I look in the world and I don’t see our stories being told anywhere, not the dissonant truth of stepmothers’ lives. There are occasionally excellent books – Wednesday Martin’s Stepmonster is an ideal example: a well researched, beautifully written and sympathetic account of the reality lived by many women. Yet even there, I am struck by the fundamentally academic tone of the work. As an academic myself, I certainly appreciate the value of such discourse: research, analysis, a carefully considered critical perspective – these are immensely valuable tools in coming to understanding ourselves and our lives. But in reading Martin’s book, I longed for more stories, more details, more anecdotes from the front lines. Does her experience match mine? How did she cope? Am I the only one who feels crazy?
Then again, some stepmothers have written breezy, cheerful memoirs of the chick-lit variety. There, the challenges of stepmotherhood sound to me more like the challenges of reaching goal weight; hipster references to cocktails and retail therapy leave me feeling shut out of an ending that’s ultimately a market-driven variation on “happily ever after.” These books sell, no doubt, but they leave a lot unspoken.
By contrast, revenge memoirs by aggrieved ex-wives sell like hotcakes. Often they are touted as bristling with “raw honesty” or some such drivel, as if that excuses or explains the angry and hostile portrayals of former husbands, the nasty swipes at second wives and stepmothers, at women like me. Damn, we’re easy targets. The popularity of such books cowers us into submission even further; we are all of us, somehow implicated in those divorces, all of us somehow carry the weight of another woman’s failed marriage.
We watch over our shoulders, always haunted by the ghosts of someone else’s loss.