Cinderella, the beauty myth and a feminist conundrum

Book chapter


Bernkopf, A. 2019. Cinderella, the beauty myth and a feminist conundrum. in: Weedon, A. and Darwood, N. (ed.) Storytelling: Cultural and Creative Transformations of Cinderella Wayne State University Press.
Chapter titleCinderella, the beauty myth and a feminist conundrum
AuthorsBernkopf, A.
Abstract

Walt Disney and the Disney tradition of films have become a staple nourishment of children across the globe. The fairy tales presented in these productions started with tellings of the classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. Over the years, Disney films have changed and now include revisions of traditional fairy tales that leave the established fairy tale realm behind and offer new versions of classic tales. The aim of this paper is to explore gendered storytelling in relation to traditional female stereotypes. It will draw on a narratological analysis of Disney films in relation to their main characters, their actions as well as the socio-cultural undercurrents present in these narratives. A strong focus on female characters in connection with feminist ideas and a challenge of stereotypes will be present to highlight that, whilst feminism achieved significant milestones such as legal rights to equal pay and abortion, the social and domestic side as presented in mainstream narratives have yet to keep up to this.
In this exploration, Disney films will be analysed from a narratological perspective to establish gendered patterns in narratives centring on a female protagonist. Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale provides initial access to uncover the pattern of actions within male and female stories. Here, a significant trend is that male protagonists outwit and fight the villain as opposed to the female protagonist who rather outwits and tricks the sought-for-person, their future husband. Additional analysis of the types of actions preferred in male and female narratives will highlight nuances within how actions manifest in European fairy tales compared to Disney films. Research into speech patterns of Disney films shows that even though there might be a female protagonist, the male characters are still given more spoken lines as well as decision making in decisive moments. These statistics will be matched with the narrratological analysis to tease out whether female characters still are judged based on domestic competence and beauty or on their actions.
Given the wide distribution of Disney films worldwide, these narratives can be seen as constituent of female behaviour and setting up a world of illusion that does not expand or counter traditional gender stereotyping. Through commercialisation and ‘playful’ assimilation of the Disney princess stereotype, women are fooled into believing the Disney myth of Cinderella being discovered by Prince Charming. Even though Bruno Bettelheim states children do not focus on gender in fairy tales, many modern women still wait patiently for their virtues to be discovered and remain locked in the Cinderella complex. Consequently, the re-iteration of these mainstream narratives keeps seemingly active female characters well aligned to the sphere of the domestic, passivity and obedience to a male character’s decisions to subconsciously influence generations of women that beauty, domestic qualities and obedience will bring success.

Research GroupDance group
Book titleStorytelling: Cultural and Creative Transformations of Cinderella
EditorsWeedon, A. and Darwood, N.
PublisherWayne State University Press
Publication process dates
Deposited19 Feb 2019
Submitted2019
Output statusIn press
LanguageEnglish
File
File Access Level
Controlled
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