A Change of Women’s Identity from Cinderella to Tinderella

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

16 Pages, Grade: 13

Vanessa Haldner (Author)



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical Framework
2.1. Marcia R. Lieberman: ‘’Someday My Prince Will Come’’
2.2. Linda T. Parsons: ‘’ Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior’’

3 Analysis
3.1. Portrayal in Charles Perrault’s ‘’Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper’’
3.2. Portrayal in Emily Axford’s ‘’Tinderella: A Modern Fairy Tale’’

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited

1 Introduction

Hearing the term fairy tales one immediately has a certain picture in mind. An association with childhood, with one’s former heroes and fears. Fairy tales are known as our constant companion: first our parents read them to us until we are able to read them by ourselves. We use them to escape from reality, to liberate our thoughts and, of course, simply for entertainment. Their actual contemporary purpose goes far beyond the surface and even reaches our unconscious mind. Especially during childhood ‘’they are an integral part of the complex layering of cultural stories and influences that affirm and perpetuate cultural norms’’ (Parsons 2004: 135). More in detail, fairy tales ‘’exert a noticeable influence on ideals of goodness, images of evil, images of manhood and womanhood and fantasies about ‘’true love’’’’ (Fisher and Silber 2000: 121). One might ask himself, regarding the date of origin, to which degree the norms, values and images fairy tales convey are still conform to the contemporary social circumstances. Jack Zipes, research scholar on fairy tales, explains that the tales reflect the social order in a given historical period and are therefore representatives of the people’s wishes, needs and social values (1979: 5). Evidently, the authors were influenced by the conventions of their era which, among many other aspects, also included gender- related behavior. Especially taking a glance at females one can see that fixed attributes and habits characterize the social status and self-image of women during a certain period. I will prove that developments in society and particularly evolving norms and values led to a change of the social status and self-image of women which is reflected in fairy tales and their modern adaptions.

Thus, I will investigate the changing images and the modern role and self-understanding of women through analyzing motifs in Charles Perrault’s Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper and in the short video clip Tinderella, written and conceptualized by Emily Axford. I chose Cinderella because of the high number of gender- related aspects it contains. A comparison with Tinderella seems useful since it constitutes an example of a woman with a rather modern lifestyle. To give an overview about the debate on the exploiting effect of fairy tales, I like to introduce scholarly work concerning the topic by the authors Marcia R. Lieberman (Someday My Prince Will Come) and Linda T. Parsons (Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior).

The result I am expecting is a clear demonstration of changing gender identity and sexual self-determination, whereas also negative aspects will be taken into account. The examination of this topic is important since we are confronted with the current debate on gender identity and gender-related education. Our society recently discusses whether we need gendered roles and have to make a differentiation between sexes with regard to several social issues. Therefore, it is interesting to examine a possible influence on the origins of gender theories and their progress.

2 Theoretical Framework

2.1. Marcia R. Lieberman: ‘’Someday My Prince Will Come’’

Scholar Marcia R. Lieberman openly criticizes continuing concepts in fairy tales that convey a certain image of women and represent pseudo-womanly characteristics which even may remain valid today. She picks up the several aspects that build the construction of feminine attributes in fairy tales and analyzes them in her article ‘’Someday My Prince Will Come’’ (1972).

First, Lieberman presents statements of literary scholar Alison Lurie in which she lauds traditional fairy and folk tales as stories which should be bought to ‘’prepare children for women’s liberation’’ (Lurie 1970: 42). As a contrast, she argues that it is rather difficult to understand how children reading fairy tales should learn something else than the demand of society towards women to adjust to traditional social roles (Lieberman 1972: 383). She reinforces her argument by explaining that movies, television programs and stories that children ‘’consume’’ socialize them. Though we are not able to determine the extent, we know that children are culturally conditioned by the best-known stories, mainly by those picked up and converted by Disney. Besides behavioral patterns, value systems and the prediction of consequences, Lieberman implies that fairy tales present roles, behavior and psychology according to gender (ibid.: 384). Further on, she assumes that sexual role concepts and their limitations can be reviewed through a close examination of the presentation of women and girls (ibid.). In connection to this aspect, Lieberman explains that one might ask himself how the stereotyped feminine traits emerged and suggests that they either they have a biological origin or they are social constructions. A mere look at the channels of acculturation would demonstrate that women perceived many impressions that formed their self-identity from the fairy tales they loved as a child (ibid.: 385).

In the course of her argumentation, Lieberman names several patterns that may influence the formation of women’s identity as a result of the different tales they encounter. First, she states that beauty and the appearance of a girl are defined as the most valuable characteristic. It has a strong influence of the perception one has of the actual personality, since good temper and gentleness are always connected in the stories with being beautiful. Young girls learn that ‘’the beautiful single daughter is nearly always noted for her docility, gentleness and good temper’’ (ibid.). The stories about the heroines in The Blue Fairy Book, such as Snow-White and Rose-Red lay the focus on beauty ‘’ a girl's most valuable asset, perhaps her only valuable asset’’ (ibid.). It is not only this aspect that is decisive for young girl’s self-image formation but also the presence of constant competition in the stories: ‘’ there can be only one winner because there is only one prize. Girls win the prize if they are the fairest of them all; boys win if they are bold, active, and lucky’’ (ibid.). The author warns that the introduction of these competitive principles to girls may spread jealousy and envy among them and teach them to be of each other, because only the one with the pretty face will achieve something. Moreover, Liebermann portrays the fear of girls and later, women, to be not special enough. The fear of being too plain and therefore not interesting to others ‘’ is a major source of anxiety, diffidence, and convictions of inadequacy and inferiority among women’’ (ibid.). Responsible for a misleading image is also the representation of beautiful heroines as passive characters who only have to wait for something good to happen but not acting themselves to reach their goals (ibid.: 386). According to the author ‘’ the beautiful girl does not have to do anything to merit being chosen; […] she is chosen because she is beautiful’’ (ibid.). As an example, she names Sleeping Beauty who is found by the prince after he fought his way through thorny bushes and branches, simply because he heard about her beauty.

Additionally, marriage is a turning point in every story and as the central event it functions as a reward or as punishment for the heroine. Also, there seems to be no other kind of gratification for success but only the holy matrimony (ibid.). Marcia Lieberman clarifies that there is a known association of marriage with getting rich that still influences our contemporary social mindset and influences children’s perception:’’ Since girls are chosen for their beauty, it is easy for a child to infer that beauty leads to wealth, that being chosen means getting rich’’ (ibid.). This may also lead to the passive role women predominantly adopt. Taking a glance at the life of bride and groom after the wedding, there is very little to say. Though The Blue Fairy Book contains many stories including marriage, the biggest proportion simply ends with marriage. Nevertheless, The Sleeping Beauty is chosen by the author to show us that staying under male headship will not bring you in trouble. By contrast, Blue Beard’s wife falls victim to her curiosity, violates her husband’s rules and thus learns about his ridiculous fury. (ibid.: 394). With regard to his, Lieberman elaborates that it implies a concept in which a ‘’domineering wife is always implicitly regarded as abhorrent, the helpless, threatened, passive wife is un- critically viewed and thus implicitly approved of’’ (ibid.). Once again, women are stigmatized. Since marriage itself is not as much depicted as we might assume, the author extracted courtship as the major component that has an impact on girls’ impression on love. She stresses it is the most exciting and altering phase of a girl’s and is quite important, since a girl as herself is in the focus (ibid.). But after the peak phase comes a downfall: ‘’After marriage she ceases to be wooed, her consent is no longer sought, she derives her status from her husband, and her personal identity is thus snuffed out’’ (ibid.). Consequently, Lieberman warns that girls may endlessly aim to be courted because they retrieve an outdated, traditional image of love and marriage from the stories they encounter in their childhood.

Besides, she refers again to Alison Lurie’s assumption that ‘’perhaps fairy tales are the first real women's literature, that they are literally old wives' tales’’ (ibid.: 387). Along with this, Lurie proposes that fairy tales also can be seen as reflections of matriarchal structures where women play a dominant role (Lurie 1970: 42). Though Lurie mentions Gretel from Hansel and Gretel as an actively acting figure that helps her brother, Lieberman opposes that the role of an active powerful heroine is seldom- or even never presented among the most known fairy tales:’’ active resourceful girls are in fact rare; most of the heroines are passive, submissive, and helpless’’ (Lieberman 1972 387). For instance, this holds true for Snow White who lays in a glass coffin where a prince finds her and falls in love with her and thus changes her destiny (ibid.: 388). In addition, Lieberman argues that ‘’the moral value of activity thus becomes sex-linked […] What is praiseworthy in males, however, is rejected in females’’ (ibid.: 392). She concludes that fairy tales not only depict that passive behavior of females is more adequate, but at the same time they denounce active women as ugly and wicked (ibid.: 393). From another perspective, Lurie also claims that particularly older women are more active and powerful than men and not necessarily are the villain. In The Blue Fairy Book all good and powerful women are fairies. To Lieberman, they still do not present alternative heroic figures that girls can look up to since they are rarely on the scene and only play unimportant secondary roles (ibid.: 391). She supports her argument by explaining that ‘’good fairies have gender only in a technical sense; to children, they probably appear as women only in the sense that dwarfs and wizards appear as men. They are not human beings; they are asexual’’ (ibid.: 391). Hence, positive and energetic female figures are a rarity among the best-known stories.

Conclusively, Lieberman remarks that it is rather controversial and paradoxical to assume that the reflected behavior of women in fairy tales is biological intrinsic. Her overall result is that an explicit analysis of female characters in fairy tales suggests that the attributes we count as ‘feminine’ are ‘’imprinted in children and reinforced by the stories themselves’’ (ibid.: 395). Thus, to determine the origin of female behavior, she proposes to examine the extent of influence children’s literature has on children’s character building (ibid.).

2.2. Linda T. Parsons: ‘’ Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior’’

In her article ‘’ Ella Evolving: Cinderella Stories and the Construction of Gender-Appropriate Behavior’’ (2004) scholar Linda T. Parsons aims to observe the messages embedded in the traditional fairy tales and gives an overview on indications that teach gender-related behavior. She examines feminist re-visions of the narratives to highlight the characteristics and stresses the importance of alternative scholarly work to overcome the patriarchal ideologies classical fairy tales convey.

She starts her argumentation by explaining that the importance of fairy tales for teachers and psychoanalysts has declined due to mass media dominance. Parsons disagrees and states that predominantly Disney’s marketing perpetuates romance, the role of men and women and female desire to conform to beauty ideals (Parsons 2014: 135). In her opinion, fairy tales are not the only shaping source of education but ‘’ they are an integral part of the complex layering of cultural stories and influences that affirm and perpetuate cultural norms’’(ibid.) and therefore, they guide children in terms of appropriate gendered behavior. Parsons does not question the truthfulness of the mentioned aspects; she considers them as proven. Still, she knows that we are not able to measure the extent to which we are influenced by the tales (ibid.: 136). Parsons clarifies that desire and behavior established by fairy tales are typically perceived by the reader as belonging to the characters in the story; with regard to the perception of children, they are automatically adapted as their own: ‘’ What is possible and acceptable for the protagonist becomes possible and acceptable for the reader’’ (ibid.). She suggests that we perceive the embedded structures as natural and crucial because fairy tales are ‘’specific to historical and cultural contexts, and because we ourselves are products of those contexts we tend to accept the gendered discourse’’ (ibid.). Further, she names the goals of embeddedness of gendered discourse, such as the implementation of patriarchal structures, and the preparation of girls to romantic love and heterosexual practices.

To explain the historical background more in detail, Parsons describes that fairy tales are historically influenced to the extent that they are created with the backdrop of changing cultural values and norms in different periods. In particular, the tales we know ‘’have been edited and selected to reflect and reproduce patriarchal values’’ (ibid.: 137) that are constantly questioned by feminist criticism. They establish the image of women as ‘’weak, submissive, dependent, and self-sacrificing’’(ibid.). Stories that include a rather liberate gender concept do not count to the most spread and known ones.

Linda T. Parsons explores several aspects that contribute to the patriarchal concept of femininity. First, she considers beauty and the outer appearance as outstandingly important in fairy tales. A woman’s beauty determines her success, her position and evaluates her personality. More precisely, a beautiful woman who may takes a passive and submissive role and may even suffer is presented as being rewarded eventually with a loving prince that chooses her and the ultimate goal security through marriage. Those are all patriarchal components presented to young girls who may adopt to them (ibid.). Second, the focus is set on activity and power of women. Traditional fairy tales demonstrate that mostly old, ugly and even evil women hold powerful positions. In most cases, they are also fairy godmothers and thus can even be considered as inhuman. Parsons concludes, fairy tales ‘’ tell us that it is not natural for a woman to be active or powerful’’ (ibid.: 138). Third, she explains that isolated women are a repeated component within the stories. Women are left alone to deal with their destiny and to intensify their helplessness and resignation. Often groups of other women, e.g. stepsisters, aggravate the protagonist’s situation. She sums up that ‘’The lack of feminine collaboration perpetuates patriarchal values by separating women from men and from other women as well’’ (ibid.).

In the course of her explanations, Parsons indicates that all fairy tales are more or less changed due to the fact that they were retold in different time periods and circumstances. Thus, re-visions count as one variation of the narratives. The term itself has its origin in feminist poststructuralism and signifies ‘’the author’s agency in creating a new vision of possibility and sharing that vision with the reader. It indicates […] which elements to retain and which to remove or refute’’ (ibid. 138-139), as the author introduces. Therefore, re-visions can be seen as an attempt to break down gendered roles and offer alternative possibilities for men and women. To be more exact, Parsons notes that the narratives ‘’can be one forum through which patriarchal structures are critiqued and alternatives to gendered subject positions are envisioned’’ (ibid. 139). Furthermore, she aims to present the structure and characteristics of feminist re-visions. Starting with the critique that the texts which were produced in the second wave of feminism rather functioned as comedies since they only reversed gender roles, the author elaborates the thought of symbolic language in feminist texts (ibid.). The investigation of different scholarly approaches lets her conclude that ‘’Issues of subjectivity, agency, voice, autonomy, and power are focal issues in feminist re-visions of fairy tales’’ (ibid.). As an example, she introduces Lissa Paul’s theory that feminist texts subvert the power exercising positions by putting women in powerful positions to gain independence (1998). Scholar Roberta Seelinger Trites’s approach is also mentioned: a feminist text with a protagonist that has power regardless of gender and a subject position in which the heroine is active (1997) (ibid. 140).

3 Analysis

3.1. Portrayal in Charles Perrault’s ‘’Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper’’

French writer Charles Perrault’s ‘’Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper’’ (1697) is known as the most popular version of the folk tale. The story contains several different aspects that gives us the impression of the tale as ‘’a text of patriarchal moral instruction’’ (Baum 2000: 69). The role of women in society is portrayed through different approaches.

The most evident motif we come across is beauty. Being beautiful is in the focus of all the activities presented in Cinderella. In the beginning, it is made clear that there is a dichotomy between the stepmother and the stepsisters, who are described as proud and haughty and Cinderella, who is said to have sweet temper and to be ‘’a hundred times handsomer’’ (Lang 1889: 64). Thus, personal characteristics are connected to the outer appearance and indicate, that beauty is a sign of a good character which automatically also suggests that unattractive people are harsh and mean. Not only this aspect demonstrates that beauty is internalized as the ultimate ideal, but also that the stepsisters try to lace up their dresses very tight in order to receive a ‘’fine slender shape’’ (ibid.: 66). The reason why they do so is to impress the prince at the upcoming ball. Further, when Cinderella arrives at the ball, people do only talk about ‘’how handsome she is’’ (ibid.: 68) and the prince has even lost his appetite ‘’so intently was he busied in gazing at her’’ (ibid.). Hence, being beautiful means being highly regarded.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


A Change of Women’s Identity from Cinderella to Tinderella
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen  (Anglistik)
Cultural Studies
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ISBN (Book)
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Fairy Tales, Feminism, Cinderella, Twitter, Video Analysis, Women, Postfeminism, Comparison, Tinder
Quote paper
Vanessa Haldner (Author), 2016, A Change of Women’s Identity from Cinderella to Tinderella, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/379199


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