In Too Deep Into Disney #12: Does Cinderella Sexually Objectify?
â€œCinderella backwards is the story of a woman that gets married and learning her place in the world,â€ said my nineteen year old sister. Which admittedly got a small chuckle out of me whilst scolding her. But it got me thinking about Cinderella and whether it’s a good film. Or does it have glaring flaws that undermine the film itself? Well lets find out.
First off let us define ‘sexual objectification’. If you read my blog last week you saw that I was originally calling this blog ‘Is Cinderella Sexist?’, before realizing that it wasn’t the totally correct title. Sexism is discriminating against someone due to their gender. Which isn’t what really happens in the film. Sure you could say that if Cinderella was instead Cinder-Steve then the wicked stepmother and stepsisters wouldn’t be so quick to make her their slave (since men had more rights then women back in those days and all that jazz). And no one discriminates against the prince or anything. So is it fair to call the film sexist? No, not really. But what about sexually objectifying?
Well once again we need to define sexual objectification. Treating a human being as an object just for sexual gratification. Well this does happen, but not to Cinderella. Well, not just Cinderella. The Prince is also objectified, if not sexual then at least in that his father treats him nothing more than a means to an end. His father just wants grand-kids, one way of another. He arranges the ball just to get the Prince a wife. He hunts out the girl who fits the slipper because it’s the easiest way of getting him married. The Prince himself doesn’t get that much of a say in the matter. It’s only by pure luck that he happens to meet a lovely lady and hit it off. But still, they only know each other for a few hours. Can you really say that they fall in love in such a small time span? What’s more the Prince isn’t really given much of the say in the matter. He is almost forced into getting married and ‘falling in love’ (since it’s just two people being in the right place at the right time, as the King puts it). And why? Just so the King can have Grand-kids. Again, treating the Prince more as a sexualized object (or at least an object where sex is the desired outcome) rather than a proper human being. But what about Cinderella? Is she ever sexually-objectified?
Well I think the key scene of the entire movie that illustrates this point is when the two wicked stepsisters rip apart Cinderella’s lovely dress and leave it in ruins. This scene is… disturbing, to say the least. It could easily be reworked to feature more adult and uncomfortable material. And perhaps best demonstrates the idea of Cinderella being an object. Her clothing is destroyed, ergo she is destroyed. She is treated as an object by her sisters and is thus destroyed so she is no longer a desired object. It’s the closest the movie gets to the uncomfortable subject of rape during its run time.
But back onto the topic: Is Cinderella about objectification? The Prince is seen as a means to an end rather then a fleshed out character in his own right. This in of itself is pretty bad writing, since it marginalises what is one of the most important characters. Likewise Cinderella is objectified by the King because he sees her as a means to an end. So does that means that the King and Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother are the same? They both have less-than-honourable intentions for their children, both want to use them to further their goals. Perhaps that’s what they talk about during their few hours together?
Also if I can side-track here for a bit: Is the reason why Cinderella fell in love with the Prince (who she thought was just some random guy at the ball who she hit it off with) because that’s the first time anyone has ever shown her affection in her adult life? Think about it, she’s probably never interacted with a man before in a romantic setting. This is probably the first time. Is it callous to say that a majority of her love to the guy mostly comes from her not abusing her but treating her like a proper human being? I mean sure they may fall in love with each other, but their foundation of love is built on such shaky ground. Likewise the first thing that attracts the Prince is physical qualities. Had she rocked up in her tattered dress or even her pink one would he immediately be attracted to her? Doubtful, but you never know. However it could be argued that it was her fabulous dress and good-looks that attracted him to her. So can this ‘love on first sight’ really be true when it’s built on such shaky ground?
Anyway, back on topic. Is Cinderella a film that sexually-objectifies characters? Yes, to a degree. There is a bit of it that is there. If nothing else calling the stepsisters ‘wicked’ and ‘ugly’ definitely brings in the rule that ugly people in Disney movies are automatically evil (one that stays in place for quite a long time). That sexually-objectifies them because it shows that their defining feature is their beauty and how it relates to their personality. But does this make the film ‘bad’ or ‘morally questionable’? No, not really. I mean it’s a good enough film with good messages in it. Well, all but one.
Lets address the other big elephant in the room: The Fairy Godmother. Many people dislike this aspect of the film because it implies that you can fix all your problems with a wave of a wand. Which is true to an extent. But I think the real reason people dislike it is the lack of foreshadowing or consistency that’s involved with it. We can accept talking mice and animals with human-like intelligence (somehow, I don’t know how, but no one ever complains that that seems unbelievable), but not that a Fairy Godmother comes out of nowhere. Now metaphorically it represents that lucky break we get time and again to better our life. And if someone just happened to be walking along we may have accepted it more. But from the point of view of ‘and then the Fairy Godmother appears’ it seems very unbelievable. But why is that?
It’s because there is no grounding in the world in which we’re watching. At no point before her appearance does it say that magic can exist. It seems like it’s grounded in a very firm reality. Sure there are human-animals, but that seems to be the extent of it. So to have it appear literally out of nowhere seems jarring and against the character’s development. It feels like Cinderella gets a free pass because the Fairy Godmother happens to be real. That she doesn’t deserve this because it’s never explained where she comes from. So who is the Fairy Godmother?
The depressing answer is that Cinderella just dies from hypothermia and imagines the rest of the movie. But I prefer to think of the Fairy Godmother as Cinderella’s own mother coming back from heaven as an angel. I mean that would make a bit more sense. That she was always watching out for her daughter but only now managed to act and help. Still, it’d have been nice to have been foreshadowed.
So there you have it. A disjointed look at a rather average Disney film. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.