Cinderella was not rescued by the prince. That’s the lie that has made women the victims of this fairy tale for as long as I can remember.
Just the other day I was on a zoom with a group of feminists and one of them referenced, with annoyance, the "fairy tales that taught us we needed to be rescued.” When I even start to speak of the Cinderella story, I see eye rolls or begin to feel a sense resistance. As if people are thinking, “Don’t even start on that terrible fairy tale, one of many, that did a disservice to women everywhere by teaching them the wrong lesson: females are weak and helpless and need to be rescued by handsome princes.”
We scoff, huff and puff. These reactions show our united disgust and determination to not be that girl. These reactions also perpetuate our victimhood.
When I even start to speak of the Cinderella story, I see eye rolls or begin to feel a sense resistance.
We, consciously or subconsciously, might be triggered when we see pink, a tiara, or hear another princess story—simple references and nuances irritate. These visceral reactions indicate that our psyche and motivations have been poisoned by a simple fairy tale, which only exacerbates the fear of being weak.*** The struggle is real. The energetic force that keeps re-triggering us is powerful and our collective agreement doesn’t help. The resonance of complaining and whining is that of one who is weak and needs to be rescued. It keeps us bound to victimhood.

The New Princess Paradigm

Our solution has been to demand and tell new stories of girls with superpowers who struggle with their innate gift but finally come into their own and reign over their own lives. “Yay! Girl power!” We cheer.
New stories are nice. New stories make us feel better in the paradigm of accepted norms. We view them from our current lens alongside past references and see them as improvements. But there’s a catch. The story we embrace today could become a future nemesis. Elsa’s blue could become a trigger as our cultural lens matures.
She’s still a princess, after all, with Hollywood, fashion magazine, beauty standards. We can’t combat this with new stories that subvert outdated stereotypes. We may find justifiable reason to be angry at these new stories if we don’t let go of resentment about the old stories. 
We are torn. We know Cinderella has a message for us. We want to hear it, but we can’t.  We won’t be able to while remaining angry. One way to release bitterness is to look at the story differently. An adjusted, refocused lens will free us from the old narrative and outdated lessons. Let me give you a little gift... No, a big gift. Let me share a freeing, empowering and even feminist interpretation of this old story. Ready?

A 21st Century Lens to the Classic Cinderella

There are many, many versions of the Cinderella fairy tale that go as far back as 7 BC. I don’t claim to be a Cinderella scholar, and this is not about the history of Cinderella. This is about how we’ve interpreted the “traditional” tale to which we’ve been exposed.
“Cinderella, or The Little Glass Slipper” by Charles Perrault was written in the 17th century. Rodgers & Hammerstein were inspired by this version for their 1965 made-for-TV musical with Lesley Ann Warren as Cinderella. It was adapted for stages spanning from London to New York. Disney also used the Perrault version as the basis for its classic, animated rendition.
Many of us were at first charmed (and later offended) by a story told from the perspective of a man living in the 17th century. Let’s adjust our 21st-century lens to focus on references that were available at that time. Let’s also consider that perhaps Perrault and subsequent adaptors were conveying a timeless and empowering feminist message.
Many of us were at first charmed (and later offended) by a story told from the perspective of a man living in the 17th century. 
The 1965 TV musical has always been my favorite. I loved the live actors within the fake fantasy sets—serious kitsch! When I learned about this horrible message it conveyed, I was angry and conflicted. I was sad that I resented something that had charmed and delighted me. I loved that movie! But, I got on board. I thought I needed to be angry to break free from that nefarious lesson. I complained along with the best of them.
At the same time, I still wanted to be Lesley Ann Warren with the big brown doe eyes, kerchief, and fitted smock dress. I wanted to be the pretty girl who was kind and not reactionary. I wanted my own little corner by the fire to dream and feel my feelings. And while I was sitting in this corner, I wanted to have Fairy Godmother appear—a confidante and protector who would console me, validate me, and grant me wishes. All so I could go to the party wearing a glittery ball gown, perfectly coifed and accessorized with tiara and low-heeled shoes, and dance with a prince.
 There was something about Cinderella’s journey from lonely, mistreated stepsister to beloved princess that was compelling. I was torn between wanting and not wanting to be Cinderella until I renewed my focus.
I started to look at the story differently after attending Renaissance Unity in the late 90s. In her messages about the power of faith, Marianne Williamson referenced the scene where Cinderella is crying and the Fairy Godmother appears. Cinderella says to her, “There’s nothing left to believe in. Nothing.” To which Fairy Godmother replies, “Nonsense, child. If you’d lost all your faith, I couldn’t be here.”
It had never occurred to me that the Cinderella story could have an enlightened, empowering message of belief and manifestation! I started to re-examine it from my lengthy, spiritual-journeyed perspective. I started to look at Cinderella’s story a lot differently.
Her physical reality was crappy. She lived with her mean stepmom and stepsisters, relegated to a servant role. She slept in the cold attic close to the fire. But within her unfortunate world, she created another reality. After she completed all of her chores, she’d escape. She escaped to her own little corner, her own little chair, and within her imagination. She didn’t dwell on the crappiness of her situation nor the meanness of her stepfamily. She didn’t sit and fester or strategize on how to solve the problem, she dreamt of life as an adventuress. She didn’t sit down with the stepfamily to have a conversation and ask them to treat her nicely. She knew better.
She didn’t waste her time trying to get them to be different so she could feel good, validated, valued. Instead, she envisioned herself traveling the world, being a princess and a huntress (who forgot her gun) while clothed in dresses made of luxurious silks. She envisioned going to the ball and dancing with the prince.
She didn’t do this once. She did this day after day. She escaped into the world of her imagination within the limits of a 17th-century woman. At that time, there were not a lot of options for women that would allow them to be financially independent and free, having a career as a CEO, pop star, news anchor, shop owner, lawyer, doctor, financial guru, astronaut... Sure, she could’ve dreamt of a life as a nun, a midwife, or a healer (with risk of being burned at the stake). But the fact remains that in the 17th century, there were not a lot of options that would give Cinderella the adventurous lifestyle she yearned for.
Cinderella repeated her little-corner-little-chair-big-dreaming ritual of envisioning herself as a princess, with a man she loved, full of adventure. When she felt sad, she cried. She didn’t run to the proverbial “well” to whine or gossip. Instead, she sat still. She was vulnerable and authentic. And more than anything else, on some level, one she wasn’t even aware of, she believed.
But the fact remains that in the 17th century, there were not a lot of options that would give Cinderella the adventurous lifestyle she yearned for.
It was this belief that allowed her non-physical, feminine guardian to appear. Fairy Godmother—an elderly (i.e. wiser), womanly entity that embodies magic, spirit, and maternity (can’t get any more feminist than that!)— held Cinderella’s impossible wishes sacred and showed up while Cinderella was being true to herself. What if Fairy Godmother is not a separate entity at all but rather Cinderella’s wiser, higher, inner-self?
Fairy Godmother dressed Cinderella in beautiful silks, a tiara, and glass slippers. She did her hair and makeup, gave her everything she needed to go to the ball. She sourced all of this from what she already had around her. We often believe things need to be different to make our dreams come true. The lesson is that we don’t; we have everything we need. Fairy Godmother also gave her clear instructions: be home before midnight.
Cinderella went to the ball and danced with the prince. She was having a great time! She wanted to stay and continue dancing with the prince. Yet she resisted  temptation and obeyed her higher power. Just before midnight, she ran out of the ball and lost her glass slipper on the castle steps. The prince found it and held her glass slipper safe while he sought the maiden to whom it belonged.
What happened here that can speak to us and teach us about living in our power? She trusted her higher intelligence. He was willing to wait. Both stayed true to their highest selves and their dreams. 
The prince was not an egocentric, conquering rescuer. He was committed to finding love and not marrying simply for the sake of producing heirs. He was intentional. He would not settle. He would not force the shoe. The prince is an archetype of clarity, focus, and commitment to dreams as well as the struggle and patience of pursuit.  He also informs us of the quality of people and circumstances we should allow in our lives. A lesson in being available (even if it means waiting) and trusting there are people and circumstances seeking us.
How many times have we forced situations? How many times have we given up and not stayed true to our dreams because they didn’t show up in our timeline? How many times have we questioned and doubted our impossible dreams only to rationalize ourselves into a lesser one? In our impatience and self-doubt, we move forward too early or take action out of fear. We stop trusting ourselves and stop seeking the real dream that is seeking us too!
While the prince was searching, Cinderella returned to her duties, her corner, her chair, and her daydreams. The prince’s last stop was her stepfamily’s cottage. The disingenuous, superficial stepsisters tried to cram their feet into the glass slipper. He had let every maiden in the land try the slipper. None were a fit but he would not compromise. As the prince was leaving, Fairy Godmother appears to Cinderella and says, “Go, offer him some water.” Cinderella obeys her higher power again. The prince kneels down to gently place the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot.
Cinderella wasn’t rescued. Cinderella was not weak and helpless. Cinderella, with presence, focus and unconscious belief, transformed her reality.  Her namesake, cinder (ashes), symbolizes rebirth and transformation. 
Anyone who has ever meditated knows it’s not easy to sit still and be present. Being still and isolated can be painful. Cinderella had the courage to feel her feelings rather than avoid them. There are many ways we avoid: self-medicate, ignore, deny but also when we explain, justify, and rationalize our feelings to ourselves or others. Feelings transmute to healing when we give them space.
Cinderella, with presence, focus, and unconscious belief, transformed her reality.
Cinderella focused on what she wanted rather than her current reality—also not an easy task. Our current physical confinement along with a 24-hour news cycle and social media platforms are constant reminders of negative realities. But we can, in every moment, choose to focus on our dreams and the life we want to live. In doing so, we are being resilient and exhibiting fortitude that will deliver fortuitous results, as Cinderella teaches us!
You don’t even need to be conscious of your belief to access the wisdom and guidance of your higher self and manifest your wildest, most impossible dreams. There are other forces at work, agreeing and cooperating, holding a space for our transformation. As the glass slipper was made for and seeking Cinderella, our dreams were made for and are seeking us. Herein lies the power of the Cinderella story.


Julia Halpin