Different Approaches Means Different Spin
In the academic world today, college students are often taught that scholarship of the past is heavily influenced by socio-cultural trends that have currently gone out of fashion.
Ergo, there is a great deal of criticism on scholarship of bygone eras. It's often derided as ethnocentric, sexist, elitist, and so on.
But, while contemporary scholars have been so busy skewering the scholarship that came before them, they often neglect to see that they are doing exactly that which they are criticizing past scholars for; viewing their subject through a social lens that completely colors (and sometimes distorts or even obscures) their vision.
Of course, the same can be said of anyone who studies a topic and then gives their own analysis, including myself. I would say that there's an inherent difference in what I do, but then again, who wouldn't say that?
Now, this is an opinion and you may feel free to disagree with me, but I think that spending years studying theories that are themselves based largely on opinion and conjecture (feminist theory, Freudian psychology [Freudian being specifically the branch that mainly comes from the progenitor's own musings and is not based on any demonstrable verifiable and repeatable studies, unlike some other branches of psychology like behavioral or neuro-psychology]) lends someone prone to looking for certain agendas under every nook and cranny.
For example, Bruno Bettelheim's "The Uses of Enchantment; The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales" offers some very deep insight; BUT it is rife with heavy Freudian interpretation which looks for sexual symbolism everywhere. And, although I hate to use this term due to over-use by feminist theory, I found his outlook to be misogynistic at times.
Critical approaches are taught at the upper levels of literature specialization in university. And students are taught how to apply a feminist approach, or say the "Marxist critical theory" which searches to find class and race issues.
There are many other approaches to critical theory. But, what these approaches literally do is teach students to look for specific socio-political agendas that have become trendy in the modern era in any kind of literature from any culture at any time.
In other words, it trains students to apply contemporary politics and point of view upon literature created in completely different social-political climates.
But, thus far, my impression is that he is very much influenced by such feminist and Marxist approaches. In other words, very much a product of the political climate of the current epoch in academia which fostered and formulated his viewpoint. So, again, the modern reader must always be able to separate facts presented from personal opinion and spin.
I'm sure there are those to whom paganism is an uncomfortable topic, and so they may accuse me of looking for paganism in these texts.
However, when clear connections to deities from myth turn up with overwhelming evidence that they are memories of these figures, from the imagery to the linguistics, or when a supernatural being comes from "Elphame" which is a linguistic cognate to the Norse mythical realm of "Alfheim," or when a young girl literally prays and recites incantations while kneeling at a tree and then an animal appears who represents the soul of her mother and guides her along her life journey...
I don't think I am imagining ties to mythology and animism here!
Cinderella and Gender
The feminist view of fairy tales has become so pervasive in popular media today that I have no doubt that everyone reading has heard the criticisms of fairy tale princesses being presented as "helpless damsels in distress who need a prince to rescue them."
There has been a bad attitude projected that claims that women in fairy tales are shown to be pathetic anti-feminists with nothing going for them other than what a man could give them.
It should quickly be noted that there are many tales which feature a male protagonist in the fairy tale tradition. In the Fairy Tales Series, so far we've discussed "Per Gynt" and "Thomas the Rhymer."
When I first began pouring through tales, Per Gynt was the first male focused story that jumped out at me.
Because that tale features a self-determined male who solves his own problems by relying on his own strength to overcome obstacles, without even the aid of any supernatural assistance, I wondered if this was a recurring difference between male and female oriented fairy tales.
The tale of "Thomas the Rhymer" demonstrated a situation where the male figure was at the complete mercy of a female supernatural figure.
In the end, he was granted rewards that made him renowned throughout the land by this female figure, although he was then oathed to return to her when she would call him in the future.
Thomas the Rhymer's tale demonstrated that the idea that the woman is always the weaker or dependent party in the folk tradition simply isn't true. But, it also ties into another observation on gender that I will return to in just a moment.
In addition, rather than help just coming from out of the blue, in each case Aschenputtel asks, or more pointedly, she commands or directs the forces of nature to assist her.
Yes, the means is magical, but the story clearly depicts Cinderella as a person with agency who takes control and action over her destiny. The exact same situation played out in Fairy Tales Vol I, "The Three Heads of the Well."
To go back to the other point brought up by the Thomas tale, there is another modern notion about gender that seems to be confronted as I continue to study these tales.
But, the tale of Thomas the Rhymer has remained a favorite for literally hundreds of years and nobody was ever bothered by the male figure being under the control of a more powerful female being.
Modern Gender Battles Miss the Point
In her book, "The Brothers Grimm and Their Critics," Christa Kamenestky cites a German author, Sigrid Früh, who not only opposes the idea that Grimms' female protagonists were demure and passive, but also makes a very important observation about the behavior of men both traditionally and within the fairy tale tradition.
In the Grimms' version, Aschenputtel attends the ball for three nights instead of one. And on each occasion, the prince sees her but she disappears from his sight, and so he searches for her.
Finally, he comes to her home seeking her out; where he finds her in her degraded station wearing only rags. When she fits the slipper, he gets down on bended knee to ask her to marry him.
But, unlike both the feminist or patriarchal attitudes we see playing tug of war over gender roles, the prince does not have any problem coming to Cinderella on her own terms.
In fact, he lowers himself to his knee to ask her to be his wife, which is in essence an act of submission pleading for her acquiescence.
So, not only is he a man, but he is also the most powerful man in the land. He has women falling at his feet, but he came to Cinderella's lower status domicile and put himself in a submissive position to ask her to be with him.
This hardly fits the feminist interpretation. It also hardly fits the angry power-obsessed patriarchal attitude going around in opposition to feminism at the moment.
So, the story of Cinderella also gives us an important lesson about marriage that many modern people are lacking today.
By leaving his palace to see Cinderella in her own home where she is debased by her family, wearing rags, covered in ashes, the prince is forced to see her separate from his first impression of a fantasy woman.
In other words, he sees her with warts and all and accepts her just the same. In today's culture of failed marriages, it would help if young couples had this message driven home before they made their vows.
Your partner will not be perfect, do not go into a marriage expecting that.
By obsessing over "feminism" and "patriarchy," we're keeping ourselves in a perpetual state of tug of war. Cinderella teaches us that going with our natural rhythms of gender specific behavior can allow us to reach a state of harmony.