Incels And Fairy Tales
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Incels And Fairy Tales

Are the two related? In my mind they are.

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Incels And Fairy Tales
Via Wikimedia Commons

CONTENT WARNING. THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL “THE BLACK SWAN” BY MERCEDES LACKEY. IT ALSO CONTAINS NON-GRAPHIC DISCUSSION OF AND DESCRIPTION OF SEX AND RAPE ALONG WITH A BRIEF MENTION OF SUICIDE. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

All this talk about "incels" (involuntarily celibate people who believe that women are shallow, vain, stupid creatures (called "stacys") who are torturing them and ruining their lives by refusing to have sex with them and instead pursuing sex only with "alpha males" known as "chads") and those articles about "redistributing sex" (I'm not linking them because I refuse to support that, but if you haven't read them, a couple of faux-intellectual, white, hetero men decided that the "incel" subgroup of the internet are actually RIGHT when they discuss how not being able to have sex with attractive women is ruining their lives, so the government should subsidize and redistribute sex to make sure that all men are able to have a woman when they want to, free of charge, and with no effort needed to socially interact or be a decent human being first)reminds me of part of the book "The Black Swan" by Mercedes Lackey.

No, not the "Black Swan" that was made into a movie. This novel was written in 1999 as a retelling of Swan Lake, but don't worry; you don't need to know anything about that story to understand this article.

In the novel, there is a prince called Siegfried. He is what you would expect, spoiled and entitled and snobbish in his boredom of everything because for him, life needs to be an adrenaline rush 24/7, whether that rush comes in the form of hunting game, or hunting women.

He basically sleeps his way around the kingdom.

Countesses, servants, peasants, rank doesn't matter to him. If the woman's attractive and single, he'll pursue her. For servants, he can simply order them to be sent to his room. For peasants, he expects them to go along with him in return for the lavish gifts they'll receive when he grows tired of their company. And for noblewomen? Well... he's a prince. It takes more finesse to get them into his bed, but only slightly. He thinks very little about the women's enjoyment of it, mostly fixated on his own conquest, and I use that term intentionally.

One day he's riding through the countryside, alone, bored, and looking for excitement, and he happens upon a Romani woman who's bathing in the river. She's naked (as one usually is when they're bathing) and pretty and Siegfried decides that sex with her will be a great way to pass the time. So he makes him presence known, stepping out of the woods while still on the horse.

(Note: despite being told in the third person, this part of the novel is told entirely from Siegfried's perspective. The reader is aware of his thoughts and perceptions, but no one else's.)

She sees him watching her, and proceeds to do "a poor job of covering herself" with her hands, as her clothes are back on the riverbank by Siegfried and his horse. The fact that she did such a "poor job" makes him think she's not actually concerned with modesty and is just being coy. (She was just splashing around, naked, in a river. Alone, yes, but out in the open! Where anyone can happen upon her like Siegfried did.)

She then "half-heartedly" runs across the shallows of the river, instead of diving into the deeper parts where he, and his horse, couldn't follow. This, coupled with the fact that she looks back to see if he'd "give chase" convinces Siegfried that she doesn't actually want to get away, she's just playing hard to get. So he chases after her, and catches her, cause he's on a horse and she's just running. When he grabs her, she goes limp, and he takes this as further proof that she really is into it.

He takes her back to the river bank, tosses lays her down, and does his thing. Throughout all of this, she's limp and unmoving, which Siegfried registers as strange because he'd heard rumors that "her type" (Romani people) are a "lusty bunch" but he'd known NUNS with more spirit. (Feel free to take a break from reading this now if you need to go vomit.)

He "finishes" and she continues laying there. Disappointed, he gets up, tosses a few gold coins by her body (yes, he actually does that) and leaves, annoyed that she'd toy with him and then not even be a decent bedmate.

It's worth noting that when I was first reading this, I was about 12 (perhaps a bit too young to have picked this up, but in the long run, I'm glad I did) and my pre-pubescent brain agreed with Siegfried every step of the way. I believed she wanted to have sex with him, and her efforts to escape were just her playing hard to get. Just like he did. Her eventual reaction, or lack thereof, was as confusing to me as it was to him. I couldn't explain it, and eagerly read on, hoping there would be some resolution to this story.

Siegfried goes home, sulks for a bit, and goes to sleep. Then, he has a nightmare about her. In it, he's unable to move, standing in a forest as the Romani girl approaches him with jerky movements and pale skin, completely nude, and holding a mirror. She eventually gets close enough to him to hold up the mirror so he can see his reflection.

At first, he sees his face. Shocked, upset, but normal. Then, it changes. His reflection is transformed into a mad beast, frothing at the mouth, red and yellow eyes staring back at him. The next night, same dream. The animal his reflection takes the shape of changes every night, whether it be a wolf, a boar, or some other predator. But it is always mad, always disgusting and monstrous, frothing at the mouth with terrible eyes and bloodstained teeth.

During one of his morning briefings, he finds out that the body of a young Romani girl was found by the river. She had apparently committed suicide. This shocks him at first, but then he realizes that she must be the source of the dreams. A young girl regretting her choice to have sex with a strange man who's ghost now sees fit to torment him is the only possible explanation. His advisor tells him that they're preparing to bury her at a crossroads so her soul, obviously cursed by her suicide, will not wander. Siegfried agrees vehemently and adds that she should be staked within the coffin and a crucifix should be buried with her as well.

He thinks the matter is done with, but that night, he has the nightmare yet again. So he goes to church and confesses to the priest who basically tells him "having sex before marriage is a no-no but you didn't REALLY do anything wrong cause this girl was a PEASANT and also ROMANI so she probably wasn't a virgin and oh you also paid her so that totally makes you even. But since she's haunting you, you should hold a vigil (fast and pray) and then God will protect you from her."

Siegfried is like "alright cool" and generally thinks he's gotten off easy (cause he has). Eager to get the matter done with so he can go back to getting a full night's rest, he goes into a side room the church has and begins his vigil. He spends the whole day in prayer, eating nothing, and only drinking watered down wine which is apparently the only thing that will not break his fast.

When night falls, he's super confident he won't have the nightmare anymore, and also very worn out by kneeling and praying all day, so he goes straight to bed...

And finds himself in the forest with the Romani girl's ghost approaching him once again.

He's confused and annoyed and a little pissed at the priest for not helping him deal with this apparition that's been haunting him for absolutely no reason he can think of whatsoever.

He's watching the girl's dead body approach him, unable to move or scream, as usual when an angel shows up, blazing white light and firey glory and generally being the image everyone imagines an angel to be.

"Aha" Siegfried thinks. "The angel was obviously sent by God who has heard my prayers and now the angel will banish this foul woman to Hell!"

Except the angel doesn't.

The angel takes the mirror from the girl and kisses her on her head, causing her to smile, the deathly pallor fading from her skin as she turns to white light and vanishes. Siegfried is now MORE than a little confused. He expected fire brimstone and the earth cracking open to reveal the pits of the underworld and stuff, but hey, at least she's gone and he can finally get some peace!

Right?

Wrong.

The angel turns to him and raises the mirror, looking at him with slight pity, and also disgust. (Ok, maybe just pity, but I like to imagine a little disgust too.)

The mirror shows his face. His face transforms into that of a beast's. But then, the mirror expands, getting wider and wider, showing more and more of him as a foul monster. Siegfried, still unable to move, is forced to watch as this beast-version of himself begins to terrorize a town, chasing down women who flee him, screaming, only to be caught in his claws, raped, and cast aside. His beast-self drapes them with gold and jewels, then moves on to its next target.

Siegfried wakes up in horror, only to find that he'd never completed the vigil, but fallen asleep while praying.He was still in the church, sleeping on hallowed ground.

The message reaches him, loud and clear. He proceeds to turn his life around, stopping his pursuit of women without regard for their own desires and making sure that he only makes his interests known when the woman is actually, clearly, and explicitly expressing interest in him .

You see, he realized that as a prince, he couldn't just ask women to sleep with him bluntly cause his position of power made it hard for them to refuse, which meant that he wasn't actually getting their consent in the first place. He realized that while sex IS fun, it's not fun when one party isn't able to fully consent and fully participate. He learns that sex is MUCH more fun when he doesn't have to hunt a woman down and lure her into his bed using tricks, bribes or his power as prince. He figures all this out, and is still able to have a good sex life. Better than before, actually, because even though his escapades have become less frequent, they've improved in quality.

And now that he's no longer a creep who demands/expects sex from every woman he comes across, he realizes that other people's respect for him has grown too. Other members of his court who brushed him off as a horn-dog child with no brains between his ears rethink their evaluation of him. He starts being actually consulted on how to run the kingdom, the knights hold infinitely more respect for him, and his interactions with other nobles improve greatly, all because he no longer thinks he's entitled to a woman's body, and he no longer thinks that paying women for sex makes anything and everything he does to them A-OK.

It's a little sad that it took him 18 years to figure out that women aren't objects, but for the purpose of the narrative, I'm glad we got to see his journey of growth.

Now, I previously mentioned that I agreed with Siegfried's view/experience of the event. In my 12 year old "wisdom", his perception that "if she'd wanted to get away she could've" and "her going limp and not fighting means she consented" and "she was overreacting, I paid her, didn't I?" all seemed perfectly logical to me. So when he went through this journey, I went along with him. At first, I thought the moral of the story was going to be "stop screwing around and get a wife" and/or "treat women a little nicer while you screw around" but no part of me imagined it was going to be "hey buddy, that WAS rape, ever heard of affirmative consent? No? Then God hates you."

That revelation changed me. I can legitimately remember the exact place I was while reading this entire section of the book. It was backstage during rehearsal for my school's production of "Beauty and the Beast." I remember thinking that I was wearing old-timey clothes, just like the characters, which immersed me in the story even further and consequently made the reveal hit even harder. I'm not joking when I say I had to put the book down and go splash water on my face.

The copy I own is falling apart, but it stays on my shelf because not only is the rest of the novel a kickass retelling of a classic myth that has ACTUALLY EMPOWERED WOMEN and cool magic stuff but because that particular part of the narrative CHANGED MY LIFE. It changed the way I think and view the world and I'm grateful to Ms. Lakey to this day for helping me do that. (Seriously, read this book, I barely scraped the surface of amazing stuff that's in it.)

So I guess the moral of this story (and the moral of the story within it) is that if you know any men (or women or others) who think this way... direct them towards this book. Maybe it'll help.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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