It was a boring afternoon and my niece had been begging me all month to go see the highly anticipated real-life Cinderella movie. I noticed the spectacles, dresses, and the emulation of the perfect Cinderella caught my attention immediately. The glimpses of the fairytale settings that included different colors, historic viewpoints, Kings and Queens and long beautiful gowns immediately brought me back to a time when I thought fairytales were real. A question arises in my mind. How applicable are these fairytales in the lives of women, girls, and females from different cultural perspectives? The directors of the film, past and present, fail to incorporate the changing and expanding culture giving the impression these fairytales can be achieved by all. I point out that due to the lack of cultural representation and the continued enforcement of a heterosexual society this message may not be reaching the intended audience. However, in this essay I will prove the importance behind the continued exposure of Princess movies such as Cinderella to all audiences as well as the different meanings behind the film that expand cultural expectations for women and girls alike.
This version of Cinderella is about a girl named Ella, and her path to finding the love of her life who ends up being the bachelor Prince of the fairytale land. Through many misfortunes such as losing both of her parents and becoming the maid of her previous household at the hands of her stepmother, Ella miraculously keeps faith, kindness and and good positivity. After a brief meeting that results in love at first sight, the Prince hosts a ball for the entire kingdom in order to meet Ella once again and propose. However, due to jealousy and hate from her stepmother, Ella is forced to stay home, away from the Prince and her future. Thankfully, Ella’s fairy godmother appears magically out of the air (more or less disguised as an ugly old woman) and is able to construct out of nature a beautiful ball gown, dazzling carriage, well groomed coachmen, and most importantly shiny glass slippers for the future princess’s meeting with her Prince. Ella arrives at the ball, dazzles the crowd, and then locks her eyes with the Prince sealing her fate forever. However, Ella’s fairy godmother warned everything she created expires at midnight. When the clock strikes twelve, Ella is forced to leave her fairytale night in order to conceal her identity from the Prince. In her dash out of the castle Ella accidentally leaves behind one of her glass slippers. The slipper is found by the Prince,he returns the shoe, they marry, and they live happily ever after.
Cinderella has filled the hearts of many especially women and girls over the decades. I analyzed this film from a socio-cultural context and spectatorship, comparing my views of the movie to those of my seven-year-old niece. Overall, I wanted to uncover the meaning of the work that I believe changes from the different age perspectives that embody our population. According to McCabe, “the fantasy genre has been aimed particularly at women for centuries; “Modleski in particular notes that, while popular cultural forms are routinely dismissed as derivative and worthless, they offer potent fantasies for a voracious female readership ready “to participate in and actively desire feminine self-betrayal”(McCabe, 41). Many women render the fantasy genre and exposure of this culture to children, particularly a prince saving a princess (Cinderella), as demeaning and threatening to the future of their children’s ambitions. The movie was played during the afternoon, and the theatre was particularly filled with women and girls of all ages. Overall, what the spectators had in common was they were entranced by the beautiful colors, gowns, props, and plot that present a fantasy world that to some is unachievable or desired in our society.
The definition of a princess, and the meaning behind Cinderella, is created in the minds of young girls by a patriarchal society. I believe the overarching theme in Cinderella is the damsel in distress. The Prince saves Cinderella in order to live a fulfilled life, alternative to her current situation, as Queen. In short, once she is saved everything in the fairytale story line falls into place, creating a burden on women viewers that to go from rags to riches one must invest in a man. McCabe notes, “With women given an assumed passive position within patriarchal culture as well as in the semiotic-psychoanalytic model of spectatorship, and women audiences associated with the most derived cultural forms (soap operas, women’s weepie, romance fiction) feminist academics came to challenge this culturally ascribed position of negativity” (McCabe, 40).Society’s preferred meaning of the film is overcome by giving the audience the opportunity to create their own meaning behind the film. An analysis of individual meanings behind a film that is scrutinized negatively by some in society can provide a positive outlook into the true impact the film has on young and old viewers.
The theatre where the showing took place was in Mounds View, Minnesota a suburb located in between Minneapolis and St. Paul. Attending an afternoon matinee calls for a decrease in the ticket price at $5.80 per person, including children. A decrease in ticket prices seems to have resulted in mix of more children and adults alike presenting more individual views of the movie to analyze. My niece is a 1st grader enthralled by all the Disney princess’s and their movies. An avid fan of Frozen and Tangled, Cinderella was right up her ally. Instead of focusing on the love, passion, or damsel in distress that society creates as the “preferred meaning”, my niece made numerous comments about the beauty of Cinderella, inside and out, especially her dress and glass shoes. Further, she talked about how mean Cinderella was treated by her family and how nice Cinderella is to animals stating “I want to help animals like that too someday”. My niece represents the younger viewers of Cinderella, and showed me her analysis is completely different than mine (an adult). Instead of observing the cultural expectations movies like Cinderella have to impose on young girls, she pointed out the great characteristics Cinderella possesses. Also, despite the absurdness of how tiny Cinderella’s waist was in the dress or even how she is forced to wear a dress, once again my niece focused on Cinderella as a person and how beautiful she looked in that dress not how the dress looked on her.
However, my viewing experience was influenced deeply by the expected perception created by society of the movie. The movie lacks in representing racial minorities dramatically, and focuses more on gender and heterosexuality. First off, the use of the corsets in the film highlighted how woman are to be perceived with skinny waists, while emphasizing their breasts that are subject to the male gaze.
Also, to fit the damsel in distress theme prior to the Prince’s arrival in Ella’s life and when she is not around the Prince the lighting is dark. Ella appears dull in comparison to her night at the ball, and sometimes even dirty which accounts for the societal pressures of marriage bringing to light a man’s purpose in a woman’s life.
My observation’s I must admit are superficial, and may stem from my recognition of societies influence over women. However, the cinematic recognition I observed most over the entire course of the film was the different viewer experiences between women and girls everyday. In particular, the different observations made by my niece and by myself.
Cinderella is movie that reaches numerous audiences, and is subject to scrutiny and praise. From a feminist cultural studies perspective it is important for viewers to formulate their own critiques of the film, and for these critiques to be analyzed. I feel it is important, whether you are a feminist or questioning, to analyze films from many perspectives and observe how different people take pleasure in media consumption. Although Cinderella objectifies women to the male gaze, and forces them to be saved by a man there are other impactful meanings behind the film that are shaping the younger generations of viewers. In defense of Cinderella Shoshanna R. Schechter-Shaffin states, “When we completely and totally reject princess culture, we limit our daughters from a full exploration of their gender and femininity” (Schechter-Shaffin, 2015). I am glad I exposed by niece to Cinderella because she made me realize the value in other perceptions of films. Although Cinderella is subject to objectification on many levels, she does provide an outlook for young and old viewers. The films allows females to explore their femininity and take pride in themselves as beautiful women inside and out.
McCabe, Janet. “Writing the Woman Into Cinema.” Feminist Film Studies(2004): 37-65.
Schechter-Shaffin, Shoshanna. “Personal Is Political: A Feminist Defense of Cinderella.” The Feminist Wire. N.p., 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015