I have just had one of those mini epiphanies where you suddenly see something that you have always known about but something new clicks and you see it in a completely new light.
I have to admit, somewhat shamefully for my 90s child self, that I have never seen Sleeping Beauty – the Disney version or otherwise. And I just now read the Brothers Grim version of the story, “Little Briar-rose.” Who names their daughter Briar-rose though, seriously? (Someone reaching for symbolism, obviously.)
In the story, in case you’re like me or just need a refresher, the king’s wife (everything is very patriarchal-centered here) has a beautiful daughter, and he’s so happy that she’s so pretty that he has a feast and invites all of the important people in his kingdom except for one Wise Woman, because he runs out of dishes. (I’m pretty sure he could have found one more plate for her. He was the King, but whatever.)
So this jilted Wise Woman comes and curses the beautiful Briar-rose so that she will prick her finger and fall into a 100 year sleep on her fifteenth birthday (more or less). And the king and queen are so terrified of this coming true that they attempt to get rid of every spinning wheel in the castle, but of course they don’t, and on her fifteenth birthday Briar-rose pricks her finger and falls into a deep sleep that lasts for 100 years. But that’s not all. The Wise Woman was so mad at being excluded from the party that she made her curse so strong that the entire castle from the king to the stable dogs fall into this sleep with the princess. And did I mention that while they’re all sleeping a killer briar patch grows up around the castle killing every prince who tries to sneak in to
creep on witness the beauty of the sleeping princess? Because that happened. And then 100 years later a prince comes and finds that the murderous briar patch has turned into, you guessed it, a patch of beautiful briar roses, and kisses the princess on the day she was destined to wake up anyway. And of course he gets all the credit for ending the slumber and they get married and live happily ever after. So, now we’re all caught up.
But when I was reading this it was super obvious that if the king and queen had just sat beautiful, modest, gorgeous Briar-rose down and told her, “okay so a Wise Woman was mad that I didn’t invite her to the party I threw to congratulate myself on making such a beautiful baby and so she cursed you. She said that you’re going to prick your finger on a spindle on your fifteenth birthday and fall asleep for 100 years. So we need you to avoid spindles. We’re not saying that you can’t ever touch a spindle, but if you do decide to touch one we’d like you to make sure that you’re ready and then wear these gloves specifically designed to prevent spindle pricks.”
See where I’m going?
Instead of seeing the prick from the spindle as an inevitability with terrible consequences for the entire castle that only the perfect man (a Prince, of course) can swoop in and save everyone from by marrying the princess, why not giver her a little agency? Teach her what she needs to know about spindles. Let her look at diagrams of how spinning wheels are put together, and tell her all of the risks and benefits that can come from using one. Show her how to wear the special protective gloves, and then trust that she will make the right choice. Maybe she’ll avoid spinning wheels all together because she doesn’t want to risk getting pricked. Maybe she doesn’t even like spinning wheels, and so doesn’t need to worry about it. Maybe, understanding the entire process involved in making spinning wheels and how someone might get pricked by a spindle she will always make sure to carry the protective gloves with her when she decided to roam about the castle.
If the king and queen had done all of this instead of just saying, “no spindles ever! You don’t need to worry about it. Fifteen is way too young to be thinking about spindles. We’ll just limit your exposure to them and hope really hard that you never come into contact with one.” the princess would have been so informed that she would have made a choice that did not end in 100 years of sleep.
They could have prepared their child for a lot of different possibilities. She could have learned that it’s important to know the possible outcomes of spinning thread. Even if she never wants to use a spinning wheel there are still a lot of ways she can protect herself while making thread. Because even if she never comes into contact with a spindle she could still get dye or lint on her hands or, you know, something like that. It would have been beneficial to teach her that it’s okay to be curious about spinning wheels, but she doesn’t need to fear spinning wheels and spindles because as long as she wears her gloves it is very unlikely that she’ll have any sort of outcome that she doesn’t want. And it’s okay if she never has any interest in them (or any part of the thread-making process at all).
And they could have let her know that if she ever had any questions about spinning wheels, spindles, or the thread-making process she could come and talk to them about it. And they could have made thread-making a subject in her school because sometimes it’s necessary for young people to hear from an outside perspective all of the details about thread-making and the necessary tools. And because not all families are comfortable taking to their kids about thread-making, but they should still get accurate information. Because some youth like to make thread, and no matter how much society tries to tell them they shouldn’t they are still going to do it.
But anyways, just some thoughts I have on Sleeping Beauty/Little Briar-rose. And why it’s important to advocate for medically accurate, judgment free, inclusive sex and sexuality education in schools.