Behind Every Feminist are Words: Cinderfella

Behind every feminist are words.

Words are powerful. There are a lot of arguments around the possibility of language shaping your perspective, but what I want to focus on is language that we grew up hearing and reading that isn’t doing us any favors. When I hear ‘man and wife‘ at a wedding, my heart sinks. Why not husband and wife or man and woman. When I hear a woman referred to as a girl and know that the same person wouldn’t refer to a man as a boy – maybe a guy, but definitely not a boy, I always want to stop and draw attention to what just happened. If you really want to watch me lose my composure, tell me about the time you took a wrong turn and had to flip a bitch. This link takes you to the online slang dictionary and the very next term is flip a dick, which apparently means the same thing. I’m grateful for people who started drawing attention to our ingrained habits by saying things like herstory instead of history and sheroes instead of heroes. At the very least, I feel like it makes people stop and think for a second. And I appreciate the fact that men did so much of the writing for such a long time that the idea of ‘man’ meaning either man or woman was accepted. The problem is, those days are over. Does that mean we should go back and rewrite things to create gender-neutral textbooks? IMHO, yes! Is it appropriate for us to go back and rewrite literature? I don’t know. But here’s my challenge for you – consider rewriting something and either completely flipping it from ‘he’ to ‘she’ or using gender-neutral language instead. You can start with something short and sweet like a famous quote that uses ‘man’ where it could use ‘one’ or ‘human.’

One of my favorites is to turn a fairytale upside down…like Cinderella. Most of this is literally retyped with reversed genders, but there were a few places where I felt like the description needed to be altered. For me, it felt empowering to think about a princess seeking out her prince rather than the traditional prince seeking out his princess. I feel like this is one of the most embedded fantasies for little girls in our culture: finding a wealthy and powerful man to take care of them.


Once upon a time, there lived a rich woman who had a very handsome son. The child’s father died, and after a time the woman married a widow who had two sons.

She thought he would make a good stepfather for her little boy, but the wedding was scarcely over when this stepfather began to treat the woman’s son unkindly. He was jealous because the boy was so much more athletic than his own two sons and had a much kinder disposition. The boy was always so athletic and kind that it made the stepfather’s two sons seem even more disagreeable than they were, which was disagreeable enough.

The sons, too, became envious of their stepbrother, and they persuaded their father to keep him working in the barn and fields from morning till night, plowing and tilling, chopping wood, and doing all the hardest tasks. Each night when the boy’s work was finished, he was so weary that he would sit right down in the chimney corner among the cinders. So the stepfather and the step brothers began to call him Cinderfella.

One day Cinderfella heard his two stepbrothers shouting and shrieking and acting altogether in such a dither that he was sure something unusual had happened. And so it had. The two stepbrothers had been invited to a royal ball at the queen’s palace! The ball was to last three nights in a row, and, most exciting of all, the queen’s daughter was to choose her husband from among the young gentlemen who were present.

The two stepbrothers went out at once to buy the most striking suits they could find. When the first night of the ball came, they dressed themselves in all their finery and demanded that Cinderfella shine their shoes and tie their ties. Poor Cinderfella shined their shoes, and nicely, too; tied their ties and brought them their walking canes; and fetched and carried for them, upstairs and down, till at last when they were ready to go, Cinderfella was completely worn out.  

“Oh, I wish I could go, too,” he sobbed.

“Tears, tears, tears!” said a soft voice. “Dry your eyes, child.”

Cinderfella looked up and saw a little old man with a tall, pointed hat on his head and a golden wand in his hand.

“Who are you?” asked Cinderfella.

“I am your fairy godfather,” said the little old man. “Because you have always been good and gentle, I shall grant your wish. You may go to the ball if you will do exactly as I tell you. Run out of the garden and fetch me the biggest pumpkin you can find.”

Cinderfella did not see how a pumpkin could help him get to the ball, but he did as he was told and soon returned with a fine big one.

The little old man touched it with his magic wand. Lo and behold! The pumpkin turned into a golden coach! Next, he took six mice out of the mousetrap and changed each one into a sleek gray pony.

“Bring me a fat rat from the cellar,” said the godfather. When Cinderfella did so, the rat turned into a beautiful coach woman in full livery.

Then the fairy godfather said, “Now run out to the garden and lift up the watering can near the fence. Under it, you will find six lizards which you must catch and bring to me.” These were no sooner brought than, with a touch of the wand, they were turned into six footwomen, who immediately jumped up behind the coach!

“There!” cried the godfather. “Off you go!” But Cinderfella looked down at his soiled, ragged clothes and his eyes filled with tears.

“Tears, tears, tears,” said the godfather. “Dry your eyes, child.” And he waved his wand. Immediately Cinderfella’s rags and tatters were changed into a striking suit as blue as the sky and covered with intricate stitching. His shoes became the most striking steel-toed boots ever seen.

“Now,” said the little old man as he helped the happy boy into the coach. “Have a good time, but remember this; you must not stay one minute after midnight. If you do, your coach will become a pumpkin again; your horses mice; your footwomen lizards; your coachwoman, a rat. And your striking suit will turn into rags.”

Cinderfella promised he would leave the ball before midnight. He thanked his fairy godfather many times and drove off.

When his golden coach drew up at the palace, the news quickly spread that an unknown prince had come to the ball. The Queen’s daughter greeted him and was so delighted with his handsomeness that she promptly asked him for the next dance. He was so graceful that everyone in the room turned to admire him, and the Princess scarcely left his side all evening.

She had just gone to bring him a dish of sweetmeats when Cinderfella noticed that it was nearly midnight. He quickly slipped away and returned home in his golden carriage. His fairy godfather was waiting for him, and Cinderfella told him what a wonderful time he had had, and how the Princess had begged him to come back the next evening. The little old man was quite pleased and promised Cinderfella that he should go to the palace again.

The following evening, as soon as the two stepbrothers had gone, the fairy godfather appeared. He gave Cinderfella a suit as striking and intricate as a mafia gangster and off Cinderfella went. The Princess was so delighted to see him that she would dance with no one else. But shortly before midnight, he darted away from her and vanished so quickly that she could not follow him. The godfather was pleased because Cinderfella had remembered to come home on time and promised him he could go a third night also.

The next evening, Cinderfella’s suit was as golden as sunshine. He made such a charming picture with his golden curls and suit that a murmur of admiration went through the crowd as he entered the ballroom. The Princess, who had refused to dance until he arrived, came to him at once, and it was easy to see that she was very much in love with him.

The Princess was so charming that Cinderfella forgot all about the time until the clock began to strike twelve. He jumped up and fled the room. The startled Princess raced after him. He managed to escape her, but in his haste, he lost one of his steel-toed boots. Just as the last stroke of twelve died away, he reached the courtyard. In a twinkling, the handsome prince was just a shabby little cinder boy again. The golden coach was nothing but a pumpkin, and the coachwoman and footwomen were no longer there. Cinderfella reached home quite out of breath, and nothing remained of his lovely suit but one lonely boot.

When his two brothers returned home, they told Cinderfella all about the mysterious prince who had fled from the ball. Cinderfella’s heart beat faster when he heard how the Princess had picked up the lost steel-toed boot and had looked at it fondly all the rest of the evening. But he said not a word.

The next morning, the news went around that the Princess would marry the man whose foot exactly fitted the boot, for it was so big that she was sure only the mysterious prince could wear it. When the stepbrothers heard this, each one was sure that he could stretch his foot into the boot somehow.

A messenger was sent from house to house with the boot, and all the young men tried to put it on. But they tried in vain, for it would not fit.

At last the two brothers had their turn. They tried so hard to stretch their foot into the boot, but it simply slipped off. The messenger was about to leave when Cinderfella said, “Please, may I try to put on the boot?”

“You!” shrieked the stepbrothers. “Go back to the barn where you belong!”

But the messenger said that the Princess had given orders that every male was to try the boot, and he handed it to Cinderfella. Of course, the loafer fitted him perfectly, and when he pulled the mate from his pocket, the brothers and the stepfather were speechless with amazement. At that instant, the fairy godfather appeared, waved his wand over Cinderfella and once more clothed him in the striking golden suit.

The stepbrothers threw themselves at his feet and begged forgiveness for treating him so badly. Cinderfella, who was as good as he was handsome, forgave them at once and asked them to love him always.

Then the messenger took Cinderfella to the palace, and the Princess asked him to marry her without delay. A few days later, the wedding took place. Cinderfella became a real Prince and lived happily ever after with the Princess.