She’s No Mary Sue: Victim Blaming Cinderella
Frankie discusses Cinderella’s place in discussions of victim blaming, female shaming, and feminist icons.
CW: This essay discusses issues relating to domestic and psychological abuse.
The story of Cinderella existed long before the classic Disney movie was released in 1950. But it’s that movie that most people are familiar with when it comes to seeing Cinderella as a pop culture icon. The story has sprouted countless spinoffs and retellings over the years, including a live-action version by Disney in 2015.
But, in nearly every telling of the tale, there’s one thing in common: Cinderella is often depicted as a “Mary Sue,” or the perfect pretty face with a naive disposition, who is flawless and simply waits around to get rescued by a man.
Is that really the case, though? A video released in 2017 by Screen Prism (now known as The Take) makes a strong argument against it.
When you take a closer look at Cinderella’s background, how she handles the abuse of her family, and how she chooses to remain kind and optimistic, labeling her as a Mary Sue is actually a form of victim-blaming. Cinderella had little to no control over her circumstances for many years, and yet somehow still managed to find a way to escape her abuse in the end.
Instead of victim-blaming Cinderella, she should be touted as a feminist Disney icon for how well she overcame the trauma of abuse. With that in mind, let’s look at how parts of Cinderella can reflect on the lives of real women today, and how victims of abuse all respond differently.
The Reality of Responding to Abuse
In the Disney film, the narrator suggests from the very beginning that Cinderella was abused by her step-mother from a young age, before eventually becoming a servant to the older woman and her step-sisters. Throughout the movie, Cinderella is verbally abused by her family. In one dramatic scene, her step-sisters even grab her and tear her clothes while her step-mother watches with a satisfied expression. These instances of psychological and emotional abuse are all forms of domestic violence dressed up in Disney colors. From an outside perspective, it’s easy to wonder why Cinderella didn’t make an effort to ever fight back or even speak up for herself. Instead, she remained optimistic and kind.
It’s important to understand that there is no “correct reaction” to domestic abuse from those who are experiencing it. Cinderella had no other family and nowhere else to go, so she tried to make the best of the situation at hand.
It’s not uncommon for women to stay with their abusers for a variety of reasons, including:
- The fear of more lethal action if they attempt to leave
- A lack of support
- Lack of knowledge on how to find safety
- Lack of having somewhere to go
- No financial means to take care of themselves
There are also societal barriers and personal struggles that victims have to overcome in order to leave their situation. In Cinderella’s case, she fell under many of these categories. The one time she did manage to escape for a night (to go to the royal ball),she was found out and locked away, so her fears of more serious consequences became a reality.
Finding Help to Escape
Most people are quick to believe that Cinderella found her happy ending because Prince Charming came to rescue her. If you take a deeper look at the story, though, it wasn’t a man that rescued Cinderella from her abusive situation — it was her lifelong positive attitude and optimism, and her ability to keep dreaming.
Even as a victim in a hostile environment, Cinderella’s dreams allowed her to believe there was something better for her out there. So many victims of psychological abuse struggle with low self-esteem and depression. Cinderella’s silent strength throughout the film is what truly makes her a heroine.
Cinderella’s dreams manifested themselves in the form of a Fairy Godmother when she couldn’t take the pressures of the hostile environment any longer. Victims of a hostile work environment might be able to relate to such things, especially if you’re being bullied or harassed in the workplace. If you don’t have a human resources (HR) representative or “Fairy Godmother” on your side, taking steps to stop the harassment can feel overwhelming, to the point where your best option is to leave your job.
Cinderella’s dreams and her Godmother allowed her to leave her abusive situation, even if only for one night. That night triggered the series of events that would eventually lead to her freedom from abuse, thanks to the support she was shown when she did “escape”.
Showing Real Princess Power
One of the key scenes in Disney’s classic movie is when Cinderella wakes up in the morning and immediately begins singing about her dreams, and how no one can take them from her.
Even in the midst of a traumatic life riddled with daily abuse, Cinderella’s morning routine allows her a bit of time for herself, which likely makes a big difference in her attitude and optimism. Things like meditation or the practice of mindfulness can have the same positive impact on abuse victims today. Do they fix everything? No. But they can put you in the right mindset to move on from your abuse and to seek the help you need.
When you take a step back and see how Cinderella handled abuse for so many years, only to find a way to remain optimistic, get out of the abusive situation, and really find her “happy ending,” she becomes less of a Mary Sue with a glass shoe. Instead, you can view her as more of a powerful princess who overcame impossible circumstances. That’s a heroine we can all get behind.