Sunway Says: Reclaiming Cinderella

Cinderella has recently received a lot of negative attention due to the notion that Cinderella is an anti-feminist and not an appropriate role model for young girls. The 1950’s movie has been used as a straw man argument that Disney princesses are not good role models for girls. However, this is all a misconception if we take a closer look at the actual movie.

The movie Cinderella is often assumed to be a story of a weak and passive woman who has to be rescued by Prince Charming, and subsequently becomes a rich, happy princess and lives a luxurious life due to pure dumb luck and a pretty face. By painting Cinderella as a damsel in distress ignores the context of her life and blames the victim of emotional and physical abuse for being unable to escape her situation. This ostensible view dilutes what is actually an empowering message at the heart of Cinderella. This is not a story of a young and dashing prince who saved a helpless and beautiful woman; it’s about a woman who faced adversity and chose kindness and optimism over meanness and pessimism. Cinderella used her own creativity and imagination to rescue herself from a toxic family. 

In addition, the mass media does advertise a negative and problematic princess culture of toxic and unrealistic beauty standards which further enforces the notion that a happy ending is equivalent to a rich prince rescuing you and a diamond ring on your finger. Nonetheless, the tendency to label Cinderella as just a damsel in distress and a controversial role model for young girls is in fact sexist. 

Cinderella’s main personality traits—kindness, warmth and optimism—are stereotypically feminine and the fact that Cinderella did not stand up against her abusers in a typical masculine way (through aggression and schemes) prompts the audience to disregard Cinderella. This opinion is on some levels buying into the masculine standards of strength. By enforcing the notion that Cinderella’s traits of patience, kindness and passivity are not ‘good enough’, we would be devaluing femininity and further strengthening the power imbalance between both genders. 

Through all her abuse, Cinderella remained gentle and optimistic of her future as she possessed the sheer inner strength and imagination to conjure her fairy godmother: a maternal supportive figure that she lacked in her life. Cinderella’s fairy godmother is a visual representation of her determination to mother herself and move forward in life, which taught her to survive in an impossible situation. 

Even though Cinderella did not physically remove and save herself from a toxic environment (a masculine approach), Cinderella mentally freed herself, rose above her toxic environment and developed a coping mechanism to survive, which enabled her to thrive to a certain degree. Each magical transformation that we saw the fairy godmother perform was a display of Cinderella’s hidden potential. The magical transformations symbolize how imagination, hope and dreams can help us overcome oppression. Cinderella’s resilience, resourcefulness and positivity enabled her to gain independence. 

Therefore, simply dismissing Cinderella as a role model due to her feminine approach is in fact anti-feminist, as feminism is the ideal that everyone should be treated equally no matter their gender. Ergo, just because Cinderella does not possess masculine traits does not make her a bad role model. However, realistically speaking, in order to be a complete and well-rounded individual, we must attain certain degrees of both masculine and feminine traits, as they are in a spectrum and should not be specifically observed as binary traits.

By: Kevvel Kaur Tewana

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