The Modern Cinderella Myth Depicted in Movies Aimed at Young Women Is a Problem
Even if you are an adult Disney fan, it's hard to defend some of the earlier princess movies. After all, in films like Snow White and Cinderella, there's not much the female protagonists did except some excellent housekeeping and finding a prince to make out with. But it's 2014 now. Not only do we have more feminist-leaning princess movies like Frozen, Brave, and Mulan, we have scores of modern interpretations of some of the more outdated fairytales. There's even a new live-action Cinderella movie on its way for March 2015.
But while these modern adaptations may be about more than just finding a prince, upon closer inspection they reveal some troubling influences and themes on women and labor, women and modesty, and women and success. Because while these films and others like them may not follow exactly the same formula as the original Cinderella tale, they do have much of the same general outline: a woman, with some kind of special, inherent talent, is saved from her dull life when someone important finally takes notice of her.
The Modern Cinderella is a particular kind of breed in movies (and even more often, made-for-TV movies). She has a talent that's both natural and magical (usually singing or dancing) that she never seems to practice — she's just inherently good at it, and that makes her unique.
Yet, the Modern Cinderella is rarely confident in her talent. She would never brag or even acknowledge her gift, and often has to be coaxed by friends and family to even express it. She usually has a dirty and difficult job, the only real work she does in the film, but it's not really what she wants to be doing (after all, a Modern Cinderella is too "special" for a job like this — a message that speaks volumes). While showcasing her talent, a Modern Cinderella is usually "discovered" by someone important and eventually whisked away to her destiny of success and fame.
So where can you find this mythical Modern Cinderella? In movies like:
In this Nickelodeon original TV movie, the Modern Cinderella may be a young man, but the narrative is still the same. He gets his big break by someone recording him while singing at his janitor job and then offering to record his demo for free, two things that have never actually happened.
Another Cinderella Story
The classic ABC Family retelling of the Cinderella story with Selena Gomez. In this version, her prince figures out she's the dancer for him by seeing her moves at a masked ball. And of course, at the end of the movie, she practically has to be dragged onstage for their final dance.
High School Musical
Surely you remember this one. Although little Modern Cinderellas Troy and Gabriella showed off their talents in a chance karaoke encounter, they can't possibly try out for the school musical. But OK, if you insist . . .
This movie even has a hint of The Little Mermaid to it, with a promise ring-era Joe Jonas noticing Demi Lovato's poor little rockstar character simply by overhearing her voice.
These movies are some of the biggest examples of the so-called culture of entitlement, creating dancers who hate practicing and singers who can't stay on pitch. And they complicate young women's confidence even further, so even if they are talented, they feel it's "arrogant" to acknowledge it.
Although the Modern Cinderella tale is not inherently anti-feminist, it does send a lot of troubling messages: that blue-collar labor is only for untalented people, that women are only meant for certain kinds of jobs (you would never see a Modern Cinderella scientist or programmer), that little girls can have the job of their dreams as long as they just wait for someone else to "discover" them and make it happen. We can do better.
Images: Disney; ABC Family