1 December 2000
Cinderella with the Prince… : Towards a Partnership Model
and our Potentialities — Living Happily Ever After
by Rebecca Duncan
As human beings, as animals, we are each other’s worst enemy. Our innate programming for individual survival seems to underpin our perspective on the nature of life and how, in fact, we live it. We have religions, philosophers, social scientists, economists, governments, political scientists, politicians, scientists and many more to tell or teach us of life’s purpose, nature, or the rules by which to govern ourselves, yet, the quest for survival dominates us all. In turn, we dominate whatever we can, as if to assure ourselves by this ability that we will then survive after all, being one peg higher than another. What we do to survive might destroy us in the end.
We dominate and control by force or manipulation and by matter of degree, relative to one’s level of awareness. Sometimes we are the dominated and the controlled. The planet is virtually exploding with war, torture, pollution, violence, suffering, tyranny, disease, poverty, crime and misery. It is filled with victims and oppressors. There exists at all levels of society the oppression and manipulation of the individual, group, race, gender, religion, planet, money and power. Rarely does the power to control anything play itself out to the benefit of the common good—the good of all concerned, but rather it is commandeered for the good of one person, group, family, class, gender, or one nation over another. Sometimes, by allowing ourselves to be controlled—by playing our assigned roles, within this system, we are at least temporarily assured of our continued survival as we are rewarded for compliance.
Mythology is an expression of common and complex paradigms in life. The telling of stories that in the hearing or reading of them allows us to engage their meanings and to learn from them. An alternative to expanding our awareness is to become engaged in their illusions, escaping to the respite, the excitement and the hope of fantasy. Louise Bernikow in her essay, “Cinderella: Saturday Afternoon at the Movies”, writes of the realities lurking between the words and behind the story of the fairy tale, Cinderella. She writes to move women away from destructive illusions, specifically those related to gender. She reveals illusion pertaining not only to women, but to men as well. Her analysis goes even further in that it provokes thoughts of how as humans we dominate, objectify, and willfully cause suffering to one another in our quest for survival. We frantically look outside of ourselves to find solutions, while we continue to play the same old roles, by the same old rules. We give away the very power we each have, becoming but objects in the drama of life, be it played out on the family, career, national or international planetary stages. One way we do this is to objectify most components and people in our lives and we allow others to objectify us.
Objectification allows us to detach from our emotions severing us from our feelings, and therefore, our drive and capacity to assist one another. Without a healthy connection to all of the parts that make us human, we operate from our fears, needs and wounds, bypassing our potential. We focus our compassion and efforts on those who support us, which brings into question whether this is compassion or kindness at all or simply manipulation to hold or raise our own (and those which we view as extensions of ourselves) positions. Failing to use the immensity of our beings, we kill ourselves softly , and in time it seems, one another. Those secure in their worldly power—in their dominance—buy into the illusion, and those acted upon hope and wait to be rescued from the reality of it. Others are somewhere in between. For some, this works much better than for others, however for many, it does not work out at all.
Cinderella was indeed rescued—that is of course if sublimating oneself to a role and an object to be restored to an appropriate rank and class is what life is really about. The Prince too becomes an object, as source of power, wealth, and position. If life is simply survival of the fittest, then the Prince and Cinderella likely survived very well. If life is about discovering a power and talents within us that do not exploit and rather give to all, then the story of Cinderella is a sad story indeed. The story reveals how two people, as rescuer and rescued, or in the acceptance of objectified roles, trade away their potential and in so doing the dominator model is perpetuated. What we call love is really manipulation—simply a quest for power, wealth and survival—as we see it. It is a projection from the actor’s needs rather than their hearts, similar to what economic policy is to an economist. One is ‘loved’ only for the role they play and the benefits they can offer. This presents a very limited and limiting perspective on life, love, and loving at every level.
Each of us, at some primal level, views one’s self in relation to their survival in the world. If surviving (a relative term) means we must kill parts of ourselves off— subdue our intelligence, our instincts, our hearts, our beliefs, our potentials, our uniqueness, our visions and all that we know to occupy a favorable position in the food chain of life—to fit into the roles assigned to us—the glass slippers—we will in time for sure, kill off ourselves and perhaps ultimately, one another. Duped into complicity and into our roles by this primal will to survive, we choreograph our lives to this end. We arrange and manipulate the people and props of our lives relative to the power we have. In our roles, juxtaposed against a backdrop of illusion, we ignore if we can, the realities of mass suffering all over the world. We are at war within ourselves; we are at war without—caught in a conflict between truth and illusion. It is only in the objectification of things that we can watch, read, or ignore the events of the world and carry on as if they are not happening. Only in this way can we tolerate the horrors being acted out upon this planet—the things we do to one another. Only in this way can women (or men) treat one another so terribly as the stepmother and stepsisters oppress, degrade and humiliate Cinderella. We do much worse. As one example, are the mothers of pubescent girls that perform the debilitating, painful, degrading, unnecessary, controlling act of genital mutilation on their daughters, throughout the world today. Bernikow points out, it is mothers that bind and break their daughters feet as toddlers in China so they are controllable and therefore, appealing to a man (366). Man at the centre as the “King, arbiter of the world of women” (Berkinow 366). He represents not himself, but the power of the Kingdom (365).
Ana Veciana-Suarez is concerned that her son’s will grow-up limited by the roles so often assigned to men (380). For example, the role of males as being “insensitive brutes . . . [manipulating] women and subjugating them in marriage” (380) concerns her in light of loving and raising three sons. In her essay, “Thank Heaven for Little Boys” she asks, “[s]ince when did masculinity become synonymous with macho” (380)? This is not who or what men are, but rather a long-standing role men have played within this survival and dominator model, however, men could not do this alone; females have played the other part of this dance. It has become one way men and women objectify one another. Together we have created both the Cinderellas’ and the Princes’ of the world. Together we have created evil stepmothers, evil stepsisters and macho men. Together we have created class, poverty, and the social and economic structures that maintain them.
Cinderella, as servant to her stepmother and stepsister is “waiting to be discovered… [because] a girl who keeps her place will be rewarded with male favor” (Bernikow 364). She dreams of a man coming to save her from her lowly, classless plight (360). Cinderella “has no will, she initiates no action…she is . . .[without passion], suffering and good” (363)–controllable by any measure. Women of power throughout time—
so-called witches—were burned (363) providing a definite deterrent to self-empowerment. Of course, they still are, only not usually with fire , but rather politics, economics, policy, exile, stereotyping, tradition and social stratification by the many gatekeepers at every level of society, both male and female.
Bernikow reminds us that “history, experience, and literature are full of landless, propertyless women trying to secure marriage…against poverty, displacement and exile, both actual and psychological” (365). Other women cannot be trusted or looked upon for help because “one of the ways women exercise their power, the story tells us is by degrading other women” (365). Real life tells us this too. All too often women turn on their sisters by locking the gateways to opportunity. In this tale, the women use their power to force Cinderella to dress as a pauper and to do their work, which in the context of the times strips a woman of her femininity (Bernikow 365). Meanwhile, the stepmother and sisters preen themselves, making ready to compete for survival, power and position—a man—at the ball. In real life, Karla Homolka participated in the rape, torture and murder of her younger sister. She complied with these acts for the favour of her husband Paul Bernardo in Ontario in the mid-nineties.
These paradigms are everywhere—what differentiate them is not gender alone, but primarily the degree to which one needs to dominate or believes they must submit, repress, comply and be dominated. Gender is simply one of the ways by which we do this. This method of sharing resources and a planet is not working. It causes immense suffering and can bring about our collective demise. We need to do better—to evolve—to move from domination to partnership. We need to recognize that our ability to survive can only come from helping one another. First, we must look deeply within ourselves. Then we must act differently. In this way, we can live happily ever after. The potential is there. What will we do with it?
Bernikow, Louise. Cinderella: “Saturday Afternoon at the Movies.” Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Readings across the Disciplines, 2nd ed. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt, 2000. 360- 367. Veciana-Suarez, Ana. “Thank Heaven for Little Boys.” Perspectives on Contemporary Issues: Readings across the Disciplines, 2nd ed. Ed. Katherine Anne Ackley. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt, 2000. 380-381.