Steps [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *



I lost my father too, y’know.
Do you see me drowning my hair in ash,
refusing to sleep anywhere but under the kitchen table?

I don’t have a second mother neither,
showing up like magic if I’m ever careless enough
to lose the first one. Nope, just the standard issue—
telling me how much easier I’d be to love
if I lost a little weight,
if I chopped off a little toe.

So I play by the rules, so what.
Doesn’t mean I wrote ’em.

And don’t think for a second I didn’t notice
that little run-and-stumble you pulled on the stairs.
Tripping hard enough to “lose” your crystal shoe
but not hard enough to break it?

Guess it’s true, that old saying:
Them what has, gets.
And those of us who don’t have? Lose.

We lose right down to the bone.



Not strictly speaking a “villainess,” I suppose, yet I am struck by the level of vitriol that gets heaped on ‘bad sisters’ in our fairy tales and other lore. Cinderella’s stepsisters. The kind and the unkind girls of Grimms’ Frau Holle or Charles Perrault’s Diamonds and Toads [which I first came upon while researching for my own The Writer Dreams of Rivers]. Even the greedy Goneril and Regan, King Lear’s eldest daughters, fall into this pattern in their contrast with the devoted Cordelia.

And I gotta cry foul.

Seriously, what is the “evil” daughter’s great fault in any of these stories? Seems to me obedience, at core, is what gets her into trouble; she opts to follow the rules that she was raised to follow—and that the story itself changes underneath her. The implied moral: “Obey thy parent . . . unless thy parent turneth out to be an asshole.”

But when is she supposed to make this determination and distance herself from said-crazypants progenitor? And how?

I mean, at exactly what point in your developmental reliance on a woman who eagerly turns dependent children into scullery labor do you say, “yeah but NO, ma. You’re clearly deranged—and I’m outtie!” Would that be just-before or just-after she takes the breadknife to your size-9 tootsies? Or makes you jump down a well? Or signs you up for years of mystical indentured servitude so that someday she can get you to belch up rubies and diamonds at the dinner table, instead of talking her ear off so damn much?

I mean, COME ON. The term “Stockholm syndrome” doesn’t even begin to cover most fairy-tale mothering.

So this one’s for you, evil and unkind (step)sisters of the world! I may not like you very much, I may not ever invite you over for my birthday or offer to braid your hair at slumber parties—but lemme be the first in line to assure you: you deserved so much more love than you ever got.

And I think both your feet are perfect, just as they are.

This piece probably marks the end of THE VILLAINESS SERIES, at least for the time being. Thanks for following along! Hope you’ve had even a fraction of the fun reading it as I’ve had writing it.

[For the rest of the series, or to learn more about the Myth & Fairy Tale Project.]

* * *

[Image: Old stone steps. Public domain.]

21 thoughts on “Steps [The villainess series]

  1. Interesting perspective. Never thought of it before but you are right. We are all a product of our upbringing to some extent. I have a friend who grew up in a very traumatic house and to this day I am amazed at how “normal” (whatever that is) she is.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The more I learn about trauma, the less I believe that “trauma” and “normal” actually stand apart from one another. Certainly not in any clear or predicable way.

      Horrific things happen. Horrific people do horrific things — and quite often not-so-horrific people do too, because human brains and human emotions are complicated things to manage. And because so many of us carry such deep wounds.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. We actually know a great deal about what makes certain people, in certain situations, go under, following trauma. Everyone has a breaking point, to be clear, but there are risk factors before (age, previous mental health challenges, level of individuation, etc); during (does event catch you by surprise, or do you know it’s coming? Are you trapped, is it repeated, systematic, do feel as if you have no escape? etc); and after (do you have a strong support network, do you feel guilt–rightly or wrongly–over some aspect of what happened, do you feel betrayed by people or systems you look to for help), that make a person more likely to develop PTSD. The more risk factors, the more, well…risk.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Interesting! And it fits with my experience. I was introduced to “step” status right around the time I learned that I had a “half” sister. This was after seeing Cinderella at the movies. My mother assured me that my half-sister, who lived elsewhere at the time, was a good thing, and no one to be concerned about.

    I accepted that and directed my attention to my real life godmother and wondered when the presents would arrive, if not the pumpkin carriage.

    What can I say? I was 6.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I don’t think I realized real people had “godmothers” until I was about 9 and had a best friend who had godparents. Which still left me pretty confused about their function, since it seemed clearly NOT being all magical and giving you fancy dresses and fairy shoes and all…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. What a lovely compliment — thank you! I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the series; I’ve been having oodles of fun writing it…


    1. Thanks! This one was unsettling, albeit clarifying, to write. Imagining what my own trauma-induced behaviors must have looked like from certain external vantage points…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done. The end note more than the tale, I think. Our childhoods are the model for how we draw our boundaries and what we expect to feel. It’s amazing most of us get out alive, even without evil steps.
    I myself am an evil stepmother and I have an evil stepfather. I’m not sure where step comes from in the matter of language, but I think steps are there to bridge the gap.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. An element of the stories it matters to remember, I think, is how many (ie, most; ie, possibly even all) of the “evil stepmothers” started their lives as plain ol’ “mother” characters. The Grimms, and other folktale collectors, would turn nasty mothers *into* stepmothers to make their stories more palatable for mass consumption.

      Seems we are so sold on the concept of pure-n-perfect motherhood that we prefer our maternal characters dead to evil. Or complicated. Or even imperfect. Or fully human.

      And you’re right: amazing so many of us come out the far side, still fully human ourselves…

      Liked by 2 people

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