Thursday, July 9, 2009

The great Cinderella debate

This started with an update on my Facebook page and it clearly struck a nerve so I thought it should be moved to the blog for wider debate. The story so far...

Yummy Mummy is mulling over whether I should be reading Cinderella to my daughter. Surely there is more to life than being pretty enough to snag a rich man

ET: Wouldn't it be nice if there was a story that was the inversion of Cinderella -- where the spoiled princess had to work to convince the poor, decent, handsome young man that she was genuine and his equal? That is sort of the theme of the troll and princess animation series though...

NW: Her being pretty is secondary to her having a good heart and kind soul. That is why he falls in love with her - because she is selfless and charming. It is a tale of good overcoming evil (aren't they always). Sorry, forgot to add, the ugly sisters are ugly because they have mean spirits and their cruel nature makes them seem ugly. Cinderella's goodness is shining through. I always use it to tell the girls that if they behave meanly they will end up looking ugly

LM: Yes... but surely her incredible countless virtues are not really the point here - shouldn't she aspire to something slightly more interesting? I had this same dilemma with Emily over the Little Mermaid... and then failed to find an alternative story that didn't have the same moral (the purpose of life is to get a man). Any suggestions?

Yummy Mummy: I have been reading all the original Grimm fairy tales in the hope that something will appear to be a bit more hopeful. Other than pretty and nice people ending up happy and ugly and evil people ending up drowned/burnt/buried alive, I am struggling. I am not sure I agree with you NW on the whole nice nature/ugly nature thing Fine in principe, but not in the pictures. And in the book I have the Prince falls in love with her on sight at a ball because she looks to beautiful, not after a lengthy discussion about morals and values. I think analogy is a bit lost on Eve at this age!

NW: Ah, but the point is that her goodness makes her radiant beauty. I know its tenuous - but work with me here! All the fairytales are rather depressing in their views that all a girl really needs for a happy life is a good husband - but then they were written in a time when all a girl really needed for a happy life was a good husband. Although they are a bit bleurgh - one good thing about the endless Barbie films is that they do at least show her as a strong heroine (although ultimately in several of them they do end up with a nice boy too!). Mind you, lets not deny that having a person (by that male or female) for a strong loving relationship is very rewarding and particualry nice to come home to after a day of shouting at incompetent people at work! I tried to seek alternatives to fairytales and tried Greek myths for children - totally terrifying, avoid at all costs because they are obviously a reflection of their time too.

ET: Most western children's tales involving women build on tropes of the quest for the holy grail and the virgin queen and mother of God. I know that sounds heavy, but the queen was worthy of adoration because she embodied the values and ideals of the Madonna, and her looks were simply the outer sign of her inner beauty. If I were a Mom, I would try to get away altogether from the 19th century romantic literature and look for animal fables of all cultures, which tend to get away from gender cliches. I have a wonderful book of Indonesian children's tales, called Kantchil's Lime Pit, that I found mesmerizing as a child and still love.

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