Gender Roles and Class Dynamics in Cinderella Essay

Gender Roles and Class Dynamics in Cinderella

Introduction

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It is not a novel idea to suggest that the early fairy tales were abound with stereotypes that set gender roles or portrayed certain class dynamics.  In fact it is highly unusual to find fairy tales that do not contain any of these elements.  Fact is, the patriarchal societies that dominated during these eras fostered the creation of such fairy tales as Snow White, Cinderella and even Rapunzel.  The basic storylines and plots reveal the same thing, a handsome young prince who is going to fall in love and save a beautiful princess.

            While all of this may seem cliché and perhaps unoriginal, there is, however, a more interesting aspect to all of this.  The issue on how exactly these roles and class dynamics are manifested in the fairy tales, particularly Cinderella.  Unlike the other fairy tales of its genre, Cinderella can be said to have had the shorter end of the stick.

  Snow White had her seven dwarves and friends, Rapunzel merely had to wait in her castle, safe from all dangers.  Cinderella on the other hand, was oppressed by her wicked step sisters and was not in any position to attract the admiring eye of anyone, much less a prince at that, without the help of a fairy godmother.  As such, no other fairy tale has been able to clearly define just how these gender roles and class dynamics clearly reflect the evolving understanding that man has developed for certain social dynamisms over the centuries.

            This short discourse will attempt to shed more light on these gender roles and class dynamics that are found in Cinderella.  It will begin with a brief discussion on the role of fairy tales as a looking glass into past societal behavior and will proceed to individually expound on the different roles and portrayals of both men and women that have been shown in the tale.  This discussion will then proceed to tackle the issue of class dynamics, particularly in relation to personal relationships that are forged in the story and how this has been affected by the gender roles that are contained within.

            In order to arrive at a better understanding of the issue, it is essential to first discuss exactly what role these fairy tales have played in history and how they are able to affect the perception of society with regard to not only gender roles but also the social bonds that are in every society in the present.

Role of Fairy Tales

            While there is no truth to fiction or myth, much of history has been shaped upon the notions and ideas that these tales embody.  The Roman Empire was founded upon the tale of Romulus and Remus while Second World War was founded upon the belief that the Aryans are the superior race.  The tales that influenced these historical events may not find any basis in any of the scientific or scholarly journals but that does not alter the fact that they did play major roles in shaping the face of the world as it is now.

            Fairy tales are pretty much the same.  While the truth behind the tales is obscure, if at all present, the effect that these tales have had in molding the minds of the young children to whom they are often told to or read to at night is undeniable (Cashdan 89).  A number of young children have often seen themselves as the protagonists in many of the lead roles of these fairy tales (Sheldon 214).  As beautiful princesses or handsome princes, these children unwittingly or unknowingly begin forming preconceived notions of just how gender and social status is supposed to be (Sheldon 214).  It comes as no surprise therefore that when these young children become adults, their understanding of these issues, shaped by the very fairy tales that were read to them as children.

            As such, given this understanding of the effect that fairy tales have in the construction of these social concepts, more importance should thus be given to these issues in the context of the story Cinderella.

Gender Roles in Cinderella

            As previously mentioned, fairy tales have always captured the minds and hearts of many children and adults alike.  Though there are those who argue that these fairy tales should indeed be changed to portray a more accurate portrait of present day society, it cannot be denied that even the more modern adaptations have placed certain stereotypes in them that do still have a negative effect in the socialization of children (Cashdan 89).  This section of the discourse will focus primarily on how gender roles, male and female, have been portrayed in one of the all time favorite fairy tales, Cinderella.

Portrayal of the Prince

            Perhaps the most interesting of all characters in Cinderella, is Prince Charming himself.  A comparison among all of the male protagonists in most fairy tales will reveal that the male love interest of the leading lady is cast from basically the same mold.  Prince Charming is often a tall, dashing, intelligent and wealthy young man who is tired of the social activities in court and in desperate need to find his beautiful princess.  Prince Charming is bored of all the good looking courtiers and daughters of rich nobles who fawn all over him and would instead prefer that simple and obedient girl who will make him happy (Willinsky and Hunniford 77).

            These characterizations paint the picture that Prince Charming is the perfect man.  He is cast in the minds of children as a man in his prime, not too old and neither too juvenile.  He does not make important policy making decisions but rather spends most of his time hunting and searching for this bride to be.  Indeed the ideal life that anyone in present day society would surely revel to live.

            This imagery reveals the desire of society to live that type of life or to be that type of man.  While the women, as will be explained later, have been conditioned to search for their Prince Charming, most men have also been socially conditioned to aspire to be like Prince Charming.  This gender expectation that is created by the effect that Cinderella has in reinforcing this social construct can be likened to the similarities that are encountered in studies linking male social behavior and magazine pictorials on ideal men (Willinsky and Hunniford 102).

            The true character and portrayal of Prince Charming, however, is more accurately revealed by the type of woman that he seeks.  While the narration of the story may reveal Prince Charming to the aforementioned perfect man, nothing speaks volumes more about the character of someone like the choices that the person makes.  In this instance, Prince Charming is not only the physically gifted scion of a wealthy monarch but he also possesses certain intangible qualities that make him endearing to all women, a prize catch so to speak.  Despite the royal aura that surrounds this character, there is a hidden spot there that longs for companionship and truth (Walkerdine 157).  Prince Charming is not looking for only the most beautiful princess but also desires a woman of character.  It is important to note, however, that this woman of character is not the strong willed type such as a number of feminist portrayals of today, but rather the soft but supportive woman with whom the Prince may start his family with (Walkerdine 157).

Portrayal of Cinderella

            The main character of Cinderella is Cinderella herself, a beautiful young woman who was dealt a bad hand by fate and forced to endure the scorn of her step mother and her two evil sisters.  Such is and has always been the portrayal of this young princess and this has never changed even from most of the original text of this fairy tale (Burman 23).

            At the onset it is clear that this is a typical underdog role yet a closer examination of the text and the times during which this tale originated may reveal a different role.  It may seem that Cinderella is simply just a princess in disguise and will one day capture the heart of Prince Charming.  Looking at the beginning of the story, however, one sees that this is not all there is to this character.

            In order to be cast in the role of Princess in fairy tales, one cannot simply just be beautiful.  Unlike the role of Prince Charming that requires very little trial by fire, the Princess is often subjected to a multitude of challenges to test her mettle and make her worthy of that thing which she desires the most, which is to wed her Prince Charming.  This is a distant departure from the doctrines of today that enunciate that all a woman needs to do is be virtuous, not as a wife but as a female (Burman 23).  Yet, the social construct that has been portrayed in the Cinderella story makes the role of a female much more complex.

            This complexity is clearly shown through all the trials that a princess is expected to undertake.  In the story of Cinderella, she is made to do menial tasks without a complaint and to serve her stepmother and sisters.  Ideally, the woman is not required to execute these chores before a man, or a prince for this matter, falls in love with her (Burman 23).  The story of Cinderella would turn out to be much more different if she was not required to do any of those chores.  Imagine the storyline if Cinderella simply had the help of her fairy godmother and went to attend the ball.  The tale as written would be quite different indeed if Cinderella did not have to suffer like she did.  She may not even have paid attention to the Prince Charming and instead just stayed put in her station in life.  It is the suffering of Cinderella that also allowed her to yearn for a life different from that to which she was subjected to.

            Another imagery which shows the portrayal of women in Cinderella is the way by which the Prince sought to discover the identity of the woman who had captured her heart.  The Prince went from house to house asking women to try on the glass slipper.  This is of course preposterous if considered in today’s settings but if one takes a closer look at what this symbolism means; one can find a deeper meaning.

            The fact that only one woman could fit into the glass slipper is absurd at most because it is common knowledge that the odds of another woman having the same shoe (or slipper) size as Cinderella in the entire kingdom are not a remote possibility (Walkerdine 157).  What this means is that there is a certain mold that only Cinderella can fit into (Walkerdine 157).  Similarly, only women who are cast in the same mold as Cinderella are worthy of finding their own Prince Charming (Walkerdine 157).

            The question that begs to be asked therefore is whether or not women are now relegated to the role of a weaker sex in the story.  While it may be argued that this portrayal of Cinderella places women in a lower gender role as being subservient to the males, it is not necessarily so because without Cinderella the Prince would be quite distraught indeed (Walkerdine 157).  It is made clear in the story that only Cinderella could make the Prince happy.  No other woman could fit into the glass slipper.  As such, she can even be said to hold a position or station above that of the Prince (Romaine 34).

Socioeconomic Dynamics in Cinderella

Now that the gender roles have been established, one must take a brief look at the social dynamics that are involved in the story.  As one discovers, Cinderella is not actually just a servant in her household but the daughter from a previous mother.  She was never born into a lowly station in life though she was compelled to do some of those chores by her evil stepmother and sisters.  The Prince definitely did not belong to a lowly station in life but rather was royalty and enjoyed all the benefits that came with that title.

What this reveals to the reader is that there are certain socioeconomic barriers set in play and that while a humble girl such as Cinderella may ultimately meet her Prince Charming, there are certain societal conditions that must first be satisfied (Cashdan 89).  If Cinderella had not been able to attend the ball and had not dressed up well, she and Prince Charming would have never met each other thus negating any chance at having a happy ending.

It is clear that it is taboo to wed somebody from a different social class as the story of Cinderella shows (Cashdan 89).  While such an ending would be quite acceptable in the present generation, it still cannot be denied that such a perspective still exists in most of the countries of the modern world.  There are still class barriers that cannot be overcome, even by the purest of all loves.  It is ideal but rarely is such a reality.

Conclusion

            The gender roles and class dynamics that are shown in Cinderella are typical to say the least.  These are portrayed not only in Cinderella but in other similar stories as well.  What makes the situation for Cinderella unique, however, is the fact that these roles are nowhere else more clearly defined than in this story.

            It would be difficult to assert that these gender roles are still in place in present day society but then again, the impact that such has on the children who read the stories that contain them cannot be denied (Cashdan 89).  Though women are allowed more liberty these days, the social constructs and possibly misconceptions that appear in these stories does nothing alter the historic perceptions but instead reinforces them (Cashdan 89).

            In the end, it may probably not be so much the story that a parent reads to the child that determines whether or not these gender roles are to last.  Instead, it may be more of the actual approach and how the roles are portrayed in real life, in the household that ultimately matters.  Children, while inexperienced, are not incapable of perceiving reality and as such maybe they do still deserve the right to listen to whatever bedtime story they want and dream whatever dreams they wish to dream.

References:

Burman, Erica (2002). Deconstructing feminist psychology. In Erica Burman (Ed.), Deconstructing feminist psychology, pp. 1-29. London: Sage.

Cashdan, Sheldon (2005). The Witch Must Die: How Fairy Tales Shape Our Lives. New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Romaine, Suzanne (2004). Communicating Gender. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004.

Walkerdine, Valerie (2006). Some day my prince will come: Young girls and the preparation for adolescent sexuality. In Angela McRobbie & Mica Nava (Eds.). Gender and generation, pp. 152-184. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Willinsky, John, & Hunniford, R. Mark (2003). Reading the romance younger: The mirrors and fears of a preparatory literature. In Linda K. Christian Smith (Ed.), Texts of desire: essays on fiction, femininity and schooling pp. 74-115.

OUTLINE

Choose a fairy tale (CINDERELLA) and analyze and comment on how it constructs gender roles (male/female) and/or class dynamics

Introduction:

This short discourse will attempt to shed more light on these gender roles and class dynamics that are found in Cinderella.  It will begin with a brief discussion on the role of fairy tales as a looking glass into past societal behavior and will proceed to individually expound on the different roles and portrayals of both men and women that have been shown in the tale.  This discussion will then proceed to tackle the issue of class dynamics, particularly in relation to personal relationships that are forged in the story and how this has been affected by the gender roles that are contained within.

Role of Fairy Tales:

            This section will discuss the role that fairy tales have in developing the social constructs that will be discussed in this paper.  It is argued that while fairy tales are loosely based on reality and much more grounded on fiction there is still a certain impact that these tales have on people, particularly children.

Gender Roles in Cinderella:

            Men and Women are cast in ideal roles in Cinderella.  This can clearly be seen in the events throughout the story.  The man is cast as the stereotypical Prince Charming who is troubled by nothing else than finding the perfect wife to make his queen.  The woman on the other hand is subjected to more tests before she is found worthy of such an honor.  Similarly, the woman still enjoys a position of superiority which is derived from the fact that only certain women are fit to be cast as queen.

Class Dynamics:

            The character roles played by Prince Charming and Cinderella, however, echo a deeper sentiment that society may or may not accept.  That is that the socioeconomic barriers impose certain conditions before true love is made to runs its course.

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