What’s Wrong with Cinderella?

How Cinderella is messing up your life and relationships! 


by Debra Moffitt

Cultures and societies have long used stories to shape and guide people. And like it or not, it works. One of the most insidious and undermining stories that is at least 500 years old, is “Cinderella.”

Ok, it’s a “kid’s” story. What could possibly be wrong with it? A lot actually! Let’s look at the underlying messages in the story. First, remember that Cinderella lives with her “evil” stepmother and stepsisters. She’s forced to do housework and live basically as their slave. In the story, she’s unable to imagine any way to change her plight – except through marrying Prince Charming. Where’s her father and why’s he allowing this to happen?!

Dr. Riane Eisler, author of “Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body – New Paths to Power and Love,” and “The Power of Partnership” explores the deeper messages in fairy tales. She says that these stories can dis-empower us, reduce our self-esteem, make us identify with the victim, and give us the impression that the only way out (for women especially) is to be saved by a Prince Charming. In the traditional Cinderella story and many fairy tales, passive, helpless girls must be rescued by a man. They present traditional, “dominator” models of relationships where men take the lead.

Bad role models like Cinderella, show zero autonomy or ingenuity. They don’t rely on their brains or try to outsmart anyone. This teaches women a victim mentality and girls and women learn to fantasize about being the helpless one who is saved from misery or being tied to the train tracks by a male hero. James Bond films continue to perpetuate these roles where women are weaker and must possess sex appeal to survive.

Cinderella teaches girls from the earliest age, that they must rely on appearance and that this is their only asset. Dr. Eisler says that these stories teach little girls “to view their bodies as commodities to trade for security and happiness.”No wonder Western culture is stricken with an epidemic of women with anorexia and bulimia as many believe that only their bodies give them value and esteem plus they must conform to an extremely unrealistic and rigorous image of beauty.

Another detrimental message in Cinderella — older women are evil and other women like the step-sisters are not to be trusted. This theme runs through many fairy tales. Why would men (often the instigators of these tales) want women to believe this? I suspect that because when women share information about how they’re being hurt, beaten, and abused (which men have made taboo for centuries – even going so far as to blame women for their own rapes), they gain power. When women compare notes and find out that more than one of them/us are being brutalized by a man or a group of men, then by uniting we can make changes. In fact these changes are looming large right now as more and more women, and men who support us, come together to take a stand for equal partnership in families, intimate relationships, and in the political process.

What new stories can we tell to empower us and improve our relationships? “Brave” the animated film, demonstrates a different view, where a girl who must bow to tradition of being married to a clansman, refuses and stands up for her right to choose not to marry. Other contemporary stories are also flipping the old “traditional” view of women’s options on their head. In my book, “The Wedding Photographer,” Jo, the main character, marries herself as an act of rebellion and a way to reject the usual ideas about how to live “happily-ever-after.”

I encourage you to explore the impact of some of these old stories on your life and how they may still be unconsciously shaping your beliefs. I’m sure you’re not alone. Please share with others in the comments section below.

Also I’d like to invite you to listen to Dr. Riane Eisler as we talk about “What’s Wrong with Cinderella” on my UnityFM radio show.

Copyright Debra Moffitt, 2017. No portion of this blog, or any writings here-in may be copied, reused, linked to or printed in any form without prior written consent of author, Debra Moffitt. See “About Debra” on this blog for more details and permissions info.kjotbiiov44-larisa-birta



  1. I love Dr. Riane Eisler and her reflections on stories that disempower us. I have been blessed to raise two strong empowered young women and challenge those stories as we encountered them throughout their childhood. I look forward to listening to your interview with her! Thank you so much!

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