Different Versions of Cinderella: Gender Dynamics in Fairy Tales

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1844 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 1844|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Portrayal of Women in Versions of Sleeping Beauty
  3. Perpetuation of Stereotypes in Versions of Cinderella
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


Fairytale characters serve as important role models, shaping children's perceptions and influencing their behavior in real-life situations. However, a troubling pattern emerges in many fairytales, where gender inequality is deeply ingrained. This is evident in different versions of Cinderella, where the underlying message implies the superiority of men over women. The narratives of 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Cinderella' perpetuate the notion that women should conform to a subservient role, striving to please men while enduring mistreatment. Additionally, these tales suggest that women's rescue and happiness are dependent on male intervention, often contingent upon their physical beauty. Notably, male characters tend to treat women as objects, with no consequences for their actions.

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Portrayal of Women in Versions of Sleeping Beauty

In one of the earliest versions of “Sleeping Beauty,” known as “Sun, Moon, and Talia,” by Giambattista Basile, it is portrayed as acceptable for the prince to have nonconsensual sex with the sleeping princess. The prince finds her sleeping body in the castle and “…being on fire with love, he carried her to a couch and, having gathered the fruits of love, left her lying there.” (Basile 79). The prince is a complete stranger to the princess, yet he receives no consequences for his actions. He rapes her in her sleep, impregnating her, and the princess’s reaction is immediately falling in love with him even though he raped her and then left her alone in the castle for months. Upon returning to the castle, he explained to her what happened and they “made a great compact of friendship” (Basile 80). Not only did the prince get no consequences for raping the princess, in fact, they get married and live happily to the end of their lives. This is the oldest and most explicit of the story versions, as it gets polished over time. Overall, this story implies that it is acceptable to treat women with such a lack of respect since the prince received no punishment for his cruel actions.

Next, as seen in a more recent version of sleeping beauty, titled “The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood,” by Charles Perrault, the prince’s sexual acts toward the princess are slightly more cleaned up. In this version, the prince doesn’t rape her; he kisses her after she wakes up. This is followed by the prince and princess having sex and getting married the same exact day. When the princess woke up, she responded by “gazing at him so tenderly” (Perrault 86). The prince did not rape her, however, the same meaning behind the story is still there. Further, she still had no problems with the way she was treated, and later on gave birth to his children. Following this, the prince left the princess and their children alone with his ogre mother who almost killed them. He knew his mother’s dangerous intentions, because “although he loved her, he feared her…” and did not take into consideration the fact that his family was left alone with her for a long period of time (Perrault 87).

The final version of Sleeping Beauty, “Brier Rose,” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, is the most polished of the three versions. “No sooner had his lips touched hers than Brier Rose opened her eyes, woke up, and smiled sweetly” (Grimm 91). The princess and prince proceeded to live happily ever after. It is clear that this story is much more appropriate than other versions. Although the prince raped her in the older version and only kissed her in the newer one, the same underlying idea is still present. The plot is still a passive woman, being treated by a man as if she were a disposable object; the objectification of the princess is not as obvious in this version. Women should have control over who they want to be with physically; this story basically strips this right from women by Sleeping Beauty’s excited response to being kissed by a stranger.

A common pattern in all versions of Sleeping Beauty is that the prince treats the princess like an object. Since she is unable to defend herself, he does not take into regard that she is unable to consent to sex. The fact that he does not receive any consequences for his unjustified actions means he will not change the way he acts towards women. After the prince has sex with the princess’s sleeping body, impregnating her, he leaves her alone in an abandoned castle for a long period of time. Upon his return and her being totally accepting of what happened, he leaves her again. Later in the story, the prince leaves the princess and his two children with his ogre mother. He feared his mother because of the family she comes from, yet “he trusted her to look after his wife and children for him, too, because he would be away at war for the whole summer” (Perrault 87). He should have been more responsible, and stayed to protect his wife and children from his ogre mother. If he had not come back soon enough, they would have all been killed. Earlier in the story, “…he told her he loved her better than he loved himself…” (Perrault 86). If the prince really loved her as much as he says, he would not have left her alone in the castle on multiple occasions, and then left her and their children alone with his dangerous mother for an entire summer. Rather than actually loving the princess, it seems that the prince only views her as an object, and she is helpless when it comes to how men treat her.

Perpetuation of Stereotypes in Versions of Cinderella

Another common way that women are treated in fairy tales argues that they only deserve love if they are beautiful, as demonstrated by “Cinderella.” This story implies that women are only loved if they are beautiful and that the status of a woman is determined by a man. Cinderella wore dirty clothes and did all the dreadful chores around the house. She constantly received comments such as “Get into the kitchen where you belong!” (Grimm 48). Her evil stepmother forced her to live in a small room with an uncomfortable mattress while her stepsisters were spoiled. Her stepmother and stepsisters ridiculed her because of her dirty appearance. When the ball approached, she was not allowed to attend until she looked beautiful. At this ball she met a prince; once the prince discovers who she is, he falls in love with her. Cinderella was stuck doing favors for everyone but this did not change until the prince fell in love with her and took her to his castle. Her stepsisters wanted nothing to do with her until she married the prince. “They threw themselves at her feet to beg her to forgive them for all the bad treatment she had received from them” (Perrault 47). In this fairytale, the man is completely dominant, and the female only obtains her status from the man. Cinderella relied on the prince to save her from her evil stepmother instead of finding a way out herself, showing her dependence on him. Overall, this story implies that women cannot be saved from rough times without men, and in order to deserve to be saved, they must be beautiful. According to Nandini Maity, in Damsels in Distress: A Textual Analysis of Gender roles in Disney Princess Films, Disney princesses provide “unrealistic depictions of womanhood and harm a young girl’s perception of herself and how she should present herself in front of society.” This analysis discusses Cinderella and how it can cause girl viewers to develop a “Cinderella complex.” This complex refers to an unconscious longing to depend on others, especially men.

Throughout the various versions of Cinderella, the prince has complete influence over the actions of the women in the kingdom. The stepmother completely deprives Cinderella of her rights and treats her horribly because Cinderella’s beauty detracts from the beauty of her own daughters and the mother’s goal is to marry off her own daughters to a high-ranking man. Further, the stepsisters wanted nothing to do with Cinderella because of her “dirty” appearance, and did not change their cruel behavior towards her until the prince fell in love with her. Because Cinderella is seen as a threat, there are many accounts of women putting other women down in this fairytale. Upon meeting Cinderella, the prince immediately fell in love with her. However, it seems as though he only fell in love with her because of her beautiful appearance, considering he knew nothing about her character. He started to obsess over Cinderella to the point where he requested every girl in the kingdom try the missing shoe on to see if it would fit them. It is clear that the prince’s main concern with finding a female companion is how attractive she is, displaying the idea that love is all about beauty and appearance.

Furthermore, the behavior of the stepsisters in Grimm’s version of “Cinderella” suggest that women should go to an extreme to please a man. When the prince was looking for the mysterious princess he met at the ball, he tried the lost slipper on every girls’ feet in the kingdom. The stepmother knew the unknown princess was not either of her daughters, so the slipper would not fit their feet. They were ordered to adjust their foot size so the prince would be tricked into believing they were the princess from the ball. The stepmother said, “Cut your toe off… once you’re queen you won’t have to walk anymore” (Grimm 52). The stepsisters followed these orders because they wanted to be loved by the prince. They went to an extreme as far as removing parts off of their body just so they could be with this man.

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Gender is a highly debated, controversial topic in society; gender characterizes certain qualities and behaviors that are connected to being male or female. Media is a major source that allows people to identify themselves and understand gender roles in society. Unfortunately, a common pattern throughout fairytales is that women are both dependent on and submissive to men. The male characters are viewed as completely dominant over the female characters, and the men have significant influence on their actions. The women tend to act in ways to satisfy the men, and not reprimand them for their unjust behaviors. These stories often suggest that women cannot live happily without a male companion, indicating that women’s lives are completely molded by the presence of a male figure. This idea can give children the misconception that women are supposed to act in an obedient, passive manner towards men, and are of social positions of lesser importance. 


  1. Basile, Giambattista. 'Sun, Moon, and Talia.' The Sleeping Beauty. Edited by Jack Zipes, Penguin, 2015, pp. 78-80.
  2. Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. 'Brier Rose.' The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. Edited by Maria Tatar, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 89-91.
  3. Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. 'Cinderella.' The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. Edited by Maria Tatar, W.W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 45-54.
  4. Maity, Nandini. 'Damsels in Distress: A Textual Analysis of Gender Roles in Disney Princess Films.', 2017.
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Different Versions of Cinderella: Gender Dynamics in Fairy Tales. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 17, 2024, from
“Different Versions of Cinderella: Gender Dynamics in Fairy Tales.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
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