The Cult of Cinderella: A Perennial Princess in Fourth-Wave Feminist America

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Bernier, Clarisse Scarlett
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Middle Tennessee State University
Cinderella can either be considered a beloved staple of film, fairy tales, and childhood or a character whose portrayal as a persecuted heroine makes her a keen target for feminist critique. Her continuous presence on screen and in print attests to her popularity, yet many new versions of “Cinderella” draw ire as the character is typically depicted in need of a (male) savior. Current trends are shifting Cinderella away from this damsel-in-distress role, ensuring her relevancy to modern audiences. This dissertation examines Cinderella through a feminist lens and explains her permanent placement in feminist discourse and popular culture. Chapter One examines the history and evolution of “Cinderella” and variants of the Cinderella-tale as defined by Marian Roalfe Cox and classified by the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type index. This chapter scrutinizes the best-known variants of “Cinderella,” as written by Giambattista Basile, Charles Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm and discusses how the popularity of these three tales helped cement Cinderella’s continued relevance in both academic study and popular culture. Chapter Two examines feminist criticism of “Cinderella” and explores the shifts in that criticism through the second, third, and fourth waves of this movement. The changing focus of feminist critique towards this tale is reflected in modern retellings, which present a heroine with more depth and greater agency. Chapter Three examines these modern retellings, focusing on trends which shape the new “Cinderella,” presenting the tale through the lens of gender inclusivity, sex positivity and young adult expectations. This chapter also follows a trend which presents the tale from the perspective of previously supporting characters, such as the stepmother or the prince. Chapter Four follows Cinderella’s representation in film over the past seventy years, both as retellings which are true to the traditional fairy tale version or as retellings which present a Cinderella-story. Several films are examined through the lens of feminist criticism in an attempt to determine if that criticism has an effect on how Cinderella is presented in future adaptations. Chapter Five discusses the effect that Walt Disney’s Cinderella has had on how Americans view Cinderella, how this character has been monetized, and how she launched the idea of happily-ever-after, via a Disney wedding. This chapter examines feminist criticism which claims that viewing this film or engaging with Cinderella through games or make-believe will foster gendered behavior in children. Chapter Six discusses Cinderella’s relevance in popular culture, focusing on digital platforms which allow both academics and non-academics to offer defense or vitriol towards this princess. The continued relevance of Cinderella is demonstrated through her presentation in various pop culture formats, which offer the tale with changes that reflect current social ideology and shifts in feminist thinking.
Cinderella, Disney, Fairy Tales, Feminist critique, Popular Culture, Retellings, English literature, Folklore