A bit ago, I wrote about Trayvon Martin and discovered something I hadn’t known before — that African-Americans have “the talk” about how to be in the world with authorities. I was pleased at myself for discovering it, but sad that I hadn’t known before, because it makes a difference in the lives of people I know. I think I may have had one of those insights again. This time, it’s about women. The insight — if I have it right — came from seeing the movie “Malificent” with Angelina Jolie with my family. This time, it’s sort of “Aha!” and “Duh!” at the same time. I’ll get to that in a bit, but first a little background.
“Malificent” is a modern re-telling of the story of “Sleeping Beauty”, starring Angelina Jolie as the traditional villainess of the piece, now seen as a better person with a complex reason for doing what she did in the story (cursing Sleeping Beauty). First, I suppose, you should know that Malificent is not a movie I would have gone to see on my own. I don’t particularly like Grimms Fairy Tales as a genre, I don’t particularly like Angelina Jolie as a celebrity or agree with all of her decisions in life, (As I would have said as a young man, “She can stay at the house, mind you”, but always a little too evil for me, as a vibe.), and I don’t particularly like re-making of tales for more modern tastes, mostly because I don’t particularly like modern tastes. All the Huffington Post had said was that it had some pseudo-rape scene and that didn’t help it either.
That said, I wasn’t against the movie, I just wouldn’t have gone on my own. I absolutely loved two twisted versions of Cinderella recently done — Ella Enchanted, with Anne Hathaway and Ever After with Drew Barrymore. The only thing I knew about it this movie was Angelina Jolie’s face, with black horns on her head, and a recommendation by a family friend, Stephanie Yearsley, on Facebook. Apparently, girls think about this story way more than guys do because our housemate Lisa knew who Malificent, the character, was. I didn’t even know The Evil Witch Who Zapped Sleeping Beauty had a name.
OK, so that’s the set-up. I was entering Girl-Land or Women’s World (those two things being the same in the women I know — girls grow up to be adult women, with their little girl memories as part of them) going into the theater and I didn’t even know it, so I didn’t know to avoid it.
Now, for the story (with spoilers — be warned): Malificent isn’t a witch — she’s a fairy. That’s important in so many ways, but it’s the first sign that I didn’t know where this was headed. She’s a horned fairy, so she’s still kind of scary, but she does kind things and powerful things as well — another difference. She lives in the Moors of Scotland with all of the cute or weird (or both) creatures, and a few scary ones as well. These scary ones are giant living tree things that protect the Moors from invaders.
As an approximately 10 year old girl/fairy, she meets a 10 year old boy who is lost and has been cast out of the Kingdom, where the humans live. The two fall in love or it’s 10 year-old equivalent and the boy goes away. Years later, the boy is a knight and an evil human king wants to own the Moors where the fairies, etc. live. The king wants to rule the world so they do that kingly thing — they attack the Moors to claim them — and they lose. Everyone is scarred in some way — Malificent is burned by iron, the king is injured by the flying Angelina Jolie fairy, and many soldiers lives are lost. The king, of course, still wants to rule the world, but won’t be told “no” by anybody that he can’t, so he tells the knights that they should attack the Moors, and the man who “wins” and kills Malificent will receive the standard fairy tale prize for bravery — the princess’ hand in marriage and the right to be king.
The boy, now a knight, has to wrestle with his love for the girl and the will of the king, and he chooses what I would call the middle way — He wins the prize, but does not kill Malificent. Instead, he sort of seduces her and — while she’s asleep, cuts off her wings, and returns them to the king, saying (or implying) that she’s dead. He prevents war between the Moor fairies and the human Kingdom and gets to be king, with a beautiful bride.
The scene where she loses her wings/he cuts them off is the pseudo-rape scene that the HuffPost articles had been talking about. Though I don’t think my girls understood that, but my wife, of course, did.
From there, the story progresses as it normally does. The knight/king has a daughter and three fairies bless her until Malificent shows up and curses the child to fall into a sleep upon pricking her finger on the spinning-wheel needle, only to be awakened by “true love’s kiss”. There is a fairy godmother who saves the girl in the end. The girl is saved by the cute fairies for 16 years by being brought to the woods. The king tries, unsuccessfully, to save his daughter by sending her away, and the accursed girl falls into a deep sleep, only to be rescued by True Love’s Kiss. Same story, right? Well… no. Not really. Not at all.
Sleeping Beauty actually saves the fairy godmother here in so many ways, including the literal one. The protective and brave king is a jerk who dies and you’re glad when he does. The Evil Witch is the Fairy God-Mother here. The scary tree-monsters are good guys. Sleeping Beauty, it turns out, likes nature and the fairies. Finally, True Love’s Kiss is not from the romantic boy that Sleeping Beauty likes, and it’s not even romantic love. Talk about a movie that messes with your head!
But, as in all good art, it is this very messing-with-your-head part that makes the piece important. That is where the learning comes in. As a psychology major, and later as therapist, I have been taught to look for “archetypes” — things in a story that are nearly universal and in our unconscious that become icons for us, as proposed by psychological theorist Carl Jung — that intellectual mouthful is nothing to be afraid of, it’s just a psychological lens and view of the story behind the story that becomes important in therapy.
The themes/icons/archetypes here are Good vs. Evil — in Men, Women, Magic, Rationality, Violence, Innocence and Sexuality in Children and Adults. We are surrounded by these images in our daily lives and how we put them together in our heads affects how we live — what scars we take on and how we can redeem our Selves from them.
In the original version, this story is told by Man’s World. In this version, it’s told by Women’s World and it’s very different. Men and Women view it differently in each telling. For instance, everyone in my family agrees that the knight/king Stefan is a jerk for cutting off Malificent’s wings after using a potion to knock her out. My adult wife thinks (I believe) that he’s a jerk for pseudo-raping her because rape is bad. My daughters think he’s a jerk because he’s mean and he hurt Malificent (hurting people is bad, boys hurting girls is bad). I agree with both, but think the real jerk is not Stephan (though he is, too, for all of the above reasons). I think the real jerk is the First King who wants to kill someone and calls it bravery, and is afraid of/angry at someone he doesn’t even know personally. He’s a jerk because he sets up the whole problem and — because he’s in power — creates the “lesser of two evils” plan that Stephan follows through with. None of the women/girls said anything about him.
Now, the learning: Rape is different for women than men think it is, and it makes a great difference in how we connect, understand each other, and what we try to do about it. Malificent , the film, in it’s own funky way, makes the point easier to be seen. The fact that Malificent, the character, is not raped in the movie, but is disfigured — that a part of her body is ripped from her gives us a different perspective.
What if — when women are raped — they don’t think of it so much as: the loss of innocence, the loss of virginity, their worth as women, their sexuality being twisted, their power being taken away from them or all of those other things we attribute to the forcible taking of the vagina? What if it’s not about sexuality, but rather as the DSM calls it “loss of bodily integrity” that’s the issue? The issue, then, doesn’t become about control and sex and the right to be sexual, but the right to keep their own bodies to themselves, just because they are theirs.
The world of fairies/magic/women/emotions vs humans/rationality/men/logic never has to have a war or any conflict. They can peacefully co-exist either fear of the other sets in or until one wants to take something the other has. In reality, as time progressed, Malificent the fairy/woman would probably have given her body to Stephan when she gave her heart to him, as he would have to her. They would have shared bodies/spirits/minds for a while and then given them back to each other/reclaimed them after lovemaking. They would be two individuals, then one unit, then back to being their individual selves. Instead, she is not given that choice, and is not whole afterwards because he takes, instead of waiting for sharing, in much the same way that the First King tries to take the country for the humans instead of waiting it to be shared with by the beings in the country of the Moors.
My girls are at the age where they have begun to ask me how I’ll react to boyfriends if they have them. My first response is to protect them from boys who would hurt them with requests for sex — as though sex is bad or that boys and girls are wrong for wanting it at whatever age that happens. But the better response (and the one I gave) is that they should date whoever they want. It’s not about me or my feelings. Their relationship is about them and their feelings. They will choose what to do with their bodies in their own time, they will choose what to do with their hearts, and their spirits. Their is no reason to fear the boys or girls of the world who my daughters might fall in love with, unless that person is dangerous. I can warn them that this sexual person or that sexual person is mean out of the sack, I can and will protect them from threats where I know more than they do. What I won’t do is protect them from some part of themselves that is perfectly fine all on it’s own, or protect them from someone who loves them and wouldn’t hurt them anyway.
I don’t want their sexuality because I’m not in that role, and their bodies, minds, and spirits aren’t mine, even if I find them weird and easy to misunderstand because they are female. As a (fill-in-the-blank — therapist, counselor, pastor, person in charge), I don’t want their sexuality because I’m in charge of them. Their bodies, minds, and spirits aren’t mine, first and foremost. We have whatever roles we have but they go back to their lives and I go back to mine, nobody is taking anything. As a human being , I don’t have the right to take anything from them if I want them to be whole. If only we would learn that, maybe we wouldn’t need a war between the sexes. The world would be a better place and I could watch my movies in peace.
(In all seriousness … because I’m NOT a woman, I don’t know if I got this right, but it makes sense to me. Comments, corrections, thoughts are welcome).