Thursday, July 11, 2013

Unsung "Stepmom" Profiles: Week 1

“Ten years after they were married, when Bunyan was thirty, his wife died, leaving him with four children under ten, one of them blind. A year later, in 1659, he married Elizabeth, who was a remarkable woman. The year after their marriage, Bunyan was arrested and put in prison. She was pregnant with their firstborn and miscarried in the crisis. Then she cared for the four children as stepmother for twelve years alone and bore Bunyan two more children, Sarah and Joseph.”
John Piper, The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd (Illinois: Crossway Books, 2001), 54.

“He was himself [Bunyan, my emphasis] singularly fortunate in the two companions of his home life and pilgrimage. Mr. Lynch acutely suggested that in Christiana, with her vigorous strength of character, Bunyan was idealizing his second wife Elizabeth, who in the Swan Chamber so nobly confronted judges and magistrates in his behalf; while in the gentler character of Mercy we have his heart-reminiscence of her who had been the wife of his youth in his far-off Elstow days.”
John Brown, John Bunyan, His Life, Times and Work (London: J.S. Virtue and Co., Limited, 1886), 276.
John Bunyan, was a 17th century Christian leader and writer. Per scholars of the life and times of John Bunyan, his most notable works—still widely applauded and heralded today—are The Pilgrim’s Progress (scholars are still in debate about when this work was actually produced and published. Yet, most cite the work as being produced within 1660-1675) and his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666). John Piper, one of my favorite writers and theologians, chronicles the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Bunyan’s life in his book, The Hidden Smile of God.
I have read Piper’s book several times—probably twenty times—because I tend to identify with Derrida more so than with Descartes in that “I mourn, therefore I am.” John Bunyan’s life fits well within the frame of Piper’s project—and assuages my need to read about, if not speak with, others who have crawled through trials equipped with hope that there is indeed “fruit” from affliction—because The Hidden Smile of God is all about looking at and learning from the hardships and humble fortitude of various Christian leaders and thinkers.
Please visit: Locate Kent Brintnall and/or Joseph Winters (two prolific thinkers within the academic study of religion), and click on the link for the "Mourning, Trauma, and the Religious Imaginary" syllabus. This will not only provide you, reader, with a direct source for truly "seeing" some of what I was trained in as a Religious Studies student, but will also lend a great reference to Derrida and mourning, in general.


Specifically in Bunyan’s case, he was imprisoned for approximately twelve years during a time rampantly overrun by religious and political strife and conflict between Parliament and monarchy (please see Piper, 46). I write all of this and mention all of these details about the influence of Bunyan’s life, and my repeated readings over aspects of his life, to emphasize the fact that in all of my reading about Bunyan never once did I truly take notice of his SECOND WIFE, Elizabeth Bunyan.
Not taking notice of Elizabeth Bunyan—in most circles—is not an egregious error; however, in light of my fascination with and commitment to the production of new ways to “frame” and discuss the stepmom, I am most intrigued by placing her at the forefront of what I will continue to call: “Unsung Stepmom Profiles.”

(Let us take a moment for a brief disclaimer, for I shall dedicate an entire post to the aspects of my blog that SHOULD be challenged and pressed. As a writer, I am often the first person to acknowledge the fact that, sometimes, in order to make a sound argument other questions, answers, persons, and concepts become suspended or eclipsed. In other words, in much the same way that deep cleaning one section of a messy room often results in numerous other messes that must then be accounted for and cleaned up, I am simply highlighting Elizabeth Bunyan insofar as to create one clean area in my focus on the stepmom, but I will stay committed to thoughtfully addressing stepdads and even biological moms at a later date. Therefore, if you are not a stepmom—and I suspect that many of my current readers are indeed NOT—then I implore you to stick with me, think with me, challenge me, applaud me, if you feel so inclined, and be prepared to literally ARRIVE “somewhere” with me and many others upon reaching a denouement in this project.)
And herein lies my BOLD rhetorical move, I argue that Elizabeth Bunyan—herself, aside from her husband—can, and should be, the center of books, biography, sermons, discussions, and studies. I am not implying that Elizabeth Bunyan is not mentioned within books. Indeed, she is (most notably within John Brown’s book about John Bunyan), but my research—which I cannot say is exhaustive—has yet to encounter Elizabeth Bunyan as “subject” outside the bounds of being discussed alongside her “famed” husband.

Simply reading one paragraph about Elizabeth Bunyan leads me to think that she was not only John Bunyan’s second wife; yet, she was a brave, bold, dauntless stepmom and caregiver, who probably experienced trials and tribulations in her step-parenthood of which I have no parallel or experience. Perhaps, I should write a book about her? Of course, I have no way of knowing about or commenting on her character, per se, without extensive research, but as for now this has been “Unsung Stepmom Profile: Elizabeth Bunyan.” She cared for four children of whom she did not birth, one of whom was blind, while valiantly petitioning for her husband to be released from prison. Wow. I am humbled, Elizabeth Bunyan.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who is the "Step-Mom?" (Part 1)

   "I'll tell you what, husband," answered the woman, "early tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them."
 (Hansel and Gretel, Brothers Grimm)
 "Once upon a time there was a gentleman who married for his second wife the proudest and most haughty woman that ever was seen. She had two daughters, who possessed their mother's temper and resembled her in everything. The gentleman had also a young daughter, of rare goodness and sweetness of temper, which she took from her mother, who was the best creature in the world."
(Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper, Charles Perrault) 
In Hansel and Gretel—what is arguably the darkest children’s tale— a struggling woodcutter lives with his wife (second wife or "step-mom") and his two children, Hansel and Gretel. Struck by famine and economic hardship and forced to ration a meager supply of food that is barely enough to feed two, the man's wife suggests--and eventually persuades and forces the man--that the children be taken to the deepest part of the woods and left to fend for themselves, thereby affording the man and the woman a chance to live with the resources and rations they have in tow.

Cinderella, is a fairytale that has been told and re-told time and time again.  A man—with one daughter—remarries and takes for his second wife a deplorable, wretched woman, who has two ill-tempered daughters of her own. The man’s daughter is forced, by the hand of the stepmother and her daughters, to complete cruel housework, not short of treating her as an indentured slave. The girl becomes known as Cinderella, because she often sits among the cinders and ashes of the chimney after she completes her chores.

I have skipped over a host of plot details from both stories (hence, I have included links to the folktales for a more in-depth reference) for the mere fact that it is only the words and actions of the step-mom-figures that are integral to my particular project. (For now, I will table the fact that the men in both stories seem to allow their wives to enact such cruel fates upon their children, while sitting oblivious or idly by.) Ultimately, what is important to note is that the step-mom is the one who adamantly wants the children gone. The step-mom shows no love, affection, attachment, or remorse for her cruel actions, towards the children.
.       .       .
I am positing various texts, mainly excerpts from children’s tales and folktales, as a site for examining and teasing out the ways in which we, human beings, talk about the stepmom. I argue that ways in which we talk about persons, places, things, ideas, concepts, etc. indeed shape and frame the way in which human beings conceptualize particular persons, places, things, ideas, and concepts (on the ground, in practice, in the day-to-day). In other words, I aim to incite a discussion about the ways in which certain words, texts, and discourses have been taken up regarding and/or resulting in the evil step-mom-paradigm.
Think about a frame, a literal frame. Most people think of a frame in terms of mounting and showcasing something: a photograph, artwork…frames in film. I frame something that I want to see or to show or both. On the other hand, think about how a frame showcases, how it works: a frame encases, encloses, differentiates, sets off, and sometimes cuts off.
Currently there exists actual living, breathing women—who happen to care for children, via marriage, of whom they did not birth—who are pushed outside of certain forms of recognition and acknowledgment in the way of “parenting”(I will delve into what I mean by “forms of recognition and acknowledgement” in my next post). These suggestions may seem silly and/or extremist to some; however, let us examine how language is in essence strategized within vast webs of interactions and thoughts used to rationalize the casting of “step-mom” as outsider, cruel, evil, stern, haughty, selfish, vain, and ultimately abusive (I can personally attest to the fact that I as “parent-to-my-husband’s-kids” oftentimes “feel” like an outsider. Yet this particular aspect of the “step-mom” experience is vastly rooted in various psychological and emotional inter-workings of which I will discuss later).
Sometimes it is only questions, dissections, and polemical approaches that can result in births, advents, reforms, and multivalent nuances, which are—oftentimes—not encased, enclosed, or perpetually cut off.
Remember, I greatly desire to not only engage but to be engaged in conversation with others. Secondly, if you read this I hope it is a catalyst for thought, theorizing, and writing. This aspiring sage simply aims to produce.
Humbly Pressing On...