Sunday, January 13, 2019

Amnesty International PSA: "No Consent = No Fairytale"

A heavier subject today but a prevalent one that's been discussed inside fairy tale circles for a long time. Since the #MeToo era began, the issue of consent in fairy tales has included the public at large and brought to society's attention how prevalent and dangerous the issues surrounding consent remain in our upbringing.

Amnesty International's most recent PSA highlights the importance of having the definitive legal definition of rape as being based on the absence of consent. The campaign focusing on this issue uses something not-too-surprising: a sleeping fairy tale princess being kissed (and felt up) by a prince.

Take a look:
While the basis of recognizing rape by the absence of consent is the international standard of human rights, only nine out of thirty-three European countries recognize this "simple truth" (the UK being counted separately in this instance). While at first, it seems like a no-brainer for countries to adopt this as a legal definition, the truth is it gets murky pretty quickly due to the current, very flawed, need to "prove" rape by the victim, usually based on resistance.

From Amnesty International, UK:
"... the remaining European countries are lagging far behind, with their criminal laws still defining rape on the basis of physical force or threat thereof, coercion or inability to defend oneself.  
According to the European Commission’s 2016 survey on gender-based violence, almost one-third of respondents considered that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified “in certain circumstances.” These included, for example, if the person is drunk or under the influence of drugs, is voluntarily going home with someone, wearing revealing clothes, not saying “no” clearly or not fighting back."
When using the images of a sleeping Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, who are under enchantment, or in a death-like sleep, it should be noted these are very apt metaphors for situations in which consent is absent - and it's not due to passivity. The lack of body response or resistance has been proven to be a very real - and involuntary - physical defense. 
"In fact, despite the expectation that a “model” rape victim will fight her attacker back, freezing when confronted with a sexual attack has been recognised as a common physiological and psychological response, leaving the person unable to oppose the assault, often to the point of immobility. For example, a 2017 Swedish clinical study found that 70% of the 298 women rape survivors assessed experienced “involuntary paralysis” during the assault."
This is especially important to consider as there is a very real and justified fear by victims that resistance will equal death. (You can read more about this in the Amnesty International article.) Clearly, survivors are still getting the majority of the blame for being assaulted. How this mentality is still prevalent in 2018-19 is head-scratching.

What fairy tale folk and storytellers should be aware of is the enormous role and obstacle that myth and stereotypes play to adopting the consent-based definition. This, of course, includes how fairy tales are being told and retold. Our modern versions of 'happily ever' after might appear cleaner on the surface (with the "it's just a harmless kiss" mentality) than older tale versions that blatantly include the obsession of a prince with a dead body, or the rape of a sleeping maiden alone in the woods, but it's clear these "sanitized" versions have added to the harm by romanticizing acts of obsession, power and violence over (mainly) women and children. While there are no easy or straightforward solutions as far as retelling fairy tales go (banning just sweeps things under the carpet and does much more harm than good, and any retold version will likely include societal bias and the prevalent social attitudes), these oft-repeated and referred-to tales need to, once again, be revised in their retelling.1
It's not that this isn't being done, by the way. It's that the revised versions, and sometimes older and better variants, aren't the most popular, accessible image of those tales (still!)2. The public generally isn't aware that other ways of telling these stories exist, so the old ones are perpetuated, if at all. While Disney (arguably the strongest pop-culture fairy tale influence on the world) has finally shown a change in the way they tell their (market-dominating) versions of the tales, consistency of resistance to the harmful classic images needs to continue, and how we tell the tales to our children and audiences needs to be far more discerning. There are many (many!) resources of revisionist fairy tales, for young children through grown-ups, but there are also, it should be noted, far more 'healthy' variants or versions of these old fairy tales available - and easily accessible! - for the telling3. The age of the internet means you often don't even need to leave your house to find them. Sometimes it's as easy as going to that (rarely-visited) second or third page of Google search results.

Heigh-ho storytellers!

1 It obviously isn't enough to just call a rape, a rape, in the retellings. We also need to address the issue of women, and society, accepting marriage to their attackers - and/or a payoff in terms of a crown and increased status - as a 'happy ending'.
2  And it's not (as we heard someone say recently) about removing the "classic romance" of childhood fairy tales. It's about revising what romance is considered to be. 
3  Thanks to the efforts of newly published collections of fairy tales such as the Oddly Modern Fairy Tales series, and storytellers, like Dr. Zalka Csenge Virág who are mining the wealth of old tales in libraries and universities around the world for stories we can - and should - be telling.