If We Are Gonna Talk About Consent in Sleeping Beauty, Then What Aurora Feels Matters
Whenever I talk with men about the current climate of sexual assault, my less woke-but well-meaning male friends sometimes ask, “well is it okay do [blank] anymore” or “what’s next are we getting rid of [blank].” While a lot of the time I feel their fears are an exaggeration and a lack of self-reflection, I am reminded that sometimes even the most well-meaning acts can be a little … flawed in how they approach a situation.
This was shown in the case of a mother, Sarah Hall, who told the Newcastle Chronicle “she was disturbed by the actions of Prince Phillip in the movie [Sleeping Beauty]. Since Aurora was unconscious, there’s no way she could have been okay with the action.” She then contacted her son’s school and asked if it could be removed because “the story was no longer relevant in modern times and that it was merely adding to the toxic sexual environment we have found ourselves in.” At least for six-year-olds. Hall wasn’t opposed to it being used as a tool for older kids to talk about consent.
Comicbook.com covered the story and added this statement to the end of their reporting of it:
“This thought does present a bit of a conundrum with the fairy tale. If Phillip kisses Aurora, according to Hall’s sentiment, he is sexually assaulting her. However, if he doesn’t kiss her, she dies.
So much for happy endings.”
Alright, alright everyone let’s just talk a pause. First, I don’t think Hall’s intentions are bad or wrong; Disney movies are … complicated when it comes to a lot of feminist issues, but that is a thinkpiece for another time, and when it comes to consent in fairy tales it is even messier (again, another thinkpiece for another time). However, if we are gonna talk about consent and Sleeping Beauty, then let’s have that conversion.
Yes, Aurora is asleep when Phillip kisses her. However, I would not consider that sexual assault for three reasons:
(1) Aurora’s Feelings For Phillip:
Aurora and Phillip only meet for like five seconds and it is instant love, which is “silly” and “dated” and a valid thing to complain about. However, Aurora does have feelings for him. She is devastated when her “mothers” tell her that she is betrothed to someone else. Before then, Aurora is happy and excited to share her new beau with her family. She likes (loves) Phillip. That is important. Her feelings are important.
(2) Phillip Knows Kissing Aurora is the Only Way to Save Her:
Phillip doesn’t just kiss Aurora because he’s horny. He is told in a very intense monologue by Maleficent that Aurora is under a spell that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. This is not a drunken accidental hook up, or an older male authority figure taking advantage of a younger co-worker. He is literally saving her from an eternity of sleep.
(3) Aurora’s Reaction to the Kiss:
That is the face of a woman who is happy. Not just happy, not to be cursed for a hundred years, but like hell yeah, it’s that dude I like, and I get to marry him and not a total stranger (just an almost stranger). Non-verbal consent is a thing, and Aurora gives Phillip plenty of it in her body language once she is comfortable around him and her reaction to Phillip during her awakening. She is not upset about being kissed, she got kissed by someone she liked, she would have kissed him if she was awake.
Of all the points the last is the most important to me because there is very little focus given on what Aurora is shown to feel, as opposed to what she should feel. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should talk about Disney movies and the messages they send out, and how they have had to evolve and change with the times, but I also think it is important (both in film and in real life) to not ignore a woman’s individual feelings. IF Aurora’s feelings were vaguer, we should definitely be having the consent conversation. Hell, I’d feel more comfortable having this conversation about Snow White, because that dude literally just swings over to kiss a dead girl. However, what Aurora in the movie feels is pretty damn clear. She gives implied consent and reacts with delight and pleasure to his actions. That matters.
What is a problem in the film, if you ask me, is the fact that Aurora is lied to for almost the entire movie. In fact, Phillip is probably the only person who doesn’t manipulate her. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather do not give Aurora any information that allows her to make informed decisions about her life, because they think ignorance would be better than knowledge. They keep her from other people, and don’t just tell her “hey girl, you in danger, evil witch about, so be cool.” Much better parenting move, especially when she’s 16 now!
Anyway, yes I feel Sleeping Beauty would be a great story to teach about consent and how there can be implied/non-verbal consent and how to look at your partner’s reaction to make sure they are also interested. Now, other versions of the fairy tales like the Italian version—in which the Prince does far more than kiss her—are super rapey and should be avoided.
Or just watch Maleficent instead.
(via Comicbook.com, image: Walt Disney )
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