Saturday 12 January 2008
Little Girls and Why I'm Off Dr. Suess
My mother doesn't know that the lovely anthology of Dr. Suess that she gave Safiya for her second Christmas has been "disappeared". A year ago, as we began to read more Dr. Suess to her, there dawned on me a growing realisation that there were no, but no, female characters in his books. It grew more and more infuriating and uncomfortable the more we read. The absence of "she" (even in the pictures) made even me as the narrator feel cast out from the world, and I wondered what how this misrepresentation is processed by children. Feeling slightly crazy and tired of having to change pronouns all the time, telling nobody, we disappeared what for many is quintessential children's literature.
Today I splurged and picked up "Fearless Girls, Wise Woman and Beloved Sisters", by Kathleen Ragan. It's not a picture book (no illustrations), but an anthology of folk tales from around the world. On the way home, I read one of the tales to Safiya, and she sat and listened as the subway train swayed. Anxious to read more, I was leafing through the book and happened upon this, in the introduction (and if you use the link above you can preview some of the book, including part of the introduction):
"The more I read, the more uncomfortable I became. I couldn't find any female characters in these books. I found myself changing the pronouns from male to female when I read the stories to her."
She goes on in detail how she researched the books by...Dr. Suess. So we're not crazy. However, that's not the real point. Her introduction does better justice to the point than I can (and it's hardly Suess-bashing for all you Suess-lovers out there), so I'm just going to point the way to this lovely book.
And then there's this:
Nothing more wholesome than an apple, a glass of orange juice, and reading "Little House in the Big Woods" aloud, right? We started reading these aloud to Safiya last summer (she plays quietly and any time I stop because I suspect her interest might be waning, her little head whips up and she says "But why did you stop Mama? Don't stop reading!" And so I don't...) But oh my the racism (although when a child, my brain only picked up the opposite from these stories, somehow), the strict gender roles, the authoritarian obedience. I loved these stories when I was a child, and they are someone's story, so we edit some of it out, sure that when she can read she'll find her way. Maybe the story will just change slowly.
But this? I think I'll just rip this page out :-)
Just a little editing....