When I was young, my favorite Disney princess was always Cinderella. Something about her personality always made me admire her, and her dress was always a plus, too. But as I grew into my teens, and in recent years, I have seen many critics and feminists argue that Cinderella is a passive, weak, and anti feminist princess who simply relies upon a prince to come to the rescue and save all of her problems; this is, in fact, false. Cinderella is a strong character for many reasons: her honorable character traits, her never ending abuse and how she deals with it, and how (in fact) she actually saves herself in the end.
To start, let’s first assess the environment in which Cinderella is forced to endure and how they relate to her honorable character traits. In the opening monologue/narration of the film, it states that, “Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own home.”
From the words of author Frances Saldinger, Cinderella’s stepmother was, “as cruel as cruel could be.” Cinderella is forced to do her stepmother and two stepsisters’ chores for years of her life. With both of her parents passed on, she has no choice but to endure this physical and mental abuse.
Now, when critics try to argue that Cinderella is a weak character by not retaliating against her step-family, they are simply misreading the psychological and emotional effects that abuse have on a person. By not lashing out at her abusers, Cinderella is displaying a very important trait — self-compassion.
According to Dr. Steven Stosny, “Developing self-compassion is the key to increasing compassion for loved ones. Self-compassion is the ability to recognize when you are hurt, with a motivation to heal or improve.”
He goes on further to explain that this self-compassion is an alternative to anger or retaliation. By displaying this, she is dealing with her abusers in a way that harms no one else, showing her strength and resilience.
Furthermore, saying that Cinderella is weak ignores, makes her experience of abuse less significant and causes more damage.
From the wise words of Danielle Bernock’s novel “Emerging with Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, and the Love That Heals,” “Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive.”
Through this never-ending abuse, we as an audience are able to discover the true heart of Cinderella. One trait of Cinderella’s that becomes very apparent is her kindness and compassion. As stated earlier, she never lashes out at her abusers or tries to gain retaliation. Instead, she remains calm through self-compassion and is able to still remain true to her heart.
In fact, the slogan of the 2015 live action remake of the film was, “Have courage and be kind.” Many examples of her kindness can be seen throughout the film. Towards the beginning of the film, one of her mice friends, Jacques, runs to Cinderella to tell her that a mouse is stuck in a mousetrap. Cinderella does not hesitate to drop everything to go rescue this mouse (whom we later discover to be named Gus).
Her overwhelming optimism is also clear through the effects of her abuse. The film first opens on Cinderella being woken up from her dreams — she goes on to sing a ballad about how her dreams of happiness might come true one day if she “keeps on believing.”
Her optimism is what ties the entire story together. When her stepsisters tear her dress for the royal ball to shreds under the instruction of her stepmother, Cinderella feels as if she has lost hope and as if there is nothing left to believe in. But as Cinderella sobs, her fairy godmother appears, almost as if to be a representation of a maternal figure she has always lacked. Cinderella, confused, asks who the lady is.
Fairy godmother explains herself, but Cinderella says it cannot be possible since she has nothing left to believe in. Fairy godmother responds with, “If you lost all your faith, I wouldn’t be here.” This illustrates that Cinderella’s optimism and perseverance is what allows her to go to the royal ball — the fairy godmother is just a materialization of all of her hopes and dreams. Without her perseverance, the fairy godmother would have never shown up and she would have never been able to go to the ball.
Now, at the ball and thereafter, the true message of the story is shown. Many critics like to argue that the only reason Cinderella wanted to go to the ball was to find a man — but this is false. Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother, is the antithesis to Cinderella — she serves as a foil to Cinderella’s kind and compassionate spirit. When she hears about the ball, Lady Tremaine is obsessed with the idea of one of her daughters being married off to the prince.
In opposition, Cinderella simply wants an escape from her life of abuse and turmoil for one night — just to have fun. Cinderella did not once mention that she wanted to meet the prince — thus, this shows that Cinderella is not an anti-feminist. In fact, her resilience and strength throughout the entire film, as discussed previously, would make her a strong feminist character.
At the stroke of midnight after dancing with the prince, Cinderella realizes that she must hurry back home, for the spell that created her dress will be broken. Once she finds her way back home, but not before losing one of her slippers on the staircase of the palace, she has one remaining slipper to remember the night with. This glass slipper becomes a motif of sorts — it is a physical embodiment of her dreams and self-determination.
The prince eventually decides to look all across the land to find the maiden that fits the other glass slipper. Lady Tremaine realizes that this could be her opportunity — but she soon also realizes that Cinderella was the maiden at the ball. With this realization, the evil stepmother locks Cinderella away in her room. Cinderella sobs and begs to be let out to try on the glass slipper, but Lady Tremaine, of course refuses.
At this point, Cinderella realizes she must save herself. And that she does. She calls upon all of her animal friends — the mice, birds, dogs, horses, and everything in between — to help her find the key. This is a quintessential point of the film for this argument. Cinderella is not being rescued by a prince: she is being rescued by her own resourcefulness and determination. Once she unlocks the door, makes her way downstairs (to Lady Tremaine’s disgust), and goes to try on the slipper, Lady Tremaine trips the footman who was carrying the glass slipper — it shatters to the floor.
This specific moment, by analyzing it with the glass slipper motif, shows the evil stepmother’s one last attempt at trying to ruin Cinderella’s dreams of happiness. But yet again, Cinderella saves herself by pulling out the other glass slipper from her pocket, the representation of her inner-strength and wishes of happiness.
It is Cinderella’s resilience and kindness that end up giving her the happily ever after she has always dreamed of, not her Prince Charming. She is not a weak and passive character like many claim her to be. Without Cinderella’s kind heart and determined spirit, none of the story would have transpired the way it did.
According to Diane Muldrow, Cinderella inspires us to make our own magic, or make our own dreams come true. That is an extremely important lesson that we should teach all young girls, and young boys, to believe in. The Disney Princess encourages us to be strong and remain kind through it all. And as she reminds us, “No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true.”
Author’s note: Special thanks to ScreenPrism on YouTube for initially giving me the idea to write this article. The video below elaborates on this topic.