Friday, April 23, 2004

Slate runs an interesting bit of cultural commentary on the new remakes of the Cinderella story. The recent movies give our culture's answers to some fundamental questions: can a woman ever be happy without a man? to what extent should women be independent in a relationship and to what extent they should be caretakers and nurterers? Jill Pellettieri writes,

No matter how sassy, ambitious, and independent a girl might be, her life is only complete when she's Mrs. Prince Charming. At least that's the subtext of two "modern" Cinderella stories now in theaters—Ella Enchanted and The Prince & Me....

Historically, fairy tales have reflected the values of the society in which they were written or revised--mirroring its preoccupations, obsessions, ambitions, and shortcomings. So the question inevitably arises: What do these updates say about our culture's view of women and marriage?

In Ella Enchanted, Ella of Frell (played by Anne Hathaway), a poor but beautiful young woman desperate to escape the constraints of her awful stepfamily, sets out to rid herself of a curse she's had since birth—excessive obedience. (Gail Carson Levine, who wrote the novel Ella Enchanted, set her defiant protagonist in opposition to Disney's Cinderella whom she saw as blindly obedient.) Along the way, Ella and the kingdom's much sought-after prince, Prince Charmont ("Char"), fall in love. In The Prince & Me, Paige, a poor farm girl (played by Julia Stiles) fervently pursues her dream of becoming a doctor by working her way through college. When she falls in love with "Eddie," the crown prince of Denmark, she is faced with a choice: Should she attend medical school or stay with her true love?

It's interesting to examine the transformation that occurs in each young woman's life after meeting her prince. Prior to their courtships, Ella and Paige are role models for what modern women are taught they should be: smart, confident, career-minded. They are in control of their destinies and undistracted by men...

And yet their admirable moxie finds its demise in romance. Pair Ella and Paige with their better halves and they differ little from their Disney predecessor: They're submissive and invisible, women behind their men.


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