This post does mention my asexuality very briefly, but mainly this post touches on the fandom and family parts of my blog and takes a break from asexuality-related discussions, FYI. The main fandom discussed is an unusual one, one most people wouldn’t call a fandom… lol… but I would like to think it counts. I also bring up Harry Potter at one point. 😉
I would recommend you read my “The Insidious Nature of Abuse” post first, which I wrote back in April. It deals with many similar topics as what I have just now written about, below. I also discussed some stuff about my family situation in my “Lack of Awareness/Education Leads to False Assumptions… aka It Would’ve Been Great to Have Heard of that Term Sooner!” post and probably in a few other posts too.
So my dad and I went to Kohl’s on the Friday night a little over a week ago to buy some new socks for ourselves and the first thing that caught my eye upon entering the store was a Mercer Mayer collection of newly released children’s books, including an adaptation of Hansel and Gretel. I picked up a copy of the book and began leafing through it curiously, and was quite disappointed to find my favorite part of the story – by far the most memorable part, for me – being entirely skipped over as the story starts with Hansel and Gretel already stumbling upon the witch’s cabin in the woods.
You see, my favorite fairy tale growing up was the tale of Hansel and Gretel, and it wasn’t because of the house made of candy or the cannibalistic witch. Please allow me to quote the first two paragraphs of the “story” section of the Wikipedia article on this fairy tale:
Hansel and Gretel are young children whose father is a woodcutter. When a great famine settles over the land, the woodcutter’s abusive second wife decides to take the children into the woods and leave them there to be by themselves, so that she and her husband will not starve to death because the children eat too much. The woodcutter opposes the plan but finally and reluctantly submits to his wife’s scheme. They are unaware that in the children’s bedroom, Hansel and Gretel have overheard them. After the parents have gone to bed, Hansel sneaks out of the house and gathers as many white pebbles as he can, then returns to his room, reassuring Gretel that God will not forsake them.
The next day, the family walks deep into the woods and Hansel lays a trail of white pebbles. After their parents abandon them, the children wait for the moon to rise and then they follow the pebbles back home. They return home safely, much to their stepmother’s horror. Once again provisions become scarce and the stepmother angrily orders her husband to take the children farther into the woods and leave them there to die. Hansel and Gretel attempt to gather more pebbles, but find the doors locked and find it impossible to escape from their house.
Reading this now, I realize why as a child I would’ve latched onto this fairy tale so strongly. (I also understand why I would be so annoyed that all of this and more was omitted from the shortened children’s book I had my hands on a little over a week ago.)
I relate way too strongly to these kids. I was a girl with a brother, with an abusive mother, and with a father who was constantly being bullied by this scary woman too.
My brother and I kept each other sane growing up. We were closer than many siblings are, probably at least in part because of us sharing this unique experience of our abusive mother… and Hansel & Gretel being so close, working together to survive, protecting each other… I could relate to this stuff on a visceral level.
Many years after I had grown fond of this particular tale, (when we were teenagers,) my brother punched a wall and broke his own hand. He did this because he was so frustrated that he couldn’t stop my mother from screaming at me. That’s how much he cared about me and wanted to help me. My brother is two years younger than me but we were always more of equals in many ways. Our sibling dynamic always remained in a state where even though he’s younger than me he doesn’t feel younger than me, and I think this actually is partially because I am asexual and ever since we entered our teenage years, I have always been less experienced in romance/kissing/sex and I also haven’t been nearly as interested-in or experienced at drinking alcohol and these factors make me seem (and often have made me feel) like a more immature person compared to my allosexual younger brother who loves alcohol. And yes, this is despite the fact that maturity has nothing to do with allosexuality vs. asexuality or how much one drinks alcohol. I understand that on an intellectual level, but emotionally… it can still feel like he’s grown up and I’m still a kid.
There is a common trope in fiction of the “Wicked Stepmother”. Many instances of this trope (Cinderella, Snow White, etc.) do not resonate with me, but Hansel and Gretel‘s version did. That may partially be because in Grimms’ original publishing of the story in 1812, the woman was actually the biological mother, just like the woman in my life who abused me, although I probably only had read/heard the revised Grimms’ version? where she was a stepmother, and if that is the case, and I was only exposed to the stepmother version of the story, then it seems highly unlikely that I’d be relating to it because in the original story it was a biological mother.
The more likely reason that this particular fairy tale resonated with me was because it featured a pair of siblings who remain 100% together for the entire story, just like I spent almost every-waking-moment when not at school with my brother when I was growing up. It featured a pair of male/female type siblings going through a bad situation that included acknowledging that women can be abusive. All of those little details are things that I deeply connected to on a personal level.
Now, I think I need to take a break for a brief aside – I need to acknowledge that for some people in real life, it may unfortunately be the case that their stepmother is cruel to them.
(I’ve mainly only heard of stepfathers (men) being scary and abusive. However, I am well aware that me having not heard of stepmothers being horrible to their stepchildren means very little, as I myself was abused by my biological mother yet still grew up having never heard of mothers being potentially abusive too – growing up, I had only ever heard of fathers being abusers as a possibility. This made me doubt what my mother was doing could even count as abuse – and tales like Hansel and Gretel provided some small validation that yes, sometimes women are the people who are dangerous to children’s well-being. (Both the witch and the (step)mother in the story arguably represent, metaphorically, the same woman in this particular tale.))
But for me, I’ve never actually had a step parent. My parents separated when I was 3 years old and I cannot recall a time when they lived together, yet my parents mainly seemed to live nonamorous lives for many, many years.
And I think for me, it was almost like a fantasy wish-fulfillment that the horrible mother is “not really” your mother, but rather is your stepmother. In stories, they seem to use that as an excuse for a lack of love from child toward parent. And I needed this narrative.
The same thing is evident in the Harry Potter series from the very beginning, actually. Harry is horribly abused by his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, the Dursleys… and they are NOT his “real parents”. It’s such a wonderful fantasy story, not only because of the literal magic and school of witchcraft and wizardry, but also because even in a situation like horrific child abuse, there something to soften the blow, to explain the unexplainable, to distance the kid from the abusers. These people aren’t special and magical like Harry is. Harry did have wonderful, loving biological parents that every kid should have, parents who were so selfless that they ended up dying while protecting him. He got the validating experience of not actually needing to call his abusive parents who raised him “Mom” or “Dad” because they WEREN’T what mothers or fathers should be, and… and it’s every abused kid’s fantasy to be rescued in the way that Harry was in the first book. To be able to live full time in an abuse-free place, even when your abusive parents (or guardians) are doing everything in their power to prevent you from escaping, to have someone like Hagrid show up and save you. The Dursleys’ abuse was also mainly psychological, controlling, etc and again is something I can relate to on some level. I can also relate to the fact that Harry was a very well-adjusted survivor, considering. That is how I have felt pretty much my whole life. Despite whatever child abuse I had to endure, I was… I was fine. I was not really all that scarred. I was lucky.
Back to Hansel and Gretel…
The fictional stepmother in this story is… the epitome of selfish. I saw so much of my own mother’s personality in this character’s actions and callousness. She is manipulative and not violently abusive – she simply locks the door to prevent the kids from being able to lay out the pebbles. She could have murdered them herself with an axe or something, but no, she isn’t directly physically hurting them. She wants them to starve to death, or get eaten in the woods at night by wild animals or something; she indirectly is trying to kill them, very indirectly. Since my mother was emotionally abusive, and not really physically so, I related strongly to this story.
Of course, another point is that this story has a wonderfully happy ending too, which helps explain why it’s a favorite of mine and is a story I’ve always enjoyed. And by having a happy ending, I do not mean that the stepmother learns the error of her ways. You know? 😛 I am really glad that doesn’t ALWAYS have to be the ending, since that was never the case in my own life. I’m glad that this old fairy tale takes a more extreme approach where the abuser remains “evil” the whole time. I suggest you read or revisit the tale if you do not know or recall what the happy ending is. I don’t want to completely spoil it for the one person who may have never come across this fairy tale before.
By the way, the father throughout the tale is also presented as a good guy, which is another relevant plot point for me, and I see a ton of my own father in this man, up through the happy ending.
I just felt like writing this post today. I hope someone got something out of reading it. 😉 Thanks, and please “like” or leave me a comment to let me know I am not just talking to myself here. 😉