The Wicked Stepmother Online: Maternal Identity and Personal Narrative in Social Media

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Book Chapter

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The stepmothering role is both a product of contemporary culture and an evolution of the traditional mother role. Although stepmothers differ vastly in their experience and their role in families, there has been little progression in the popular framing of stepmothers. Instead, the term has become embedded in an interpretive frame that reifies stereotypes of the “wicked stepmother” or “step-monster” and ignores all other possibilities. There are few alternative frames and no compelling ones for understanding the way that stepmothering exists in popular culture. Unfortunately, unless the biological mother is dead or dying, the stepmother is largely framed as negative. The circulation of the stereotypes surrounding stepmothers’ impact affects not just popular culture but the online discourse about and by stepmothers in social media. In particular, online discussion boards serve as a rich text through which to understand how stepmothers respond to and use the language that frames their familial role. In this chapter, we argue that the consistent negative framing of this role, understood in the context of Kenneth Burke’s “terministic screens”(45), directs attention away from the ways that stepmothers contribute to the dynamics of contemporary families and limits their identities to popular characterizations that range from selfish and uncaring to malevolent. The lack of competing terministic screens to understand and describe stepmothers constructs a linguistic trap in which the odds are stacked against the success of the stepmothering relationship with children, with spouses, and in the larger social network of relationships both on and offline.



Publication Title

Taking the Village Online: Mothers, Motherhood, and Social Media

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