Cinderella is one of those classic fairy tales that all kinds of little kids (and not so little kids) grow up loving. It’s the kind of story that many of us can relate to: our hero is treated unfairly by people in power, but she works hard and lives virtuously and one day a magical person comes into her life and rewards her for all her suffering. I think most of us would like to think that all of our suffering will one day be rewarded, whether it be the twenty-something paying their dues by slogging through a terrible job in hopes of moving upward and onward to something better, or the ten year old, indignant that their parents insist on cleaning their room again, wishing and hoping for their Hogwarts letter to take them away. Maybe it’s that we’re waiting for our proverbial “prince” (whatever form they may take) to sweep us off our feet.
There are so many versions of the story of Cinderella, and while the core story stays mostly the same, each version sends a different kind of message about what kinds of virtues are worthy of reward, and what kinds of rewards are worthy of which virtues. The results are a mixed bag, especially when we take a critical eye to some of the more popular versions of the classic fairy tale. We have to ask ourselves, should we really want to be like our Cinderellas, and do we even really want her prize?
Darvasa, aka the “Door to Hell” in Turkmenistan. (image via wiki commons)
In Dante’s Divine Comedy, he tells us that above the gates of Hell is written the phrase: “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” Hell is the final punishment for evildoers. The idea is that once you’re in Hell, there’s no hope for change or redemption, so you sink into despair. Hell is supposed to be the worst of all possible consequences. Hope, on the other hand, is supposed to be the thing that keeps you going even when times are tough. Many religious people hope for a pleasant afterlife for themselves and divine justice for all. Hope is one of the most powerful motivators, sustaining people through the worst of circumstances. But it’s precisely that kind of power that makes hope such a dangerous weapon in the hands of a villain, and why any Hell-on-Earth must include some modicum of hope.
Spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games below the jump.
If you went to Hogwarts, which House would you be in? Where did Pottermore sort you? Identifying with Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin is one of the most important questions to members of the Harry Potter fandom. The internet loves personality quizzes, and in the early days of internet fandom, the web was full of people trying to write the most “authentic” Sorting Hat quiz. Some used Myers-Briggs personality inventories to sort you. Of course, no one could really agree on whether “iNtuitive Thinkers” made better Slytherins or Ravenclaws, or that all “Sensing Feelers” were either Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs (and don’t get me started on the awful chart that went around). But I’m here to propose a better way of understanding what makes each House tick, and why Slytherin really might have a bad reputation. It’s about the four cardinal virtues.
Recently we got an email from a young fan which, among other things, told us about this petition for Disney to make a plus-size princess. Creator Jewel Moore, an American high school student, said on the petition, “I know many younger plus-size girls and women who struggle with confidence and need a positivie (sic) plus-size character in the media. I want there to be a character for those little girls to look up to.”
That’s certainly a laudable goal, and from even a cursory look at Disney movies, we can tell that they use a cartoonish, overly dramatic, white feminine form as a standard for their princesses (in Disney’s most recent movie, Frozen, the girls’ wrists are thinner than their huge eyes). Beyond the usual argument that Disney only makes stick-thin model princesses, though, it’s clear that Disney has a very exacting definition of feminine. All the princesses are thin, yes; all of them also come armed with varying virtues like determination, kindness, intelligence, and integrity. They even all have long hair. Disney has defined feminine in such a way that if a girl doesn’t squeeze herself within these narrow confines, she’s practically labeled “not a girl”.
And well beyond the iron fist of Disney, it seems that the rest of our media content has also adopted this definition of feminine. There are rarely fat characters on TV, and if they are, the characters are stereotypes obsessed with either eating or losing weight; they aren’t fully developed characters. Similarly, there may be female villains, but there aren’t female jerkwads on the side of good, as Dom recently pointed out. This fear of the so-called “unfeminine” only adds to continuing negative attitudes toward women, while doing nothing to advance the creation of more varied, interesting characters and plotlines.