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The Role Of Genders In Cinderella English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1654 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Cinderella has been one of the all- time favourite, and one of the most well- known fairy tales all over the world. There are numerous versions to Cinderella, but in this essay, Disney’s version will be used. When children hear these stories from their childhood, they immediately begin to relate to the mystical characters portrayed. These stories cause children to develop their own characters, and judge the characters around them as well. Initially, they are unaware of the roles of gender or colour, but when Disney brings these fairy tales to life, they are indirectly being taught to discriminate. Orenstein, in the article ‘Cinderella and Princess Culture’, discusses how young girls imitate these fairy tales by wanting to be like the Princesses in them. Also, children respond very easily to what they see in the Disney movies. For example, Disney’s female characters are mostly given negative roles. The men are portrayed to be the superior gender, which was due to the status of women at that time. This gives rise to certain gender prejudices in children. In the case of colour, white is associated with all that is ‘good’, while black is associated with all that is ‘bad.’ This brings in the concept of skin colour. Children, therefore, unknowingly begin to discriminate, as this notion has now been instilled in their minds. “A study was conducted, where children who had watched fairy tales, were shown black, brown and white people. They responded positively only to the white people.” (Hurley 229) Therefore, there is a clear understanding that such concepts in these stories can have a profound impact on young minds.

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“Fairy tales like Cinderella play an extremely important role in shaping both self- image and belief- system of children” (Hurley 221). Children see what they are made to see and believe what they are made to believe. Disney, till now, has been very successful in advertising its products by making them colourful in order to attract the attention of children. Most children grows up watching Disney movies and reading Disney tales, but little do they know that their memory is able to retain every detail of what they witness. They are not able to understand the various complexities in life at such a young age. However, through fairy tales like Cinderella, they step out of their world, and into the world of someone else’s. Even the smallest things seem big; for instance, being dominated over by an older sibling could bring in some sort of anger in their minds. However, children are new to the ideas of anger, jealousy, and other emotions. “Therefore, when they see Cinderella crying, but being so patient at the same time, they believe that just as the Fairy Godmother rescues Cinderella, their parents will rescue them from their siblings” (Poniewozik 668).

Gender has played an important role in establishing the various characters in Cinderella. The main character in Cinderella are all played by females: firstly, Cinderella herself; Cinderella’s dead mother, who is always with her metaphysically guiding her; Cinderella’s step- mother who treats her poorly and attempts to destroy her self- esteem; Cinderella’s step- sisters, who are involved in sabotaging her; and the Fairy Godmother, who grants Cinderella her wishes. It can clearly be seen that women played an important role in Cinderella as a lovable character, Cinderella’s mother; cruel characters, Cinderella’s step- mother and step- sisters; or virtuous characters, the Fairy Godmother. These are also three traits which children can easily relate to. This allows children to put themselves into the shoes of the leading characters, and associate the various people around them to these different characters. While the female gender takes over the main role in Cinderella, the female gender has also been portrayed negatively in the case of Cinderella’s step- mother and step- sisters. They are portrayed as evil. While Cinderella was forced by her step- mother to clean the house and do the household chores, her step- sisters enjoyed all the privileges. Disney also portrays the step- mother and the step- sisters as ugly. At the same time, the men in Cinderella are portrayed to be the superior gender. “This is due to the sociological status of women at that point to time where they were considered inferior and of a lower wealth and class. This causes children to develop negative feelings, especially towards their step- mothers and step- sisters, and also prefer their fathers over their mothers. This is what society has revealed to the child causing fathers to be idealized over mothers” (Phillip 1). In contrast, Cinderella’s father did not play a significant role in Cinderella’s life. She was mostly under the control of her ‘evil’ step- mother. This can adversely affect children by allowing them to think that all step- mothers are evil and mistreats their step daughters, moreover because the father role is missing. In addition, by showing the differences the step- sisters had with Cinderella, it is possible for children to think that step- sisters share a bad relationship, which is not the case in many occasions.

On the other hand, the use of colour as symbolism has played a significant role in Disney’s Cinderella. Numerous references to colour can be seen in Cinderella. Firstly, Disney associates the colour ‘white’ with Cinderella and everything that is considered good, while the dark colours such as ‘black’ and ‘brown’ are associated with everything that is bad. The step- mother and the step- sisters who are negatively portrayed have a comparatively darker complexion in comparison to Cinderella, who is white as milk. In addition, the Fairy Godmother also has white hair. “The ‘good’ figure, Cinderella herself, is blonde and has blue eyes. She is portrayed to be a pure while in the Disney movies. One can see that the King’s palace and the doves are also white in colour. The Fairy Godmother’s hair and the King’s hair are all symbols of purity, as they are all white. The coding of black and dark hues is subtle in Disney’s movie, though it undoubtedly exists” (Hurley 225). Therefore concepts like gender discrimination and racial discrimination are visibly incorporated into the story of Cinderella, and these concepts are in turn seen to mould the minds of the young readers and viewers. In a deeper analysis between Cinderella and her step- sisters, “Cinderella’s heart was pure and she had a pleasant demeanour. This is contrasted by her step- sisters’ evil black thoughts. This theme is seen throughout the fairy tale. ” (Perrault 624)

In addition to creating gender biases and racial discrimination among children at such a young age, we can see a relationship between Disney movies and real-life events. According to Bettelheim “Cinderella is the best- known fairy tale, and probably also the best like” (625). A deeper analysis, however tells a different story. Schlesinger provides an insight into “how these tales have shaped the imagination of children in the West. These tales have introduced them to the various existentialism concepts like loneliness, rejection, comradeship, fulfilment, and the everlasting struggle against fate, victory, love, death” (Schlesinger 618). On the other hand, these classical tales have been mirrored by false appearances by the Disney fairy Tale princess.

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There are many evidences that gender and colour in- fact has made an impact on young minds. Beginning with colour, children are definitely seen to have an eye for subtle distinction in skin colour. They do not understand the concept of racism at such a young age, but when the idea of ‘white’ is good and ‘black’ is bad is introduced to them, it alters their entire approach. “Fairy tales such as Cinderella have been a part of children’s literature for a long time now. Over the years, children have formulated mental images of princesses and other characters depicted in these tales, which are portrayed to be superior to the rest.” (Hurley 225). “One can see daughters aspiring to dress like princesses, and this can be a problem especially since they are adopting that lifestyle. They want their futures to look like Cinderella’s complete with a prince attempting to find his princess with a glass shoe” (Orenstein 670).

In conclusion, there are many ways in which children are exposed to certain media which are not entirely appropriate for them. Nobody would have ever suggested that fairy tales are a main cause for people becoming racist at such a young age, or to discriminate against females. Fairy tales were written for adults, and Disney has converted them into a wonderland where everything is bright and shiny. Children at young age may not understand the meaning of what they see, but they do process things and it is evident in the later stages of their development. Bettelheim’s article ‘Cinderella’: A story of Sibling Rivalry and Oedipal Conflicts, talks about the fact that “children do not understand their feeling of hatred, jealousy, or anger which they feel towards their siblings sometimes due to the dominating power that they have upon them Cinderella, however, allows their minds to escape their minds into a different dimension, where their feelings have words and a particular pathway. Just as the fairy Godmother comes to Cinderella’s help in the Disney version of Cinderella, younger siblings expect their parents to come and rescue them from their evil sisters of brothers.” (Bettelheim 655)


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