Thoroughly modern Cinderella?
Once upon a time, in a country ruled not by king or queen, there began to grow a suspicion of malign influences on the young girls of the land.
It was the era of the Bechdel Test, wherein the worth of a story was measured by how much time female characters talk together about anything but men. There was such demand for stories with female main characters that all the new tales written by all the storytellers of the realm were not enough. So storytellers refashioned the characters of the Evil Queen, the Cruel Stepmother, and the Wicked Witch in ways to evoke sympathy for the sufferings that could have made such women so mean. The cries for more woman-focused fiction only continued. So beloved yarns of heroes were retold, with a woman doing the deeds that in earlier tellings had been done by a man.
In these times, many young girls had great love for the princesses from long ago times, and that love came to the notice of older, worldly women. From their well appointed offices at the tippy top of the Great Ivory Tower, these women of great status and tenure looked down upon playrooms and toy stores, children's books and Christmas lists. These women decided that they didn't like what they could see.
The First Crone said stories about pretty young princesses meeting handsome princes were no good for little girls. If they were going to grow into strong, independent women who don't need any fish or bicycles, girls should be taught to beware toys fashioned to delight feminine desires for pink and frilly things.
The Second Crone said stories about beautiful princesses falling in love with princes made young girls too submissive and prevented them resisting the Male Gaze. If a girl is to give any thought to a future mate, she should be constructing the longest possible list of desirable accomplishments and possessions for use in ruling out potential suitors.
The Third Crone said daydreaming about Happily Ever After fosters unrealistic romantic expectations. Girls should focus on their studies and careers and prepare to be self-sufficient.
When I was a little girl, I didn't have any experience of living with a stepmother or losing a parent, or even any friends who did. But I saw that Cinderella was an example: modest, diligent, accepting of hardship, patient, and forgiving. There was more to her than met the eye.
Lately, I've come across some new stories told in the name of Cinderella.
One, produced by a streaming service, features a Cinderella in the form of a medieval wannabe fashion designer. This Cinderella had no interest in the main purpose of the ball, where the young would mingle in hopes of sparking a love match for the Prince.
This Fashionella saw the ball only as a platform to use to attract attention for her own creations. Somehow, her behavior so charms the Prince that he abandons his duty to his kingdom to join this Cinderella on a world-trotting adventure of dress-selling (and this, although recently aired, was written and filmed before Meghan and Harry to moved to Montecito).
I saw a trailer for an upcoming Disney movie with even greater ambition to remake Cinderella. This one shares the fashionista ambitions of the other recent retelling but adds sex and race swaps and a modern timeframe. The boy, Sneakerella, is intent on designing — you guessed it — sneakers. The ball is a hip-hop sneaker fashion show hosted by a dynasty of "sneaker royalty."
A play I saw a few years ago featured grotesquely aging versions of the Disney princesses. It was The Real Housewives of the Enchanted Suburbs, full of selfish complaints, weight issues, and marital splits.
I've seen several reviews of the streaming service's dressmaker Cinderella and the trailer for the upcoming Sneakerella. While all the reviews of both films were unfavorable, none mentioned what I saw as the major flaw these recent productions seem to share. Cinderella is not, and never was, a role model for self-driven ambition.
Cinderella personifies qualities that make a woman valuable to her husband and family and to the larger community. The Stepmother accidentally did Cinderella a favor, and her own daughters a disservice, by assigning all the chores to Cinderella. The pampered Stepsisters were left lacking the skills of adult women. Without domestic skills and character developed by hard work, the Stepsisters' only option was someone who could afford to keep them pampered. As each Stepsister tried to stuff her foot into the glass slipper, she already knew (like everyone in the kingdom) that the Prince was not seeking someone to love, but the woman he already loved.
The Prince has both a sense of duty and a mind of his own. He cleverly thought to use the Glass Slipper to find his True Love and was kind in his design of the test. He didn't name a date and place where all the kingdom could gather while women could try on the Glass Slipper. Instead, the Prince himself goes house to house, where women could try the shoe on in private.
The love between the Prince and Cinderella was sealed not when he saw her in her magical ball gown, but when he found her in her ordinary, workaday attire.
Those who know and love the story don't need to see how things unfold after the wedding between Cinderella and the Prince to know how things will go for the pair. We already know that these two have learned what they need to live Happily Ever After.