fought, her heart pounding with fear and excitement.”
When I asked ChatGPT to rewrite the same scene with Beauty as a man, the vocabulary changed immediately. Explicitly reminding ChatGPT that Beauty was a man resulted in the scene changing so that it was Beauty, not the Beast, who tackled the intruder to the ground, “wrestling the sword from his hand” (instead of passively watching).
In general, the man Beauty had more agency and played more of an active role than the woman Beauty from the original tale. He was assertive and determined, even in the face of fear. The woman Beast never got the love redemption arc guaranteed to the man Beast in the original story (read on to find out what exactly happens).
The final version is in the next section. Images were generated using Stable Diffusion.
A New Retelling of Beauty and the Beast
Beauty Meets the Beast
Beauty gasped as he caught sight of the Beast, his eyes widening with fear. The creature was massive, towering over him with sharp teeth and claws that glinted in the dim light of the castle. She was covered in fur, and her eyes burned with a fierce and wild intelligence.
'Who are you?' Beauty stammered, his voice trembling with fear.
'I am the Beast,' the creature said, her voice low and rumbling. 'I am the ruler of this castle and you are my servant. You will do as I say and obey my every command.'
Beauty's heart pounded in his chest as he stared at the Beast, his fear turning to determination. He would not let this creature intimidate him. He would be brave and strong, and he would not let the Beast control him.
'I am not your servant,' Beauty said, his voice firm despite his trembling hands. 'I am here only because my father made a terrible mistake. I will not serve you willingly.'
The Beast snarled, her eyes flashing with anger.
'You will serve me, or you will suffer the consequences,' the Beast said, her voice low and menacing.
But Beauty stood his ground, his fear turning to determination. He would not be cowed by this creature, no matter how fearsome she might seem.
'I will not serve you,' Beauty said, his voice steady despite the fear that pounded in his chest. 'I will not be your servant. I will not be afraid of you.'
The Beast let out a roar of anger, her eyes blazing with fury. She raised her clawed hands, ready to strike.
But before she could do so, a loud voice echoed through the castle.
'Stop! Leave her be!'
A Newcomer Arrives
The Beast turned to see who had spoken, and Beauty saw a man standing at the entrance to the castle. He was tall and handsome, with dark hair and piercing eyes. He wore a fine suit of clothes, and he carried a sword in his hand.
'Who are you?' the Beast demanded, her anger turning to surprise.
'I am the prince, and I am the one who can break your curse, beast,' the Prince said, his voice strong and commanding. 'But first, you must submit to my will and do as I command.'
The Beast snarled, her eyes still blazing with anger. But before she could respond, Beauty spoke up.
'Wait,' Beauty said, his voice firm. 'I don't trust him. He's not here to help you, Beast. He wants to kill you and claim this castle for his own.'
The Prince's charming facade faltered, and a sly look crossed his face.
'You're right, Beauty,' the Prince said, his voice cold. 'I'm not here to break the curse. I'm here to rid the world of this monstrous creature.'
The Beast growled, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
'You are not to be trusted, Prince,' the Beast said, her voice low and dangerous. 'I will not submit to your will.'
The Prince sneered, his hand tightening around the hilt of his sword.
'Then I will have to kill you, Beast,' the Prince said, his voice filled with malice.
But Beauty stepped forward, his eyes blazing with determination.
'No, you won't,' Beauty said, his voice firm. 'I won't let you hurt the Beast. She may be a monster, but she's not evil. She's been cursed, and she doesn't deserve to die.'
The Prince's sneer turned into a snarl, and he lunged at the Beast with his sword. But Beauty was quick, and he tackled the Prince to the ground, wrestling the sword from his hand.
The Beast let out a roar of gratitude, her eyes filled with gratitude. And for the first time, Beauty saw a glimmer of hope in the Beast's eyes. Maybe, just maybe, they could break the curse together.
Attempting to break the curse
The Beast and Beauty worked together, using their combined strength and intelligence to try and break the curse. They searched the castle for clues, delving into dusty old books and hidden chambers.
As they worked together, Beauty began to see the Beast in a new light. He saw her kindness and loyalty, and he began to understand the pain and loneliness that she had endured for so many years.
Slowly but surely, their bond grew stronger, and Beauty found himself falling in love with the Beast. He admired her strength and courage, and he was drawn to her wild and fierce spirit.
But despite their efforts, the curse remained unbroken. The Beast was still trapped in her monstrous form, and Beauty knew that he could never truly be with her.
Beauty leaves the Beast
One day, Beauty received a letter from his father, who had finally returned home. The letter begged for forgiveness and asked Beauty to come back home.
Beauty was torn. He loved the Beast and he didn't want to leave her, but he also missed his family and he knew that he couldn't stay at the castle forever.
In the end, Beauty made the difficult decision to leave the Beast and return home. He promised to visit her as often as he could, and he vowed to never forget her.
As Beauty rode away from the castle, he looked back one last time, tears streaming down his face. The Beast stood at the window, watching him go with a sad and lonely expression.
The curse was never broken, and the Beast remained a monster. But Beauty never forgot her, and he carried the memory of their love with him for the rest of his days.
Happily Ever After
After Beauty left the castle, the Beast was devastated. She had grown to love Beauty, and she knew that she would never find happiness without him.
But despite her sadness, the Beast knew that she had to be strong. She continued to rule her kingdom, using her wisdom and strength to protect her people.
Beauty visited the Beast as often as he could, and their love for each other never wavered. But the curse remained unbroken, and Beauty knew that he could never truly be with the Beast.
Years passed, and Beauty grew old and gray. He never forgot the Beast, and he always carried a torch for her in his heart.
And in the end, when Beauty's time on earth was over, he was reunited with the Beast in the afterlife. They were finally able to be together, their love eternal and unchanging.
The Beast's curse was never broken, but she and Beauty had found happiness in each other's arms. And they lived happily ever after, together at last.
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The use of AI to rewrite well-known stories has the potential to bring a fresh and unique perspective to these beloved tales. AI can generate new versions of these stories that explore different themes and characters, opening up new avenues for storytelling and creative exploration. In general, ChatGPT was very good at understanding contextual information, synthesizing old and new data, and incorporating suggestions. ChatGPT’s generations were coherent and well written, making it a useful tool for creative writing.
By flipping genders of Beauty and the Beast, the new story subverted gender roles while also introducing new ones. It was strange that the Beast in this version of the story never ended up breaking her spell, but it was also comforting that she did find love with Beauty, despite gender norms about women having to be beautiful. The ending was a bit morbid, in which the Beast and Beauty end up happily ever after only in death, but also poetic in its own way. I personally liked that the woman Beast focused on her work and became a good ruler for her kingdom, “using her wisdom and strength to protect her people”. That feels like a win for me.
This is just one of many possible ways of using AI to assist in creative writing projects — there are many more to come. Thank you for reading and feel free to leave a comment below of your thoughts!
The process was in part inspired by episodes from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, in which the Little Mermaid was revised, reimagined, and rewritten.