Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Cinderella Plot

Hey y'all.  So I was thinking about the Cinderella trope, and how feminists are so lit up by it.  They say it's a bad thing for women to be portrayed as damsels in distress.  Though also female, I have never been really against this.  After all, I wouldn't mind being rescued by a hot guy, heh.  The only real "damsels in distress" in my opinion are those in literature or movies that literally do nothing but whine, and have no redeeming qualities.  It doesn't ruin a girl to be a daydreamer, or a glam princess, or happen to be saved by a man at the end.  Whatever.

But still, the idea that a prince saves a woman in the end and makes her life complete is offensive to the overly sensitive.  I guess the idea is that men don't automatically makes womens' lives better.  Which is true, particularly when the man or woman involved has personal issues, or outside circumstances work against them.  And you know what?  That's the whole point of the Cinderella trope.  Sure, a man is involved, but he's only a part of the "prize package" that comes along with the story of bitterness to happiness that Cinderella embodies.  Simply put, he's not the point.

Let's go over the trope, bit by bit.  There are basic elements that compose the story, and even when Cinderella's story is adapted into other forms, all the elements are relatively unchanged.  So what are those elements?

1. A girl from a noble, wealthy, or otherwise important background is forced by circumstances into a situation of servitude or disadvantage, where she is judged by her unworthy peers.  These peers are jealous of the girl's beauty, kindness, or personality (usually all three).

- Cinderella's caring and wealthy father dies, leaving her in the hands of her stepmother and wicked stepsisters.

2. An opportunity arises where the girl and her peers can all be judged.  The girl is judged worthy, while her peers are all but ignored, or possibly punished.

- Cinderella goes to the ball, and her beauty and charm win over the prince.  The stepsisters are ignored.

3. The girl faces one more conflict, where her last hope is tried, and where her jealous rivals show one last proof of their contemptability.  The girl ultimately wins, lifted out of her life of drudgery and removed forever from her rivals.

- The prince comes around with the shoe, and the stepsisters' feet don't fit into it.  Cinderella's do, and she and the prince live happily ever after.  In the original Cinderella fairy tale, her stepsisters' eyes are pecked out by birds.

So, in the end, Cinderella is not about finding a man to rescue her, but being proven as more beautiful and of better nature than those that antagonize her.  It's about all the people who mistreated her being proven wrong, and her mistreatment is undeserved.  It's about being judged, and judged worthy -- a removal of the negative opinions of the jealous ones and their replacement by positive opinions from people that really matter.  Hot guys with political authority matter quite a bit.

But you know what?  They're not the only ones that matter.  See, the romantic interest can be completely removed from the Cinderella plot, and the plot will remain.  It's happened before.  A hundred years ago, actually.  The book A Little Princess by Frances Hodges Burnett follows the Cinderella pattern.  It has all the elements, as I'll list below.

1.  Sarah Crewe is the daughter of a wealthy businessman who lives in India, and she must go to a boarding school in England to be educated, despite being a very intelligent, imaginative thinker.  She is judged by jealous boarding school girls and the harsh headmistress, Miss Minchin.  When her father dies, the headmistress forces her to be a servant, working her hard and feeding her little.

Here we have the jealous rivals, the important background, and lofty characteristic.

2. Sarah is actually tested in many small ways, primarily through her attitude.  She determines to be a princess, as in someone who thinks of others first and keeps a good attitude about life.  Despite hunger, she gives fortune-gained buns to a girl even hungrier than her.  She befriends those that others consider not worth their time, and impresses a neighboring Indian, Ram Dass, by her intelligence and calm.

This is a bit of an adaptation of the Cinderella plot, but it still involves the female protagonist being judged favorably compared to her peers by the people who really matter, and primarily a Mr. Carrisford, who happens to be looking for the daughter of his business friend.  Like Cinderella's ball and fairy godmother, his just happening to live in the house next door to the boarding house is just too darn lucky.

3. Sarah faces a final conflict when Miss Minchin finds that she and fellow servant Becky and awkward student Ermengarde are having a pretend feast in the attic.  This is immediately rebuffed with Ram Dass and his boss Carrisford leave gifts and food in Sarah's room, all more marvelous than what the pretend feast had been.  Also, when Sarah finds Ram Dass' monkey and attempts to return it to him, she is discovered to be the person Mr. Carrisford looked for.  He saves her from one last attempt by Miss Minchin to bring her back to the boardinghouse, and Sarah is able to regain her past wealth, help others, and be free from judgement for the forseeable future.

This again, is an ending where the protagonist is saved by an outsider who appreciates her superior qualities.  Despite there never being a love story, it's still the same wealth to suffering to rescue that the Cinderella tale presents.

So basically, here's a list of what is required:
- important background
- suffering for an extended period
- superiority to rivals
- being judged by others to be better than rivals
- rescue from old life
- a U shaped arc.

Now, it might occur to you that even my explanation of the Cinderella tale is quite demented, despite not requiring a "prince rescues the girl" bit.  If so, yeah.  Thing is, Cinderella encompasses what a woman truly desires, and how an insecure girl can see herself.  Heck, if you're a girl, you can probably put your own life into this model (except for maybe the "being rescued" part) and write your own Cinderella style biography or biographical fiction.  Sure, the Cinderella thing can be harmless, but it also communicates a desperation within the female psyche for being superior or lovelier than others.

Quite frankly, feminism is just another extension of this, as is the feminist attack on the Cinderella story -- the feminist is "better" than her girly, princess-y "rival," even if this rival is just the archetype itself. I don't mean to pick on the feminists on this matter too much, though.  After all, women are jealous of each other for different reasons.  Some girls are prettier, more socially accepted, or richer than others. At my age it's the whole deal of being one of few in the group who doesn't have her own husband and children.  Basically, any of us can be "Cinderella" if we frame it that way.

In other words, women be dang messed up.  But don't think men are off the hook.  I'll be getting them in my next post.  After all, they have their own Cinderella story.

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