Once upon a time, in a far away land, a girl’s father died. This would have been awful and devastating, but life would have gone on –if this girl had had a mother. Unfortunately, this girl hadn’t had much luck with family: her mum had died some years previously. Since social services were no great shakes at the time, the girl’s stepmother offered to take her on, even though she already had two daughters of her own.
It seemed like a generous offer, only it wasn’t really, as all the woman really wanted was a free cleaner. The house was the absolute pits. There was a mouse infestation and no central heating so they just lit fires instead which meant the chimney was always getting blocked. So soon enough, due to her daily battle to unblock the chimney, the stepmother re-christened her new daughter Cinderella. She was a great believer in hired help with low self esteem and she thought a name like that would crush her spirits.
It did, for a while. Things in the house were pretty screwed up. While Cinderella spent her whole time cleaning, her step sisters got to party hard. It was so unfair. What was especially unfair, though, was that the prince of the land was hosting this massive Glastonbury-level of hedonism bash and absolutely everyone in the kingdom was invited, especially the eligible laydeez. Cinderella had an invite and everything, but she knew there was no way her step mother would let her go.
On the day of the royal party, she was ironing creases into her stepmother’s blouses passive-aggressively, when a fairy appeared before her.
“Cinderella!” she boomed “I’ve looked into your heart and seen what you most desire. You shall go to the ball!”
She zapped her into a frothy meringue of a prom dress and conjured up a horse and carriage out of a pumpkin. The final touch was this incredible pair of glass heels. They hurt like crazy, but Cinderella knew she looked like manbait in them, so she was willing to suck it up and dance in them. The fairy godmother paused and looked hard at Cinderella.
“Listen, are you sure this is what your heart most desires?” she said. “I’ve got oodles and oodles of magic, but I can only grant you this one thing. Wouldn’t you like something a little more enduring than one wild night out?”
“Oh, no,” Cinderella said, “I’ve got it all figured out. I’m playing the long game with this wish, honestly I am. I’m a knockout, which is why my step-mum won’t let me go out. She doesn’t want me to win the prince’s heart, which is exactly what’s going to happen, when I slink in there with my Jessica Rabbit curves and my pillowy lips. He’ll propose and we’ll get married and then I’ll have a secure economic base and I’ll be able to pursue my hobbies – ironic cross stitch and yoga – without this cleaning nonsense getting in the way. Obviously, my looks will fade eventually, but I’ll make sure I’ve provided some heirs so I’m nice and secure.”
“Right you are. Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,” said her fairy godmother, with a suspiciously straight face.
“Oh, wait, I’d almost forgotten – a handbag!” and she zapped her a evening bag. “There’s a compact mirror inside,” she said cosily, “so you can check you don’t get red wine teeth.”
“Oh, thanks, FG. You’re the bestest.”
Some hours later, Cinderella was in the ladies’, getting her breath back. The prince had taken something and wouldn’t stop dancing, and he wouldn’t let her sit down. It turned out he was the jealous sort – he thought some other man would chat her up if he let her out of his sight. This was the only place she’d been able to escape to. If the truth were known, this guy was a bit of a hasslehoff. She could really use a breather.
There were a gaggle of girls preening round the mirror so she went to her purse to fish out the compact. To her surprise, she found there was a book in there instead. It was called The Feminine Mystique. As much as she didn’t want to be that girl, the girl who goes to nightclubs and reads something intellectual looking in the toilets, she was intrigued. She promised herself she’d just skim read a few pages and locked herself in a stall to do so. Unfortunately, it was so engaging and well-written that before she knew it, she was halfway through it and the clock was striking midnight.
“Oh noes!” Cinderella exclaimed as the dress fizzled to nothingness, leaving her in rags. Then she shrugged. She was halfway through the book, so she might as well carry on. Two hundred pages later she closed the book with a sigh of satisfaction. She thought everyone would have left by then, but when she left the toilet she found the prince loitering, waiting for her. When he saw her in rags, he looked puzzled, but he still knew who she was. He wasn’t a complete idiot.
“What’s this?” he said, gesturing at her. “Fancy dress?”
“Yeah.” Cinderella deadpanned. “There’s nothing I like better than dressing up as someone more economically deprived than myself for a laugh.”
“Me too!” he said, pleased they had so much in common. “That’s why I hang out in east London wearing scummy Vans with holes in them. Anyways, how do you feel about marrying me?”
“I mean, I thought I wanted that at the beginning of tonight. But now I realise that this stemmed from my own lack of agency – I thought the only way I could escape my circumstances was through marriage. Anyhoos, I’m not opposed to marriage per se, but given that we hardly know each other, I think it’s fair to say that you’re proposing to me for my fuckable good looks and I was going to accept for your money. In this way, our marriage would be little more than prostitution, y’knows? I just don’t think it’s going to solve anything for me. I think, much like the girls who’d just left college in The Feminine Mystique, I’m just at a loss as how to make a success out of my life and marriage seems like the easiest solution.”
“So what’re you going to do instead?” the prince asked.
“Hmm, in reality, I don’t think cleaning’s so bad, I just resent not getting paid for it. I’ve decided to open up my own cleaning company paying other orphan girl-women a fair wage and making sure they get lunch breaks and are unionised. Would you like to invest in it?”
“I don’t see why not,” the prince said amiably.
So Cinderella lived happily ever after.