Thursday, January 2, 2014

Changing boys to girls in literature for kids

I read in pursuit of many different kinds of experiences but one of them is the "I'm not the only person who does _________ (fill in freaky thing I thought I was alone in doing)" revelation. The freaky thing is, let's be honest, never really THAT freaky, but still, it feels great to know you're not alone in whatever it is -- offering sex so your husband will clean the bathroom, re-gifting baby clothes, never washing pacifiers or - in today's case -- editing children's literature as you read. I love this piece, reprinted in Slate: Bilbo Baggins Is A Girl, in which the author describes switching pronouns when reading great children's literature to her daughter, so that male protagonists, like Biblo, turn into females. She shares a bunch of statistics about how under-represented female characters are in kiddie lit and family movies -- and the female characters that do exist are often unexciting or exciting in a way that seems like a freakish exception to the rule ("She's a PRINCESS KNIGHT!! Would you get a load of THAT? Holy mackerel, that's mind-blowingly cool . . . and also totally weird.")

The first thing I thought when I read the title of the piece was, "Maybe if Bilbo Baggins was a girl, I would've liked The Hobbit better."  Because I read it a few years ago, for the first time, with Primo, and I'm embarrassed to confess I did not love it. I found myself skipping pages at a time without telling Primo just because I was zoning out and kind of couldn't wait to get to some good stuff. Now, I very much doubt that my boredom with the text was a product of there not being a single female character in the entire work -- I think it had more to do with the long, to my mind over-written descriptive passages about the countryside -- but I don't think it would've hurt my interest any if Bilbo, or any of the dwarves, or hell, even Smaug, was a girl. Sometimes, David'll drag me to an action film or some other cinematic experience almost totally devoid of female characters (or at least interesting ones) and I'll find myself saying, "It's just so boring. There's no women in it." Maybe I'm just a simpleton . . .  or maybe I'm tired of feeling like I can't connect with a male-centric representation of the world.

In either event, I love the solution proposed in this piece. While I have never changed a pronoun in the way she has, I often slip in some positive attributes to beef up the female characters; whenever there's a "beautiful princess" I even things out with some other adjectives until she's a "smart, strong, kind and beautiful princess." I'm also a fan of sending princesses to get advanced degrees, often an MBA or PhD. Got this idea from my cousin, who first sent Snow White to medical school.

Happy reading!