Gender Expectations in Cinderella
Our culture is full of fairy tales. These fairy tales started out as entertaining stories, but as they were handed down from one generation to the next, they slowly became more than that. They became bedtime stories for children, and as such, they have great importance because they teach children how to be in the world. One such fairy tale is Cinderella, and a look at a storybook for children, Disney’s Cinderella, adapted by Lisa Ann Marsoli, demonstrates that, whatever the intention of its makers, modern day fairy tales function in our society as hidden instructions for morals and behaviors that we give children. On the surface, it seems to be a simple story about a young woman whose wishes come true. However, the story also reflects cultural expectations of women’s behaviors and goals and defines expectations of “goodness” for women.
The story shows us that society expects women to be passive. Cinderella patiently suffers under all kinds of abuse by her stepmother and stepsisters without any complaint. She is “busy with sweeping, cleaning, washing, and dusting” (5) but does nothing in response but sing about “dreams of happiness that she hoped would come true” (6). She merely wishes for things to change rather than take action for herself. She passively waits to be rescued by her Prince Charming rather than trying to fight for her own freedom. Thus, Cinderella’s behavior teaches women that they should suffer in silence (or at the most, with a song).
It is not only behavior but women’s goals themselves that are being dictated by fairy tales. The women in the story strive, not to be independent, but to be beautiful. Cinderella’s sisters spend countless hours dressing for the ball because they know their only value is in their appearance. Even Cinderella, the heroine, is thrilled by the finery her fairy godmother gives her, exclaiming, “Oh, it’s beautiful!” (5) and “it’s more than I ever hoped for” (6). In...
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