I have been exploring Cinderella and the novel Ella Enchanted and how the latter is much more rich and realistic. There are several parts of Ella's story that teach an opposite lesson than the classic fairy tale Cinderella. This leads me to my latest question: What role does feminism play in how beauty, success, happiness is defined in Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine?
What makes a woman beautiful?
"I collapsed on the stool next to the stove, sobbing so hard I couldn't catch my breath. Then Mandy's arms were around me, and I was crying into the ruffles along the neck of her apron, where I had cried so many times before for smaller reasons. A drop landed on my finger. Mandy was crying too. Her face was red and blotchy. "I was her fairy godmother too," Mandy said. "And your grandmother's." She blew her nose. I pushed out of Mandy's arms for a new look at her. She couldn't be a fairy. Fairies were thin and young and beautiful. Mandy was as tall as a fairy was supposed to be, but who ever heard of a fairy with frizzy gray hair and two chins?" -EE
Ella asks the question, "Who ever heard of a fairy with frizzy gray hair and two chins?" and the rest of the novel answers it. Mandy is beautiful because of who she is not because of what she looks like. Dame Olga, Hattie, and Olive are all ugly because of the way they act more than their physical appearances. Lucinda, the fairy who cursed Ella, masks her true nature with make-up, perfumes, and beautiful clothing in an attempt to stand out and appeal to people. Her shallowness make her instead, very unappealing.
Feminist message: Beauty is not dictated by how society, particularly men, think women should look in order to be "beautiful", rather, beauty is being yourself and not altering your appearance for the sake of a man.
In the story we all know, Cinderella does little to nothing to fight against her very unjust living situation. While she is treated as a slave and denied all that she could ever want, she simply takes it, crying silently to herself until magically she is rescued because of a few tears. It always bothered me that all Cinderella did to summon her Fairy Godmother was cry. Didn't it bother you a little too? When I have throw-myself-on-my-bed moments I have never been rescued by a fairy godmother or given a pretty dress.
Ella has no choice but to obey.
“If someone told me to hop on one foot for a day and a half, I’d have to do it. And hopping on one foot wasn’t the worst order I could be given. If you commanded me to cut off my own head, I’d have to do it.” -EE
Ella is required by her father to go to finishing school where she is taught to eat, sit, sew, sing, and dance "properly" as a young lady should. Ella makes a great comment about how she doesn't "want to be finished" and disagrees that there is one way a lady should behave. Ella can't sew very well, but she is very skilled at picking up foreign languages quickly. She gets scolded for letting a conversation distract her from her sewing while at finishing school. Ella is even more constricted than usual with teachers and students telling her why she isn't a "proper lady".
Feminist message: Women aren't solely homemakers and objects to be used for their elegant skills. If a woman is skilled with construction, linguistics, law, or business, they should have equal opportunities for these professions and not expected to learn the more "womanly" skills.
Which is what, exactly? To go to the ball, to be with people, make friends maybe. It is interesting to me how all it takes is a pretty face and dress and boom, she has landed a high place in society and that is the end goal. Yay. Now she has everything she wants. So it seems pretty shallow and empty when I look at the story like that. I think we all realize how shallow and empty it is and maybe that's what makes Ella Enchanted so wonderful.
Ella’s Fairy Godmother doesn't come and rescue her in her moment of need. Instead, she is there all along, quietly encouraging and teaching her how to accept and deal with problems. Ella does not passively accept all of the demands of her odious stepfamily members.
Feminist message: Women don't need a man (or anyone) to come and "save" them. Women can save themselves and create their own happiness based on the choices they make, not a shift it class because they "married up".