The 1950’s Disney produced film Cinderella, was one of best American animated and one of the most popularized films ever to be made. While young girls adored the idea of sparkling glass slippers, pumpkins that transformed into twinkling chariots, and ever-so dreamy yet unattainable princes, the Disney princess has been widely criticized by feminist scholars for perpetuating traditional gender roles and stereotypical ideas about femininity. The female protagonist in Marissa Meyer’s novel Cinder, however, dismantles the gender binary by rejecting traditional characteristics of femininity. While the 1950’s Cinderella is forced to engage in domestic work and perform household duties in order to appease her stepmother, Cinder takes on a stereotypically male job as a mechanic where she earns a fair wage and produces income to support her family. Alike other traditional princess narratives, the plot of Disney’s Cinderella revolves around her quest for the Prince’s love, and her actions are rooted in her desire for a romantic relationship with the Prince. Though there is still a prince in Meyer’s work who also shows interest in the female protagonist, Cinder rejects his romantic gestures on numerous occasions and prioritizes her own goals above her intimate feelings for a man. We argue that the protagonist, Cinder, subverts the traditional princess role by challenging traditional characteristics of femininity. Unlike the Disney character Cinderella, Cinder provides a stereotypically masculine service to her community and refuses to participate in heteronormative romance narrative by declining Prince Kai’s invitation to be his guest at the ball.
Cinder subverts the traditional princess narrative by performing a stereotypically masculine job. In the Disney film Cinderella, the princess is only shown working within the private sphere, and she only performs domestic labour as a means to satisfy her stepmother’s demands (England et al. 563). Cinder pushes back against stereotypes about women’s work and performs most of her work within the public sphere. Unlike Cinderella, Meyer never mentions Cinder performing domestic tasks. Rather, she is regarded as one of New-Beijing’s most talented mechanics. In fact, her title even takes Prince Kai by surprise, as he was expecting a male to fix his android, “‘I’m looking for a Linh Cinder,” said the prince. ‘Is he around?’ … Staring at the prince’s chest, she stammered, ‘I-I’m Linh Cinder’” (Meyer 8). Cinder’s highly regarded position in her community combined with the fact that she is working in a male-dominated profession provides her with a sense of agency and credibility. Not only does Cinder assert her individuality and push back against gender norms by working as a mechanic, but she also receives income for her services. Her ability to financially provide for herself and her family gives her a new sense of autonomy and independence that was not apparent in Cinderella’s character. Cinderella receives no monetary compensation for domestic work and nor is her work regarded as significant or important to maintaining the household (Henke et al. 236). Rather, Cinderella’s work is an act of submission to her stepmother and demonstrates her lack of independence within her home and her lack of value within her community.
Unlike Cinderella, Cinder’s happiness is not dependent on the presence of a romanic relationship. In Cinder, Marissa Meyer shows her readers how Cinder is not reliant on the prince to fulfil her life, starting with the rejection of his proposal to be his guest at the ball. She is shocked and honoured that he would ask her, but she declines his initial offer by telling him “I—I’m sorry…Thank you—I… Thank you, Your Highness. But I must respectfully decline” (Meyer 165). Cinder makes the conscious decision to prioritize her goal of escaping New-Beijing over satisfying the needs of Prince Kai. A significant difference between Cinder and Cinderella’s romantic relationships is that Cinder develops intimate feelings towards Prince Kai over time as their relationship progresses. For Cinderella and many other Disney princesses, she falls in love with the prince “at first sight”, and Cinderella accepts the prince’s first and only invitation to the ball. (Henke et al. 241). In Cinder however, she is asked multiple times to be the prince’s guest and she declines him more than once. Prince Kai expects that she will change her mind, but she never loses sight of her own goals and appears reluctant to change her mind. This seems like a rather defiant stance against what is the traditional narrative associated with the fairytale. England et al. state that “[c]onsistently portrayed gender role images may be interpreted as “normal” by children and become connected with their concepts of socially accepted behaviour and morality” (England et al. 556). Children learn to mimic the actions of the characters in these works. Girls in particular, then, are taught that they must always be obliging and accommodating to their male counterparts. In Cinder’s case, however, she is outspoken, and when offered the “ideal” position as Prince Kai’s date, one that appears to be desired by most girls in New Beijing, she does not alter her plans or change her decisions based on social pressures. When Prince Kai asks her to be his guest a second time, Cinder retorts that “there are about 200,000 single girls in this city who would fall over themselves to have the privilege [of being his guest]” (Meyer 224). Despite Prince Kai’s dissatisfaction, she politely declines in order to pursue her own goals rather than to accommodate his wishes.
Cinder as a character defies the princess archetype and teaches her readers the importance of having a strong sense of self. She is interested in Kai, but knows she never loses sight of her larger goal at hand to escape New-Beijing and forge a new life for herself. She recognizes the importance of her job and how her talents and abilities are both valuable and meaningful to her community. Her refusal of Kai’s invitation to be his guest at the ball shows that Cinder is resilient and defiant in the face of conformity. Cinder shows readers that courage and being different are not qualities to be afraid of, but rather, are qualities that should be both rewarded and embraced.
- Are there other ways shown in the novel that Cinder defies the traditional princess narrative? Other characters who change their role?
- Why is it important to change the princess narrative into one that is more progressive?
England, Dawn, Lara Descartes, and Melissa Collier-Meek. “Gender Roles and the Disney Princess.” Sex Roles, vol.64, 2011, pp.555-567. Gender Studies Database. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxy1.lib.uwo.ca/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=baacd68c-2d93-40ed-b82a-b5b25cb670cb%40sessionmgr4008&vid=4&hid=4206
Henke, Jill Birnie, Diane Zimmerman Umble, and Nancy J. Smith. “Construction Of The Female Self: Feminist Readings Of The Disney Heroine.” Women’s Studies In Communication, vol.19, no. 2, 1996, pp. 229-249. Gender Studies Database. http://
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. New York: NY, 2012. Print.