I get asked a lot whether Not Cinderella stems from some childhood obsession with the story of Cinderella. It doesn’t. I was never overly intrigued by her. The story didn’t stand out anymore than other Disney versions of fairy tales I had heard. But, what I did notice was her mainstay popularity in our culture and elevation to a heroine. Even today there are remnants of Cinderella’s story all over the place. Countless books that speak to waiting for your prince to rescue you and take you away. Remake after remake of the story in movie, television and book format. I have read and watched numerous versions and anytime I see a new one it catches my eye. No. I am not obsessed with the story, but as an adult I do see what is problematic about it.
You may not be hip to the fact that there are hundreds of versions of the story out there. Ones with Egyptian princesses, dancers, golden slippers, sisters getting their eyes poked out, etc. Yet, the most well known version, thanks to Disney, is based on Perrault’s Cinderella. Needless to say, it has provided me with some new fodder for the blog and a new series…When Cinderella Got It Wrong/Right. Each month, I will write a post about a few ways in which the Cinderella story has perpetuated some really bad crap and why we would be silly to uphold Cinderella as a model for women and girls alike. Likewise, what lessons we may be able to glean from the other versions of the story that are less like the Cinderella we have come to know. So, here goes.
Cinderella got it wrong when it had us follow in the footsteps of a teenager:
Does this look like a grown woman to you?
That’s right people. Cinderella is a teenager. The oldest any version ever puts her at is 19. I’m sorry, but if my 19 year old self tried to advise my current self on anything, especially men, I would slap myself. The only thing she could warn me about is making sure I keep up my body. When you put her at her proper age, some of Cinderella’s choices make sense. Why didn’t she leave when she was being mistreated? Why would she be so afraid of speaking up about the glass slipper belonging to her? Why was she running around talking to woodland creatures? Because she was a teenager. To bust your bubble further ALL Disney princesses are teens. The youngest being Snow White who was 14. When we tell young girls to be like these princesses one message we are telling them is love never matures past an idealized teenage version of itself. I don’t know about you, but my love life at 19 was reckless, confusing and lacked longevity. If Disney gave me a 30 year old sarcastic princess with many love interests and daddy issues maybe just maybe she would get my ear.
Cinderella got it wrong when they portrayed her as a helpless stupid victim:
If you ever questioned why Cinderella didn’t up and leave you’re not alone. Why would she stick around and endure such abuse? Being fair to her requires a bit of introspection. How many of us stay in situations and places not suited for us, because we feel stuck? How many of us justify why we stay? Some of us cannot attribute our stuckness to being 19 or being a victim. We merely fail to make a move. Perrault’s version says Cinderella refuses to speak up, because she is afraid of being scolded. Speaking up seems pointless to her with a father who doesn’t recognize she is being emotionally abused. Once he dies, Cinderella is even more tethered to the abusive situation. Was she stupid or playing it safe given her options? In her time (the late 17th century), she doesn’t have the same options many of us have today. She couldn’t go to college or find a job or crash on a friend’s couch. She probably very well believed her current situation would remain as such. While it may make a little sense for her to wait to be rescued the same does not go for us.
All that aside, she does make some poor decisions when she does have an option to choose better. In the Grimm version, which I prefer, her father asks what gift he can bring back from his worldly travels. While her stepsisters ask for fancy clothing she asks for the first twig that brushes against his hat. Weird request, but ok. She plants it at her dead mother’s grave and it grows into a tree. A white bird would descend on the tree and grant her wishes. For the life of me I can’t figure out why she didn’t ask for a better life. Or to attend the ball instead of asking permission from her stepmother. Or for her stepmother to choke on something. I guess she was too nice for that. Which leads me to the third wrong.
Cinderella Got it Wrong when they made her the one dimensional nice girl:
There are some people who are nice in the world. We all know them. They have gregarious personalities, seem to always be kind and have a positive disposition in life. They wake up super chipper in the morning. At times, their sweetness is as aggravating as sweet water taffy caught in a cavity ridden tooth. I know because I have met them. I know because I am not one of them. What I also know is brooding under the surface is a wild emotionally unstable beast who, when it rears its ugly head, will tear you limb from limb. Here’s the thing. Nice and kind people are not that way 100% of the time. If you ever have a conversation with the nice guy or girl they often loathe being so forgiving and nice all the time. They feel like a perpetual doormat and end up feeling like victims. They feel as if someone is taking advantage of them, because most people can never return the level of kindness and care they give out.
If you watch Cinderella again you catch subtle moments of this. Her being angry about waking up and throwing her alarm clock. Mumbling under her breath and complaining about all the chores she does. She was probably two chores away from snapping. I can think of a few places she would have liked to stick those cinders, but because her deceased mother had cautioned her to always be kind she associated her level of kindness to pleasing her. What a weight to carry. Internalizing your emotions, especially the ones you deem negative or unattractive is never healthy. Sometimes you have to let it all hang out no matter how ugly it is. It’s also way more honest.
But if you want to continue to follow in the footsteps of an emotionally unstable, nice teenager who has a difficulty making sound decisions carry on. I won’t stop you. I promise. Until next time. Oh and post your thoughts. Let’s talk.