Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cinderella...and Me

One of our favorite movies here at my house is "Ever After". We probably watch it about every six months. We've been having a Drew Barrymore marathon of movies here since Mother's Day which led us back to "Ever After". I am pretty sure my husband and daughter like it even better than I do. The ending is so satisfyingly just.

The movie highlights a particular dynamic I've been trying to get across in the narrative on my life with my sister. Even though this movie is a re-telling of the Cinderella story it has parallels to real life...otherwise it would have no appeal. What I'd like to point out, because it is such a great illustration of the power structure of my family, is the step-mother and eldest step-sister. The step-sister is haughty, snotty, sneaky and at times cruel to the Drew Barrymore character, Danielle. What is perfectly illustrated in this movie is how the step-sister derives her power to make her Danielle's life miserable from the mother.

That is exactly what I've tried to illustrate in my blog posts on my sister. My sister's advantages over me were derived directly from my mother. My sister would not have had much power to screw with me during our growing up years together except for the power handed to her by my mother's system of "rules". My mother actually went further than handing power to my sister. My mother took power away from me simultaneously. I was rendered damn near defenseless where my sister was concerned. I lay the blame for that at my mother's feet.

So, yeah, I was older, but birth order did little to save me from the predations of my sister. She was granted power over me through a complex interplay of my mother's prejudices, false reality and favoritism. It is significant to note how many times over the years my mother would tell me how she didn't love one child over the other. She would say she loved us equally. I believed her because, back then, I always believed her. Now, I look back and think the lady doth protest too much. No one had ever challenged her on this point. Certainly, not me. So why the need to repeat this so many times?? I'm tending toward the belief she was covering up the truth. The truth is she knew she had greatly favored one child over the other. I was favored as a work horse, but not as a person. I do not say this in a self-pitying way. It all worked out. I am a better person for having risen above the difficulties of my youth.

I am hoping to emphasize here that a parent is able to hand power to one of their children which that sibling will wield on another sibling without much mercy. This is the dynamic I have been attempting to draw a picture of. Being older didn't save me from my sister's meanness. Being pretty, being nice, being fair, being giving...none of it saved me. If my sister wanted a piece of me she was granted it because she had been given power over me. So, I guess I was wrong when I first described my sister as not being in a "power over" position in my life. I didn't see it clearly until having spent much time reliving our life together in recent days. Her "power over" position was furthered along, too, by the great differences in our personalities. I was always prone to question myself, to bow to those who assumed dominance. My sister was dominant by nature. Very forceful and confident and prone to question others, not herself. My less forceful nature made me all the more like prey to both my sister and my mother.

I'll end this post with the memory of my mother often calling me Cinderella. I don't remember when she began doing it. She would use the name after she had been working my ass off. She would, with a little smile, say something like, "Hey, Cinderella, I need you to do such and so." I've already recounted how I was used as a house slave for years while my sister was somewhere filing her nails. My mother, great lover of fairy tales that she was, apparently couldn't help but see how she was working one kid like a Chinese laborer while the other one was hiding somewhere until the work was done. I wasn't allowed to indulge in self-pity, so calling me Cinderella was not her way of granting me room to complain. It was just a once-in-a-while acknowledgment there was a big imbalance in the gulag. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs". Yes, indeed. I was raised in a frakking communist system.

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