The Other Slipper is a one-page site that examines Disney's adaptation of Cinderella in a new light. What I'm about to present here will very likely surprise you...and if that intrigues you, just scroll down to read more!
In Disney's Cinderella adaptation, the story unfolds thus: a young girl grows up as a servant in her own house, forced into this life by a cruel stepmother and spoiled stepsisters, having only mice and birds for friends. Then a royal ball comes along, and a fairy godmother bestows on Cinderella a magical dress and glass slippers so that she may attend this gala event.
Though the spell is broken at midnight, it has done its work--the prince at the royal ball falls in love with her, but does not know her name. All he has to go on is one glass slipper...but his love for her and pursuit of her indirectly rescues her from her life of servitude at last.
I've watched this movie countless times since I was a child, and I have never believed Cinderella to be a passive, helpless heroine merely "rescued" by a man's love for her. In fact, I argue that this movie is female-empowering, and more forward-thinking than it has ever been given credit for. And it all started when I noticed the other glass slipper.
The first odd thing that stood out to me was that instead of Cinderella crowing about meeting the prince and showing off her remaining glass slipper, she keeps quiet and hides everything from her family. As a child, I thought this was because she wanted to keep it her secret and maybe save a memory from such a special time in her life...but as an adult, I see that she's protecting herself. She knows full well her stepmother and stepsisters will stop at nothing to destroy any chance of her happiness, including this magical proof.
The only problem is, her dreams catch up with her at the most inopportune time. When her stepmother mentions that the prince is madly in love with the "mystery girl" everyone is looking for, Cinderella is overcome with emotion. The Prince pretty much has to be the first non-family guy she's ever seen, and somehow he fell in love with her? Can she be that lucky? Disbelief and infatuation create a perfect storm of dreaminess in that moment, and unfortunately Lady Tremaine is also savvy enough to pick up on it and use it to her advantage.
This momentary slip in Cinderella's guard nearly costs her the game of wits she's been playing with her stepmother almost all her cognizant life. Most of the time, Cinderella has played herself off as being unshakable, quiet and docile, hardly having any human emotion at all (just like real abuse survivors), but now Lady Tremaine has seen that Cinderella IS painfully human and thus vulnerable. Thus, Cinderella can be locked in the tower and all will be under control again.
But for the first time, Lady Tremaine is not in possession of all the facts. Though she knows Cinderella is the mystery girl, she doesn't know that Cinderella still possesses an object that will prove it. So her plan, which is successful (at first), involves keeping Cinderella from trying on the only shoe she knows to exist, both by locking her up and by shattering the slipper if necessary.
Those turns of events lead us directly to that super-dramatic scene with the Duke frantically gathering the pieces of the broken left slipper together, terrified of the king's anger when he learns of this latest snafu. Cinderella says "Well, perhaps, if it would help--" and he interrupts her, saying "No, no, nothing can help now."
Then Cinderella smiles and says, "But you see, I have the other slipper," revealing the right slipper from underneath her apron.
I absolutely love this moment, because it reveals Cinderella as I have always seen her. Now, not only has Cinderella proven her identity as the prince's mystery girl, she has also done it in a way that her stepmother can never refute, because there are impartial witnesses outside the family who will testify. This is one victory her stepfamily cannot take from her, and it's one that Lady Tremaine never sees coming.
(I mean, look at that reaction!)
So, even though Cinderella did not actually spring herself from her prison in the attic, she still has taken an active role in saving herself by anticipating her stepmother's likely machinations and outfoxing the old biddy at her own game. Cinderella proves she's not as trusting and naive as she lets on!
I feel this is a vital point about this film, because so often, critics of Disney's adaptation say that it glorifies oppressive gender roles and strict passive codes of conduct for women. I have also seen it argued many times that Cinderella has no personality, no intelligence, no character development, and no personal agency of her own--instead, she's interpreted as a "cardboard" female character, simply and nobly waiting for a man to change her life. People even make it into a joke or a meme...but as a longtime fan of this film, I wanted to delve into it and see if it was true.
What I discovered was quite the opposite--far from being vapid, naive, stale, and passive, Cinderella is smart, wise, dynamic, and active. Many people today think empowering/feminist actions have to be loud, brassy, and angry, but Cinderella proves that one can be calmly self-asserting, too. She is an abuse survivor, after all; she's learned how to protect herself in her toxic household, and she's learned how and where to find her own joy independent of those around her. Through her actions, she affirms she is still a person and deserves her own space, her own dreams, and her own ambitions, and she doesn't back down from that stance even though she has to bow and play nice with her stepmother and stepsisters. Life in that house is a delicate daily dance of power, and so Cinderella takes action in safe, unnoticed ways (taking care of the household pests instead of killing them, for instance), till she can be free.
(This power imbalance is one reason she flees the ball before her magical dress fades away; she knows Lady Tremaine and her daughters will be there, and she doesn't want them to discover this magical evening she's just had, nor does she want them to rip it all away from her by disparaging her to the king and prince.)
She also changes over the course of the film, from merely surviving day to day to living fully again, despite the constant barrage of hateful language and deplorable treatment. Rather than believing her stepmother and stepsisters are right about her being worthless, Cinderella quietly takes the opportunities given to her by the Fairy Godmother and the prince himself, even though her efforts risk her continued safety should she be discovered before things come to fruition.
The point of this particular adaptation, then, is NOT that she gets married to the prince; it's that she has survived her abusive, emotionally impoverished home life long enough to escape it. She is a survivor and now she gets to reap the benefits of her careful hard work...THAT is her "happily ever after."
First and foremost, I see Cinderella as smart and savvy. Though she is decidedly not content with her terrible home situation, she does all the unfair work assigned to her (efficiently, might I add), because it's easier than bucking the "system" her stepmother and stepsisters have designed for her. Cinderella is, after all, an abuse survivor--she is fighting a social guerrilla war in her own house. She has learned to work within their system, playing kind and quiet, biding her time until she can break out safely. At the beginning of the film, however, no opportunity for her to safely leave her abusive situation has manifested yet. (When it does, however, as I will discuss below, she makes most of her moves so quietly that no one expects them!)
Cinderella also knows how to manage others--both her enemies and her friends. Since she cannot befriend or depend on her family, she relies on forging connections with the mice and birds in her attic bedroom, learning to communicate with them and treating them kindly instead of like pests.
This respect is genuine, unlike the outward meekness she shows to her step-family, and it earns her the undying loyalty and trust of her rodent and bird friends--which she relies on later in the film, since they come to her rescue after her stepmother locks her in the attic.
Another notable thing is Cinderella's simple faith that her situation will improve one day. She compartmentalizes it often, merely doing what she has to for her existence every day, but she does allow herself to think about her hopes, dreams, and wishes at certain times (when things are looking particularly hopeful and she's alone). "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" illustrates this perfectly; her faith is matter-of-fact and practical, not too mystical nor too chipper.
A dream is a wish your heart makes
When you're fast asleep;
In dreams you will lose your heartaches
Whatever you wish for, you keep.
Have faith in your dreams and someday
Your rainbow will come smiling through--
No matter how your heart is grieving,
If you keep on believing,
The dream that you wish will come true.
But curiously, the writers also humanize Cinderella quite a bit, allowing her to display anger, bitterness, and even despair. These are fleeting yet realistic emotional moments, and they stand out because most fairy tale characters don't get that much depth written into them. For instance:
After Anastasia and Drizella rip apart her first dress, Cinderella runs into the garden and cries, and as the song "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" is sung back to her, she argues with the lyrics she once sang: "No, it isn't true...it's no use, no use at all...I can't believe, not anymore."
She feels broken and defeated, and it is at that moment that the Fairy Godmother chooses to arrive, because Cinderella has finally come up against an obstacle she can't overcome with rationalization and practicality.
However, despite these moments of human weakness, Cinderella's inborn character traits and learned survival skills combine to forge her into a woman who will handle the weight of a crown with ease. Intellect, wisdom, practicality, faith, managing others, cultivating loyalty and trust, projecting calm and kindness while smoothing over relations with enemies...she will need all these as a princess, for sure!
I realize that my interpretation of Cinderella as a character also introduces all sorts of new issues--for instance, does she really love the prince after all? Does this teach that marriage is a suitable escape route from bad situations? What does this interpretation of Cinderella say about the other female cast members? Let's tackle those issues one by one:
Does she love Prince Charming, or just the idea of escaping her family?
I'm of two minds about it. On the surface, he is her golden ticket out of her terrible life and they have only just met...but they are both seeking freedom from their parental figures' ridiculous expectations, too. So I can see how this would breed chemistry between them, possibly enough to form a long-lasting relationship in time. I do think Cinderella is swept up in the fantasy of being in love with a prince at first, but I don't believe it stays that way.
Does this movie support marriage as an escape route from a bad life?
I don't believe so, because in the beginning of the film, we learn that Cinderella's father's second marriage was disastrous, resulting in her current living situation with an unloving stepmother and stepsisters after his death. I think this film presents a balanced look at marriage--sometimes it can be a long-awaited dream come true, and sometimes it can be a gilded trap leading to abuse and power struggles.
Are women either "good" or "evil" in this film?
Sure, they are painted that way on the surface. But as noted above, Cinderella is also allowed to display anger, bitterness, and despair--she just doesn't use those emotions to hurt others the way that her stepmother and stepsisters do. I argue that instead of the film portraying a contrast between "good" women and "evil" women, it's a contrast between women who believe they are worthy of love versus women who believe they are not worthy of love.
For instance, Anastasia and Drizella are miserable because they believe they are unlovable, and thus they feel they must stoop to trickery to even have a hope of getting married and being happy. Their mother nurses this belief because she can profit emotionally off her daughters' dependence on her, but she too believes she's unworthy of love--after all, both her husbands are dead and she's raising three children alone, so in her view, the universe or some higher power does not want her to be happy. Thus, why should anybody else (i.e., Cinderella) be happy and loved? (Ouch.) No wonder Lady Tremaine and her daughters' actions are so negative--all three are steeped in a toxic mentality that's hurting them just as much as they are hurting others.
Contrast this with the "good" female characters--the female birds and mice that aid Cinderella as much as they can. Each one, though they are merely supporting characters, are given moments where their skill, intelligence, and thoughtfulness shows through. Like Cinderella, they are dutiful when they need to be (the female mice and birds helping to construct Cinderella's first dress), but not afraid to do dangerous things to help others, too (the female birds joining in the fight against Lucifer at the end of the film by dashing crockery on his head from above). They all know their own worth and they aren't afraid to do whatever they need to do to defend that worth. They don't shy away from their negative emotions, but they don't allow those to spill over onto others, either.
What DOES this film say about ideal love, if it isn't "love is instant and perfect?"
The ideal love I see presented here is that ideal love is born of commonalities and respect. Prince Charming and Cinderella are both playing forced social roles; in a sense, they both are servants, though Cinderella is a household servant and Prince Charming is a public servant. Both are interested in obtaining personal freedom, though Prince Charming has been able to be more successful, but neither of them are as truly free as they would like to be.
I believe that this shared ideal of personal freedom brings the two of them together. After all, they can't have just danced for hours (unless they're super athletic, LOL). I think they spent a good deal of time talking at the various places pictured before the clock started striking twelve, and they found they had a lot in common. Now, I know this theory doesn't have a ton of support from the film, due to the magical musical montage of dancing, but I think this headcanon makes the prince's sudden love for Cinderella much more understandable. (Also, I think it's entirely possible to talk with somebody at a party for hours and never get around to introducing yourself by name--I do it all the time, though I never mean to! LOL!!)
An important footnote: the actions taken to chase after Cinderella and to find her using the glass slipper are often attributed to the prince, but he is not the one who ordered them. Instead, it is the grand duke who sends the horses after the pumpkin carriage, and it is the king who orders the kingdom-wide "glass slipper" search (to be carried out by the grand duke, of course). The prince, by contrast, is so hemmed in by his father and his advisors that he's not really able to do much at all--the grand duke doesn't even let him tell his own father he's found a young woman he likes!
What IS the ideal male role in the film, if it isn't "savior of women"?
I believe this film presents the idea of men as equal "helpers of women" rather than superior "saviors." For instance, the male mice and birds all appear to have egalitarian partnerships with their female counterparts, engaging in equal amounts of work side-by-side. Even though their work is sometimes of different types, this does not stop the writers and animators from showing us men and women engaged in the same tasks, too--this film came right on the heels of World War II, after all, and since women had had to step into the workplace and help the war effort doing skilled labor during that time, it makes sense that this social influence would show up in later images of popular culture.
Bruno the dog also conforms to this ideal, aiding Cinderella as a worried (and righteously angry) friend rather than as someone who smugly expects that she will need him because of her inherent weakness as a woman. He has of course been itching for a legal shot at Lucifer since time immemorial, and she has guarded him against such a reckless course of action, but now that his favorite human is trapped because of Lucifer's scheme, he is cleared to act in her defense.
Prince Charming tries to help Cinderella, too, though his hands are tied till the end of the film by his social position and the overwhelming influence of his father. But notice the symbolism at the end of the film, as Prince Charming and Cinderella come down the steps of the castle as a married couple--they are walking side-by-side, neither one really leading or following, and Prince Charming is assisting Cinderella as she descends. I think that visual wraps it up pretty neatly.
On the flip side, the non-ideal role for men is portrayed very well by Lucifer the cat and, surprisingly, the king; both expect the women in their lives to do what they want them to do and be what they want them to be. For instance, Lucifer expects that Cinderella (and the other female humans in the household, presumably) will cater to every one of his physical needs and wants, and the king expects that the prince's future wife will be more than happy to pop out grandbabies for him to play with. Both are also depicted as being capricious, easily frustrated, and out of control when angry, unlike the ideal male role models in the film, who meet crises head-on with practical courage. Clearly, according to the writing, men who behave in selfish and entitled ways are not the ideal!
For me, the inclusion of the other slipper (and my noticing it) led me down a path of logical but unusual connections, even as a child, and radically shifted the way I interpreted both the film and Cinderella as a Disney Princess. Far from being a damsel in distress, she's a true heroine, fighting a silent war in her own home and eventually winning by assembling all her resources and friends together. It doesn't culminate in a big dramatic fight scene, but it doesn't have to. Cinderella's triumph is as quiet as her money moves. And, even though she's had help to get where she is, that DOES NOT invalidate her daily heroism of just surviving in a hostile, abusive environment, though many critics have discredited this.
This, combined with the ideas of men and women working together, love being built on commonalities and respect, and presentations of ideal vs. non-ideal men and women, makes Cinderella well-rounded and even a little progressive, even if it is well-cloaked behind beauty/fashion ideals of the time and a good deal of magic and fantasy. What can you say, it was the beginning of the 1950s, and American society couldn't handle too much more social change after the war. (At least, not for about ten more years...)
Thank you so much for visiting The Other Slipper! I hope this site has intrigued you and given you some food for thought about this lovely fairy tale adaptation. Below, you will find resources and credits for the images and fonts I used throughout this site, plus some link buttons if you would like to link back to this site. Also, if you'd like to read more sites like this, I invite you to visit my network page to see all the sites I've created thus far.
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