Imagine a loved one, say a sister or daughter, is lying comatose in a hospital bed when suddenly the son of a prominent politician walks past and sees her. Infatuated with her beauty, this fortunate son walks over and plants a big kiss on her lips. Probably most of us out there would suddenly feel inclined to press either charges or a fist against this joker.
But that’s exactly what happens in the celebrated fairy tales "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty," according to Professor Kazue Muta of Osaka University – a specialist in historical sociology and gender theory and the author of Sir, that love is sexual harassment! a book detailing the problems of sexual harassment in the workplace.
In a tweet posted on Dec 11, Prof Muta accuses the princes in each story of sexual assault and links to a news story of a real incident in which a man in Wakayama was arrested for kissing a sleeping woman on the train.
“When you think rationally about 'Snow White' and 'Sleeping Beauty,' that tell of a ‘princess being woken up by the kiss of a prince,’ they are describing sexual assault on an unconscious person. You might think I’m ruining the fantasy of it all, but these stories are promoting sexual violence and I would like everyone to be aware of it.”
The comment triggered a wave of response on Twitter and elsewhere on the internet, both in support and opposition of Muta’s point of view.
“No matter how you interpret those stories, what the princes did is not sexual assault!”
“You can’t apply modern law or ethics to fairy tales.”
“In these cases it’s more like artificial respiration than sexual assault.”
“She’s right – you can’t go around kissing unconscious people; the fact that they woke up is incidental.”
“This kind of dismantling of our culture and traditions does more harm than good.”
“I’m a lawyer and since Snow White doesn’t press charges, there are no grounds for sexual assault charges.”
“But if they are thought to be dead, are they still victims?”
“Meh, since they’re handsome they get a pass. That’s how it always works.”
“So if we can apply real-world laws to fiction, can the reverse also apply?”
Prof Muta has done a good job at raising awareness with regards to sexual assault with her tweet, but are the princes in these stories really guilty of the charges laid before them? Off the cuff, we’d say definitely yes, because my foggy recollection of these stories is that these guys just happened along and took the liberty of violating these women’s personal space just because they felt like it.
However, upon reading into these tales there is a little more going on. In the Grimm version of "Snow White," no kiss takes place at all. Instead the prince just moves her glass coffin which jostles her, dislodges the poison apple, and wakes her up. Granted the fact that he wanted her corpse in the first place is suspicious, but not enough to condemn him outright.
In the Grimm version of "Sleeping Beauty," the prince is told beforehand that kissing her would reverse the eternal sleep and sent out on a mission to do just that. You could make the argument that even under these circumstances he has no right to kiss her without permission, but then you’d also be against mouth-to-mouth resuscitation which this is essentially a magical variation of.
In the Disney version of "Sleeping Beauty," too, the prince is led to kiss Princess Aurora by the fairies on the belief that he can cure her, and is not motivated by his own pervy will. Again, if you’re going to take a hard-line stance on his actions, then those fairies ought to take a major part of the accountability.
Now, the Disney version of "Snow White" is open for debate. In this case, the prince does just happen along and kisses the unconscious Snow White. This version also attempts to soften the act by establishing a prior relationship between them in which she and the prince fall in love at first sight.
However, after their encounter they lose contact for about a year. That’s kind of like saying you met this girl at a party and really hit it off, then a year later you find her laid out at a funeral and decide to passionately kiss her body. Sure there’s a certain romantic and tragic element to the gesture, but you can’t be surprised if her family doesn’t give you a stink eye at the very least.
Many people commented that it isn’t fair to apply our values, laws, ethics, etc. on fairy tale characters, but that’s not really the point of Prof Muta’s message. In a relatively lighthearted way, it brought the issue further into the light in Japan and has people now discussing the very nature of sexual assault so that we may reach a better understanding and consensus about it – because if 2017 has taught us one thing, it’s that a lot of us don’t get it.
Sources: Twitter/@peureka, J-Cast News, Hachima Kiko
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