Right on, sister Cinderella

13th May 2005 at 01:00
In Hampshire, primary and infant schoolchildren are studying Cinderella in the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989. Oh, joy! A reporter listening in heard bright little mites saying "They kept her in a cellar and made her work like a slave, which infringed Article 19" and "Her stepmother denied her right to be protected from abuse" and opining that she should have gone to the ball under Article 31 "because children have a right to play".

Apparently the children love it and Hampshire, which imported the idea from Canada, says it will transform their behaviour. In one exercise, children are encouraged to write a letter to the police complaining about the way in which Cinderella is being neglected. What will happen when they over-enthusiastically post the letter to the Southampton police station I dread to think.

Several thoughts spring unbidden from this fertile soil, the first being that it seems a bit sad if modern children can't see the evils of cruelty without banging a clause number on to it. In our day, wicked stepmothers were just wicked, and no one sent us to look up the precise clause under which they were infringing an international treaty. But let that pass. The second thought is what a brilliant wheeze it is to teach children their 42 basic rights, not least because they might notice that these rights do not include a constant supply of high-fashion trainers, TV in the bedroom, photophones, personal DVD players or pound;50 tickets to upmarket moppet discos.

But the third thought is simply what swampy ground they are on with Cinderella. This is dynamite. I can't believe they have reached the end of the story yet, or there would be howls of confusion from Hampshire night and day.

Consider. The first bit is straightforward enough: Cinders suffers discrimination (Article 2) and it is unlikely that sleeping in the grate and eating crusts conforms with the safety and nutritional standards established by the competent authorities in Articles 3 and 24. Her right to evolve her capacities (Article 5) and to express herself in art or print (Article 13) is clearly infringed. If you can count a palace ball as "peaceful assembly" then the sisters have got a problem with denying it to her in Article 15.

But then she gets taken off to the ball by the fairy godmother (and I am not at all happy about the safety standards of any coach drawn by mice - I used to keep mice, and those little bleeders have a will of their own). She is also dressed up in a ballgown not of her own choosing, which you could interpret as obscure "sexual exploitation" under Article 34; and then once she gets to the ball and meets the prince, things grow murkier still.

Discrimination is outlawed under the UN convention, whether on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religion, politics, ethnic origin, property, disability, birth or any other status. Yet Cinderella is chosen by the prince on the hatefully discriminatory grounds that she is, physically, golden-haired and more beautiful than the day. He whirls her round in his arms all evening.

The rights of pig-ugly girls who might rightfully have hoped for a dance with HRH are trampled under her delicate glass slipper (which incidentally is a disgracefully dangerous piece of footwear. And don't tell me that vair means fur in the original French, because I know that, and I don't want to get into animal rights here, or we could be at it all day).

No sooner has she been complicit in undermining the self-esteem and status of uglier girls, including her stepsisters (who were possibly victims of depression owing to their hideous faces) than she flees home, and waits for her prince to come back and start discriminating again, with his unpardonable prejudice in favour of tiny feet. The sisters then hack off their toes and make themselves disabled - which obviously should not count against them under Article 1 - and are thus suffering, in non-compliance with Article 2, a discriminatory punishment on the basis of their "expressed opinions and beliefs" that Cinderella is a scullion, not to mention their ugly faces.

Cinderella, in short, has sided with the oppressor, a prince whose only claim to lord it over womenfolk is his high birth.

Frankly, the whole thing stinks. Hampshire, be warned. You might do better with Little Red Riding Hood, as long as you change the ending so that the wolf goes to an animal sanctuary and her parents are arrested for letting her cross the forest alone and encouraging the grandmother to eat high-cholesterol foods.

Or you could, of course, ignore the wild old stories altogether and write your own. What do you mean, they might be dull?

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