Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cinderellas and Handsome Princes

The other day as I was reading a post over on sports babel about Cinderella stories in sport. Of course I had heard the fairy tale reference applied to sport before--most recently the movie Cinderella Man--but I hadn't really pondered the reference until now. (Why now--who knows.) Admittedly I have not gone searching out the etymology of the phrase. Maybe I will later but right now--untainted by actualy research--I am curious as to how such a very feminine reference came to be used favorably in men's sports. Usually anything feminine is used in a disparaging way in men's sports (and some of this has carried over to women's sports now too--yeah progress?!) For example, I frequently hear and hear about coaches calling players "girls" or "sissies" and other misogynist and homophobic lovelies. So has Cinderella been so well-received or at least never questioned? Like I said, I don't the answer because I don't know the history of how it came into being. (Though my guess is some commentator at some point used it and it stuck.)
This all lead me to wonder how this applies to women's sports. We still use the term--I assume though I can't recall a specific moment when I heard it--to speak of women's teams. I am sure it will get thrown around as March Madness begins this weekend. What does it mean to take such a gendered term that has been used (uncritically?) in men's sports and apply it women's sports. I am saying that it is wrong. I am just wondering what the implications are for this application. Usually it seems like despite the many similarities we like to keep men's and women's sports separate using various strategies (like calling female teams the Lady ____ or the ____ettes) but I haven't ever heard female come from behind teams called the Handsome Princes. I watched last year's tournament where the Liberty made a good run and no one ever said "Wow--what a handsome prince story this is." I wonder what Liberty founder Jerry Falwell would have thought of that!


Anonymous said...

I don't think Handsome Prince is an apt analogy. A Handsome Prince is supposed to come out on top. A team that pulls off a few upsets(Liberty in 2005) is not. Rather, a low-seeded team is like a scullery maid who's not even supposed to be "at the dance" at all, let alone walking away with the grand prize.

Perhaps we should be pondering why there is no apt male analogy to the Cinderella concept.

I agree, though, that it is interesting why a concept that is so otherwise detached from the cultural mythology of men (never a Cinderella, always a Prince) is coopted so regularly in the masculine enterprise of sport.

Anonymous said...

Great question, Ken. For that matter, I will add that the media (CBS) usually refers to "the dance" when discussing the men's hoops tournament. Also, the quarterfinal round is known as the "Sweet Sixteen", a term that comes from a young girl's 16th birthday and her emergence into womanhood.

There are apt male analogies to the Cinderella concept -- "Rudy" immediately comes to mind -- yet she persists.