Fairytales such as Sleeping Beauty have become new targets for the thought-police
Banning old-fashioned children's stories is part of a wider campaign of intolerance, says Fionola Meredith
When they start trying to ban children's books for "offensive" content, you know we're more than halfway towards a thought-police state.
Sleeping Beauty, the romantic fairytale in which the handsome prince wakens the enchanted princess with a tender kiss, is now deemed unacceptable for the little 'uns.
Why? In this murky post-Weinstein era of suspicion and mistrust, you surely don't need me to tell you. It's because the prince didn't stop to ask permission, of course. No consent. Just swash-buckled right in there like an aristocratic sex pest and smooched poor defenceless Beauty on the lips.
And we can't be having our impressionable little darlings reading that kind of filth, can we?
Sarah Hall, a mother who lives on Tyneside, has declared that Sleeping Beauty promotes "inappropriate behaviour" and has contacted her six-year-old son's school to request that the book be removed from younger classes.
Now, if this was just one nutty-sounding woman from Newcastle, I wouldn't be too worried. But immediately all the right-on "progressive" puritans weighed in behind her. Under the headline, "Once upon a sexual assault…", the commentator Stephanie Merritt asked: "When is it acceptable for a man to foist himself on a sleeping woman?"
Thud, thud, thud. That's the sound of me banging my head repeatedly off my desk in frustration. Old-fashioned fairytales are not the problem here. Even the youngest children can see the difference between reality and fiction, and as they grow older, part of good parenting (and teaching) is to encourage them to think critically about what they read, hear and see.
It is highly simplistic, if not borderline insane, to assume that a child reading about a prince kissing a sleeping princess will thus grow up to be a groper.
Can you see that as a defence at trial? "Not my fault, m'lud, I read Sleeping Beauty as a boy and it all went downhill from there."
And why stop at banning Sleeping Beauty? By that dumb logic, many other children's classics should be placed under censorship too. Snow White must go in the bin, for a start, for wanting to be "the fairest of them all" - trying to trump her fellow females in the looks department, who does she think she is? What a body-shamer, most unsisterly.
Or take Cinderella - isn't she just perpetuating the idea that all women need a rich, high-status male saviour to succeed in life? Guilty as charged.
The evil witch in Hansel and Gretel: both sexist and ageist. Throw the book on the bonfire.
As for Raymond Briggs' beloved Father Christmas books, in which a fat, bearded man breaks into people's houses by coming down the chimney in the night - do we really want youngsters thinking they can trust old men bearing gifts?
I'm joking, of course, but this is where the current moral panic over children's books can lead us - the death of innocence and imagination.
And a generation brought up on texts which are strictly monitored for instances of "inappropriate behaviour" will bring predictable results.
Put it this way, if you think the current crop of so-called "snowflake" students are bad, with their intolerance of views they don't agree with, try the next lot - at this rate, they will be even worse. Perhaps they'll bring back the stocks.
In the United States, which is the prime exporter of censorship in the name of progress, there are "sensitivity readers" employed to check books for children and young adults for the presence of "offensive" stereotypes.
It can't be long before the same policing is applied to adult fiction, which is a terrifying thought. The novelist Lionel Shriver, who has highlighted this disturbing trend, rightly points out that if all the characters in a book must voice "the same standard left-of-centre views, contemporary fiction can't hope to contribute to the understanding of a world that elects Donald Trump".
The hoohah about sexist fairytales is all part of a wider victim narrative, promoted by mainstream feminism, in which girls are brought up to see the world as a vicious, terrifying place, teeming with predators, where there is always some nasty man out to get them. This does our daughters a grave disservice.
I'm a feminist dissident - I believe that girls should be raised as resilient, independent and confident human beings, if they are to reach their full, free potential. Yes, there are particular risks which women face, and it would be foolish to ignore them, but it's far worse to be immobilised by fear of setting foot over the doorstep.
That's not what female emancipation was ever supposed to be about.