Sunday, April 7, 2013

Female Aggression and Gender Roles in Cinderella

"A Stepsister;" design by:  Alyssa Zell
"A Stepsister;" design by:  Alyssa Zell


"Cinderella;" design by:  Alyssa Zell
 In many versions of "Cinderella" tales (i.e., Yeh-hsien, Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm, etc.) there are aggressive, dominant women.  Not unlike the older sisters in De Beaumont's Beauty and the Beast, the stepmothers and stepsisters in these "Cinderella" stories are vain and forward.  At the time many of these stories were written/recorded starting in the 1600s; this was a time when women were expected to be meek, focused on childbearing and taking care of the house.  The stepsisters, under their mother's influence, are focused on their beauty and getting a rich husband, whereas Cinderella herself is used to doing housework, having been forced into it at a young age.  By this reasoning, Cinderella is the ideal wife, while the sisters would be considered almost scary to men of the time, coming across too strong.

Further evidence of this comes from what happens with the golden slipper in Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm.  When the prince visits the house of Cinderella's father, the stepmother encourages her daughters to do whatever it takes to become the bride of the prince.  First, the older stepsister tries on the shoe, but her big toe is too big.  So the step mother says to her daughter:
The toe is removed and the foot forced into the shoe.  Symbolically speaking, shoes are seen as feminine; feet are seen as masculine.  By forcing her foot into the shoe, the sister was essentially taking on the masculine role of being aggressive and forceful.  The prince starts off with the first stepsister, only to be informed of the deception by two birds in tree above Cinderella's mother's grave:
"Bloody Gold Slipper" by:  Alyssa Zell
Personally, I prefer the wording used in Sondheim's Into the Woods, where it is the spirit of the mother, contained in the tree, which tells him to check the shoe:
 The prince returns and tries the shoe on the second stepsister, but her heel is too big.  Again the stepmother encourages her daughter to mutilate her own body to get the prince:
ASIDE:  Ironically enough, beauty was also heavily sought after.  Although the requirement was the shoe fitting, upon discovering the mutilated foot, as would most likely have happened anyway, the prince would have been likely to cast his bride aside.
Again the prince is told of the deception.  Finally, Cinderella is brought before him, despite protests from her stepmother, stepsisters, and her own father.  She is docile, timid, before the prince, as one should be when in the presence of royalty (or in the presence of one's husband, as was the general practice at the time the story was recorded).  In reality, a prince would have been surrounded by women like the stepsisters, constantly vying for his attention.  Thus, Cinderella, being different, would be the natural choice.
"Golden Slipper" by:  Alyssa Zell

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