Study Guide

Cinderella Women and Femininity

By Anne Sexton

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Women and Femininity

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart. (6-8)

The key line here is the second one, which characterizes the nursemaid as a "luscious sweet"—kind of an objectifying term, if you ask us. It turns the woman into something for consumption, and the "some" makes her just one of many, as if her individuality didn't matter. Moreover, it seems that her "sweetness" (in terms of looks, not personality) is the only thing that gets her ahead.

Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife. (41-43)

The whole "marriage market" thing is possibly one of the most cynical moments in the whole poem. It portrays the women at the ball as mere objects for a man to choose among. Women here, as a gender, can do nothing more than to marry into money. There's certainly no implication that they could get ahead on their own.

Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps. (77-78)

The important phrase here, we think, is "for keeps," an expression that implies eternal possession. Prior to this passage, the prince has covered the steps of his palace with wax in order to try to trap Cinderella—or at least, her shoe. (This sounds more like a trap for an animal than a girl, right?) So he gets her shoe and then basically thinks "Okay, now I've got her for good." It's not exactly the most romantic thing in the world, when you think about it. Cinderella, as a woman, is again being seen as a kind of object.

but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper. (82-83)

So, if you're a girl, have you ever done anything uncomfortable for the sake of looking good? Wearing heels, perhaps, or squeezing into some form-fitting jeans? How about cutting off your toe? No? Good! That's kind of a ridiculous (and gruesome) length to go to for beauty, we think. And we also think it exemplifies the way in which women in "Cinderella" want a husband more than anything else in the world. So much, in fact, that they're willing to spill their own blood. Yuck.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor (95-96)

More cynical portrayal of gender roles here. Even after mutilating themselves, and even though they are part of a wealthy family, the sisters must come and try to get back into the good graces of their stepsister. Why, you ask? Because they want wealthy husbands too! This moment casts men and women in some pretty grim gender roles: men as controllers of destiny, women as subservient.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case (100-102)

Here it seems as if the "happy" couple has been frozen in their just-married state—she the blushing bride, he the proud prince. That sounds great until you think about the fact that it never gives either of them the chance to change over time. They're stuck in their stereotypically-gendered positions, forever and ever. Depressing.

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