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.
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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...