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Cinderella: A Modern Day Comparison, Essay Example

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Words: 1091

Essay

The story of Cinderella reflects the socially accepted values attached to gender roles. The story illuminates the conventional stereotypes associated with acceptable male and female behaviors. Historically, males were identified as the bearers of wealth and increased social status. A woman’s worth was determined by her beauty and the wealth of her suitor. Perrault’s Cinderella presents the ideal gender roles of the French court. The author communicates traditional gender roles to the audience. For instance, although Cinderella is the protagonist in Perrault’s tale, she is presented as submissive and passive. While being treated poorly by her stepsisters, she is reluctant to tell her father because he “would have scolded her,” (Perrault). Despite her undeniable beauty, Cinderella is invisible to society because she is not wealthy. Her worth is restricted to the confines of the home where she lives with her father, stepmother, and stepsisters and is expected to clean and cook. True to the conventional stereotypes of Perrault’s time, a woman was scarcely noticed unless she was adorned in fine clothing and socializing in the company of prominent men.

Discussion

Cinderella was written in 1697. Similar to today, but in stronger regard, a woman received status first through her parents and then through her husband. In this tale the protagonist lost her status twice, first through the death of her beloved mother, and second through her father’s remarriage to a woman who was less kind (Rose). Prior to attending the ball, Cinderella is dependent on her father to reinstate her status, but he has left himself powerless to his new wife and is therefore unable to defend his daughter’s honor. Throughout the story, women are depicted as the ones who rob Cinderella of her self-worth, but they are also the ones who can help her regain her status. Cinderella is repeatedly hurt and tormented by the cruel words and unkind treatment by her stepsisters. However, she is given a chance to shine by her fairy godmother. Interestingly, despite the fact that a woman was responsible in helping Cinderella regain some status, she is still dependent on a man to protect and defend her and fully reinstate her social and domestic worth (Rose).  At the end of the tale, Cinderella forgives her stepsisters for their cruel treatment toward her. She also arranges for them to have suitors. It is admirable to learn that a woman who has been through a series of unfortunate events is capable of true forgiveness. However, Perrault’s Cinderella portrays the protagonist as a woman who is incapable of her own independence.

If the same story were written today, Cinderella would be in charge of claiming her own future. For instance, she would not be dependent on a fairy godmother to transform her into a princess. She would be responsible for creating her personal wealth and thereby, her own worth. She would be independent and strong; unafraid to voice her opinions or dissatisfaction with her treatment. She would be successful regardless of the male presence or absence in her life. A more feminist approach would allow the character to regain strength, independent from the assistance of a third party. Furthermore, a feminist approach would portray her as a strong character, despite her appearance. In Perrault’s version, Cinderella is only truly noticed once she is dressed in diaphanous clothes and is in the company of esteemed people. A feminist approach would allow her to be powerful in her tattered clothes. Also, a feminist approach would have Cinderella attend university, instead of a ball. The purpose of her ball attendance was to find a suitor. Although she succeeded in doing so, her fundamental worth was dependent on the status of her suitor. The Prince was dumbfounded by her beauty and developed an instant attraction to her. When the Prince ordered a gentleman of the court to find the owner of the glass slipper, Cinderella was initially ignored. She was ignored because she was dressed in rags. The conventional approach indicates that women were not noticed unless they were adorned with fashionable clothes. Fine clothes were only affordable if the woman had a wealthy father or a wealthy husband. In fact, Cinderella was initially overlooked as a candidate to try the glass slipper because she was dressed in rags. As a joke, the gentleman tried the shoe on her foot. Once the slipper fit Cinderella’s foot, her status was instantly transformed from an insignificant house worker to a princess. A feminist approach would have had the fairy godmother give Cinderella an opportunity to enter into an environment that would aid the girl in establishing a future for herself.

Lastly, Cinderella is portrayed as a passive beauty, unable to think for herself. Perrault wrote that Cinderella “could not think of a way to go to the ball by herself;” and she “waited for the prince to find her, even though she knew she was the one he was looking for,” (Perrault 11 & 15-17). These characteristics wrongly indicate that women should be submissive and kind. A feminist approach would allow Cinderella to find a creative and proactive solution to attend the ball and approach the prince, instead of waiting for him to find her. Modern-day reality asserts that women are just as much part of societal change as men. In literature, they should be presented as strong, proactive, and creative individuals.

Conclusion

Stereotypes have the tendency to label race or gender inaccurately. Historically, literature has always presented groups of people according to their societal roles. Cinderella is a prime example of how women behaved and were treated during the 1600s. Although some of the information in Perrault’s story may be accurate, it is also dangerous. Literature is timeless and has the tendency to influence countless generations. Young girls today, who read Cinderella, may erroneously assume that her behavior is fit for a princess; or fit for a lady who wants to marry a wealthy prince. It is therefore crucial that literature today should make an effort to present women as they really are. Times have changed since 1697, and so should society’s views on women. Feminism, in its least radical form, is not an enterprise devoted to hating men; or to not needing them. It is simply a movement that fights for women power. Women today are strong, independent, and active. Contrary to their portrayal in Perrault’s Cinderella, they should be presented as such.

Works Cited

Perrault, Charles. “Cinderella: A Casebook.” (Editor), Alan Dundes. Cinderella, or the Glass Slipper. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. 14-21.

Rose, Catherine. “Gender roles in the Cinderella story.” 1 December 2008. The Guardian. 6 October 2011 <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/dec/02/cinderella-gender-roles-feminist-reading>.

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