In honour of International Women’s Day and Disney 100, our writer dives deep into Cinderella, debunks the misconceptions and highlights the lessons he’s learned from the animated film.
During my childhood, I watched Cinderella every day – at times more than once per day. She was my introduction to Disney world and its princesses. But as I grew older, I was exposed to the rhetoric that Cinderella is anti-feminist, holding back women’s progress and gender equality, and not a good role model to look up to.
This discourse blatantly dismisses Cinderella as a weak, passive individual, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m here to tell you the lessons I’ve learned from her – and what you should know, too…
Life lessons learned from Cinderella, the second Disney princess
1. Stop blaming the victim
Cinderella is a product of her circumstances. Her mother passed away when she was a child, and shortly after, she lost her father. She’s abused by her stepmother and stepsisters. This was mentioned at the start of the animated film – “Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house.” Even Lucifer, the family’s cat, is disdainful of her.
As viewers, it’s easy to question why Cinderella didn’t just up and leave her stepfamily. Unfortunately, it’s not as clear-cut as that. Leaving can be more complicated than it seems, and Cinderella knows it. Also, it’s unfair to presume that abuse victims should fight back. Instead, we should ask Lady Tremaine and her daughters their rationale for abusing Cinderella.
2. She faces adversity by remaining true to her values
Despite her traumatic upbringing, Cinderella’s values never waver. She remains kind, caring, and optimistic – traits that people have long associated with someone, women in particular, who’s weak, passive, and feminine. But isn’t this thinking rather sexist? Regardless of gender, everyone should embody Cinderella’s traits.
She also possesses a wonderful imagination, which has helped her remain steadfast in surviving her stepfamily’s physical and emotional abuse. Cinderella’s imagination also comes in handy when she needs to spruce up the pink dress for the ball. We have to applaud her for her creativity and resourceful!
3. Cinderella’s got sass
Lest you think she’s a one-dimensional character, Cinderella also possesses a cheeky trait, which is not always expected of Disney princesses in the olden era. This is evident especially in her scenes with Lucifer, when she refers to him as “your majesty” and lets the door bump into him when he takes too long to leave the room. Cinderella also pushes a bird off her bed because it wakes her from her slumber. The nerve!
4. She has agency over her life
Another assumption everyone has about Cinderella – because she chooses to stay with her stepfamily, she has no control over her life. But this is not wholly true. When it is announced that everyone is invited to the ball, Cinderella informs her stepmother and stepsisters that she plans to attend too. This is the only time she successfully stands her ground against her abusers. That’s a two-for-one combo!
Her decision to attend the ball also has nothing to do with meeting the prince. She just wants a night off from her duties. Who doesn’t want that? Cinderella has never had the chance to let her hair down. Give the girl a break.
Of course, her (original) plan is derailed when Lady Tremaine orders her daughters to rip Cinderella’s dress to shred. Which is, in itself, ganging up and a violent assault, by the way. Cinderella stood no chance.
5. The prince is never a major factor in Cinderella’s story
Speaking of the prince, let’s get another thing straight – he never actively rescues Cinderella from her predicament. She rescues herself. When she gets to the palace, she is more enamoured of her surroundings and excited to explore a place outside her home. It’s the prince who saw her and went off to approach her.
They dance before she has to run off, as it’s already midnight! She’s oblivious that she’s been dancing with the prince the whole time! “Oh, the prince. I haven’t met the prince,” she claims before going off.
When the prince makes it his mission to find “the girl with the glass slipper”, Cinderella uses that as her opportunity to escape. Getting married to the prince is a bonus. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s the prince who falls in love at first sight with Cinderella.
6. It’s okay to ask for help
It’s an admirable thing to be independent and self-reliant. However, there’s no shame in asking for help. When Cinderella thinks she’s lost her chance at attending the ball, her imagination conjures up the Fairy Godmother, who uses magic to transform Cinderella and her animal friends. Cinderella would probably just be crying her eyes out if not for the fairy.
When Lady Tremaine locks Cinderella in her room and runs off with the key, Cinderella manages to enlist the help of her animal friends to retrieve the key and let her out. The assistance her friends render is the key (pun wholly intended) to her escape and rescue. Imagine if she didn’t have her friends… I shudder to think.
Do you still think Cinderella is weak and passive?
Since the film’s release, criticism towards the character has primarily been a simplified interpretation. It undervalues qualities such as kindness and optimism, believing them to be simple-minded and naive. In truth, these qualities are a lot harder to practise. And while the film may not be perfect, it’s unfair to assume it’s anti-feminist. Just because the lead character doesn’t take on masculine traits does not make her weak and passive.
At the end of the day, this is a story of a feminine and strong protagonist who escapes her abusive situation by choosing to be kind and optimistic, and never relying on a man to swoop in and rescue her. These are the qualities that all of us should personify, especially in today’s world.
So remember, folks – be like Cinderella. Have courage and be kind.