6% of women have reported sexual violence within relationships. This campaign is here to put that fact on the agenda. Contains spoilers for Disney’s Frozen.
This morning a man named John rang Ryan Tubridy’s 2FM radio show to complain about the latest joint campaign from Women’s Aid and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. The bus shelter advertisements for the campaign rolled out last week and depict an illustration from what is ostensibly a fairytale romance. Bright pastels illuminate a princess lying in bed, her flowing golden locks topped with a tiara. Prince Charming, cape and scabbard included, looms over her. So far, so familiar. However, this is no Disney movie still. Sleeping Beauty is eyes-wide awake and terrified. Her supposed saviour grips her wrist with one hand while his other is flexed back with an open palm about to deliver her a physical blow.
This is not happily ever after, the poster proclaims. And this is what the whole campaign is about. Sometimes relationships are not a cosy together-forever conclusion. In a recent survey 6% of women reported sexual violence within relationships. Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid highlights European research which shows this violence is being under-reported and that Ireland in particular reports low levels of help-seeking. Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre says “The campaign plays on the fairy-tale notion of ‘happily-ever-after’ to call attention to sexual violence within relationships, questioning the common misconception that sexual violence is mainly perpetrated by strangers. In reality, women are at risk of sexual violence from their partners, exes or someone they know. Almost one quarter of perpetrators of sexual violence against adult women in Ireland are intimate partners or exes. Yet there has only been one marital rape conviction in nearly a quarter century since the law has been on the statute books.”
People who find their sensibilties offended should bottle the indignation and wake up to this unromantic-backed-up-by-statistics reality. Women across the country and world know that the legacy of Prince Charming is a false one, laden with disappointed expectations. Ask any circle of friends and you’ll hear anecdotes that will make your skin crawl. The notion of preserving fairy tales for children unblemished by twinges of reality is foolish. In fact in some cases these stories originally served as warning stories for girls and women. Take Little Red Riding Hood. The whole moral of this little girl lost in the woods narrative is to not trust strangers. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation; get out.
Also, once upon a time, Sleeping Beauty did not immediately connote twittering woodland critters and a small army of fairy godmothers on the sartorial lookout. In Giambattista Basile’s version Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Charming is actually a married king who happens upon the princess’ comatose form and decides to rape her rather than attempt waking her. Sleeping Beauty ends up having twins (one who sucks the poison from her spindle-pricked finger) and married to her attacker. This unconscious impregnation also dogs earlier medieval versions of the tale. Somehow we doubt Disney’s upcoming Maleficent will allude to these disturbing origins, portraying the lady in black as the true villainess. Colour over any ambiguity with swathes of CGI.
Box-office smash Frozen also attracted flack when it was released late last year for it’s up-ending of the sacred trope of the fairytale romance. Our sassy can-do heroine falls in love at first duet with a visiting prince only to realize later that his intentions were far from noble and she should have been more circumspect when choosing a partner. The Atlantic published an article decrying this reveal of the supposed romantic hero as a conniving and manipulative bastard, describing it as a “needlessly upsetting” lesson to teach children. While some parents might have felt this plot point unnecessary maybe young girls should realize that the first boy who turns their head with the ‘You’re so different from other girls!’ compliments might not be the one who will agree with their choices for the wedding favours.
Some people might want to preserve the world as an innocent playground for children but the thing is, it never was. We’re not living in Disneyland. If we ignore the reality of the world we’re doing our daughters a disservice. Fairy tales are not instructions for a happy ending.
For details about the campaign see here.
Jeanne Sutton @jeannedesutun