Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cheers to the "Wicked?"

Well, I had my first official professional-writing-endeavor-rejection. In short, I sense I am being told I am too provocative or confrontational. The business-side of me can certainly understand how various websites and publications must safe guard against what might be deemed defamatory and/or liability-inducing content. Yet, the academic, scholarly side of me sets its feet, throws its head back, and sends forth a “Rebel Yell” (thank you, Billy Idol). So, the content I originally crafted will probably never see the light of—publication—day, but I will certainly share my unabridged thoughts in the blog-o-sphere!

Recently, I stumbled upon a couple of articles that made me angry, and for those who know me, this is a big deal. I am not easily angered or disturbed. Let it be known, when I say “articles,” I am not talking about writing found on someone’s personal website. I am referring to articles published in high-volume print and online magazines, promoted and stamped with celebrity names and statuses. Let’s just say these articles are in the mainstream not the periphery.

Fuel for the rage tank…

“Something’s got to give, and neatness should be it. If the situation is desperate and the kids are growing subspecies in their space, get Dad to go in there and organize a cleanup. Life is messy, and it’s even messier when you choose a man with children. But remember: it’s better to have a man with kids than one without kids who flosses his cat’s teeth.”

“You’re better off being wicked.”

These are direct quotes taken from Rosemary Rogers’ article 12 Things a Stepmother Should Never Say, featured in the May 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.

Like The Matrix, I cannot tell you what the article is; YOU must read it for yourself. Formulate your own opinions then grace me with your thoughts. In the meantime, read on to see why I am so outraged.

An Excerpt from my formalized retort:

Rogers’ eight admonition glosses over the real, on-the-ground, experience of the stepmom role in the blended family. For example, prior to marrying me, my husband and his mom instructed his kids to see me as a figure of authority and trust. Therefore, it is necessarily part of my role and responsibility to care for, interact with, and discipline—as necessary—the kids as set forth by me and my husband. I relay important information about the kids and my interaction with them to my husband. There are several issues involving the kids, accountability, and discipline of which he takes the lead, because particular instances call for his direct involvement. Yet, overall, as adult friend, guardian, and parental-figure (whichever term “we” land upon to denote the role of stepmom) the implementation of accountability, discipline, and respect are enacted. Moreover, it does not mean that I or the kids think of me (myself) as their Mom simply because I hold them accountable in ways that are healthy for children, and this includes picking up after themselves in appropriate ways. Heck, even some babysitters ask kids to pick up after themselves! Think about it.

 There are several existing and emerging blogs and websites that propose helpful suggestions for the healthy formation of blended families. I am not suggesting that all articles, writings, and postings on stepmom and blended family have to deal only in positives. In other words—when taken on a case-by-case basis—there are likely to be drama-ridden, if not harmful, actions taken on behalf of SOME stepparents (stepmoms) that sow to the detriment of healthy blended families. Commentaries made in response to SPECIFIC “bad” behaviors and habits are necessarily important to stepmom conversations. However, a problem exists in the fact that retorts addressed to SPECIFIC situations, dynamics, interactions, and behaviors have been taken up as POPULAR, MAINSTREAM, GENERALIZED discourse lumping stepmom into a perpetual valence of reproach, repulsion, revile.

Stepmom articles do not anger me because they offer admonishments—NUMEROUS PARENTING ARTICLES ARE FRAMED AROUND ADMONISHMENTS. Anger arises because such articles are sardonic and antagonistic while being reductionist. There are huge differences between offering advice and broaching a topic with generalized disdain and sarcasm.

I cannot emphasize enough my overall argument that the social and cultural landscape is overwrought with STEPMOM TALK that is lacking the nuance of which discussions of stepmom require. These articles hint at the complexity that is stepmom and the stepmom/stepchild relationship then completely abandon complexity and nuance at the cost of relegating stepmom to the bowels of confining, ill-addressed boundaries and role-specific ambiguities, which are never teased out.

Stepmom is a role that is and will be donned by numerous women: all sorts of women with varying idiosyncrasies and foibles of character. Every family unit is different, particularly in contemporary society where the face of family changes daily. One thing that one woman in the role of stepmom does may look very different from what I  say or do, which may also differ from what the woman living next door to me says and does. Reader, are you with me?

Women and behaviors exuded while operating in the role of stepmom are VARIABLE, while the ambiguity, obscurity, and complexity of the role itself remains the same for every woman—the obscurity of stepmom, as role and identity, is CONSTANT. 

If we accept all of what I just posited as a new frame or lens by which to discuss stepmom then we avail ourselves the opportunity to work within various concepts, conceptions, and ideologies and find areas of resistance, enlightenment, awareness, and reform. Whoever wrote the article around which I framed my retort will not subject me to contrived absolutes. (Obviously, I am aware of who wrote the article—insofar as I know her name, but my writing is not about the author(s). My writing is about the discourse purported into the social scene.) 

The title of Rogers’ article so perfectly illustrates what my blog is building upon: the “lack” (or blocking?), so to speak, of language which keeps stepmom outside certain forms of recognition, ownership, possession, agency. Think about the weight and all the implications of churning out an article that lists things a stepmom should NEVER SAY, when we are so behind in our discussion of what it truly is to embody such a role! Furthermore, the discussion of language is merely entryway into a bounded-ness that goes beyond language. Stepmom is the embodiment of ambiguity, interim, oddity, and—as I hope my book will support—is itself (the role) indefinable.  

                                             (A new frame or frames...)

Stepmom has been lost for too long. Actually, stepmom has never been FOUND. I am not trying to tell stepmom who she is supposed to be. I am only digging to excavate a site for stepmom to be…to glean sight into how the role oscillates, and the effect/affect such a state has on human beings.

We have arrived somewhere. I do hope YOU, reader, will walk across the threshold with me. Stay tuned for my next post, which will outline the differences between “Assimilating” and “Blending.”

Humbly Pressing On...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Who is the "Step-Mom?" (Part 2)

Woe to him who thinks to find a governess for his children by giving them a stepmother! He only brings into his house the cause of their ruin. There never yet was a stepmother who looked kindly on the children of another; or if by chance such a one were ever found, she would be regarded as a miracle, and be called a white crow. But beside all those of whom you may have heard, I will now tell you of another, to be added to the list of heartless stepmothers, whom you will consider well deserving the punishment she purchased for herself with ready money.

Giambattista Basile, Nennillo and Nennella



When the stepmother found that she could not do anything through her husband, she made up her mind that she herself would get rid of them. So one morning, when her husband had gone away, she took the little boy, and without saying anything to anybody, she killed him and gave him to his sister to cut him up, and prepare a meal for all of them.

The Story of the Little Boy and the Wicked Step-Mother



If you think the content of these excerpts, these children’s stories, are morbid then you are NOT alone. At the onset of this project I was certain that the “Wicked/Evil Stepmother” paradigm had roots, but my research has yielded stunning results.


(My inquiry into the “step”-mom has awakened in me the desire to research the emergence and re-telling of folktales. What did or does the content of such tales say about the social and cultural climate of the societies into which they were initially produced and purported?)

Today I polled approximately twenty people. I did not sit down with these people and conduct in-depth interviews, which I may do at a later date. For now, I am only interested in knee-jerk reactions or quick, off-the-top-of-your-head answers. I asked each person what comes to mind when they hear the term stepmom. Per usual, there were a few outliers or people whose answer(s) fell outside what was said by the majority: there was a majority. Two people told me that they think about the 1998 film Stepmom, starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon. One person told me that they think of two Christmases (more gifts)—this made me laugh lightheartedly—and someone to talk to when mom is not available. Practically, everyone else said they think of Cinderella, chores, and EVIL when they hear stepmom. Obviously, I did not conduct a vast survey, but the results are important and meaningful. Notably, several people had much more to say—most of which deviated from the Cinderella route—when they took more time to really think about stepmom. I will speak with these people and write about their musings in future posts.

Etymological Findings…
 “Etymology” refers to the origin and development of a word. For example, the etymology of the term “Etymology”—pertaining to the prefix, etymo—is cited as a noun ethymologye, circa 1398, borrowed from Old French ethimologie, learned borrowing from Latin etymologia, from Greek etymologia, from etymon true sense of a word based on its origin (neuter of etymos true, related to eteos true (Robert K. Barnhart, The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, 1995).
Did I lose you?
If you are asking yourself, “What am I reading?” or “Why am I reading this,” then we are on track.
Think of it this way: If writing, reading, theory, and research are like building a house, then a good, solid foundation must be established before the rest of the structure can come together…I (we, because the reader, YOU, is a part of this) am building…
What all of this mind-boggling language is saying simply: is that the word, “Etymology,” that human beings take up and use today, is steeped in a vast history of ancient origins, having been taken up and re-taken up—building upon the French word to the Latin word to the Greek word—offering a term that has come to denote the study of words and their origins, their development. In other words, WORDS have tales to tell for themselves! (My geeky interest is delighted!)
Barnhart’s Etymological dictionary cites step as “a combining form meaning related by remarriage of a parent rather than by blood, as in stepfather, stepsister. The original sense is indicated in Old English steopcild stepchild, for “orphan,” and by the cognates, Old English astiepan, bestipan to bereave…Etymologically, stepfather or stepmother (before 800) means “one who becomes a father (or mother) to an orphan…” (759).
I challenge the old adage, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, because words as performatives (which I will discuss in my next post), words as strategized language (a fancy way of referring to how words and their meanings are taken up…), and the fact that human beings are social creatures who live in and through communication—words, speech, even body language—necessitates a respect, so to speak, for words. So many people are quick to say, “Oh, well, it’s just a word…can’t hurt anyone,” but is this entirely accurate? I would be willing to agree that a word in and of itself is in essence benign. Yet, rooted in vast matrices of meaning and usage, I argue that the old adage is a farce, and perhaps impossibility.
Many thanks to my Starbucks colleagues, customers, and friends (outside of work, as well) for their willingness to participate in and contribute to my poll about stepmom.
Humbly Pressing On...