Often when people criticize Cinderellas for being passive, they don't actually give us an alternative for what they expect her to do. Sometimes I suspect they haven't really thought through the fact that older Cinderella figures would have few other options, if any, than to accept her servitude.
"Cap O'Rushes"-John Batten
Yet Yolen in her essay did remind us of folkloric versions (most notably "Cap O'Rushes") in which Cinderella does the unthinkable, leaves home, finds herself a new position and ends up gaining a husband and wealth. Because although historical context is important in understanding the world fairy tales came from, fairy tales are hardly restricted to being realistic. Fairy tales are full of characters who defy expectations and are rewarded.
I think a good way to look at how we expect historical Cinderellas to act is by comparing Disney's Cinderella with Danielle from "Ever After". And I'm not bashing Disney at all-in fact his Cinderella reflects all of the storybook versions that had been published in the century previous and we can hardly have expected much different from any version made in the 1950s. So we can think of them in terms of Cinderella from the 1950s verses the 1990s.
Danielle is an independent tomboy who shows a range of emotions
Disney's Cinderella seems not to mind being her stepmother's slave, until she is unable to go to the ball
In the traditional fairy tale, I'm not too bothered by the fact that Cinderella generally does her chores cheerfully. She has a lame job and a mean boss, which is something we can all relate to in some way, and doing things we don't want to do is just part of life. So if we take the story on a symbolic level, it's not as offensive.
But when you expand the story into novels and movies, Cinderella needs to show more evidence of someone who has undergone mistreatment. Although "Ever After" isn't the most realistic movie in the world, it's still fairly believable for Hollywood, and you can definitely see a huge difference in terms of how a more pro-feminist culture interprets Cinderella-someone who is still kind and compassionate, but also strong. Her courage makes her a good role model, even for those of us who could never in a million years win a sword fight against anybody or aren't considered tomboys.
Hopefully that clarifies things a bit! I'm still trying to sort through all the attacks against passive princesses myself, because while I think many feminist arguments go too far, there is obviously some value in what they have to say.