“Come again?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes the way four-year-olds do when they’re trying get your drawers all in a knot and said, “You’re EVIL.”
Taken aback, I asked, “Why?”
“Because you’re a stepmother to Bubbie and Sissie,” she said, smiling as sweetly as if she’d just told me I looked pretty.
“HUH?” I sputtered.
“You don’t give them food,” she said.
“WHAT?” I cried. “Yes, I do!”
Considering the way I cook, denying them MY food might benefit ALL the children. I wasn’t thinking that way at the time of this exchange though.
“No, you don’t,” she said. “The stepmothers in Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White don’t give the kids food. So you don’t either.”
Holy poisoned apples on a stick, Batman! In our culture, when even the sweetest woman takes on the role of “Stepmother,” she apparently morphs into a child-eating bitch right before the eyes of her own wedding party. I’ve been complaining about society’s perception of stepmothers since I met my husband twelve years ago. In my humble opinion, the Brothers Grimm can suck it.
I know, I know. They were expert linguists who sought to immortalize spoken-word stories on paper, share these tales with the literate world, and spread them through the ages the way the rats spread the plague.
I’ve also read that the Grimm Brothers watered these stories down a bit by making the stepmother, instead of the mother, the evil character. Reading about mothers murdering their own children apparently disturbed everyone, so these two geniuses had the stepmothers, instead of the mothers, hire the huntsmen. Wednesday Martin corroborates this factoid in her sanity-saving book for stepwitches entitled Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do. Children of divorce have enough to contend with besides the subconscious cultural belief that their father’s future significant other intends to chop them up into little pieces. That sentiment really makes for a happy family, doesn’t it? Hey, Grimm Brothers—where’s the story about the rotten stepfather?
I like Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Jungian analysis of the whole psycho stepmother stereotype a little better. In her book Women Who Run with the Wolves, she notes that the young stepdaughter heroines cannot fully develop their strength and wisdom while the “too good mother” is alive. The stepmothers come along and force them “into the woods,” thus pushing them to reach their full womanly prowess. Gee, I love that role. Sign me the hell up. Oh, wait, I’m already under contract. From what I’m hearing, even my biological child believes that society ought to take a contract out on me.
I know my complaint about the cultural stepmother stereotypes pervading our culture like a rash won’t reach any sort of resolution in this century or the next. I just hope I can convince my daughter that, despite what her fairy tales proclaim, I can be a stepmother and still possess a pube or two of human decency.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had the whole Cinderella thing thrown in my face. That other time, it almost killed my stepdaughter. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about it.