Don’t you just love the Evil Queen? Or the Wicked Stepmother? Or the Witch or whichever old bag we’re supposed to see as vicious and vengeful and terrifying but nowadays I just completely identify with.
Confession: walking Mabel the other day, as I watched her trot ahead of me, fluffy white tail swaying and her little haunches wiggling away, I thought “Thank God, I don’t have a daughter.” Ten years ago, I desperately wanted a girl child but now I’m moving deeper and deeper into Perimenopause Land, each month of weird periods, aching boobs and new chin hair brings with it a sense of dread at what’s ahead and grief at what’s past. If the Boy had been The Girl and as genetically blessed as he’s turned out to be, I would now have a sultry 13 year old with cascading curls, whose youth would be a taunt to me every step of the way. I’m only just getting over 30 years of ‘feeling ugly/fat/uncool’. I don’t think I could cope with a new onslaught “Hey mum, look how old you are!”
I know all mothers of daughters will point to the joys of having them and how they outweigh this ghastly vanity of mine. But I can’t be way off the mark here or else why would every fairy tale be about a young, fertile woman winning out over an old crone?
Let’s consider Snow White’s stepmother. We can imagine her life story thus; born to a lowly shopkeeper in the rough part of town, her beauty attracted the wrong sort of attention from a young age. Sold into marriage by her father when she reached puberty, to a shit of an innkeeper, she had to put up with the wandering hands and crude insults of his clientele for years until fortunately he died of a pie and ale induced heart attack. His kids from his first marriage threw her out, not caring if she starved on the streets but luckily she’d had the forethought to take the pile of gold he’d kept hidden from the King’s taxman. She traveled to the next kingdom, bought herself a couple of fine dresses and took lodgings in a respectable house. She had three months to find a new husband before the gold ran out. She wasn’t a foolish woman. She’d educated herself during those long dark days at the inn and could hold a discourse on the greatest writers, artists and scientists. She discovered, though, that pretty, penniless widows are ten to the dozen nowadays and only a wimpish doctor and lecherous, untrustworthy merchant vied for her hand. Fortunately, just as she was on her last gold coin, she received an invitation to the annual Winter Ball at the Palace. Where the recently widowed king saw her, was captivated by her beauty and, well … you know the rest.
All would have been fine if his kid, Snow White wasn’t such a little troublemaker. Fair enough, she was grieving for a mother who’d been trampled to death whilst out protesting against the archaic unicorn hunts held by the evil king across the border. She had been known as the Activist Queen, and spent most her time wafting around the slums passing out her old Isabel Marant dresses to the poor from whilst ignoring her own child. But that didn’t stop Snow White from idolising her.
Our heroine, who after years of grift just wanted a quiet life, some nice outfits and lots of sex with the king, found herself besieged by this tiny, shiny headed demon who spilled ink on her wedding dress, laid traps for her in the palace hallways and pinched her under the table at supper. A miniature Mrs. Danvers in the making.
So is it any wonder that when the King died and she was left, on the cusp of menopause with a self-obsessed vengeful little minx of a teenager as a step-daughter, that she didn’t feel much maternal love for her? I mean it’s not as if she really sent her into the woods with a huntsman to cut out her heart, is it? She simply sent her to Bangor University. A long, long way away from the kingdom so Snow White could get some independence and she could get on with ruling the kingdom in peace… If only it had worked out that way.
What’s a crone to you?
The old crone has been a potent archetype for as long as there have been women. Her youth and fertility gone, there is no place for her in society apart from as a carer, supporting the men, younger women and children. But this narrative doesn’t work for us any longer. Menopause still comes at the same time but our lives have moved on. We’ve only just squeezed in having our babies or we want to get on with a career that had been derailed by motherhood.
I’ve been reading Allison Pearson’s “How Hard Can It Be?” in which she takes her heroine, Kate Reddy, from “I don’t know how she does it” and throws her deep into the perimenopause. From minusing 7 years off her age on her CV to coping with a husband who has decided to find himself by losing his job, she faces an onslaught of age related complications. It’s very funny and also quite terrifying (the ‘back to work women’s support group’ sounds horrific). I’m only hoping there’s some kind of redemption when I reach the end.
Of course one day The Boy will bring home a girlfriend (so far he seems conventionally heterosexual despite me regularly showing him the gay wedding scene from Sex and the City). Inescapably, the house will have some dewy skinned girl in tiny shorts lying on my sofa, her youthful confidence exuding like cheap air freshener.
I might suggest they watch The Huntsmen or Maleficent. Meanwhile I will sit in the corner reading Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Cackling away to myself …