Despite the rise in feminism during the last few decades and the increased efforts to treat men and women equally, it is impossible to ignore the differences between genders. To do so would be unproductive and foolish. However, gross generalizations and stereotypes about men and women are just as dangerous. Fortunately these have become less prevalent as more opportunities are available for both sexes, but they continue to abound in various forms, including the stories we tell our children.
. . .[two intervening paragraphs briefly summarizing Rowe and arguing for the power of folk tales]…
The basic story of Cinderella consists of a young girl who is oppressed by her stepmother and stepsisters but is able to escape this oppression with the aid of a magic guide and a man who falls in love with her. Aside from being set in Appalachian America during World War II, Tom Davenport’s short film Ashpet is no different than your typical Cinderella story. The heroine of the story, Lilly (a.k.a. Ashpet), lives with her stepmother and her two stepsisters who do their best to make “Ashpet’s” life miserable. When there is a dance held for the soldiers going off to war, Lilly wants to go but her stepsisters leave her at home. With the help of her “Aunt Sally,” Lilly goes to the dance and falls in love with a handsome soldier, William. The next day William tries to find her and the two are reunited. William must go off to war but her returns after the war and they get married. This adaptation of Cinderella just as clearly exemplifies Karen Rowe’s major points as any other through its focus on female dependency, its representation of “desirable” traits in a woman, and its use of marriage as an escape from hardship.
In Karen Rowe’s short essay, “Feminism and Fairy Tales” Rowe expresses her concern for how many fairy tales portray young women as passive, unintelligent and dependent on men. She argues that the heroines of these childhood tales depict women merely as mindless objects waiting for marriage. Although many interpretations of fairly tales, namely Cinderella, support Rowe’s objections to fairy tales, Tom Davenport’s adaptation of Cinderella, “Ashpet” does not. In “Ashpet”, Lily is able to act independent and actively to find her own happiness.
In her article, “Feminism and Fairy Tales,” literary critic, Karen Rowe asserts that fairy tales are detrimental to women, as they confine them to a future characterized by patriarchy, submission, and passivity. She states that “fairy tales perpetuate the patriarchal status quo by making female subordination seem a romantically desirable, indeed an inescapable fate” (H&K, 342). Tom Davenport’s short film entitled “Ashpet,” however, opposes Rowe’s assertions as it depicts a protagonist who through the help of her godmother becomes a well-rounded woman. Davenport’s film manages to steer away from the stereotypical fairytale path, and opposes Rowe’s thesis, as he creates a rendition of Cinderella that celebrates intelligence, encourages women to be self-assertive, and proposes that true transformation is not based on magic, but instead on self-discovery.
The fairy tale of Cinderella is one that has been translated, edited, analyzed, criticized, told, and depicted thousands of times. It is commonly remembered as the story of a sweet, innocent young girl unfairly forced into a lifetime of servitude by her evil stepmother until the day she is sent to the ball by her fairy godmother, finds her prince, and, most famously, lives happily ever after. In “Feminism and Fairy Tales,”, Karen Rowe analyzes the social connotations that this story, along with many other fairy tales, has on women. Rowe presents the argument that tales like Cinderella “exalt passivity, dependency, and self-sacrifice as a female’s cardinal virtues” (342). Thomas Davenport’s Ashpet, a 1989 theatrical version of Cinderella, presents a typical Cinderella-like protagonist, meanly nicknamed Ashpet, who initially supports the feminist arguments of Rowe through her passivity, lack of self-assertiveness, and dependence. It is this dependence on a fairy godmother of sorts, however, that creates a greater outcome of self-confidence and assurance, an idea that opposes the feminist viewpoint of Rowe. Davenport’s creation of a passive girl who undertakes the constant demands of her stepmother and stepsisters, depends upon her Aunt to force her into action, and is only pronounced happy when she marries, objectifies women in many of the ways Rowe describes in her essay. While this may be true, Davenport allows his heroine to break the typical Cinderella mold of Rowe’s article by transforming into a strong, assertive, confident young woman that stands up to her stepsisters, acknowledges herself as the owner of the shoe, and ultimately kisses her prince charming.