Why is the sinister stepmother trope still flourishing in 2023?

Thanks to Disney characters like Snow White's Evil Queen (left), the evil stepmother trope endured (iStock/Disney/Getty)

Thanks to Disney characters like Snow White’s Evil Queen (left), the evil stepmother trope endured (iStock/Disney/Getty)

You can recognize him instantly. His face will be angular, his body will rise. Their clothes will be flamboyant, their jewelery flamboyant. His expression is smug, his smile will be supreme. You’ll notice his personality the most, though. Because he will be absolutely infamous, a combination of humanity’s worst traits, from jealousy and vindictiveness to downright maliciousness. I’m talking, of course, about the evil stepmother.

For someone who’s ever read a fairy tale or watched a Disney movie, the nasty stepmother metaphor needs no introduction. However, we may need to be reminded of the sexism attached to the metaphor when the metaphor is so alive and well in 2023 thanks to Prince Harry’s all-telling memories. can’t waitand the controversy he sparked about his own stepmother, Camilla the Queen Consort.

In Tacitus’s version of Roman history, the trope dates back to ancient Rome, where Livia Drusilla, the second wife of Emperor Caesar Augustus, is depicted as a ruthless, collaborative, and power-hungry figure. The depiction is reinforced in Robert Graves’ 1934 novel. I, Claudius. But the most famous evil stepmothers are those created by the Brothers Grimm and variations of the character Cinderella, Snow Whiteand Hansel and Gretel. In all three stories, a smug, jealous, and power-obsessed Lady Macbeth-like figure is determined to turn against the young heroine. Maria Tatar, a specialist in German folklore at Harvard University, claims that the bad female characters were mothers when the stories were originally created.

“They found it supremely satisfying to preserve the sanctity of motherhood,” she explains. “Typically, this would be done by having the ‘good’ mother who died and the ‘bad’ mother who married into the family.” Another reason they were so popular with the Grimms was that in the early 19th century many women did not survive childbirth. “The maternal mortality rate was really high,” Tatar added. “It was common for men to remarry.”

Whatever her origin, the wicked stepmother soon became an integral part of popular culture, breaking free from the fairy tale realm and its cinematic reimaginings.Cinderella story; mirror mirror; ella is enchanted) and find your way in movies like Parent Trap, nanny mcphee and in his place. Yes, these are all characters in fictional stories, but their lessons extend into reality. They contribute to the persecution. After all, what better way to silence a woman than to brand her as bad, ugly, or crazy, as bad stepmothers often do?

This becomes apparent when you take a closer look at some of the aforementioned characters. Take Snow White, for example. “In the Disney version, the evil Queen (Snow White’s stepmother) is also the most interesting character in the movie,” Tatar says. “When we see his underground bunker, he is surrounded by books and scientific artifacts.” Maybe it’s no coincidence that the powerful women in these stories are ostracized by society.

As for where Camilla fits into all this, the situation is complicated. In the book, Harry remembers his fear that he would be cruel to her “like all the bad stepmothers in the storybooks”. She claims that she has turned her bedroom into her own personal dressing room as soon as she moves out of Clarence House. She continues to claim that Camilla worked with the press to save her public image of “the other woman” so that she could eventually marry Charles and become Queen Consort. So a standard evil stepmother trajectory.

He writes that Charles and Camilla’s “spin doctor” decided to throw Harry “under the bus” in 2002 by leaking stories about his drug use. on the altar of personal PR,” he writes. In a funny way, I even wanted Camilla to be happy. She would perhaps be less dangerous if she were happy?

Of course, here, too, he accuses his father of wrongdoing. But what impressed people the most was the election of Camilla and the branding of her as “dangerous”. This is why Harry was asked this question in all TV interviews promoting the book. Speaking to Anderson Cooper this week, she described her stepmother as a “bad guy” and said she needed to restore her image in the eyes of the British public after Diana’s death. “It’s a family built on hierarchy, and while she was on her way to becoming Queen Consort, so there would be people or corpses left on the street,” she said.

Speaking to ITV’s Tom Bradby, Harry made further allegations that Camilla leaked one of his early conversations with William to the press – Telegram He later reported that the leaker was actually his assistant and was subsequently fired. while talking good morning americaHarry explained that he didn’t see the Queen Wife as a “bad stepmother” before continuing to list a series of allegations about his stories that were leaked to the press.

Prince Harry in an interview with Tom Bradby this week (PA)

Prince Harry in an interview with Tom Bradby this week (PA)

One of the reasons this is so complicated is that we haven’t heard the story from Camilla – and it’s very unlikely we will. Of course, he may well be responsible for leaking news to the press. And perhaps, as Harry claimed, this was all part of a larger attempt to rise up in the royal chain of command and sit proudly beside the future King – though Camilla’s biographer made her feel accepted by the general public. He claimed it was while there was a campaign to keep him going. “It would be completely wrong to say that he was the one who inspired or promoted her”.

The other highlight is that Camilla is said to be friends with Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan, who both brutally criticize the Duchess of Sussex. Sun He said he hated Meghan on a “cellular level” and wanted people to “throw fecal pellets” at him. Harry referred to the article in his conversation with Bradby. “To use my stepmother’s words, there has been a global epidemic of violence against women lately,” said Harry, in a comment many perceived as shrewd against Camilla, who has done a lot of charitable work in the violence against women industry.

It’s not yet clear where we should stand when it comes to Camilla, but it’s important to reject a stereotype when faced with one. The sinister stepmother trope perpetuates the most venomous myths about female behavior and family dynamics, and serves as a cheap shot at an enviable position for someone to be in – a family doesn’t have to be half as dysfunctional as the Windsor to be dysfunctional. Marrying a pre-existing unit is incredibly difficult. So let’s try to judge Camilla on her own terms, not Disney’s.

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