What Sleeping Beauty Teaches Women’s Worth (-or lack thereof)



The first thing you may notice about Sleeping Beauty is that the, supposed, protagonist is sleeping for the majority of the film. Passivity has been a reared desirable trait for women, this displaying the epitome of a passive woman. Further reinforcing the notion is that a man must ultimately “save her from herself“ (if we recall, Aurora is the one who pricked herself on the spindle, making it her fault that she is the victim – read that with thick layers of sarcasm if you hadn’t).

The Prince’s actions reinforce the “nice guy” paradigm. Prince Philip rescues Aurora from her deep slumber with true love’s kiss. There is a lack of moral compass about the appropriateness of kissing a woman who can’t give consent. The movie seems to suggest that because Prince Philip worked so hard to snake through thorny bushes and slay a dragon that he is allowed to kiss our sleeping beauty. Regardless of how much an individual does for another, it is in no way, shape, or form, permission to another individual’s body without proper communication. By raising our youth on movies that promote the prize of obtaining women through hard work, we are promoting the I-Deserve-Her syndrome that “nice” men seem to be suffering from.

The most powerful women is evil – this resonates with a more modern term: power bitch. Women holding positions of power are sometimes referred to as being a bitch – as to where her male counterpart would be praised for his determination. Women are considered aggressive,
Even our biological experiences are framed to deflate our legitimacy. Who hasn’t heard, “Oh you’re just PMSing…”

Even title wise the movie suggest that a woman’s worth is directly tied to her looks and fertility. The film is literally called Sleeping Beauty. Beauty is gifted to the new born baby, signaling how precious this must be. Her mother is unknown except for being the bearer of a bouncy baby girl.

Obviously, Disney doesn’t respect women as autonomous capable beings. Where does that leave our youth who subliminally imbibe these messages?


A Racial Critique

     In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) we enter into a fairytale world where everyone is under a deep slumber. Of course they never lived within a time frozen world – it was a curse.

     Upon Sleeping Beauty’s birth, the kingdom rejoiced with celebration for the new baby. As such, many are invited to bear gifts – three such being from plump, friendly fairies. Everyone in attendance is white and upper class until Maleficent bursts in to give her gift.

Maleficent is grey hued adorning black attire. Her crow is black.

Her henchmen are black.

The beastly antagonist is black.

Everything dark in this movie is evil.

The movie is filled with the pretty obvious tones of disdain for anything that diverges from the white supremacist layer of the times.  During that time, crow was a slur for African-Americans.  By making everything that’s darker than beige negative, they are reinstitutionalizing the dangerous permeating messages of racism.

Not only does Disney provide this color scheme for this movie, but a similar dark colored scheme to represent evil occurs unanimously in most Disney movies.

Lesson From Yours Truly: Disney

♠ Being independent and powerful make you evil

“Maleficent is a badass. She is the only female character who actually does something in this movie. Why is she evil? Because she refuses to obey what is set in place by the society. Oooh. Maleficent wasn’t even going to curse Aurora until the other fairies told her she wasn’t wanted. I don’t agree that she should have taken it out on little Aurora, but she was willing to have a little compassion until everyone acted like giant jerks. Maleficent is an independent and powerful woman who doesn’t let the so-called standards of the kingdom keep her from doing what she wants. But she’s a bitch for it, apparently.”

♠ Your only use is to bear children

“Do you know what the queen’s name is? Probably not because she’s never addressed by her name, but it’s Leah in case you were wondering. She doesn’t speak and no one ever really interacts with her. Aurora is only referred to as the king’s child, basically making the Queen obsolete except to have babies.”

♠ Beauty is the most important quality

“In this fairy tale, fairies bestow gifts upon baby Aurora. She is given the gift of beauty and song. That’s it. No one bestows wit or intelligence or anything upon her. Beauty and song. So now Aurora has nothing to do except look pretty and carry a tune.”

♠  Love at first site

“At least it takes Mulan and some later Princesses a few days to fall in love. So you meet a random guy in the middle of the forest? MUST BE LOVE”

♠ You’re basically useless

“Aurora is asleep and doesn’t get to do anything for herself. She has no qualities other than beauty and her kindness. Her literal dream in life is to fall in love. That’s it. She has no ambitions or goals other than that, which is why she is able to fall in love with the first guy who walks through the woods.”

♠ No consent is okay

“We saw this in Snow White too. Princess Aurora is asleep. Prince Phillip kisses her without consent. That is not okay. I don’t care that this is a fairy tale and “But true love’s first kiss!” No. This is creepy.”

♠ You need a man to save you

“There’s no escape for Aurora except for being saved by a dude who doesn’t even get consent from her.”


Anne Sexton’s Poem-1979

Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition
by Jacqueline Lew

Unlike Yolen’s “Sleeping Ugly” or Garner’s parody, Anne Sexton’s poem “Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)” preserves the plot of the Grimm Brothers’ version.


Furthermore, Sexton reveals how the events directly affect Briar Rose, thus

revealing the impact of patriarchal notions on gender role — espoused by the Grimms’ fairy tales — on a woman’s psyche

Briar Rose realized that she loses a sense of herself, saying “Each night I am nailed into place/and forget who I am” (lines 149- 150) as a result of being forced into a proscribed gender roles, which denied her individuality.

Sexton restores Briar Rose’s voice and draws attention to her character as a female with her own thought and striving to express them, all the which the Grimm Brothers’ stripped of the princess.

After Briar Rose’s awakening, Sexton examines how Briar Rose’s mind has been debauched by the events, employing Briar Rose as a

paranoid insomniac who feels suffocated by her oppressed position in the story

Sexton’s powerful use of incestuous images, imprisonment, and insomnia underlie Briar Rose’s reactions about being forced into prison as well as a position of passivity, and overall being deduced to an object.

According to Lew,

Sexton’s poem lays the tale, in all its contemporary maliciousness, out in the open

Sexton aimed to eradicate the relevance of Grimms’ anciently chauvinistic values by encouraging readers to question said values to their contemporary lives.

In her poem, Briar Rose’s father not only rapes her, but smothers her with overprotection, further reinforcing her passive role.  In portraying such, Sexton suggests that just as Briar Rose is oppressed by patriarchy, the result of women who are forced into roles of passivity is stunted social, emotional, and intellectual development.

By likening Briar Rose’s passive role to imprisonment, Sexton’s version further explores how forcing women into passivity denies women freedom to explore and shape their individual lives and personalities. Unlike the Grimms’ Briar Rose, who is portrayed as being freed from her hundred-year sleep, Sexton’s Briar Rose merely passes from one prison into another.

In the sense that Briar Rose acknowledged that she merely passed from sleep-induced passivity to societal-induced passivity.

Sexton manages to do so via references to modern invention.  In doing so she also happens to suggest that the

Sleeping Beauty” tale deals with issues that are relevant today, such as the impact of socially determined gender roles on social development and remind the audience that every story reflects the cultural context in which it was written (Anne Sexton’s Feminist Re-reading)

Sexton’s Briar Rose is aware of her status as a relic of century-old gender role conceptions.  She realizes that the archaic values that she represents should be “dying” or dead in her new time.

Lew, perfectly encapsulates the importance of Sexton’s feminist retelling.

Sexton’s poem presents the story faithfully, but reveals, under contemporary lighting, that it is not nearly as attractive as we remembered in our imaginations, and that it does not match the rest of the values that furnish our culture.  Although the tale may have been beautiful in its own time, we find, with Sexton’s guidance, that in its deteriorating state, it should be encased in glass and displayed as a museum relic, an artifact in an exhibition on the evolution of the feminist struggle.


Politically Correct Version of Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition
by Jacqueline Lew

Click to access PWR-Lew.pdf

James Finn Garner’s “Sleeping Persun of Better-Than-Average Attractiveness”
is entirely politically correct.

So much so that according to Lew,

Garner’s feminist revision of “Sleeping Beauty” is so thorough that it becomes entirely — indeed, intentionally — ridiculous.

Garner’s goal is to reject the notion that current feminist revision simply provide alternative values in the original framework of fairy tales, which never solves the inherent problems.

Therefore, Garner’s politically correct retelling does not intend to classify itself as a serious alternative to the Grimms’ chauvinism, but rather as a mockery of unsuccessful approaches to feminist revisions of Sleeping Beauty.


Animated Satirical Critique (Explicit)

There have been various fairytale revision of Sleeping Beauty – some naughty, some nice. This particular independent animated revision critiques two of the most prominent themes: Sleeping Beauty’s received gifts and her sleeping lack of consent.

     Beauty’s gifts are almost useless, according to the video. Instead of anything practical, they wish her beauty and ability to sing. As to where intelligence didn’t seem to make the cut. The satirical short animation takes a dark twist when she meets her Prince’s wife…

One contention I disagree with is the slut-shaming overtone – not sex-positive – but interesting commentary on the rest of the story.

Sleeping Beauty and Consent: Critical View of Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy

Anne Rice, pen name A.N. Roquelaure, wrote an enticingly fascinating trilogy of Sleeping Beauty.  All appropriately titled: The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983), Beauty’s Punishment (1984), and Beauty’s Release (1985).

The most prominent aspect from the tale of Sleeping Beauty, and entire framework for the novels, was based on “true love’s first kiss” that wakes Aurora from her sleep.  Instead, Rice translates this to ‘first fuck’, leaving out love entirely (arguably, love was never a theme that actually occurred previously).

In the novel, Sleeping Beauty is simply called Beauty.  Even though she in the predominant protagonist, her lack of name is evident that she lacks autonomy and initial characteristics aside from her looks.

The BDSM fairytale land often skims the lines of consent so frequently and closely that it gets pushed between no consent and barely consent – at least initially.  Beauty essentially develops Stockholm Syndrome, which seems to be her only saving grace in a world where she has no choice, as upon her waking she is given to the Prince as a sex slave.

She eventually loves her capture and punishment to the point of yearning for both.  Much like in BDSM when a slave reaches their breaking point, one where it can be a breakdown of their will, attitude, and sometimes thought process, which can lead to a blank canvas type of state in which a Master can paint what they wish.  To make a distinction, BDSM has strong and true under layers of everything being safe, sane, and consensual with copious constant communication.  That is unlike Beauty’s treatment, where she never consented to the acts.

There comes a line of contention: can something be considered enjoyable if not initially consensual?  What are your thoughts?

Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition

Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition
by Jacqueline Lew (Winter 2000-2001)

Jacqueline Lew stresses the importance of ameliorating the ramifications the Grimm Brothers’ demeaning version produced, and suggests that authors do so via feminist retellings in order to remedy the tale’s two major problems: the problem of lost context, and the problem of sexist content.
She then explains how to go about so effectively:

  1. Addressed the issue of context
  2. Proceed to reject the legend’s inappropriate, chauvinistic content by revealing the detrimental impact of holding such archaic values, while providing new, appropriate alternative perspectives.

    According to Lew, Jane Yolen’s feminist retelling, “Sleeping Ugly” inadequately teaches contemporary values without sufficiently addressing the problems with the old values. Yolen deconstructs the traditional privilege associated with beauty by stressing that character, rather than physical attractiveness, is a person’s most valuable asset.

    Plain Jane derives her ultimate happiness from being surrounded by friends and a loving family, however just like the classic “Sleeping Beauty,” Yolen’s “Sleeping Ugly” places too much emphasis on the relevance of beauty to character.  Although, Yolen attempts to enumerate the association between good looks and good character, she only reverses the stereotype, to the detriment of attractive girls’ self-esteem.
    Furthermore, in Yolen’s tale, Prince Jojo only comes to “love” Plain Jane as the result of a spell cast upon her by an old fairy. For this reason,

    Yolen unintentionally implies that the likelihood of “ugly” girls being considered attractive is so low that they require the help of supernatural forces

    In addition, Yolen’s tale legitimizes superficial love at first sight and longing to be loved based on one kiss. Upon being kissed, the groggy Plain Jane desires that the prince love her, as if she has been waiting her entire life for a man — any man — to love her, therefore still deriving happiness from a man’s affection.
    Ultimately, Yolen’s attempt to revise the tale within its original framework, and focusing primarily on two main themes, unfortunately preserves the negative, gender expectations in regards to beauty, love and femininity.  For this reason, Yolen’s  it ends up preserving more chauvinistic messages than it deconstructs or replaces.


Ramifications of Grimm Brothers’ Tale

Sleeping Beauty on Exhibition
by Jacqueline Lew (Winter 2000-2001)


According to Jack Zipes, The Grimm Brothers

wanted to preserve, contain, and present to the German public what they felt were profound truths about the origins of civilization” (“Two Brothers Named Grimm” 72)

That being said, The Brothers perpetuated the insignificant role of women in their patriarchal society.

They did so by reducing the princess to a prop in their tale since she is asleep for most of the story,

Briar Rose becomes a symbol of ultimate feminine passivity, a beautiful object with no emotion, desire or intellect. In Briar Rose’s comatose state, beauty becomes her main-and, in fact, only-asset

  • Brothers Grimm attempted to uphold the idea that beauty, rather than character, was a woman’s most valuable asset.
  • Briar Rose only speaks two lines in this version, once again reducing the Princess
    • Her lines only reinforced her polite demeanor
      By ending their version of “Sleeping Beauty” with Briar Rose’s awakening and immediate marriage, the Grimms both suggest to their audience that women are helpless without men and also construct a sexist model of female fulfillment
    • Thus, a woman’s source of happiness is solely contingent upon, not what she does in her lifetime, but in obtaining the desire and affection of a man.
      • Additionally, the Grimms reward female passivity with male love and approval.
      • Furthermore, the only females characters with power were the fairies, especially the wicked fairy; associating female power with superhuman status, suggesting that female authority does not belong in the everyday life of a woman.
      • Thus, the Grimms’ tale teaches women to valuephysical beauty over personal character, to view women as helpless without men, to associate feminine passivity with acceptance, assertiveness with rejection, and happiness and fulfillment with being the object of masculine desire