I call this “The Cinderella Complex” — a network of largely repressed attitudes and fears that keeps women in a kind of half-light, retreating from the full use of their minds and creativity. Like Cinderella, women today are still waiting for something external to transform their lives.”
― Colette Dowling, The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence
Recently, I read a book called “Cinderella Complex” by Colette Dowling. I immediately felt compelled to review it because the book sheds light on the concept of women’s inner independence in contrast to the voluntary imposition of male dominance. It presents the process through which this dominance occurs. I believe that every woman will find something relatable in this book, and personally, as a young one who sees herself as independent, I certainly did.
In the first part of this article, I’ll explain what the Cinderella Complex is and discuss what Colette’s book reveals about it. I’ll also explore the psychological and societal effects of this complex. In the following sections, I’ll share how the Cinderella Complex has influenced my personal growth and decision-making. I’ll talk about the signs I’ve noticed and suggest possible solutions to overcome it.
What does the book tell?
“I hate being alone. I wish I could live under someone else’s skin like marsupials. I want to be secure, to be watched over and taken care of, more than anything else in the world.” The book begins with these thoughts, and this quote summarizes the core idea of the book: the ultimate inclination of femininity is the fear of independence. Colette Dowling conveys the reasons behind women’s fear of independence through various examples and her own life experiences.
According to Dowling, women are faced with the difficult choice of sacrificing their freedom when they have to decide between the desire for security and ownership and the passion for freedom. The need for trust and the feeling of being safe and protected take precedence over the pursuit of freedom. It seems that our concept of freedom differs greatly from that of men. The primary reason for this lies in the fact that men are raised in a more actively engaged manner regarding their understanding of freedom compared to women.
In reality, the boundaries of a woman’s and a man’s freedom in life are determined through a process of education, both taught and learned.The differentiation between women and men is reinforced on a cultural basis. According to author, almost every woman experiences a dependency on men in their relationships. Through the Cinderella Complex, the greatest obstacle to a woman’s pursuit of freedom lies in her emotional dependence on men and the desire she feels towards this dependency.
Women often feel the need to rely on men due to the fear of being overwhelmed by the difficulties of life. This can prevent women from resisting unfavorable situations, as they see no alternative to depending on men. It is important for both women and men to develop their independence from a young age. The Cinderella Complex sheds light on the fact that even when women are capable of working and achieving economic independence, they still feel a desire for dependency.
The Cinderella Complex is about women feeling torn between dependence and independence. Women’s traditional roles in patriarchal societies often hold them back from being truly independent. The book explores how women’s desire to be protected, guided, and controlled by men goes beyond mere obligation and stems from deep-rooted longings. This is attributed to women’s natural instincts and characteristics.
After reading this book, I came to realize that I, too, have the Cinderella Complex. Until now, I believed I was independent. I graduated from top universities in my country, obtained a degree, and secured a job — all of which reinforced the idea that I am solely responsible for myself. I never felt the need or desire for assistance from others. However, it became apparent that deep within my shell, I also harbor a fear of true independence.
However, I can relate to the women whose stories are shared in the book. After getting married — almost two years ago — I found myself putting my husband’s needs and career before my own. I started believing that his professional life was more important than mine. I went through challenging times after completing my university education, struggling with the demands of work life and financial difficulties. These were particularly tough moments, coinciding with the peak of the pandemic when there were no job opportunities in the industry, not even a single job listing. I haven’t even mentioned the pressures from my family.
I got married to my long-time boyfriend after going through such a period. And after reading the book, I realize that my tendency to prioritize my husband so much after getting married was perhaps due to seeing him as my savior. I believed that his success in his job would save us both financially and alleviate the financial and emotional pressures I had been experiencing for the past two years. It seemed easier to focus on ensuring his success rather than striving for my own career. I took on the household chores because I perceived my own work as less significant. Moreover, my husband never had such expectations of me. So, why did I do it?
In the previous section, I explained that the author attributes these tendencies in women to cultural orientations. When I examine myself, I see my mother standing before me. Despite being a working woman throughout her life, she was always responsible for all the household chores and taking care of the children. I’m not saying I learned this behavior directly from her, but it’s hard for my mother to comprehend a different division of roles in life.
I understand why girls who grew up under such conditions might seek a figure in their lives to feel secure. Even now, when I go out with my friends without my husband, my mother still asks if I have prepared a meal for him. The upbringing and societal expectations can shape the way women perceive their roles and the need to find someone to rely on for security. It’s not surprising that they may seek a figure in their lives to feel safe and protected.
The upbringing process, which tends to focus on gender-neutral individual development for both men and women, forms the foundation of the concept of independence. As a Turkish girl, I have navigated between femininity, motherhood, and individuality since childhood. Society taught me these definitions and guided me along the way. However, at the age of 27, I realized that there could be other paths to explore. Uncharted territories, untrodden paths await me, ready to be discovered.
My partner can certainly be my companion, but I am the owner of my own journey. I have an equal stake in this life, just like everyone else. My achievements and capabilities are worthy of recognition. The fact that I may earn less or work in a smaller position does not change anything as long as I keep trying. I am not Cinderella; I can live without fancy shoes.
“Because of the way society sets them up, women never again experience the need to develop independence — until some crisis in later life explodes their complacency, showing them how sadly helpless and undeveloped they’ve allowed themselves to be.”
― Colette Dowling
In conclusion, I invite every woman who has experienced situations similar to the Cinderella Complex or has read books that shed light on these issues to share their stories. Your voice matters, and by sharing your experiences, you not only empower yourself but also create a platform for others to find solace and inspiration.
Together, we can break free from societal expectations and redefine our own narratives. Additionally, I welcome recommendations for other books that can broaden my perspective and ignite further discussions. Let’s continue this journey of self-discovery, support, and growth together.