Cinderella is usually thought of in a Disney movie context with the beautiful daughter, the death of her dad, and her terrifying step-mother and step-sisters. There are, of course, other versions of the story less viewed. Two such examples include “Catskin” and “Donkeyskin.” The story line of all three tales encourages the widely held belief people have about women, also referred to as the “Cult of Womanhood.”
The “Cult of Womanhood” idealized the “true woman,” or the ideal that women are fragile, submissive, and sexually pure (Learning for a Diverse World, Tyson). The many stories of Cinderella all appeal to this feminist theory by using many words, both positive and negative to describe Cinderella herself.
In “Catskin,” a story by Joseph Jacobs written in the late eighteen hundreds, Cinderella is described as bonny, graceful, fair, and beautiful. These are some of the more “flattering,” and “good girl” qualities Jacobs gives her. “Bad girl” qualities include dirty, impudent, and sluttish. It seems that the “flattering” qualities are given to describe her when she is cleaned up and in the presence of a man. Her “bad girl” qualities are given to her when he is working for a living and hiding herself, often in the presence of other women. Both positive and negative qualities are negative in the mind’s eye of a feminist. While negative qualities such as “dirty” or “sluttish” are cruel, words that are flattering may not be so flattering. Because people have always grown into accepting the ideal that women are fragile and submissive, and men are capable, powerful, and in control, flattering words are not flattering because they only fit the role of the “true woman,” and idealized, false type of woman. Traits such as bonny, graceful, and fair do not give Cinderella control, power, or strength, therefore, making her sound helpless and in need of a man to “save” her. Cinderella, or Catskin, was born a bonny girl and grew up a bonny girl, as stated in the first paragraph of the text. Bonny is another word for attractive, fair, fine, and excellent, all qualities of a “good girl.” Because Catskin was a girl, her father decided he never wanted to see her and have her married off to the first man that came to marry her. This is one example of a women’s powerlessness and a man’s power and control.
“Donkeyskin,” by Charles Perrault, has many more examples of prejudice. “Good girl” descriptions outweigh the “bad girl” descriptions. Donkeyskin, in this context of Cinderella is described as beautiful, charming, youthful, elegant, lovely, fine, fresh, remarkable, a nymph, and proud. She is also described as disagreeable, unkempt, dirty, ugly, and filthy. Again, she is described with “bad girl” descriptions only when she is alone or in the presence of women. She is described only such when she is in hiding and as a lower-class female. When she is in the presence of a man, she is described in the “flattering” way. Again, these are not flattering words. These words merely stereotype women and force them to fit the mold of the “true woman.” When the prince peeped through her keyhole and saw her, he referred to her as beautiful and a remarkable nymph. Even though these words are truly flattering, they again close her off to the ideal that she may be a powerful, strong, willful woman, which she obviously was since she ran away from her father and all she knew. This fact is overseen by the other characters perspectives of her. They saw her as either beautiful or dirty and disagreeable.
Through and through, all versions of Cinderella reek of the ideal woman, or “true woman.” There is no escaping the views and ideals that have long been placed on women and female characters in stories. Both through positive and negative descriptions, women are not viewed as self-willing individuals, but dependant on men in one way or another.