Looking back at Disney's cinematic version of Cinderella, we can all recall the "vain and selfish" stepsisters led by their "cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous" stepmother, as described by the narrator in the film. "Cinderella" sends the message to young girls that they should be docile and passive (Dutta par. 10). It is also noted that Charles Perrault, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, and Walt Disney were responsible for giving these messages (Dutta par. 1). Therefore, in both stories of "Cinderella" written by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm as well as Disney's film version of the tale, Cinderella's glass slipper was a symbol of the standards and ideal gender stereotype that girls must conform to.
A commonly known cinematic version of the story, Disney's production of "Cinderella" is based off of the classic tale by Charles Perrault. It features the beloved and virtuous Cinderella, her cruel stepsisters, and evil stepmother. Like the other tales, Cinderella is servant to her step-family and caters to their every want and need. When news comes of a ball to be held for the prince, the stepsisters scurry to get ready. Cinderella attempts to bargain with her stepmother to let her go too, though she fails and is left sobbing at the bottom of the staircase. Then, with the help of her fairy god-mother, she makes it to the ball and meets the handsome prince. The prince is charmed by the lovely Cinderella, but when the clock strikes midnight she leaves her glass slipper in her hurry to get home (Cinderella).
The prince uses the glass slipper as a means of finding his bride to be, and out of pure luck finds Cinderella. Though not after her stepsisters desperately venture to fit into the glass slipper (Cinderella). Their struggle at fitting into the slipper must not be undermined; their undertaking should be closely analyzed as an attempt to fall in with the socially ideal gender stereotype that is present within the tale.
The Brothers Grimm telling is a recognizable story of "Cinderella"; it begins by the devastating death of Cinderella's mother. This is quickly followed by a new stepmother and stepsisters moving in. Cinderella's new family treats her far from a family member but as a servant. Similar to the other variations of "Cinderella", her stepsisters are rude and presumptuous. The king announces a three day festival so that the prince may find a bride. The wicked stepmother makes a deal with Cinderella; if Cinderella can pick out two bowls of lentils from the cinder she may also attend the ball. Cinderella henceforth calls on the help of her fellow turtle doves and successfully manages to complete the task within the allowed time (Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm).
Though her stepmother unsurprisingly breaks her promise and proceeds to leave along with her daughters. Cinderella again, asks for help from the turtle dove and it grants her a dress to wear to the ball. As you can see, the turtle dove takes place of the fairy god-mother in this variation of "Cinderella". After the prince falls in love with Cinderella, he begins uses her slipper to find her. When her stepsisters struggle to fit into the slipper their mother advises them to cut off a toe and a piece of their heel to fit into it. Consequently their bloody feet give away their deceitfulness (Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm). Finally Cinderella fits perfectly into the shoe and the turtledoves call out: "Roo coo coo, roo coo coo, no blood in the shoe, the shoe's not tight, the real bride's here tonight" (Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm 122). This is another example of the stepsisters' attempts at fitting into the society's idea of what is attractive and desirable; but also it is their attempt to conform to the ideal gender stereotype of women.
Another important tale to observe is Perrault's story: "Donkeyskin". Although at first the story does not seem as a form of the traditional "Cinderella", in the end it begins to closely resemble Perrault's other tale properly named "Cinderella". This variation nonetheless, still remains an interesting piece and features a king who is blessed with a magical donkey. This donkey excretes gold which is where this king extracts his riches from.
At the time of the death of his wife, the king promises his queen never to remarry unless it is to another who is more virtuous than the queen. This leads to the king desiring to marry his daughter, who like her mother, was very beautiful and virtuous. Under the guidance of her fairy god mother, the princess therefore asks of the king three dresses and the skin of his beloved donkey in exchange for her hand. Eventually, the princess disguises herself with the donkey's skin and leaves the castle. She journeys far from her home kingdom and found work as a scullery maid; she was often ridiculed, but never revealed her true identity.
Every so often Donkeyskin would clean herself up and put on the marvelous dresses her father had given her. One day she was seen by the prince of a nearby kingdom dressed in one of her breath-taking gowns and he was astonished by what he saw. He wished for her to make him a cake; whish in doing so she accidently (or purposely) loses her ring in the dough. The prince is lucky enough to find it in his cake, and therefore decides to find the girl whose finger fits the ring (Perrault).
When the women of the kingdom heard, they all began to search for ways to be able to fit into the ring. They tried any possible method to slenderize their fingers, as seen in this excerpt of the story: "One woman, following a strange whim, scraped her finger as if it were a radish. Another cut off a small piece of it. A third squeezed it so that it would become smaller. A fourth used a certain kind of liquid to make the skin fall off so that her finger would be smaller. There was not a single trick left unused by women trying to make their fingers fit the ring" (Perrault 115).
The persistent women did anything to fit their "big, thick fingers" into the greatly rewarding ring, but none of them succeeded for it was "as well as a rope to get through the eye of a needle" (Perrault 115). Conclusively he came to Donkeyskin, who fit the ring; hereafter, they then proceeded to wed. Similarly to the other stories of "Cinderella", the ring took place of the glass slipper but still remains a symbol of the before mentioned standards and ideal gender stereotype. And though the women trying to force themselves to fit into the ring were not stepsisters of Donkeyskin, they still relate to the same attempts of the stepsisters.
Transitionally looking at a significant article relating to this topic is one written by Ritam Dutta. He opens by mentioning Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, and then proceeds to discuss his stance on the revealing of gender stereotypes in fairytales. "Cinderella intends to inspires young girls to act like a lady so as to be one, if not in birth, then in behavior and in virtues and hopefully such beauty of character (besides, physical beauty) will someday attract a prince strongly enough to marry her" (Dutta par. 1). Dutta articulates how the stories of "Cinderella" influence young girls; they illustrate a behavior by Cinderella that is admired and in the end rewarded. What young girl doesn't dream of falling in love and marrying a prince?
"Cinderella is not only the paragon of beauty, but also is the epitome of lady like virtues. She is free of malice and any sort of feeling of hatred or revenge" (Dutta, par. 5). These qualities did not match with that of the step sisters; henceforth, the reason why they could not fit into the glass slipper. The glass slipper therefore, is a symbol of the standards that a girl, including the step-sisters, is to meet to be considered a proper and desirable lady. Furthermore, the stepsister's failed attempt at fitting into the glass slipper is an illustration of their failure to conform and be considered lady like. This is due to their vain and selfish personalities. When the stepsisters see Cinderella winning the heart of the most desired man in the kingdom, they are consumed with jealousy. But what most people do not see is that they also become insecure and realize that they cannot quite measure up to her. Because Cinderella was kind and sweet but on the other hand, they were shallow and selfish. They knew very well they could not fit Cinderella's shoes, because they were not as good of a person as Cinderella. This demonstrates how the glass slipper was a symbol of the standards and gender stereotype that Cinderella could meet.
Relating back to Dutta's work revolving gender stereotypes in fairy tales, He goes further to argue that the most protruding factor is the intended audience. The intended audience influenced the extent to where the gender stereotype is being revealed. Dutta explains that when literary fairy tales came to be they were taken and rewritten for the higher social classes, suiting their ideology of how a woman ought to behave (Dutta par. 1). He accuses Perrault and The Brothers Grimm of committing the same crime as tale gatherers and rewriters. Moreover, "Their social prejudices stereotypes are firmly entrenched in the traditional fairy tales" (Lazar par. 23).
In addition "Perrault was very aware of his audience" and aimed Cinderella "at exemplifying qualities desirable in girls" (Lazar par. 12). "Perrault's stories also demonstrate that his interest was not in preserving the authentic folktale, which were most often matriarchal tales, but in extolling the virtues he perceived as desirable in aristocratic women" (Lazar par.14). Perrault believed that "self-control must be exercised at all costs and an imagination and curiosity are considered particularly dangerous" and "stressed the qualities of passiveness, docility, patience, and submission for his female characters" (Lazar par. 12). Lazar states that Perrault made it obvious how he believed that a woman should dress; he stressed that "she only becomes beautiful when she is properly dressed" (Lazar par. 12).
As seen in the development of "Cinderella", Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Disney are immediately responsible for sending the message that girls should be docile and passive (Dutta par. 1, 10). The idea that Cinderella's glass slipper was a symbol of the standards and ideal gender stereotype that girls must conform to is evident in both stories of "Cinderella" that were written by Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, including Disney's film version.
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Dutta, Ritam. "The Making of a Woman: Gender Stereotypes in Cinderella and
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Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. "Cinderella." Trans. and ed. Maria Tatar. The Classic Fairy
Tales. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. 117-122. Print.
Lazar, Barbara. "Young Adolescents Re-Visit Cinderella Or What do Fairy Tales Have to Do
With Me?!" Barbara Lazar's CU. University of New Mexico. 03 Feb. 2010. Web. 24 Oct. 2012.
Perrault, Charles. "Donkeyskin." Trans. and ed. Maria Tatar. The Classic Fairy Tales. New
York: W.W. Norton, 1999. 109-116. Print.