As you know, I recently went to see Neil Gaiman talking about fairytales and one of the things I learned was that in the original Sleeping Beauty, she was raped. Neil Gaiman didn’t use these words but he made it clear that this is what happened – the kiss didn’t wake her, her babies did. My foremost reaction was about the depiction of this rape – had it been glossed over as not a big deal or even made to seem OK/acceptable? I haven’t yet read the original so I don’t know but I do find my reaction interesting especially as I labelled it as ‘feminist’. Part of me worried that I was putting a ‘feminist’ perspective on the tale, which meant that I was missing the point – it’s just a story – and the way Neil Gaiman portrayed it was as a funny-but-very-dark element. In fact, he compared it to the original of Rapunzel, when she gets pregnant after being visited by her prince. And now I’m reminded of Paul Ryan’s comment, describing rape as a method of conception, because Gaiman focused on the sexual element that the Grimm brothers left out, rather than the fact that one was consensual and the other wasn’t. In fact, there’s nothing ‘dark’ about consensual sex, and therefore nothing ‘dark’ about the original Rapunzel story. You could argue that it’s not suitable for children, except the sex isn’t described, her pregnancy is – she gets bigger. Children witness pregnancy in real life and it either goes over their heads or sparks awkward questions about where babies come from. But either way, there’s nothing wrong with a story in which the female character gets pregnant. The adults will know she’s sexually active but the children won’t. So why leave this out and why is it ‘dark’?
Maybe there were other dark elements that Neil Gaiman didn’t mention but if so, why not? Does he see the pregnancy as the darkest of them all or is it because the Grimms did – seeing as they left gruesome details in other tales (Cinderalla and her poor sisters’ feet spring to mind). Now, I don’t want to attack Neil Gaiman because I like him and I’m sure he didn’t mean to imply that he thought rape was OK or to compare it with consensual sex in this way but the thing is, he did treat the fact that in the original, Sleeping Beauty was raped, as a fun, albeit shocking, fact. Maybe I am being ‘too feminist’ about this and it isn’t a big deal. He was saying, ‘look how dark and shocking the original is’ but by then comparing it to Rapunzel’s consensual sex, it is like saying ‘what’s dark is the sex, not the lack of consent’. Actually, I think this is a common way of seeing sex, a hangover from Christianity. Sex is bad unless it takes place within a marriage. The Christian emphasis is on marriage not consent, hence also why rape within marriage wasn’t a crime until the 90s. So Rapunzel having sex outside marriage is just as bad as Sleeping Beauty being raped. And thinking back to Sex Ed, we were taught about contraception and STDs and the risk of pregnancy but we were also given the message that you shouldn’t have sex unless you’re in a relationship or even wanting a baby. In the videos, the couples having sex were always married and trying to get pregnant. I guess the argument is they don’t want teenagers to have sex. Well why not? This isn’t a new phenomena. Women used to be married very young – Juliet in Romeo and Juliet was, what, 14? And she definitely gave consent. But they were married, so that’s OK. If it’s STDs and pregnancy you’re worried about – make sure teenagers are fully educated. Sex Ed does not cause teenage sex, teenagers are going to do it, anyway, it just gives them the knowledge they need to protect themselves.
I’ve gone way off on a tangent, here, but I guess my point is this: consensual sex is good, non-consensual sex is bad. Therefore the original Sleeping Beauty is dark but the original Rapunzel isn’t.
Oh and I’ve now read the original Sleeping Beauty, it’s called Sun, Moon and Talia, and you can read it here. And yes, I was outraged. The prince couldn’t help himself, it’s described as ‘the first fruits of love’ and she is far from disturbed by the experience, in fact, when she wakes up and sees her children, her only reaction is that she loves them, and when the prince comes back for another go, finds her awake and tells her what happened, ‘their friendship was knitted with tighter bonds’. Oh and let’s not forget the proverb at the end:Those whom fortune favors
Find good luck even in their sleep.