As she runs away from her true love so he does not see her real rag of a dress at midnight, one fair maiden drops her beautiful, glass slipper. She runs away to hide that she is not poor, but is this not the man she adores? Should outwardly appearance matter so much to the guy who “loves” her.
By now, the name Cinderella may have come to mind. So what does all of this have to do with the Disney film Cinderella? Well the film was released in the year 1950, amidst the United States’ change to a more peaceful nation. The film was released in a time when Disney was struggling financially. This movie proved to be very lucrative and popular across the country. For those who went the movie, the saw a main character who was the quintessence of the stereotypical ideal domestic housewife. This helped to further perpetuate gender inequality ideals. Just a decade earlier, women were making so much progress in the battle for equality.
The year is 1942. The United States has just entered the second Great War, and the services of women are being called by the factories. Men where away at war and many factories lacked the staff to supply war necessities. Working women became a norm. But when the boys got home from the East, jobs became less prominent. By the end of World War II, employers had reestablished the division of labor by gender. This was justified by creating the “ideal woman” who had to follow the stereotypes set by popular culture. Through semiotic analysis of the character Cinderella, one can see the stereotypes forced upon the women of the postwar era.
One stereotype of women of the 1950’s decade was: A woman’s place is at the home. This can be seen through the character Cinderella. Majority of the film takes place inside of her home. Even though she is treated horribly by Lady Tremaine and her stepsisters, she can only dream of a better life. The only time she ever leaves the house is to go to the ball to find her perspective suitor. This taught young girls that a woman’s place was in the home. They were not to be independent. In fact, Cinderella is liberated from the house servant duties when she married off to the prince. Marriage brings salvation and happiness. In the Disney film, Cinderella has bells ringing at her every which way signaling her that her step-family was in need of her forced service. These are the thoughts that were etched into the brains of young adolescents.
Another trick taught to young girls is that women were incapable of making decisions. This can be seen in ads from the time period that said things like: “Can a woman buy the family car… wisely?” (Holt). Cinderella’s story is no different. She is not allowed to decide for herself whether or not she can go to the ball. Once it is forbidden by her step-mother, she does not dare cross her. It’s not until another elder gives her permission that Cinderella attends the ball. This relates to the idea that young girls had to be obedient and were not mature enough to make their own decisions. This is also seen when The Prince makes the grand announcement that he will marry the woman whose foot fits the glass slipper. But unlike glass, it is not transparent for the audience to realize the “Cinderellie” had no power in this decision. Yes she could have stayed locked up in the tower and never tried on the shoe, but maybe she just wanted another date with The Prince. Nobody ever asks her if she wants to get married. This is similar to the way girls were expected to marry quickly and marry young. This stereotype may be the most crushing of them all. If you take away power from a person, they are forced to become dependent and unable to escape their prisons. Cinderella may have ran away through marriage, but who’s to say all really ended happily ever after.
In fact dependence is the next stereotype with which women had to deal. It was expected that women were dependent on a man for protection and acceptance. The movie Cinderella is the quintessence of this idea. The main character Cinderella has only ever been accepted by males. At first viewing it might be hard to pick up on this but save her fairy godmother, all women seem to hate Cinderella. Her father was the first man to love her till he passed away. Her mother is never mentioned. From there The King and Prince take a liking to her at the ball. But her step-“family” sees her as nothing more than dirt that they then treat as a servant. She finds acceptance through The Prince and he protects her. He takes her away from her horrible living conditions and from her malicious relatives. In the film, all men are benevolent characters. It is the women who create the drama. This teaches young girls that their only path to a better life is through marriage and a man. Men are strong creatures who are above the petty drama of women. Women are weak creatures who need protecting like Lois Lane and Superman- another made up “dream team”. Women have the problems and men swoop them up and save the day. These are the messages being sent to young girls who then find themselves in marriages without love that they from which they cannot end. Instead of taking the time to choose a life partner, they rush into marriage because society told them to lean on men. This dependence stereotype ruined many lives and further took away power from women.
The final stereotype addressed by Holt is that men used to regard women as second class citizens and objects of sexual desire. Now this is a particularly dangerous stereotype for all parties involved. Women are taught that they deserve nothing less than to be objectified. Men are told they are powerfully beings and can own women as objects. While not as apparent in Cinderella, this element is still visible. It may seem romantic that The Prince wants to find and marry his mysterious dance partner, the only way he can identify her is through her foot size. He then goes and has every girl in the kingdom measured to find the girl with the little feet. He is literally picking his wife on how tiny her physical features are. The ideal women created by popular culture in the 1950’s was petite and beautiful. The Prince spends a whole night with this “girl of his dreams” and he cannot even identify her afterword by personality or sound of voice. He decides he likes what he sees and must have it. Much like a toddler in the toy section of Wal-mart, men could pick and choose their objects of sexual desire.
While the movie Cinderella may be a classic, one should always view it with a semiotic eye. Many people do not even realize all of the awful stereotypes perpetuated from a movie made when women were being “put back into their place.” As the men flooded home from war, they tried to take more from women from just their jobs. They tried to take away their newly found level of independence. Disney fed on this sentiment and created a movie targeted at women by men.
- Orenstein, Peggy. “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2006. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
- Holt, Jennifer.” The Ideal Woman,” California State University. Web. 20 Oct 2014.