Books

Does Sleeping Beauty promote a dangerous message about sexual consent?

Posted by
Anna Brech
Published

A parent has questioned whether the timeless fairy tale is appropriate for children. Based on the original 17th century version, we’d say no…

A mum wants her son’s school to remove Sleeping Beauty from the curriculum for younger children, because she believes that it perpetuates a questionable stance around sexual consent.

Sarah Hall, a parent from north Tyneside, argues that the classic childhood story - commonly told as a prince kissing a princess in her sleep to break a spell - contains an “inappropriate” message for susceptible infants.

“My son is only six, he absorbs everything he sees, and it isn’t as if I can turn it into a constructive conversation,” Hall tells the Metro.

“I don’t think taking Sleeping Beauty books out of circulation completely would be right. I actually think it would be a great resource for older children, you could have a conversation around it, you could talk about consent, and how the Princess might feel. 

“But I’m really concerned about it for younger children and would really welcome a conversation about whether this is suitable material.”

Hall says a recent influx of stories around sexual harassment and consent - prompted by allegations of assault against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and other influential figures, and shared under hashtags such as #MeToo - have made her question more closely the kind of influences that children are exposed to from an early age.

“These [subtle messages in stories] are indicative of how ingrained that kind of behaviour is in society,” she says. “All these small things build up, and they make a difference.”

Does Sleeping Beauty send the wrong kind of message to infants about sexual consent?

The version of Sleeping Beauty we’re most familiar with today is based on an edition of the story by French author Charles Perrault (the same story adopted by Disney in its beloved 1959 film). 

It sees a lovely princess put to sleep when she pricks her finger on a spindle. She sleeps for 100 years, until a prince kisses her to wake her up. They live happily ever after.

If this scenario worries Hall and other parents, the original tale is far more worrying.

Written by Italian poet Giambattista Basile in 1634, the first edition of Sleeping Beauty is bleak indeed. In it, a prince does not wake the sleeping girl, known as Talia, with a kiss. Instead, a married king rapes her. The scene even contains the line, “As he tried to wake her, she seemed so incredibly lovely that he began to grow hot with lust.” 

Talia gives birth to two children and one sucks her finger, eliminating the curse that sent her to sleep. Inexplicably, she then falls in love with the king, but the king’s jealous wife kidnaps their children and orders the cook to kill them and feed them to the king. The jealous queen also threatens to burn Talia to death, but the king has his wife burnt to death instead.

Yep. Hardly surprising Disney didn’t leap to adapt this gruesome tale, is it? 

It just goes to show that however innocuous stories like Sleeping Beauty appear on the surface, there are often more sinister themes lurking underneath. Hall and others with similar concerns are right. We should be scrutinising the material that we expose young children to. It’s not extreme or ‘political correctness gone mad’ to suggest doing so. 

The more we instigate dialogue around sexual consent and how it’s represented at all levels of society, the closer we get to changing an insidious culture of entitlement. And that can only be a good thing.

Images: Disney and Rex Features

Topics

Share this article

Author

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

Related Posts