Saturday, May 21, 2005

Let's Ban Cinderella

Banned Books Week is September 24 to October 1, 2005. This is an event promoted by the American Library Association (ALA) with the positive message that "Free People Read Freely". Nevertheless, the American Library Association receives "challenges". These are requests to remove or restrict materials from a curriculum or library based upon the objections of a person or a group. Last year the ALA received 574 challenges. Challenges differ from banning in that banning is the removal of those materials.

The challenged books are most often challenged for offensive language, homosexuality, witchcraft, and sexual content. Among the books that were challenged in the last ten years are: "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck. "Harry Potter" by J.K. Rowling. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker. "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding. "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain. I have read all of these books. Most of the books were on my list of "books that must be read before enrolling in college". The list was compiled by my middle school English teacher in the 1970's. I wonder how it is possible that a list of books considered required reading for those seeking higher education has now become a list of books that many would like to see banned? I wonder, who are these people?

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, including me. So if a large group of people want to ban books that are considered classics, then it is only right that I should pick some books that I believe should be banned. As a hypothetical exercise, I thought about the book that has done the most damage to society over time, and should therefore, in the interest of public policy, be banned. It seems right to me that we should have some reason for banning books.

My reason is public policy. My book to be banned is "Cinderella".

Cinderella is in the public domain. Cinderella is folklore, a fairy tale. There are some 345 variations on the Cinderella story. Cinderella is multimedia; Disney has a Cinderella film. There are two Cinderella ballets; there are even more Cinderella operas. So banning all instances of Cinderella will be a monumental undertaking. Considering all the damage Cinderella has done, though, it must be eradicated.

What are the fundamental messages of Cinderella?

(1) If your mother dies when you are a young girl, and your father remarries, you will have big problems.

(2) Your new mother and her offspring will treat you as a servant and abuse you in other ways and your father will do nothing.

(3) If you are a young woman, your goal in life is to marry a prince. If that means cutting off your toe or cutting off your heel so that you can meet the prince's requirements, then you need to maim yourself.

(4) It is the natural course of young women to fight and abuse each other in order to win over the most desirable man.

(5) If you marry a young man of very high rank, you will be set up for life.

I find all of these messages objectionable for all sorts of reasons. The clear amalgamation of the messages: give up control of your life to a man who will take care of everything for you.

No one should give up control of their life to another person.

Although there are certainly many men who would do their best to love and provide for the woman in their life, it is best to have a back-up plan and an exit strategy in case things don't work out.

Sadly, many women have believed in the Cinderella story and found themselves:

  • Pregnant and alone.
  • Homeless.
  • Responsible for small children as a result of desertion.
  • Physically and/or sexually abused.

Now... how did this happen? Where was that prince?

It seems apparent that most men are not familiar with the Cinderella story, or, they don't identify with and model their behavior after the prince. Or, they don't relate to the story at all because the prince has such a tiny role and the story is primarily about Cinderella and the injustices done to her.

Cinderella's problem is not so much the wicked stepmother and step sisters, but rather her own father who has no backbone and will not defend her and stand up for her with the stepmother and step sisters. Given that her own father has let her down, it seems irrational that Cinderella should be so quick to hook up with the prince. Who knows if the prince is going to love and protect her? Perhaps the prince will be as weak as her father.

Although the story ends with Cinderella marrying the prince, if the story were to continue, I think we would find Cinderella has traded in one bad situation for another. If we examine her character we see that she is passive and depressed (over the death of her mother). She is not standing up for herself. She is not setting boundaries. She has not even asked her father to intercede. She goes to a ball and is swept off her feet by a handsome man. She knows nothing about him. She completely trusts that he will take care of her. In short, Cinderella is stupid. The definition of stupidity is engaging in the same behavior twice and expecting different results. The first time was with her father; the second time with the prince. If and when she finds herself in another abusive situation, what is Cinderella's back-up plan? What is her exit strategy?

There are no answers to that question in the Cinderella story and that is our public policy problem.

If Cinderella had a good education, some experience, some marketable skills, and some connections, she could probably take care of herself. She would not have to be dependent on the prince. She would have more self-esteem and confidence.

The public policy message we need to promote is: learn how to take care of yourself and then take care of yourself! When young women get the opposite message: give up control of your life to a man who will take care of everything for you -- the result is a public policy failure. When things do not work out, our society pays the price for the non-existent prince. These women need public assistance or get low paying jobs. They cannot provide for their children. They cannot control their children who get into trouble. They get caught in the downward spiral of poverty and crime. All the while obsessing and dreaming about a fairytale prince who is simply that -- a fairytale.

So let's ban Cinderella. Let's print some extra copies of the essay "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson.