I read Puss In Boots to J for the umpteenth time this weekend (he really likes the windmill and the giant ogre). As he was pointing out the essentials to me — bunny rabbip, puss-uh-boots, Marquis, King and, of course, the giant ogre — I realized that every interesting character in the story with any agency or power was male (there is no reference to the gender of the bunny rabbips). The only female character in the book is a princess, and she is only mentioned in association with her beauty and her love for the Marquis. This is hardly a revelation–we live in a male dominated world, yadda yadda yadda. But it feels quite different now that I’m reading these stories to my soft, little, wide-eyed boy. He’s going to become a man (I hope) and while he’s on his way there, I want him to have some literary associations with power and influence that are decidedly female.
The more stories I read after that one, the more insidious the dominant male character seemed to become. There was Goodnight Gorilla, which I figured would be benign at least, since its an animal book. But the zookeeper is a ginger-mustached man. And while we could call her “zookeeper lady” as I have been doing when I read this to J, it’s pretty clear that the nightgown-clad woman in the story is the zookeeper’s wife.
Next up: J’s other latest favorite, New Red Bike. A bought this in an attempt to have more bicycle media in our house, as J is a wheel-lover and we wanted him to read about more than just tractors and fire trucks. So it certainly does feature this less often celebrated mode of wheeled transport, but guess who the bike riders are? Sam and Tom. And they wear their helmets and share, but I just really wish at least one of them was a girl…
The most glaring instance of a male-centered children’s book on J’s shelf is one I’ve had some issues with for a while: The Truck Book. Once I finally learned that this book isn’t really meant to be read per se, in the same way that an encyclopedia isn’t meant to be read, things were much better. But I still can’t get over the last page.
I mean, sure, I can live with the fact that there is a bell curve of behaviors associated with gender and that liking trucks a lot tends to fall more on the boy side. But can’t we dress up a girl as a builder or a farmer? Among other things, it would make this page of the book look a lot less like a toddler version of The Village People.
This was depressing, since 1) female main characters (influential, powerful or not) were only in 2 books out of, say, 100 and 2) the female main characters I did find were a pig and a goat.
So I’m on a hunt, people. I need some toddler books that have human females featured in them. A girl riding a bike, perhaps. Or a woman firefighter or helicopter pilot. We could get really crazy and hope for a children’s book featuring a female land owner. Or crazier still, a book about the town veterinarian and her husband.
Please send me any recommendations you have. I’m determined to gift Jonah with a female book or two for his 2nd birthday this week! I’ll keep you posted on any sweet finds.