Survivor and Sexual Assault Themes in Disney’s Maleficent: Malicious or Feminist?

Some critiques of Disney’s recent film “Maleficent” are centered on disbelief and shock regarding elements of the story that aligned with sexual assault and survivor narratives. Some have expressed concern that the scene in which Maleficent is drugged by her lover and wakes up with her wings mutilated/cut off is rooted in rape themes and therefore too heavy for young audiences. Others have missed the rape themes altogether and have expressed distaste that “rejection from a man” serves as the catalyst of the story and Maleficent’s reason for being angry and revenge seeking. Many people have expressed that the scene and larger story line have resonated with their own survivor stories in a way that is validating and deeply moving. Finally, the star actress and writer of the film have openly confirmed that the survivor narrative and hinted sexual violence were intentional.

While it is important to critically discuss when elements of rape culture are incorporated in a film or story line, or in the case of Maleficent a retelling of a fairy tale, it must be noted that this is not the first time that sexual violence has surfaced in a Disney film. Some examples may include: Dinsey’s Lady and the Tramp, and particularly a scene in which “lady” runs out of the house in the middle of the night and is cornered in an ally by a group of street dogs. The scene heavily implies the notion of a young and innocent woman being vulnerable to gang rape when outside of the home at night. Another example is in Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which a Gypsy woman named Esmeralda is victimized by sexual advances and torture by the minister of justice, Claude Frollo. Esmeralda falls into the narrative of a seductress and also the Madonna in need of rescuing; all themes that are complex and yet present in a children’s animated film. Maleficent and many Disney movies such as Pocahontas, Atlantis, The Road to Eldorado, and The HunchBack of Notre Dame depart from and delve into narratives about eugenics, colonization, and historical genocide…and it must be noted that sexual violence is inherent to those narratives. When it comes to the tragic scene in Maleficent in which she encounters a form of violation, it is important to note that the scene is meant to be devastating and is in no way downplayed or normalized. While this particular scene and the storyline are indeed intense, the story does not rely on a graphic rape scene to communicate the message. The scene goes just far enough to capture the trauma associated with being betrayed and violated by someone we trust.

While there has been much speculation and discussion surrounding what some call the “rape scene” in Maleficent, there seems to be little discussion of the feminist and queer undertones throughout the film. Many themes in Maleficent deal with patriarchy and resistance, and thus the “rape” scene is a part of this larger context. One simple example is that Maleficent is described as a spirit “that one could perceive to be a girl” hinting at tension between a chosen gender identity and an essentialized gender identity. Maleficent’s world is in direct contrast to the patriarchal monarchy that seeks to conquer the land and treasures of her community. Further, in this version of the fairy tale, Maleficent becomes Aurora’s godmother, and only the love and compassion that Maleficent develops for the young princess can break the evil spell that Maleficent cursed upon her. The relationship between Maleficent and the man who became king after cutting off her wings is threaded with extreme intimidate partner violence, including multiple attempts at intimate partner homicide which are also related to sexual assault. While these elements are explicit in the film and many other Disney movies, it is symbolism about sexual assault and survivor narratives that people are taking issue with rather than graphic violence or overtly sexist portrayals of women and girls.

While many films depict elements of sexual violence, few recognize or intentionally incorporate these themes for the purpose of challenging them or engaging with them in a direct and compassionate manner. Through a critical lens it seems that there can be a stark difference between a rape narrative that is an honored part of a story versus a rape scene that is present for shock value and entertainment. In the case of Maleficent the victim/survivor narrative serves a purpose in recognizing these themes as a part of our history, mythology, reality, and collective responsibility.

Thoughts on Consent: Opening the Door to Much More

Most people probably agree that sexual assault shouldn’t happen and that consent is crucial to ensuring that suffering related to sexual violence is ended. The concept of consent can improve relationships with self and others and encourage people think more consciously about their next interaction, but in order to ensure long term prevention the practice of consent must become normalized and prioritized. When it comes to large scale culture change and engaging a critical mass in shifting away from a culture that condones sexual violence, basic consensus that violence is bad and that consent is necessary is an amazing starting point.

When clearly illustrated ideas about consent are common place, rape myths and rape culture norms become dislodged and begin to appear in their full absurdity. When we understand the pervasiveness of rape culture and harm inflicted by sexual assault, we may have a hard time accepting that consent is not concrete. It is critical that consent is accessible to all people and that people have the opportunities to learn about consent and the self-empowerment to exercise consent. At the same time, consent is not a fixed location on a map or a tangible commodity to be passed back and forth between various people. Consent is more complex in that it is a mode of conducting oneself in relation to others. Because each of our experiences are different, consent that we carry with us into these experiences may look and operate differently, and in that sense, consent may seem a bit abstract and fluid.

Apart from having a critical role in ending sexual assault, consent centric approaches to life can open us up to many fulfilling adventures in self discovery and improved interactions with others. When consent becomes an ongoing process, and a mode of transportation rather than a destination, we learn to be more connected to ourselves and the boundaries of everyone we interact with. Consent involves verbal communication, listening, and attention to context and body language. Further, consent is non-static and unstable and must be renewed regularly; each moment encouraging us to improve our knowledge of self, communication, compassion, and respect for all people.

SANE Program Update

Since the shutdown of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in Niwot at the Child and Family Advocacy Center in 1999, there has been a need in this community for a local SANE Program for survivors of sexual violence. Thanks to the efforts of the Boulder County’s District Attorney’s office, notably Chief Tribal Deputy Katharina Booth and DA Stan Garnett, and the dedicated staff at Boulder Community Hospital, Boulder will perhaps once again have an accessible and local SANE Program for survivors.

Previously, survivors who wanted a SANE examination had to travel to St. Anthony’s in Broomfield. The added stress of having to travel for an examination may hurt a survivor, particularly a survivor who has been recently traumatized. Having a local program and staff designated specifically for serving the needs of survivors can help lessen the trauma and stress survivors feel during the process of the examination, possible building of a criminal case, and personal healing. MESA is thrilled and proud of the Boulder community and the DA’s office for taking the specific needs of survivors into consideration in its efforts to combat sexual violence within our community.

If successful, the program is slated to begin January 1st of 2015.

To read more on the background and history of bringing the SANE Program to Boulder County read this well-researched article in the Daily Camera found click here.

Personal Safety On Campus

A Resource Guide For Personal Safety On Campus For Incoming Freshmen

For parents and students, July signals the last full summer month of vacation before taking a large and important step into adulthood: leaving home and attending college, possibly far away from their families.

Sadly, the possibilities and realities of sexual violence on campus can sometimes dampen and cast a shadow on this monumental experience for both incoming and current students. To help better prepare parents and students, MESA would like to provide our readers with several helpful links for researching the safety and resources of campuses nationwide.

The U.S. News & World Report has published an article on how parents and students can begin researching campus safety (they do more than provide college and university rankings!). Follow this link to read this helpful posting.

The U.S Department of Education has a website dedicated to publishing crime statistics from offences ranging to bike theft to stalking, can be found here.

It is also recommended that parents and students familiarize themselves with the Jeanne Clery Act, the federal law requiring universities and colleges to publicize their crime statistics and provide safety on campuses for students, the “Student’s Right To Know”. The law and advocacy center of the same name can be found here

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network has statistics and a state-by-state guide of resource centers for survivors and their friends and families. Follow this link.

For those staying local, the CU Office of Victim Assistance is the go-to source for resources and services on all crime matters, found here.

Individual campuses also have their own offices of victim assistance and advocacy for students. These centers will also have available information on campus safety and appropriate campus and community resources. There are also student groups and clubs dedicated to combating gender violence and creating environments free of sexual violence. Look them up and/or join up with them if interested!

This is not meant to incite fear or paranoia, nor imply that sexual violence is inevitable. Rather, MESA strives to provide information and resources to stay informed.Advocacy and awareness are necessary components in our battle to end sexual violence within our community and as a partner nationwide.

MESA wishes you/your students a safe and fun college experience!

Now Accepting Applications for Peers Building Justice

Peers Building JusticePBJ Campus Organizers are high school students who are interested in challenging the cultural norms that promote and encourage dating violence and sexual violence. They work to raise awareness about interpersonal violence and oppression in their schools and their communities through a variety of advocacy events and arts-based initiatives.

PBJ Campus Organizers complete a Training Institute that provides and empowers them with knowledge about interpersonal violence and with skills to plan events, use social media to effectively advocate for social change, and develop art as part of an awareness campaign. Campus Organizers meet twice a month and commit to participating in PBJ for a full school year.

SANE Program At Boulder County Hospital

Since the shutdown of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) in Niwot at the Child and Family Advocacy Center in 1999, there has been a need in this community for a local SANE Program for survivors of sexual violence. Thanks to the efforts of the Boulder County’s District Attorney’s office, notably Chief Tribal Deputy Katharina Booth and DA Stan Garnett, and the dedicated staff at Boulder Community Hospital, Boulder will perhaps once again have an accessible and local SANE Program for survivors.

Previously, survivors who wanted a SANE examination had to travel to St. Anthony’s in Broomfield. The added stress of having to travel for an examination may hurt a survivor, particularly a survivor who has been recently traumatized. Having a local program and staff designated specifically for serving the needs of survivors can help lessen the trauma and stress survivors feel during the process of the examination, possible building of a criminal case, and personal healing. MESA is thrilled and proud of the Boulder community and the DA’s office for taking the specific needs of survivors into consideration in its efforts to combat sexual violence within our community.

If successful, the program is slated to begin January 1st of 2015.

To read more on the background and history of bringing the SANE Program to Boulder County, read this article from the Daily Camera.

Now Offering: Sexual Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace Training

Harassment and bullying impacts more than 53 million American workers in the United States and has costly consequences for organizations. MESA supports the Boulder and Broomfield workforce by providing training to businesses. We teach staff how to identify and respond to sexual harassment and bullying in the workplace. This training promotes individual and organizational health. Email amanda@movingtoendsexualassault.org to schedule a training for your organization.

MESA’s Prevention Team is now certified in Green Dot bystander intervention training facilitation!

As our name suggests, MESA is dedicated to ending sexual assault. This means that we are always looking to improve our prevention programming, staying current with the most effective strategies. In this spirit, Sophia and Amanda, MESA’s two prevention educators attended a 4-day bystander intervention training with Green Dot. etc. this month. Green Dot etc. is about culture change – harnessing the power of individual choices to shift our current norms. It was designed by integrating some of the best research on social change, diffusion of innovation, communication, persuasion, bystander intervention, and perpetrator patterns into a program that makes practical sense. Boulder can look forward to MESA implementing some new primary prevention initiatives.
greendot

Do You Know How to Talk Healthy Sexuality with Your Kids?

Parents from Centennial and Casey Middle Schools do now! Peers Building Justice, MESA’s collaborative program with SPAN (Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence) spent two hours with two groups of parents this April practicing the skills needed to have difficult conversations with teens and pre-teens. The goal of the workshop, designed by Colorado Youth Matter, is to help parents have more conversations with their children about sex and sexual health and to make those dialogues positive so that they will be open to more conversations. Additionally, MESA brings the perspective that these “birds and the bees” conversations aren’t just about biology, but also about respecting boundaries and communicating about consent. These workshops are available in both English and Spanish.

Please contact amanda@movingtoendsexualassault.org for more information or to schedule a workshop.

Dear Rape Culture Deniers

Within the last couple of months, anti-rape advocates and organizations have had to address a ludicrous and harmful declaration: that Rape Culture does not exist. RAINN rejected the fact that our society has created a culture that validates and justifies sexual violence while marginalizing and sometimes vilifying survivors for speaking out. Another so-called victim advocacy organization posted a blog entry that compared “PC Feminists” usage of the term Rape Culture to Hitler’s hate propaganda that targeted Jewish people in his awful Mein Kampf book that helped stoke racial flames that eventually (and quickly) started the ethnic-cleansing-and-genocide fire we’re all familiar with. Yes, someone actually compared feminists and Rape Culture to Hitler and anti-Semitism. Rape Culture exists, it is a reality that we all have experienced and/or have been oppressed by in some way. Unfortunately within the current movement and anti-rape activism “Rape Culture” has become synonymous with strict-gender-and-class based ideals. Rape culture is typically invoked when talking about sexual assault on college campuses and with women as survivors and men in privileged positions (who are rarely punished) as the attackers. Certainly, this is prevalent, but there is more to Rape Culture and sexual violence than what mainstream media, anti-rape advocates and deniers of Rape Culture frequently discuss.

Rape Culture is more than simply misogyny; it is racism, heterosexism, nationalism, anti-Trans* hatred, and classism that oppress all individuals in society, survivors, victims, and everyone else. This country was built on violence, and a majority of that violence was directed at racial groups-specifically Native populations and Black slaves-that were tormented with sexual violence as a means of colonization and control. This specific sexual assault and rape still occurs to this day-Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be targeted for sexual violence, and practically with impunity with the current laws-and communities of Color are still experience rape and sexual assault disproportionately. The LGBTQ community also experiences high instances of rape and sexual violence, and are subsequently either further victimized by our heterosexist society or just ignored. Rape Culture trivializes the experiences of male survivors. Rape Culture permits a major news article to call an 11-year old gang-rape survivor “promiscuous.” Rape Culture is when a chemical magnate who confesses to molesting and sexually assaulting his toddler daughter and infant son is given no jail time because he wouldn’t “fare well” in prison. Rape Culture mourns the loss of “promising” futures of sex offenders while demonizing survivors. Rape Culture looks the other way when prisoners of both sexes are sexually assaulted or raped. Rape Culture is when a Trans* survivor is afraid to report the attack to police for fear of retaliation for their identity. Rape Culture is when we speak of survivors and perpetrators using sex-binary pronouns. Rape Culture is when we use the word “rape” as an everyday verb or don’t speak out against rape jokes or harmful language.

We perpetuate rape when we do nothing as bystanders. We are oppressed by Rape Culture when we have to defend ourselves as survivors and advocates. Rape Culture exists and we as a community have to contend with it every day of our lives, at every step. It is not a witch hunt against men concocted by PC feminists to persecute innocent men and gain funding from the government. It is an oppressing and violent force that created the need for rape crisis centers and the anti-violence movement in the first place. We anti-rape activists are not out to imprison innocent men or spread lies about sexual assault and rape culture for personal or monetary gain. We are social justice advocates working to eradicate the social inequities and oppressions that are inherent in Rape Culture, and work towards a future free of sexual violence.