Does ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Really Promote ‘Inappropriate Behaviour’ to Kids?
Recently, a mother in the United Kingdom has become the talk of the town after asking “Sleeping Beauty” to be removed from the younger classes at her son’s primary school, saying it promotes “inappropriate” sexual behaviour. Sarah Hall brought up the issue after seeing her son take home a children’s version of the classic fairy tale.
— Sarah Hall (@Hallmeister) November 19, 2017
According to the mother of two, she was concerned about the part wherein the prince kisses the princess. As we all know, the kiss took away the curse bestowed by Maleficent when Sleeping Beauty was still a baby. She emphasised that her son is only six and might imitate what the book illustrates.
“I think it’s a specific issue in the Sleeping Beauty story about sexual behaviour and consent. It’s about saying is this still relevant, is it appropriate?,” the mother said. “In today’s society, it isn’t appropriate – my son is only six, he absorbs everything he sees, and it isn’t as if I can turn it into a constructive conversation,” she added.
Even though she sticks to her point, she made it clear that the material should be made available to an appropriate age group.
“I don’t think taking Sleeping Beauty books out of circulation 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,” the mother said. “But I’m really concerned about it for younger children, [and] would really welcome a conversation about whether this is suitable material.”
However, this call has received mixed responses on social media, with people quickly voicing out their opinions.
One Twitter user wrote: “If we’re banning #SleepingBeauty, then we need to ban Goldilocks because of theft, Cinderella because of human slavery, animal abuse and foot fetishes, Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood because of murder. Or we just left fairy tales be fairy tales.”
If we’re banning #SleepingBeauty, then we need to ban Goldilocks because of theft, Cinderella because of human slavery, animal abuse and foot fetishes, Hansel & Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood because of murder.
Or we just left fairy tales be fairy tales.
— Ben (@bilbo983) November 23, 2017
While another user said: Sleeping beauty was CURSED. She was NOT sleeping. The prince was not kissing her taking advantage. He was trying to SAVE HER LIFE. It wasn’t a romantic kiss, it was part of an EVIL CURSE BREAK. Let’s focus on REAL bad examples, shall we? #SleepingBeauty #FairyTales
Sleeping beauty was CURSED. She was NOT sleeping. The prince was not kissing her taking advantage. He was trying to SAVE HER LIFE. It wasn’t a romantic kiss, it was part of a EVIL CURSE BREAK. Let’s focus on REAL bad examples, shall we? #SleepingBeauty #FairyTales
— Olivia (@Olscd) November 23, 2017
The Chronicle also made a poll regarding the issue, revealing 93% of respondents answered that Sleeping Beauty doesn’t send out the wrong message to children. People also commented on their Facebook page.
John Baker said: “Let’s just treat it as it is…a fairytale. It’s a story for young minds, which they treat as a story.”, while Julie Foster said: “My daughter read this recently – she’s six. She already knew the story so even if it wasn’t on the curriculum, children know it.”
Currently, there are also other parents who chose to remove fairy tales from their children’s to-read list. However, according to Mrs Goddard Blythe, director of the Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology in Chester, fairy tales help children “develop imagination and creativity and they help children to understand their own emotional dilemmas in an imaginative way rather than through direct instruction.”
“When you don’t give children these stereotypes of good and bad, you don’t give them a moral code on which to start to develop their own lives,” Mrs Blythe said.
Effects on Children
Other studies also reveal that fairy tales do provide positive impacts to children. According to the study The Positive Impacts of Fairy Tales for Children, children’s literature can help children in their development and “make sense of what it is to be human and help them understand the world around them.” And even though there are unrealistic themes in these stories, the study noted that overall development is positive and the negative characters help children cope with different situations that involve threat and anxiety.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Reid explained that Sleeping Beauty, and other fairy tales, have origins in rape culture, citing the original version of Aurora’s story wherein the princess was raped and only woken up from the curse after giving birth to twins. But, she also pointed out that storytellers altered the way the story is written, making it suitable for children and emphasising that parents should be able to explain to their kids what is happening for them to have a clear understanding of the situation.
“Personally I do find the message of the Sleeping Beauty – that a man kisses an unconscious woman he’s never met before and it saves her – a bit icky. Not so poisonous I’d ban my children from reading it, but troubling enough that I’d like to present it firmly in context,” she said.
“When my children watch Pocahontas, I’ll explain that she was a real woman and that she wasn’t treated well. When they watch Cinderella I’ll explain that not all blended families are inherently broken. It’s not about banning these stories, it’s about telling the appropriate version for the time in which you are living.”
An Expert Explanation
Exploring more on the issue, Professor Kim Reynolds, an expert in children’s literature at Newcastle University, said that fairy tales do deliver an important message that has something to do with the adult world to children, but she pointed out that it is not enough reason to remove the stories completely from the hands of children.
“I can see where this question is coming from; especially as we get more and more evidence of various kinds of child abuse and abuse of young women. The story of Sleeping Beauty is particularly pertinent because [in some versions of the tale] the ‘kiss’ results in twins!,” Professor Reynolds said.
“But having said that, I am not in favour of censoring or sanitising fairy tales. It’s been tried in the past and usually ruined stories that are not only potent in themselves, but which convey a great deal of social information.”
Professor Reynolds also reminded everyone to not take fairy tales “too literally” and that the lessons learned by children are not as literal as it is okay to kiss someone who is asleep. She pointed out that Sleeping Beauty can even teach children consent due to the idea of “true love’s kiss”, which is mentioned in the story.
“Fairy tales stress that the princess awakes only to ‘true love’s kiss’. False kissers are shown as grotesque and they can’t work the transformational magic. You can take this as a warning against accepting improper kisses.”