Construction of Girlhood and Femininity in Marissa Meyers Cinder: Disposing of the Damsel in Distress (Lydia W. and Chloe H.)

Published in 2014, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder retells Charles Perrault’s traditional fairy-tale Cinderella. Perrault’s Cinderella, despite being published in 1697 has and still holds an influential position in children’s literature. Meyer reconstructs the traditional, beloved tale of Cinderella by taking key points of the domestic patriarchal-led story and rewriting it through a feminist lens. Justyna Deszcz sates in her essay, Feminist Fairy-tale Reconfiguration, that many feminist writers have used the fairy-tale as ‘…an elastic frame within which contradictory gender images can be exposed and reformulated in multiple ways. Revisionist feminist stories…focus on recycling old paradigms or on experimenting with themes, structures and styles, in ways that de-emphasize male domination.’ (Deszcz 29). Thus, by co-opting the story of Cinderella and creating a headstrong, reactive female protagonist, Meyer’s Cinder is more than a YA dystopian novel, but also a symbolic feminist text as it directly rejects stereotypical gender perspectives.

Before addressing Meyers co-opting of Cinderella it would be imperative to note the tropes in such tales. In her essay A Quest of Her Own Lori Campbell explains “the genre promotes universal models of female dependency, an influence that is felt particularly since fairy-tale prototypes permeate popular forms of fiction such as pulp romances” (Campbell 16). She notes “romantic fantasies [such as] Cinderella…which praise female subjugation to female power, encourage women to internalize only aspiration deemed appropriate to our ‘real’ sexual functions within a patriarchy’’ (Campbell 5). It is through this subversion of the classic fairy-tale, particularly with the construction of a reactive, self-reliant and driven heroine, that Meyer is able to convey an alternative message to her—predominantly female—YA dystopian fiction audience. Cinder, despite being a re-telling of a domestic fairy-tale in which female characters typically remain ‘passive, submissive and helpless’ (Lieberman 190) follows the literary tradition of dystopian novels featuring a strong female protagonist. This protagonist challenges authority and exemplifies a diverse expression of femininity. Through implementing the form of a fairy-tale, Meyer cleverly knocks down traditional constructions of girls as helpless, beautiful and submissive and utilizes the genre to highlight that existing social orders are not natural but instead, artificial constructs that can be subverted.

Cinder herself is not only a plucky young cyborg, she is “the best mechanic in New Beijing” and the sole provider for her household (Meyer 10). In Perrault’s story, Cinderella is forced to do manual labour in the form of house work and serve her stepmother and sisters. Cinder has more agency—her family seems to rarely leave the house and she spends the majority of her time out in the city—possesses a valuable, technical and decidedly un-delicate skill-set to which she dedicates almost all of her time. Where Cinderella takes a passive role in her own life, Cinder is active and takes control of her own future. Rather than wait for something in her life to change (or for a fairy godmother to fix everything), Cinder makes the decision to actively fix the old car she finds, break out of her repressive household and forge a new path counter to that being forced on her by her guardian. In this way, Meyer has her protagonist defy the “princess” stereotype. Instead of waiting to be rescued by a prince or even given the tools she needs from a fairy godmother, Cinder chooses and constructs her own destiny with tools she has acquired on her own.

A key scene which explores the subversion of “girl” stereotypes is when Cinder enters the ball. The scene is, of course, a highly memorable moment pinched from Perrault’s Cinderella in which Cinderella arrives in style wearing her dazzling fairy godmother-given gown, looking barely recognizable from her rag-wearing, soot-covered self, all while hoping to make an impression on the prince as he looks to choose a wife. Meyer recreates this moment, but re-writes it with a stark contrast that highlights the driven and heroic qualities of Cinder. Cinder only goes to the ball to warn Emperor Kai of the threat Queen Levana poses to the Commonwealth and the world and warn him that their marriage will not improve relations between Earth and Luna, but instead give the Queen absolute control of the Commonwealth. Cinder does not attend the ball with the frivolous intentions of finding a husband; her reasons are political and the visit could come at a lethal cost to her. She is not being saved by a prince; Cinder is saving an emperor. She thus, “carves out a permanent independent position alongside—rather than in comparison or as subject to—the male version that has reigned for centuries” (Campbell 5). Meyer’s Cinder prevails on her own terms through her own independence, “shoving her thoughts to the back of her mind, she reached under the steering column and grasped the power supply and supply and circuit wires she’d already stripped and wrapped.” (Meyer 326) Meyer highlights this “independent position” by magnifying Cinder’s impressive mechanical skills in this pressured situation, in which she is self-reliant and trusts in her own, typically ‘masculine’, knowledge of machinery.

Furthermore, Cinder enters the ball ‘with damp hair and mud splatters on the hem of her wrinkled dress’ , ‘soaked’ with ‘wet boots’  which encourages people to look at her ‘with barley veiled revulsion’ (Meyer 327-336). Cinder throughout the novel gives very little thought to her appearance. There are a few instances of her being momentarily concerned about a certain physical attribute she finds unsatisfactory, but she often dismisses these quickly. Rather than frame Cinder as the perfect image of genteel beauty, this female protagonist is much more focused on her work as evidenced by her typically dirty appearance. Through Cinder’s description, Meyer shows that girls are more than their external appearances and the construction society has built of them. Meyer uses Cinder, as an example of girls ‘doing it for themselves’ and not depending on someone else to make changes for them.

Works Cited

Campbell, Lori M. “Introduction.” A Quest of Her Own, edited by Lori M. Campbell, McFarland & Company Inc., 2014, pp. 4-14.

Deszcz, Justyna. “Salman Rushdie’s Attempt At A Feminist Fairytale Reconfiguration In Shame.” Folklore, vol 1, 2014, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30035141.

Lieberman, Marcia. “‘Some Day My Prince Will Come’: Female Acculturation Through The Fairy Tale.” College English, vol 34, no. 3, 1972, p. 190. JSTOR.

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. New York, Rampion Books Inc., 2012.

 

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways does the fact that Cinder is not “fully human” in the eyes of society complicate her subversion of stereotypical girlhood? Does it weaken a feminist reading of her character?
  2. Queen Levana could also be considered a strong female character. How do you read Meyer’s inclusion of a powerful female antagonist?
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21 thoughts on “Construction of Girlhood and Femininity in Marissa Meyers Cinder: Disposing of the Damsel in Distress (Lydia W. and Chloe H.)

  1. Hi all!

    I wanted to speak to your first discussion question regarding Cinder’s identity as not “fully human” and how her cyborg identity complicates our understanding of girlhood. While I would characterize Cinder’s romantic relationship with Prince Kai as conventional, stereotypical and heternormative, I would argue that there are elements of queerness in Cinder’s character that subvert stereotypical notions of girlhood. I came across an article called “A girl. A machine. A freak”: A Consideration of Contemporary Queer Composites“ by Jennifer Mitchell, which really helps elucidate the theme of queerness in Meyer’s novel and in Cinder’s character. The author argues Cinder can be read as queer by examining her cyborg identity. One argument the author makes is that Cinder’s character can be read as queer in the way they she has to “pass” as a “norman human girl” (Mitchell 54). While Cinder tries to defend her identity as a “normal human girl”, she is constantly mocked and dehumanized, often by her stepmother, for her lack of human corporeality and for her cyborg features (Mitchell 54). When Cinder notifies Adri that Peony has caught the plague, Adri refuses to accept Cinder’s sympathy and blames her for Peony’s sickness by interrogating her ability to “feel anything at all”, and by suggesting that her emotions are not felt, but rather “programmed” (Meyer 63). There are also a number of moments in the novel where Cinder is appears to be both anxious and distraught about her cyborg identity and fears that her “true” self will be exposed and her identity as a “normal human girl” will be disproved. After Prince Kai’s departure from his and Cinder’s first encounter, Cinder immediately examined her ankle and “began connecting the colour-ordinated wires, wondering if the prince has been fooled” (Meyer 15).
    Cinder is conscious about her cyborg features and tries her best to ensure that her identity is never exposed and that Prince Kai’s view of her as a “normal human girl” is never tainted. From these view examples, it seems clear that Cinder constantly occupies this in-between space of girl and cyborg, and much of her journey throughout the novel is based around her attempts to navigate that space despite the social structures that try to disrupt her progress. Despite the heteronormative romantic relationship between Prince Kai and Cinder, I argue that Cinder’s cyborg identity certainly complicates and challenges stereotypical ideas about girls and girlhood.

    Works Cited
    Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

    Mitchell, Jennifer. “”A Girl. A Machine. A Freak”: A Consideration of Contemporary Queer Composites.” Bookbird, vol. 52, no. 1, 2014., pp. 51-62https://www.lib.uwo.ca/cgi-bin/ezpauthn.cgi?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1511818327?accountid=15115 .

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  2. I believe your first discussion question is a very important one to ask, because what does it mean to have a strong female character if she’s not technically a female/girl? I was able to mark some page numbers of when Cinder is described as a girl/woman: 217, 225, 324, and 348. But I think if I was only able to find a select number of examples, it complicates Cinder’s embodiment of a girl/female identity. If we can agree to say that being cyborg represents race on Meyer’s part, and young people may not understand this connection and only think of Cinder as cyborg, they may not see her as a girl either if being cyborg implies nonhuman (where anything not human cannot be gendered since gender is a human construct). If this had been a different retelling of Cinderella where the protagonist was not a cyborg, but rather fully-human, I think the audience could perceive the heroine as powerful and inspirational. It is hard to see yourself in a cyborg character if 1. you don’t get the connection that cyborgs are racialized, or 2. if you are white and don’t think you can connect to a racialized character.
    I also think it’s important to note how this alternative femininity benefited Cinder. I’m not sure in the novel we see Cinder reach a happy ending (which may be because this is only the first book of four) so how does this complicate reader’s perceptions of this alternative femininity? If there is no positive outcome to being a powerful girl, what would make readers want to embody Cinder? We constantly see her put down by her step-mother and sister for being dirty and a mechanic, why would readers want this for themselves? (And why would POC readers want to see themselves in Cinder whose experience reinforces a racist archetype?)
    I also wanted to add that I think another example of Cinder’s alternative femininity could be seen in her disinterest in having children. When Dr. Erland tells her she can have children, Cinder does not get excited, or even happy–she doesn’t seem to care at all. You could have used this to strengthen your argument since traditional femininity entails maternal feelings and desire for a family.
    Finally, I wanted to advise against calling traditional femininity “frivolous” as it condemns those who choose to embody traditional femininity when it’s their own choice. I know it’s a small thing, but it doesn’t help an argument for alternative femininity when we put down traditional femininity.

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    1. I appreciate your final comment regarding our label of Cinders decision to not go to the ball with a ‘frivolous’ objective, but I think one must look how that term was used in the wider context of the narrative, not contemporary society. Perhaps this, may be a difference of opinion, and think this maybe an inherently personal opinion, but to me, if Meyer wrote Cinders decision to go to the ball, in terms of her seeking a husband (Kai) I wholeheartedly would be disappointed, considering she has large problems to think about- but of course this is my opinion, and arbitrary, you may regard her decision to find a husband more important and I do not devalue that, I just wouldn’t be able to empathise with that direction.

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      1. update**: i think my wording may come across as abrupt, I did not mean to imply you necessarily regard her decisions to find a husband more important in terms of contemporary society, but i am inherently looking at this in the confounds of the text!! just thought i should clarify as I am by no means assuming what you value as of more importance!!

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  3. In regards to your second question, I think Queen Levana completely uproots what you argue Meyer is doing with Cinder. Levana is a Lunar and the epitome of a female obsessed with beauty. She is consistently using her Lunar powers of creating beauty in order to gain power over humans (and/or cyborgs) and make them do as she pleases. Levana is also coming to earth with the intention of finding a husband in order to gain more power. Though her hunger for power may make her a ‘strong female antagonist,’ Levana is adhering to gender stereotypes rather than subverting them in the way you argue Cinder does. In many a story, film, etc., females have been seen as using their beauty or their body to gain power over a male or make him do as she pleases (think of seduction used in order to marry for money, etc.). Levana is adhering to these female stereotypes in all the worst ways. She’s using her Lunar powers in order to make herself beautiful so Kai will find her beautiful and want to marry her so she can gain power over Earth. Levana is reinforcing what Joanna Russ (in her essay “What Can a Heroine Do? or Why Women Can’t Write”) would call “The Bitch Goddess” — a literary stereotype of females that encapsulates the power-hungry, ruthless, irresistible, beautiful woman who actively destroys men. Meyers seems to have fallen prey to the countless female literary stereotypes, though, I suppose, something can be said for the fact that her young female protagonist is defying the fairytale princess stereotype while being embedded in a fairytale knock-off. However, Meyer proves that her female defiance only goes so far — in this case, it does not extend to Queen Levana. Levana relies heavily on the power of Kai to get where she wants, planning ways to use him to her advantage, forcing herself into his world, blackmailing Kai, tricking him, and, arguably most importantly, using her beauty to get what she wants.
    In the Cinderella fairytale that Meyer is playing off of, there is no evil Queen that Cinderella must deal with. Adri is clearly the figure of the ‘evil stepmother,’ so Levana’s character seems to serve only as a plot device to get Cinder to the next books. Without Levana, Cinder would not have a figure that serves as the epitome of evil for her rebellion that carries her into the next stories. Most fairytale princess stories have an evil Queen figure (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, as well as other traditional stories), but Cinderella does not. To incorporate a Queen that doesn’t follow the tradition of the story seems, as I’ve said, only explicable as a plot device. But more than that, it seems as though Meyer is taking a step back from any advancements that she’s made with Cinder and the female stereotypes she is challenging with her female protagonist. My only hope is that Levana will inevitably prove that “The Bitch Goddess” stereotype has some sort of moral lesson, or, if Cinder ‘defeats’ her later on, it will destroy the idea that “The Bitch Goddess” successfully gains power without consequences to her actions, rendering the stereotype true.

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    1. I disagree whole-heartedly with your post on Queen Levana as a stereotypical gendered female villain. You state that “Queen Levana completely uproots what [the original post] argue[s] Meyer is doing with Cinder.” However, I find that Queen Levana in fact does support Meyer’s subversion of typical engendered roles. Lydia W. and Chloe H. state that through Cinder, Meyer breaks the gendered norm of females being “passive, submissive and helpless.” Cinder is a proactive, self-reliant and independent female. Similarly, Queen Levana also breaks this gendered norm.
      Firstly, Queen Levana, as per her title, is queen of her nation; from the introduction, she is already in power and in control – hardly a helpless character. Secondly, she effectively and adeptly uses her Lunar Powers, “the unique ability to not only detect bioelectricity in others, but to also control it. [She] can manipulate it so that people see what [she] wants them to see” (Meyer 172). This ability allows her to conjure a glamour that portrays her as astonishingly beautiful to those who come in contact with her. This glamour also portrays her as “warm. Welcoming. Generous” (Meyer 205). You focus intently on Queen Levana’s obsession with beauty and its exemplification of her gender normativity, but I find that her consistent use of her beauty is her grasp on power. Evidently, her beautifying glamour is so intense that those who are discontent with her ruling of Luna are unable to resist under the influence of her glamour. What if beauty was not an influential glamour? What if strength, power, or dominance were influential physical attributes? Would Queen Levana then still adhere to her beauty glamour? Or would she instead wear a glamour that shows strength and dominance? I believe the latter is the course of action Queen Levana would take; Queen Levana is portrayed as vain and beautiful, but ultimately, her desire for power is her defining element. As well, I liken Queen Levana’s Lunar Powers to Cinder’s mechanical prowess – they are both skills that give agency to the user. Due to her adeptness in bioelectrical control, Queen Levana is self-reliant. She does not “rely heavily on the power of Kai to get what she wants” as you state. Instead, she uses what skills and assets she does possess and aims to attain Kai’s power and take control. Thirdly, if in the original post, Cinder breaks gendered convention by going to the ball in order to save an emperor, Queen Levana does the same by going to the ball to conquer a nation. She does not vie for Kai’s love nor crave it as a lovesick girl would. Any affection she might hope to garner from him is only a means to her goal – becoming Empress of the Eastern Commonwealth.
      As to your statement that Levana is “The Bitch Goddess,” I do find some parts of this trope do apply to Queen Levana – she is hungry, ruthless, irresistible and beautiful. However, she is not actively seeking to destroy men. She does use her beauty to manipulate and control but this manipulation and control in not targeted to men specifically, nor does she do so in order to destroy. Queen Levana simply wishes to control and have power over all people. When she steps out on the platform, “the chanting stopped suddenly” (Meyer 204). Both the men and the women in the crowd were completely under Levana’s control.
      In conclusion, I do agree that Levana is “forcing herself into [Kai’s] world, blackmailing him, tricking him,” but she also exemplifies the same important concepts that (as per the original post) Cinder exemplifies: (1) “girls are more than their external beauty.” Levana is more than just the glamour she wears; she is power, greed, and control. Queen Levana also exemplifies (2) “girls doing it for themselves and not depending on someone else to make changes for them.” Levana uses her own unique skillsets in order to carve her own path and destination. All in all, Queen Levana is also a strong female character.

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      1. Quite the contrary! I think when looking at them, it makes Cinder more effective in defying the stereotypes. With Queen Levana as a way to show the “Bitch Goddess” stereotype, it puts what Cinder is doing into perspective. She’s kind, though angsty as most teenagers are, and yet she’s still choosing to do things on her own. I assume that with everything Cinder defies against traditional stereotypes, Meyer has Levana intentionally conform to those stereotypes in order to elevate Cinder’s defiance. In my opinion, she does so successfully. Though I haven’t read the other books, I’m assuming that if Levana and Cinder have it out, Cinder comes out swinging and Levana doesn’t (the hopeful note in a dystopia). That would reaffirm that girls can not only successfully rebel in politics, but also in the traditional stereotypes or archetypes of girlhood. Cinder defeating Levana would metaphorically employ the idea that good trumps evil, and that rebelling against societal norms or stereotypical constructions of girlhood is possible.

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  4. It’s interesting how you drew attention to the didactic qualities of revisionist fairy tales such as Cinder. By presenting a headstrong, talented protagonist like Cinder who is active rather than passive, Meyer sends a message to the girls reading her book that they, too, can take charge of their situation rather than having to wait for somebody else to save them. I think it’s especially significant that Meyer sends this message by repurposing a classic fairy tale because fairy tales were once used to uphold conservative social values. Girls were supposed to idolize Cinderella, who excels at housework, looks pretty, and only has kind things to say. Cinder likes to tinker with technology, is frequently described as being covered in grease, and isn’t afraid to talk back when others threaten to take away her freedom. Meyer takes a format that was once used to teach girls to conform to traditional expectations of femininity, and then uses it to dismantle those very same expectations. It lends the book an extra layer of significance.

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    1. I agree with your thoughts Christine, and was thinking the same about how Meyer re-frames Cinderella to spread the message of a protagonist occupied with more typically masculine work as a mechanic. Meyer re-frames Cinderella to spread the message of a protagonist that is the breadwinner in her family and relies on her own efforts/professional skills to make a living and get by. Cinder demonstrates that young women have more to be concerned about than their appearances and marrying well. Furthermore, Cinder’s profession and self-reliance provides a good example that young women have the capacity to complete any profession they are skilled at regardless of social stereotype which are constructed and false in defining what females are capable of doing.

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  5. Lydia and Chloe,
    Within your post, you provide a compelling argument in regards to the various ways that Cinder defies the stereotypes surrounding girlhood. I agree that for most of the novel she does so, but her relationship with Prince Kai complicates this argument. The element of romance that Meyer writes into the narrative, I assert, positions Cinder as a stereotypical “love sick” or “fangirling” teenager. After meeting the Prince for the first time, Cinder says, “…I think I’m overheating” (14), not to mention that “[her] words [stick] like bean paste to her tongue” (8), and “[h]er heart wince[s]” (8). Cinder’s reaction to the Prince ultimately speaks to the impressionability that is associated with girls and girlhood in that her “fangirl” feelings towards the Prince are almost always paired with how she thinks other girls would react. Furthermore, her desire to save the Prince from Queen Levana at the ball causes her to act impulsively and irrationally (i.e. her driving a car with no license or even prior experience), which again reinforces stereotypes associated with girls and girlhood. While I won’t go as far as to say that Cinder depends on the Prince, I think he definitely influences her actions, which, in turn, prevents her from completely rejecting stereotypes surrounding girlhood. Meyer does this, I argue, in an attempt to humanize Cinder. Being part cyborg, Cinder is subhuman which positions her as Other. Having an Othered identity, Cinder’s character is harder to relate to. The element of romance written into the novel between her and Prince Kai, then, gives Cinder more human-like qualities and thereby makes her more relatable. That said, while Cinder does not completely reject stereotypes associated with girls and girlhood, you present strong evidence to support the various ways in which she does so successfully.

    Additionally, in response to your first question, I would argue that as a cyborg, Cinder is presented as subhuman, which essentially undermines her subversion of the stereotypes associated with girlhood. That is, Cinder’s Othered identity prevents her from emerging as the “normal” (I use this term with hesitation) human girl would. I agree with Sam in that Cinder’s cyborg identity “…complicates [her] embodiment of a girl/female identity.” In some ways, then, Cinder’s cyborg identity weakens a feminist reading of her character because she is not fully human to begin with. The makeup of her body (physically, mentally and emotionally), her lived experiences, and her abilities are all different from those of a human. As a result, it can certainly be argued that her experiences cannot be read and interpreted in comparison to human experiences. More than that, because she wants people to see her as human, I would argue that Cinder is more concerned about the oppressions associated with being cyborg than she is with the oppressions associated with being a woman. Therefore, Cinder’s rebellion and resistance, I think, is centred around her cyborg identity rather than her female identity.

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  6. I was intrigued by your question about whether Cinder’s cyborg identity complicates her subversion of stereotypical girlhood and, in turn, how such complications may weaken our feminist reading of the novel. For starters, Cinder’s performance of girlhood is exceptionally different from other protagonists we have encountered, if not for the simple fact that she isn’t only a human girl. If we believe her identity to be that of a cyborg, the expectations we have of her drastically change.

    If she isn’t a girl, then is she really expected to perform typical modes of girlhood through her clothing, interests, or speech? If she isn’t a girl, then is her job as a mechanic really subversive or just aligned with her cyborg identity? These questions are significant when trying to understand Cinder through methods of feminist critique. It can be argued that Cinder’s subversion is therefore only possible, in her society, because she is a cyborg rather than a “normal” girl. I am therefore inclined to suggest that Cinder’s portrayal is not as empowering as it is unrealistic. It would be fair to assume that readers have difficulty relating to Cinder, and as such, the subversive aspects of her character are rendered insignificant.

    I would also like to disagree with the idea that Cinder isn’t a damsel in distress – she still lacks a fair amount of agency, whether than be a societal condition or one of her physical being. Overall, I think you both raise interesting points about how Cinder reverses gender expectations – her profession and passion as a mechanic speaks to that point very clearly. Her character is certainly a deviation from the stereotypical girl, even in dystopian YA literature wherein the rhetoric suggests that protagonists are subversive, rebellious, and special.

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  7. Hi Lydia and Chloe,
    While I agree that many aspects of Cinder’s character work to expose and thus subvert gendered stereotypes often present within fairy tales, I must disagree in your analysis in saying that her character directly rejects stereotypical gender perspectives. Although your argument regarding Cinder’s mechanic abilities is representative of a strength and independence that is unusual in fairy tale female characters, many aspects of Cinder’s personhood unfortunately DO conform to societal expectations of girls and girlhood.
    Notably, Cinder does remain fairly helpless. Although she wishes to exert agency within her own life, her status as a cyborg necessarily results in her loss of autonomy – she belongs to Adri; she has no legal right to her property or her body. Meyer makes this known in multiple ways, most explicitly through the cyborg draft, wherein Adri has the legal right to submit Cinder for lethal experimental scientific research. This is also evidenced when Adri forcibly takes back Cinder’s robotic foot, thus leaving Cinder helpless in a society that is physically constructed to privilege able-bodied citizens. Without a foot Cinder is left to limp and hobble, thus having lost the ability to move independently within her society.
    Although I agree that Cinder exerts a progressive agency in her plan to escape New Beijing by fixing the used car, much of this plan unfortunately IS aided by a “fairy God-mother” figure: Dr. Erland. Dr. Erland provides Cinder with the economic capital required to fix this car, and provides the funding required for the gas needed to make the trip to Europe. Furthermore, when Cinder attempts to exert agency and save Prince Kai and the Commonwealth at the ball, she is ultimately thwarted by more powerful forces and taken prisoner. Once again, Dr. Erland comes to her aid, providing Cinder with improved cyborg limbs and giving her both the motivation and the tools required for escape from her prison cell. Thus, Cinder remains the damsel in distress, requiring the help of a ‘protector’ character, Dr. Erland.
    Lastly, while I agree that Cinder’s lack of adherence to societal norms of feminine beauty, I assert that her obsession with hiding her cyborg body parts necessarily results in Cinder’s affirmation of gendered stereotypes. She is constantly aware that her body does not conform to societal expectations of a girl’s body, and she works tirelessly throughout the novel to hide her non-conforming body from the Prince, whom she desires. In portraying Prince Kai as interested in Cinder whilst her body is hidden, and in exposing his revulsion upon recognition of Cinder’s cyborg body at the end of the novel, Meyer highlights the importance of bodily form for adolescent girls, and thus reinforces the notion of body imperatives that is central to stereotypical girlhood.
    Therefore, in answer to your first discussion question, Cinder’s non-conformational body DOES weaken a feminist reading of this character, as her cyborg body becomes a focal point for Cinder’s self-consciounsness and for society’s disgust and marginalization of her.

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  8. I think the fact that Cinder does not seem to care about her appearance very much, or if she does she does not dwell on it because she has more important things to worry about (i.e., her escape with Iko, her work, etc…) and her job as a mechanic– a typically masculine profession– is such a stark contrast to Levana’s obsession with beauty and glamour (both physically and as a method of control). Levana knows she has power and owns it. Obviously it is not something that is done for good, however she takes full understanding of her abilities and uses them to their fullest advantage. Cinder, on the other hand, cannot fathom the idea that she could be Lunar at all, let alone be revealed to be Princess Selene (Meyer 379). The thought that she might have to take control and follow Dr. Erland’s plan for her to be “reinstated as queen” (383) is terrifying, as she’s someone who has mainly kept to herself and had not even considered that she might be the lost princess. It’s a scary thought when the only woman you’ve seen in power, that you are actually related to, is a conniving, evil, power hungry monster who wants nothing more than for you to be dead. I think that Levana’s actions are what propels Cinder in the very end to remove her ID chip and become, presumably, anonymous. She wants a fresh start, and the only way to save her life (and possibly the rest of her people’s lives) is to become someone new.

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  9. I agree that Cinder is a feminist version of Cinderella because she is able to save herself, save the Prince and does not want to beautify herself. Cinder is the breadwinner and works a typically ‘masculine’ job. These all go against what is stereotypically feminine. Yet what kind of feminism is it portraying? I argue that the feminism in Cinder is not intersectional. For example, the novel is heteronormative and doesn’t mention any other sexualities from the LGBTQ+ community. There is an assumption that all the characters are heterosexual. This feminism is to help white, heterosexual women and ignores the different identities and lived experiences that women have.
    I disagree with your statement “Cinder throughout the novel gives very little thought to her appearance”. Whenever Prince Kai is around, Cinder is very conscious of her body and how she appears to the Prince. She does not want him to know that she is a cyborg and always wears boots and gloves to cover her robotic foot and hand. I do agree with you that she puts little thought into attempting to beautify herself.

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  10. Hi Lydia and Chloe,

    I think your discussion of girlhood and femininity in Cinder was well done, and I agree that through the way she dresses(especially at the ball), Cinder rejects traditional femininity. I want to respond to your question about our responses to Queen Levana as a powerful female antagonist. I think that there is value in having female antagonists, but that value is diminished with Levana’s character when her evil plan revolves around a marriage plot. There are other aspects of her that make her the antagonist of course, such as building a mutant army to attack planet Earth. However, the part of the plot that constructs Queen Levana as evil is her potential marriage to Kai. She serves as a plot device to further the romantic narrative between Kai and Cinder, because he wants to use her to trick Queen Levana into thinking that he is in love and therefore cannot marry her. Without the impending threat of Levana trying to make Kai marry her in order to secure the safety of the planet, the love narrative might not work as well. I say this because Kai could be read as insensitive or irresponsible for pursuing a love interest in the wake of his father’s death and the issues the Commonwealth is dealing with. The threat of a marriage to Queen Levana makes the narrative of his romantically pursuing Cinder seem more reasonable.

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  11. Cinder’s cyborg status limits her ability to interact with completely-human people from New Beijing, which also effectively silences her. She is forced into being submissive, a stereotypical trait of girls and girlhood. Cinder does rebel in small ways, such as being more assertive when faced with hate against cyborgs or part cyborgs, but because she is a minor in her society, she must comply with what her legal guardian wants her to do. Cinder is forced into the cyborg draft, becoming an object of observation. Her character is complex, which makes for a strong feminist argument, even though, as a cyborg-human, she is at the bottom of their social hierarchy; she still aims to perform small resistances to subvert stereotypical girlhood.

    Queen Levana, as a powerful female antagonist, separates Meyer’s novel from others because it does not conform to normal tropes for Young Adult dystopian fiction narratives. Levana also provides a strong feminist reading of the novel, because she is a woman in charge of an entire species and the most powerful, even over the humans. Levana’s character is also complex, however. She, as do all the Lunars, value beauty and perfection, a traditional trait of girls.

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  12. You mention that Cinder does not seem to care much about her appearance, but I think that partially has to do with her status as a cyborg. Cinder recognizes that, as a cyborg, she will not be perceived as beautiful as she physically cannot conform to societal beauty standards. Drawing on Aesha’s position on Cinder’s oppression as a cyborg being the dominant factor that influences her, I argue that her cyborg status bars her from participating in conventional girlhood, and therefore, she does not try to adhere to codes of girlhood. Despite the fact that Cinder considers herself a girl, she also understands that people often view her as a cyborg first, and that she often is viewed more as a machine than as a girl. For example, Cinder does not worry about going to the ball or fully take on Kai’s flirtations because she sees these normal experiences of girlhood to be inaccessible to her as a cyborg. When Kai calls her pretty, Cinder feels genuinely shocked—“Cinder started at that simple word—pretty”—suggesting that she may care about her appearance in some way, but has always felt excluded from any narrative in which she could embody traditional femininity (Meyer 162). Cinder’s choice not to fixate on her physical appearance, in this case, may not be entirely a choice of her own autonomy but instead a reflection of the societal idea that cyborg bodies cannot be beautiful and Cinder’s acceptance of this norm.

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  13. Although in some respects, Cinder does in fact work to subvert traditional norms of femininity, I argue that her being a Cyborg works to in some ways discredit such subversions. Throughout the book, we are constantly reminded of Cinder’s robotic parts, and status as a cyborg, whether through her questioning her own girlhood, or having her girlhood be questioned by members of the public; this reminder works to constantly bring her humanity into question, and as a result, also bring her girlhood into question. What does it mean when the character who we are reading as in some aspect of her character breaking out of the traditional mold of girlhood, is arguably only doing so, or capable of doing so because she is a cyborg? I would argue that that robotic parts and knowledge of operations and maintenance of machinery spark the mental creation of a correlation, and that this in fact works to discredit a reading of her that would suggest she is consciously resisting conforming to traditional narratives of girlhood. As I was reading through the book, I struggled to separate these thing and attribute her embodiment of forms of traditional masculinity through her knowledge and work on machinery to her developed capabilities, rather than attributing it to the fact that she is a cyborg.
    With that being said, I do feel that is important to complicate this discussion and examine both the implications of asking the specific question of whether or not we consider Cinder a “real girl,” as well as the reading (my own reading) of Cinder as falling short of being recognized as a “real girl.” I would argue that there are two conversations to be had here.
    1. What does such reading and discussion inadvertently say about other abled individuals who depend on prosthetics, or metal parts or equipment, to be able to maneuver a world that refuses to accommodate them? At what point is a human no longer considered a human and who gets to decide this? And finally, what might this suggest to and about other abled girls about their self-identified girlhood?
    2. What constitutes a “real girl” and what implications does such conversation have on queer, non-binary, and trans* girls about their self-identified girlhood, as well as on who is allowed to “pass” as a girl and under what circumstances? Michelle Dumaresk is a Canadian trans woman who is also a professional athlete and competes in downhill mountain biking races. Due to the body changes accompanying her transition, Dumaresk experienced a setback in her career; she was not as good as she used to be, and in fact came in last place in several races. Her team was incredibly supportive of her transition, and her identity as a woman. Determined, however, she worked incredibly hard for a significant amount of time and once again rose to the top, and placed regularly in races. It was at this point that her teammates began to question her girlhood/womanhood, and whether or not it was fair that she was competing with women and not with men; this despite being present for the entirety of her slow upward trajectory, starting in near last place. So long as those who are different are “ordinary,” “unthreatening,” or lacking of special qualities and/skillsets, but as soon as this changes, we are unable to look past their difference, and are quick to attribute their success to something that has in fact advantaged them. This is true of every marginalized person. Consider the redirects of the Black woman who got the high paying position because “they needed to diversify their staff,” or the Indigenous man who has accumulated wealth because “he doesn’t have to pay taxes” or the girl who is only good at what she does and breaks normative patterns of femininity and girlhood because “she is a cyborg.”

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  14. Overall I found your argument within this blog post to be very compelling and insightful in regards to viewing Cinder as a feminist text. I too agree that through re-writing the traditional fairytale of Cinderella, which is inherently sexist as it sought to domesticate girls like Cinderella, Meyer is able to challenge preconceptions and existing ideas towards girlhood, echoed in the use of a strong, female protagonist. In response to your first question, I think it is extremely significant that Cinder is not “fully human”, and would agree that it somewhat complicates subversions of stereotypical girlhood. Although a Cyborg, it is still evident that Cinder displays stereotypical traits of girlhood and femininity, such as caring about her own appearance, evident in her embarrassment of her foot when first meeting Prince Kai in her mechanic workshop. However, it can be argued that Cinder is merely concerned with revealing her Cyborg self, rather than conforming to the beauty standards around her. Ashamed of her Cyborg identity, her mechanical body is depicted to be a disability or deformity within the novel as it is approached with a mass amount of stigma by her own society. Here, then, it is made manifest that Cinder being not “fully human” complicates our understanding of the femininity she exerts and her involvement in, and performance of Girlhood. However, Cinder’s ability to remain strong and independent does not weaken a feminist reading of her character, and neither does her un-human self. Furthermore, in response to your second question, Queen Levana can definitely be considered as a strong female character, for she acts with agency, power and authority. Her inclusion as an antagonist to Cinder, is clearly a plot device by Meyer, however still furthers, and aids the understanding of the novel as feminist, dystopian text.

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  15. I like your approach to the idea of Cinder being derived from the classic fairy-tale Cinderella and that it is written with the edge of re-envisioning the traditional tale and turning it on its head. I believe that the utilisation of a female protagonist that adopts an active role rather than a typically passive role is incredibly significant, it challenges the constructs that are usually presented within these narrative and instead present a character with self determination and no need for male saviour which is important in YA novels in particular.
    By deconstructing the typical fairy tale narrative where a female character fulfils domestic roles and replacing it with a protagonist who adopts active roles that are typically associated with males, therefore turns the traditional fairy tale on its head, allowing Meyer to break down typical constructs of femininity.
    That being said, I do agree with certain points raised in the comments that imply that the character of Prince Kai does allow Cinder to fall back into typically feminine ideals through her behaviour around him. Cinder is extremely body conscious around Kai and wishes to conceal her identity, constantly trying to impress him, while I do not feel that she relies of Kai in a dependant way she does reinforce the typical heteronormative relationship suggesting the need for a male presence in YA novels.

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