It is always the same stories we are fascinated about (at least some of us). They constantly reappear in various shades, and so does Cinderella. Not so much the fact of regurgitation is amazing, but its variation. The most popular versions of any time mirror social conditions better than anything else. They reveal the people’s social psychology, their values, and their believe systems. Stories are re-told with variations and people choose those variations that comfort them most. Those versions of the story are propagated and dominate for a while. Sounds similar to biological evolution by natural selection, doesn’t it. This article is not about such similarities which belong to the realm of fauceir evolution, a more abstract theory of evolution. This article rather focuses on social conclusions that can be deduced from variations of Cinderella stories across centuries.
Cinderella is mostly a female story. At least that was my impression recently when I watched the Cinderella Disney Musical in a Berlin concert hall. Most of the audience was female and the few males were accompanied by at least one female. (So much about gender differences.)
The major building block of the Cinderella story is that a girl rises from an underdog social position to the top of a hierarchy by just becoming affiliated to a high status man. In the German version collected by the Grimm Brothers, the girl is industrious and humble, and she felt suppressed by a female hierarchy that was formed by her step mother and two step sisters. She is released from her oppressed social position by a man who transfers her to a man’s hierarchy. The man is the real hero in this story because he doesn’t allow himself to be dazzled by female intrigues. He finds his partner by his own criteria, so in the end Cinderella’s industriousness and humbleness gets rewarded.
One can imagine that this type of story, which evolved in Medieval Germany had a great impact on social evolution. Over the centuries, millions of women were encouraged to work hard and humble even if they didn’t have the tiniest chance to marry a prince sometimes. Still many of them achieved a rise on the social ladder, sometime minute sometimes greater. And at the same time men were encouraged to choose women not by their social status but by their qualities to perform a successful work. That psychological inclination helped enormously to accumulate wealth and to build a successful and rich society.
The last century witnessed a significant mutation of the story, the Disney version. Cinderella’s industriousness and humbleness are no longer her major qualities. Her doing chores is no longer a virtue but portrayed as a tool to make her suffer more. Her dominating talent is networking. She feeds and fondles the even more oppressed, the animals, and cajoles them into a conspiracy to overthrow the existing hierarchy of her despised relatives and to help her to step up.
Also in the Disney version man’s role is substantially altered. He is no longer the smart boy, capable to appreciate a woman’s really important values. He is reduced to a mere provider of resources.
It is not difficult to find prominent examples in our society that mirror that Disney type of Cinderella. Think of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Social Justice Worriers that are typically female. The last century was characterized by Western (or Disney influenced) societies being increasingly dominated by female type of hierarchies. These hierarchies are not well studied sociologically, so there are no studies to relate to, but what we can conclude from Cinderellas original story is that those hierarchies are quite unfair and mostly rely on status, shaming, intimidation, and coalition forming. (Sounds like present day politics doesn’t it?)
The present century further degraded the original story by the now utmost popular version called the 50 Shades of Gray. The women is not industrious and humble any more, and she is not unjustly suppressed by any hierarchy either. Her only virtue is good looks and extraordinary f***ing capabilities. The man is not portrayed as the smart guy who is able to find a pearl in the ash. On the opposite, he is stupid enough to fall for the first female sexual offer. Although he offers a lot of resources a women can indulge in (a muscular body and of course lots and lots of money), he is not a hero who deserves all that. He is rather of the brutal variety who achieved his success by more fiercely fending off attacks of other men like him.
One may speculate where this kind of Cinderella story will lead us now. At least I have no good feelings about it. I’m rather old fashioned. I’d rather stick to the old Cinderella story of the preantepenultimate century.