Stepmothers aren’t always to blame

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Stepmothers aren’t always to blame


I didn’t want to believe the news. A stepmother abused her 10-year-old stepdaughter, forcing her to eat an excessive amount of salt and her own excrement, causing the girl’s death. Another woman in Ulju, Ulsan City, habitually assaulted her live-in boyfriend’s 8-year-old daughter, who died with 16 broken ribs. The woman in Ulju is charged with murder, not child abuse.

Coincidentally, both are stepmothers. “Abusive stepmother” and “Stepmother in Ulju” are the most popular keywords online. People seem to assume that the women abused the children because they were not their biological mothers.

In fact, images of wicked stepmothers can be found in many folk tales and stories. Korean folk tales such as “Kongjwi Patjwi” and “Janghwa and Hongryeon” and fairy tales such as “Snow White” and “Cinderella” all feature wicked stepmothers. As the classic story goes, the father is tricked by the new wife, and the nice and beautiful daughter is abused.

The negative image of the stepmother reinforces the structure of the blood tie-oriented family. If you share the blood line, it is a real family. The pure-blood family system creates a fortress only for those who are of the same lineage.

However, as it is widely known, the wicked deeds in fairy tales are not completely true. Stories are often dramatized in the course of translation for our youngsters. To prevent them from being scared, the evil acts of the real mothers were changed to those of stepmothers. In fact, in the original “Hansel and Gretel” story by the Brothers Grimm, it is not the stepmother but the real parents who abandon the children in the forest. The adaptation was made to reflect the public sentiment that it would be inappropriate for a biological mother to do that.

An organizer of a task force on the Ulju case posted the following message on a social network platform: “Around the time when the Ulju case took place, a father beat his own child to death with a golf club. But people seem to pay attention only to the stepmother case.” Statistics show that among those who abuse their children to death, biological fathers make up the most number, followed by biological mothers, stepmothers and stepfathers. In fact, biological parents killed their own children three times more than stepparents. The organizer was asked why the abusive biological fathers are often acquitted. “When a social worker inquires, the father claims that he is guiding his children in his own way, so they should stay away from him.”

With a growing number of families formed through remarriage and adoption, we can’t brand all stepmothers as evil. The problem is with the behavior of the abusive mothers, not their relationship with the child. Also, the very thought that parents can do whatever they want with their children is very risky. Moreover, in all the fairy tales with evil stepmothers, the most annoying character is the irresponsible fathers looking on at the abuse with folded arms.

* The author is a deputy culture and sports news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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