Cinderella: More Feminist Than You Think


Disney’s Cinderella

Disney’s new Cinderella is constantly labeled “unfeminist.”

I’m not so sure.

I haven’t seen the film, but based on reviews, it doesn’t sound terribly unfeminist to me.

Like this:

There is a message in this film — one that may disappoint anyone looking for a new feminist heroine to emerge from the cinders. It’s about kindness and forgiveness and sticking to your values no matter what confronts you.

That’s not feminist?

Cultural feminists value traits that are traditionally associated with women. Why only value traits associated with men, after all?

Kindness is a trait that’s more associated with women. (Surveys show that both men and women think of women as kinder and nicer.) And it’s a humane value at base. I recommend it to everyone.

And sticking to your values is feminist.

Meanwhile, forgiveness is good for general mental health. (Nothing unfeminist about that.) Because if we don’t forgive we end up feeling miserable all the time. Forgiveness helps us more than it helps our so-called “enemies” — who would probably be glad that we are miserable.

Cinderella also wears some glamorous gowns. Cultural feminists say, “Bring on the frills.” Why only value things that are associated with men and masculinity – like boring clothes?

But what about all that lovey-dovey, “love is the main thing” message?

Cinderella and Prince Charming

Cinderella and Prince Charming

Bell Hooks is a feminist who says that love can redeem us all. She means love of all sorts, including romantic love. The love story can work, symbolically, to represent any kind of love. And for everyone, regardless of gender.

Love is certainly part of the feminist repertoire.

There may be unfeminist aspects to the movie — Cinderella’s waist looks unnaturally thin and she is rescued from her dreary life by a man. But some of the things that are pointed to as unfeminist just aren’t.

If getting married and falling in love were the only option women were offered, that would be unfeminist. And if men were always rescuing women and women never rescued men, that would be unfeminist. But nowadays we do have a variety of messages covering a number of angles on women’s lives. (Although we could use even more!)

A lot of people have one-dimensional, stereotypical views of feminism.

Really, there is so much more.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on May 1, 2015, in feminism, relationships, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I think some people say that Forgiveness and kindness mean that feminists are weak and empowered, but these two emotional feelings should every single human have them since they keep us live in peace and love. So, that’s what I liked in the movie both cinderella and the prince have these types of emotional that love can be born if we characterize them!So, they taught us how love can build between lovers.

  2. Excellent post, dear Georgia… the newest release would be the Princess from “Frozen”…
    I think the lyrics of this song are not only feministic but rad… Well, strictly saying, both of them> (and I love the song!). Cheers, dear Georgia. Aquileana 😀

  3. It’s always annoying when feminism gets misinterpreted so profoundly (or else it’s sad — depends on who’s doing the misinterpreting, and why). Hark a Vagrant captured it so beautifully, with her Straw Feminists:

  4. Joselyn J Ingram

    I really enjoyed this post on Cinderella because it was my absolute favorite as a small child―I used to force my parents to let me watch it every single evening. As a cultural feminist myself, I find the clothes and the love story in the movie delightful. I personally love dresses and romance, and very much dislike when other feminists tell me I can’t wear or like certain things because that makes me not a feminist. I think. It’s incredibly important to value feminine traits as a part of feminism.

    • Actually, any feminist who thinks that women or feminists shouldn’t be able to wear dresses or do girly things doesn’t understand feminism. That view is totally androcentric: believing that what is associated with men and masculinity is better — which is pretty sexist, huh!

  5. shelby mancini

    The original animated Disney version of the story had me thinking that this was one of the first true anti feminist stories in all of animation. But when I saw the new live action version, I realized just how empowering it is for women. Unlike the animated version, this one has more of a message: “Have courage and be kind.” Although we do tend to think of women as more kindhearted than men, I think this message is for everyone because Prince Charming learns that from her in the movie. It shows that boys may be just as kindhearted as girls can be. I can also see feminism in the way that Cinderella’s mother is portrayed. She is thought of as a goddess like character throughout the film and she is the one who Cinderella seems to turn to when she is feeling lost. The women in the movie, although sometimes cruel (e.g. the stepsisters), are very prominent and important characters in the movie, which is not something you see as often as the important male characters.

  6. At first the film focus on the prince, instead of Cinderella. This film is far from the rough look again so obvious so Disney, tolerance for thinking about all details.
    Cinderella parents, no property, no identity, but she has faith. Brave calm too, with her humble room in the attic smile life, tolerance shameless stepmother and two sisters, is special. She is just for the sake of more deep love. That is the real mother goodbye, give her the most important thing. So her arms in the heart, never betray.
    Turning fairy tale, is the reality. Cinderella, the prince will choose her. The prince even if don’t choose her, she also has been a most brave strong, kind man. She is just over a period of love, is the prince of great loss. She is good at farm work, can be mended and survival ability, be kind, at the same time, breeding excellent, literate culture interest, singing and dancing full embodiment of artistic talent, outstanding. Such a person, no matter where to go, can also have to live, and sufficient independence, is becoming more and more wonderful and lovely and respectable. The prince couldn’t find more good choice at all. And her late night party in the night, bright, does not have, over the princess noble, illuminate his youth and love.
    The fairy tale is not used to puncture, it’s not used to dwell. Fairy tales are used to tell us, what choice, and to become what kind of person. At least this movie.
    Disney to keep pace with The Times, this time the “Cinderella”, is more implicative feminist film. For men is not hostile, ride, not belittle, Cinderella and the prince to know each other love each other get along, walk side by side, which also need other people worry about their marriage and life.

  7. Sabina Kumar

    I actually never thought about how Cinderella could be feminist. I always thought of it was unfeminist, just because of the fact that she ends up with her true love, and I somehow thought that her value was placed upon if she ended up with prince charming. I don’t like the fact that she is rescued from her prince but that is in most if not all of the Disney princess movies. This post really opened my eyes to what feminism really encompasses. I never thought of values like love and kindness to be associated with feminism, I usually though of words like independence and strength when thinking about feminist. But owning your values and being true to oneself is incredibly feminist.

  8. I like this piece, I too have not yet seen the movie but can see many reasons as to why Cinderella can be seen as a feminist, growing up I actually thought she was a very strong figure whom I looked up to. I related to Cinderella in the fact that she had a step-mother and sisters who would bully her, and she took all that abuse and remained an amazing human being, and was still able to show her compassion and love towards others (feminist). The way Cinderella was finally able to disobey and become her own women was empowering, and I think there is always a pivotal point in anyone’s life that helps them become who they need to be, whether or not that is a man or a friend, or a task. I think Cinderella is judged to harshly by others that she could only find freedom because of the prince, but I think everyone needs a little help to find their voice and a helping hand has never hurt society.

  9. Vedant Agrawal

    I think the point made here is exactly right. Part of the reason that feminism is perceived wrongly by many is because some feminists themselves are looking at it the wrong way. I don’t think that feminism is a defined way of proving yourself. Its not about appearing to be “tough” or even actually being “tough” or purposely defying stereotypes against your own natural inclination..

    The way I look at feminism is that women have the choice. They are empowered to live their lives any way they choose. In fact as a man, I feel that we men also suffer from the burden of having to “be a man”. Sometimes I feel like the media perception of feminism is now saying that every woman must be “strong” and “independent”, both of which are defined narrowly. If a woman chooses to wear a dress and jewellery, or wants to fall in love, there is nothing wrong with that, as long as there is a choice. Real strength and independence lie in being able to choose and stand by your choice of lifestyle.

    There are men who want to fall in love and get married too. I am one of them, and i am not ashamed of this. Power or strength should not be defined by being unemotional or uncaring. In fact care and emotion can be the most empowering elements in our lives. One only has to recall how motivated one feels when in love, or how good it feels to do a good deed for someone for this point to be proven.

    • It’s funny how we move from one narrow definition to another instead of embracing our whole humanity. Feminism celebrates both masculine and feminine traits. The healthiest people have plenty of both, and don’t cut themselves off from one side of themselves.

  10. First, as a big Disney fan, I am not quiet happy with all the renewing of the classic movies like Maleficent and Alice in Wonderland, I mean, are they still speaking to children, or are they now targeting adults and competing with Twilight and other romantic movies? I grew up watching all of them and I was pleased with the simplicity that they had back then, and I honestly prefer the older versions although I would love to be able to watch them in HD and 3D :). Second, I haven’t seen the Cinderella movie yet, but in regards forgiveness and kindness, all movies should be teaching something about maintaining our relationships in a way or another since we live in a world were “block” on the social media means an end of a relationship. i guess fairy tales are always supposed have a good ending, and I hope the message that they hold are clear to everyone, because when I was younger, me, and many of my peers watched those movies for the sake of entertainment.

  11. I have heard the review of this movie from my friends and I din’t found Cindrella unfeminist!

  12. Someone pointed out on my blog that in this version she stays true to herself and makes sure that the prince accepts her for who she is-plus that she never once goes vile and holds on to her core even in the worst situations. That’s pretty empowered stuff right there. And even her staying in the -abusive relationship with her steps. From one perspective- and that was my initial thought staying just seemed so passive– but then again, how many people find that they can’t leave an abusive situation for a myriad reasons and who are outsiders to judge?

    “Love is certainly part of the feminist repertoire.” it so is- wanting equality for all- that’s love right there.

  13. I really appreciate your holistic view of feminism….

      • Sometimes I think the word ‘feminism’ is a synonym for ‘humanism’ because it’s really concerned with everybody, not just women…

      • A lot of people say that, And while it’s true, I still like the term “Feminist” Because it draws attention specifically to gender inequality — makes it easier to see something that is often invisible.

        Meanwhile, “Humanism” serves another important purpose: highlighting the fact that all of us should treat each other in humane ways.

  14. “A lot of people have one-dimensional, stereotypical views of feminism.”

    True, and that’s the reason why sometimes feminism become a ridiculous thing.

    • That’s true. And that’s why I’m trying to educate people. It’s really important to understand that the movement that seeks equally of the sexes is not what it is stereotyped to be.

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