The Wicked Step Mother

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When I ask you to think about a mother, what do you think of? Most would think

of their mother and all of the fond memories of their childhood. One thinks of nurturing,

softness, loving, and selflessness. Now, if I was to ask you to think about a stepmother,

what comes to mind? Most people think of cunning, crafty, conniving, selfishness, and

wickedness. Have you ever thought about how the stepmother gets this bad wrap? As

children we are practically brainwashed by Disney fairy tales that help us label stepmothers

as wicked or evil. In these Disney movies we never see the stepmother portrayed as

nurturing, soft, loving, and especially not selfless. This does a disservice to all blended

families today and to those of the future.

Walt Disney’s first full length animated movie was Snow White. In this film

Disney never refers to Snow White’s stepmother as anything but the “jealous stepmother,”

the “evil queen,” or just the “queen.” Disney never even gives her a name. In the original

version, Disney had planned to portray her as the comic relief, but that was not the version

that was decided upon (Windling). Instead, she was evil. This evil stems from her

jealousies. She covets the beauty of Snow White. She also is extremely jealous of the

loving relationship her deceased husband had with his daughter. Windling states, “Walt

Disney was fond of fairy tales, but he was not shy in reshaping them to suit his needs. His

love for Snow White, demonstrated at the very beginning of the Disney film, becomes the

spark that sets off the powder keg of the stepmother’s rage.”

Following in the footsteps of Disney’s precious Snow White was Cinderella. As

this fairy tale starts, Cinderella loses her father as well and is left subject to the harsh

jealousies of her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. Cinderella seems victimized and

trapped by the harsh, controlling nature of her stepmother. Disney always staged Lady

Tremaine with dark lighting, vicious eyes, and scary music. Even her evil cat, Lucifer, was

named after the devil. Disney is also quick to portray the condescending nature of the

stepmother. Lady Tremaine always sent Cinderella to do housework and answer her every

beckon call. Cinderella was also forced to obey her stepsisters. Tsujimoto argues that the

“underlying ideologies…. excludes maternal wisdom.” She also argues that these stories

back the idea that “moral authority exists exclusively with the father/father-figures.” Is this

really the message we want to teach our children?

Over many decades, Disney has taken many well known fairy tales and changed

them to “suit his needs” (Windling). There have been “critics through the years have

protested the sweeping changes Disney Studios made, and continue to make…” Walt

Disney himself replied to these critics by saying, “It’s just that people now don’t want fairy

stories the way they were written. In the end they’ll probably remember the story the way

we film it anyway” (Windling). Disney basically says that the public is not smart to think

for themselves. He tries to manipulate them into seeing things the way he intends them to.

Many years later Disney’s fairy tales are the ones that are predominantly watched and

advertised. Disney has yet to publish a fairy tale where the stepmother is portrayed as

loving or compassionate. “Even in Disney’s Cinderella (and) Snow White… paternal

images ranged from the powerful to the lovable. In contrast, these same stories portray

evil stepmothers pitted against powerless daughters, who find their only validation in the

arms of a prince.” Is this not a dangerous message Disney sends? “…From an adolescence

point of view, that minimizes maternal goodness and wisdom and that suggests that

trading mothers for princes is a step toward maturity” (Tsujimoto).

Being a stepmother...
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