Lessons from Cinderella

The story of Cinderella popularized by the Brothers Grimm (but have originated by Charles Perrault) is traditionally a part of most girls’ childhood tales in most countries and languages.

Not having daughters, I have never had the occasion of analyzing  the lessons of the story. Now that I have a granddaughter, I shudder at what she would learn.

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Per...

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Perrault Perrault, Charles, 1628-1703; Clarke, Harry, 1889-1931, illustrator. London: Harrap (1922) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Here’s a list of the lessons a young girl with a young mind learns from the story:

1 All stepmothers are evil.

2 Your father is a wimp and will not protect you.

3 Your step sisters will never have your best interest/ Beware of other women.

4 You can be forced to do what other people want because you’re a weak girl.

5 The greatest goal in life is marrying Prince Charming, but it’s not really important to know him.

6 The only asset a girl has is her looks.

7 When you’re not invited to a ball, you cry in despair.

8 Pumpkins can be transformed to carriages.

9 Glass slippers are comfortable shoes, even for dancing.

10 We should wait for miracles and magic to transform our lives, but otherwise be obedient.

11 When a man is infatuated with us, or to be more precise, with our looks, rest assured he will always find you.

12 All the traits you are blessed with are worthless, unless someone rescues you.

Hmmm, I think I’ll skip this one!

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Per...

Illustration in The fairy tales of Charles Perrault Perrault, Charles, 1628-1703; Clarke, Harry, 1889-1931, illustrator. London: Harrap (1922) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About rachel bar

Psychotherapist and supervisor.
This entry was posted in Cinderella, Fairy Tales, Feminism, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Lessons from Cinderella

  1. lizmckinnell says:

    True, although I think kids can be told these stories if they are also being raised to think for themselves and to question authority. I’m currently writing a fairy tale for my niece. I’m having great fun with playing on a lot of the really problematic motifs. 🙂

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for your comment. The question has to do with why? Why would we want to tell the stories if we need to modify, interpret, and add commentary? Do we tell our children certain fairy tales because they were our favorites, and we have an emotional attachment to them? Please read my reply to Susan for more of my take on the matter. I would be interested in the fairy tale you’re writing.

  2. The faerie tale of Cinderella, with ancient origins in Bronze Age lunar myths and relevance in all cultures, has a great deal more to offer us than what seems like the obvious lessons and perhaps contemporary political feminist viewpoints of the story. Faerie tales carry the eternal wisdom of the soul and offer aspects of the archetype (in this case the outcast feminine) that have been ignored or devalued by contemporary cultural tradition. English author and Jungian analyst Anne Baring, in her beautiful exploration of Cinderella, explores the origins of this tale of exile, discovery of one’s “true mother,” connection with the masculine, and ultimately, transformation of the soul into wholeness. She writes, that Cinderella reflects “imagery involving the sacred marriage that gradually transformed and interiorized,” an experience that has resonated with women and girls for over two thousand years. This story, like all faerie tales, is an expression of the collective unconscious whose value lies in the fact that they mirror the basic patterns of the human psyche. In other words, they depict the general human condition beyond cultural and racial differences. They unite us in an understanding of what it means to be human.
    Transformation and growth is the goal of psychotherapy, to slowly process aspects of our inner life that we want to change, doing the arduous work of tolerating our struggles, and suffering the pain that brings the possibility of metamorphosis.

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks for your comment Susan, and it’s an interesting one, where you make the connection between the archetype/ Jungian concept, the metaphor and the collective unconscious. Let’s start by remembering that fairy tales actually started as folk stories for grown ups and only later were transformed to stories for children. That by itself bears its own exploration. Secondly, as long as a story is being told repeatedly, it’s difficult to distinguish whether its underlying message informs us of the collective unconscious or whether it perpetuates an archtype that will continue to inform future behavior. I believe it’s important to note that some folk tales, as well as fairy tales did not survive, and it bears the question of why? Why some survived for 200, or 2000 years and others disappeared? And lastly, the question of commercialism has to be asked. Did the choices of Disney influence us or did they choose the fairy tales because they conveyed universal themes?
      And lest I forget… with all due respect to Anne Baring, I disagree with her interpretation. Your comment though is rich with challenges to my post and I will continue to ponder it.

  3. lylekrahn says:

    And I thot I was the only one irritated by the less than subliminal messages from some children’s stories! You certainly made a list out of this one!

  4. Barbara Cooper says:

    Maybe it’s a generational thing. When I was a child, I knew no one who had a stepmother- wicked or otherwise. It was a foreign entity to me. I guess this story is all in how you perceive it. Cinderella’s father was dead, so I didn’t consider him weak or unable to protect her- the man was dead. What I remember getting from the story was goodness wins out over evil. The evil step sisters were as ugly as their behavior Cinderella was good and kind and from that ended up as a beauty whose goodness radiated outward. Her reward was the prince falling in love with her,
    and ‘happily ever after” ensues. Maybe we do our daughters an in justice with the “happily ever after” bit. But for the rest, I always loved the story. Especially when Rogers and Hammerstein turned it into a musical. The Leslie Ann Warren TV version was a favorite of mine as a child. As for believing in magic? What’s wrong with that? If you expect magical things in your life, somehow you manifest it. We are on opposite ends of the spectrum here, Rachel.

    • rachel bar says:

      We often are Barbara, and it’s fine. A statement such as “Her reward was the prince falling in love with her” speaks volume, and only proves my point. When young girls believe in this kind of reward, they live in fantasy, and they develop unrealistic expectations about relationships. And as to believing in magic, next Halloween I’ll buy a big pumpkin and bring it to you… I need a carriage.

  5. I love it when people bring light to the terrible teaching of classic fairy tales. I recently had a conversation with one of my friends about the “Disney Syndrome” where women except a man to “save” them and to fulfill all of their needs rather than help/save themselves. And I absolutely agree with the lessons this story (and others) teaches: a woman is treasured by her looks, doesn’t matter what “Prince Charming” is like as long as he wants to marry you, etc. Love that you wrote about this!

    • rachel bar says:

      I’m glad to hear that you identify with it Ellie, and because you’re so young, I feel encouraged that women like you would not buy into the overt or covert messages of this story. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Amy Ebert says:

    Rachel, I love this! SO spot-on. Just wait ’til you get to Snow White and Sleeping Beauty! ;D I get what Susan McG is saying…I’m just concerned about all those young girls reading these stories and watching the Disney movies without a mother, father (or another type of parental figure) about who will challenge some of these damaging messages…even if they may stem from the collective unconscious. Baby Jade is lucky to have a grandmother who will teach & model for her what a strong, loving and interdependent woman is like! 😀

    • rachel bar says:

      Thanks Amy, and it’s intersting again that you are also of a younger generation. I think that as therapists we acknowledge the collective unconscious, but we also have to ask ourselves whether some of its themes need too much interpretation.

  7. ermigal says:

    Interesting discussion! It called to mind my college report on Bruno Bettleheim’s “The Uses of Enchantment” and the purposes served by fairy tales, as Susan referred to…for example, Hansel and Gretel confirms the fear of abandonment and so on, as I recall. However, I am someone who hated the movie, “An Officer and a Gentleman” (remember that one?) because the heroine was rescued from her crummy job by the handsome Richard Gere. Take a look around at what some young girls think they need to wear to be attractive and get a man. I have mixed feelings, because we have come a long way, baby. But there’s still work to do, and some would love to go back to the good ol’ days. Thanks for the piece, Rachel! 🙂

  8. So glad I found your blog. Was just posting about my own thoughts on Cinders…

    My own 13th (if I may) – Someone else will come and make it all better.

  9. Martha Carr says:

    Love all the synopsis Rachel as well as all the thoughtful comments. I think you left one out:
    It is important to make friends with all the animals and varmints around you as they will come to your aid when you need it most (especially Disney version). Also, Fairy godmothers are more powerful than wicked stepmothers (true int he Wizard of Oz too).

  10. This is an insightful well written post. It is also one of my own “irritations” in life. The fairy stories that continue with the Hollywood cliche ‘woman is sad / lonely / been through a crisis; man meets woman, rescues her and they live happily ever after”. Is it any wonder the incidence of supposed ‘depression’ is rising at an alarming rate; when we discover to our horror, that life isn’t like that.
    Yes, I think. Will avoid these stories too.

    (By the way, it was ‘Pretty Woman’ that starred Richard Gere and Julia Roberts as a prostitute, yes, a true Cinderella story that one).

  11. Gosh! And all these years I thought fairy tales were just fairy tales!

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