Saturday, April 14, 2012

One mama's feminist rant

I don't often blog about the larger issues of racism or sexism in our culture.  I know they're out there, and they just make me angry.  I'm not a "get out and join the cause" kind of person - it's just not a priority for me right now.

But I HATE when I pay money to bring this crap into my house.  It doesn't happen very often. 

The first time was when I bought The Chronic by Dr. Dre on CD back in the 90s.  I knew I was hearing the "clean" versions on the radio, but figured they were just bleeping out the swearing.  Turns out, it was a lot worse than that.  The lyrics were horrible - way more misogynistic than they seemed on the radio, degrading, demeaning, all that.  I was so offended, I had to give it away (and I'm not easily offended!)

It happened again recently, though on a much less offensive scale.  I was stocking up on new books for T for our plane trips to and from Ireland.   I found one called My Plane Trip by Cathy Beylon - it was both a storybook and a coloring book and even better was eligible for Amazon's 4-for-3 promo.

We read it, and T liked it.  It's about a family of four who takes a plane trip and it goes through the details of getting packed, going to the airport, completing the security checks, the flight itself, and getting to the destination.

But upon reading it a few more times, I started noticing things that irritated me.  Mom plays a very minor role here.  You can see her packing, but all the text mentions Dad putting the luggage in the car, Dad drives them to the airport, Dad gets them checked in, Dad consults the monitor for the flight info, Dad stows the baggage,  Dad collects the baggage.  The only thing Mom does in the text is help the baby get ready for a nap.

Of course, both the pilot and co-pilot are male, as are the air traffic controllers. The flight attendants are female.  TJ pointed out that everyone is white, or at least seems to be from the hair, features, and the few color pictures (it's a coloring book).

It irks me a little that both kids in the family are boys - I mean, little girls go on plane trips too  - it would have been nice to make one of the main characters female.  And the author is a woman.  Sigh.

I know this seems minor, but it's something I think about a little harder with a daughter, who has already started telling me that "only men do x", where x is something that can be done by either gender.  It's not like we have 10 books about plane trips and this is just one, so issues like this seem magnified.

Problem is, we can't screen *every* piece of media before buying it - our local bookstores don't have much of a kids' selection so we take our chances with what we order online. 

I spent my entire childhood being essentially "invisible" on TV, books, magazines, etc because there just weren't any Indian-American characters anywhere.  So maybe I'm more sensitive to this kind of thing. 

I just wish there was an easy way to preview these things before dropping cash on them.  Has this happened to you before?


  1. Congrats on your pregnancy!! (Just returned from Spring Break, so I'm finally catching up with my bloggy friends.) Yes, DH and I have certain books we used to skip sections of, then eventually got rid of - ever hear of the "Froggy" series by Jonathan London? Some of the dialogue in those books sounded a little too much like a how-to in bullying.

    I think it was in the NurtureShock chapter on sibling relationships where it was argued that a lot of children's books feature dysfunctional sibling relationships, which teach the kids reading them to act those scripts out with their own siblings. So we're screening for that in addition of course to what are usually very subtle depictions of racism and misogyny reflecting the larger society.

    1. Thanks hush! Yeah, I remember that chapter in NurtureShock, though I think it even extended to all media designed to "teach a lesson" actually encouraged the behavior it was warning against. I still try to limit the cartoons, etc that T watches for that reason.

      FeMOMHist had a recent post about unexpected racism in a kids' movie, too.

      Not related, but we took T to Cars 2 as an experiment to see if she could watch a movie (she wasn't ready!) and I regretted it almost as soon as it started - it was so much more violent than I expected.

      But man, who has time to watch everything first to pre-screen?! I guess we either do that or go without media :(

    2. You wait for other parents you trust to screen them for you. Or organize a group to take turns doing the screening. There are a lot more resources available to modern parents for this than were available to our parents.

    3. @Walker, good point. I'd love to see a pointer to where these things are covered. The Amazon reviews don't always mention this stuff.

    4. I usually replace gender specific pronouns with non specific ones. "The Pilot takes of their hat..." instead of "his hat." I always do it for background characters, and depending on the story, I do it for main characters as well.
      This has lead to Moira asking "Are they a boy or a girl?" and I always let her decide. We have been listening to Stuart Little in the car, and she decided Stuart was a girl because she was fancy (there are a lot of descriptions of his little outfits).

  2. I remember when I was a kid our family had a book about an airplane pilot that was text with some line drawings. The pilot in the line drawings was actually pretty gender-ambiguous, but the text always used male pronouns. My older sister (3 2/3 years older than me) had crossed out all the male pronouns and replaced them with female ones. The book worked just as well with a female pilot and in my minds eye she was always like Amelia Earhart!

    1. Your sister is a rock star. That's awesome. Unfortunately the drawings in this book are not gender-ambiguous at all :(

    2. We haven't marked the books up, but Shannon typically substitutes gender neutral pronouns. I've usually read the books as they are, and Moira hasn't commented on us reading them differently that I remember. There are a few that have been bad enough, though, that I've made those substitutions. I'll dig up a pointer to her post about books with a better balance. The racial issue is even more of a challenge, I suspect. We have a couple books that touch on it, but that's a tiny fraction of what she's exposed to. Shannon and I are happy that our new neighborhood has the diversity her reading material lacks.

  3. I can see how that would be annoying. And you probabably are way more sensitive, or notice it more, than say I would. Not only do I not have a child I'm trying to raise, but I was never a minority (being fat doesn't count.). I commend you though, and trying to show T that there aren't necessary "defined" roles. That in our world today, what was once considered "traditional", can now be questioned, and should be questioned.


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