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cinderella syndrome

Updated on October 5, 2014

Being a modern day feminist often battles my love for old literature.
Jane Austen leaves me swooning over the gentlemanly ways of a handsome gentlemen caller, and makes me almost want to be a damsel in distress.
My ideation of being a strong, independent woman quickly collides with my love for a strong, dominant male.
Question is, where does that come from?

In 1971, Colette Dowling wrote “The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Fear of Independence”.
During that time, it was still rare for a woman to leave her husband. Women were not raised to be independent or free-thinking, but rather to rely on the opinions and financial stability of men.
Colette describes her battle and fight against her own dependency after leaving her husband, illustrating a struggle that is all too common, even today.

Colette grew up being a “good girl” playing by all the rules, doing everything correctly, as girls are often taught to do. Yet, when she finally breaks free to be her own, independent being, she immediately becomes fearful, recognizing that she was not prepared for the world in front of her.
She reveals that all of those “good girl” qualities were in direct opposition of what she wanted in life: a profession, to travel, declaring “This is a stunning moment in a woman's life, when - after she has begun to move out, to expand, to raise her sights - she discovers that the rules have changed and she will no longer be rewarded for her compliance, as she has been, systematically, since she was a little girl.”

Women grow up believing we are fragile, too weak to stand alone.
We are the damsel in distress waiting to be saved by strong arms.
We’re taught not to rough house or get dirty.
We’re taught to look for a man to take care of us.
And we’re taught to look for validation from men and seek our self-worth through their words.
In a world of oppression, we give them every ounce of power they need.
Our worth.

And there we have it.
The Cinderella complex.

No matter how hard we fight it, no matter how many times we work on our insecurities and acceptance, no matter how many other people demonstrate our worth to us, we will ALWAYS seek it out from men.

Despite how much we hate it, and how much the world has proven it not to be realistic, we’re all still waiting for prince charming to swoop in and save the day.
We’re waiting for that one guy who is going to beat the odds of statistics and melt our hearts.

We can be feminists and cynics.
We can hate all romantic clichés like flowers and love letters.
We can swear over and OVER again that we’re not into labels.
We can rebel against every other social norm.

But somehow, we’re still going to look for that self-worth in a man.
Because it’s the feeling that can’t be “un-learned”.
The feeling of being told we’re beautiful and smart and funny.
The feeling of making someone proud.
Making HIM proud.
The feeling of being chosen.

All of those things add up to our worth and give us that validation the world has taught us to look for.
Men are born into the world already having dominance.
They are born “big” and taught to be fighters.
They learn how to fight for whatever they want and are allowed to do pretty much anything, always explained away by the phrase, “boys will be boys”.
While, girls are born "small".
They are delicate and fragile, taught to remain quiet and proper.
They are to be sweet and innocent and are to play by the rules.
They are never to act reckless, engaging in rough play or sex.

Boys grow up looking at the world like they can have anything and are encouraged to take it.
And girls grow up looking at the world, scared of everything, and encouraged to find a man to help her navigate it.

Women fear their own independence.
Because we’ve been taught to.
And while we want to be tough and free, we are still emotional beings with a lot more stress and worry than necessary.
Women are natural born worriers and care way more about opinions than a man ever would.
And we wreck ourselves over and over again, searching for this self-worth and validation that we believe will only come from the men in our lives.

And even with as many times as we say it to ourselves and try to convince everyone that those opinions don’t matter, we still believe they do.
We still want him to consider us beautiful and strong and powerful.
Because it feels good to hear it.
It feels good for him to say it.
We feel wanted and protected, even if it’s only by words.
Those words of validation become our vice, placating our most prominent fears.

Every day we are fighting a heavy battle for equality and trying to convince everyone around us that we don’t need men to take care of us, all while still wanting them to.
Because in the deepest crevice of our minds, those opinions still matter.
His words still protect us.
They become our armor against our own self-deprecating anxieties.

The question is, when do we stop believing in the necessity of this validation?
How do we let go of our need to always be Cinderella?

It’s hard to admit when we’re placing our worth in the palms of someone else’s hands.
And it’s even harder to give it up before it crushes us.

It’s that validation that keeps so many women in relationships with terrible men,
making excuses for his behavior because he once held her worth.
Because he still holds her worth.

But we don’t need validation and we don’t need those words to make us feel good.
We already have the power to do that.
And we don’t have to give up on the desire to be protected or the yearning for those kind and hopeful words.
We just have to learn to not rely on them to tell us who we are.
Because we already were, long before those words got to be the label.

We already were.
We don't need to be Cinderella and we don't need to be saved.
We didn't grow up in a fairy tale.
There are no princes or knights in shining armor.
There's no white horse or evil witches.

But there IS a pretty big world out there, waiting to be experienced.
And we don't need someone else's hand to take us through it, and we don't need their words to coach us into it.

We just wake up, and we do it.
Because we can.

Forget social norms.
Forget society.
Forget the oppression.
Forget all the cliches.

You just wake up and know that you hold your own worth.

Today and always.



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