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“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses
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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.]
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[Image: Old stone steps. Public domain.]