Friday, May 6, 2011

The Ultimate Job

The New York Times just reported a study published in Gender and Society journal, which shows that male main characters in classic children’s books far outnumber female ones. This study looked at almost 6,000 books published between 1900 and 2000, and suggested this inequality could send the wrong message to impressionable children.

This report was also the topic of a story posted on AOL. Needless to say, there were quite a few comments from readers whom, more or less, said this was another example of political-correctness gone too far. Many other readers cited several classic books and novels where the main characters were female.

Whether or not I agree with the claim made in the study, mainly that the inequitable representations of males and females in children’s books have a severe impact on a child’s perception of gender, isn’t really why I’m writing this.

I’m writing because the five individuals (college professors) who conducted this study actually thought such a study was worth that much time, which one would think might be better spent teaching. And furthermore, that they were actually paid for their efforts. I’m writing because I want to know one thing…

Where can I get a job like this?

Performing a study on whatever pops into your head sounds like an awesome job. I can just see these authors pondering something to occupy their time, perhaps sitting together at a big round table, sucking down their $5.00 Starbucks coffees…

AUTHOR #1: Hey, let’s count the percentages of males versus females in all those old books we grew up with! Then we’ll develop a theory why all those beloved classics are bad for kids!

AUTHOR #2: Yeah, yeah! Good idea! I’ll bet no one has thought of that! We can make it sound like having kids reading these books is as bad as giving them heroin!

AUTHOR #3: Sounds good. I’d much rather spend years analyzing old children’s books than trying to solve the problem of making sure all kids can actually read them.

AUTHOR #4: Hey, wait a minute. We’re gonna get paid for this, right?

AUTHOR #1: Of course we are. It’s a study. We’re university professors. If it’s important to us, it will be important to all.

AUTHOR #4: I’m sold.

AUTHOR #5: Yeah, but what about all those animal books? A lot of the most famous children’s books in history feature animals, and their sex is never revealed, like Winnie the Pooh.

AUTHOR #2: Are you kidding? Winnie the Pooh is totally a guy.

AUTHOR #5: How do you know? Ever met a guy named Winnie?

AUTHOR #2: Well…no. But A.A. Milne calls Winnie a ‘he.‘ And when Disney started making the cartoons, they gave the character a male voice.

AUTHOR #3: That’s it! Since Milne’s dead, let’s go after Disney! Those sexist bastards!

AUTHOR #1: People, people, let’s focus on one thing at a time. We’ll go after Disney next year. In the meantime…inequality of gender in children’s books. Focus people!

AUTHOR #5: I’m sort of troubled that A.A. Milne refers to Pooh as a ‘he’, even though it’s just a stuff animal. Milne should have used he/she, just like I do when I word my dissertations to offend as few people as possible. I’m also troubled by the fact that, if Pooh is a male, he’s presented in illustrations without a penis. Last time I checked, all males have penises. If Pooh is a male, yet shown without a penis, what signal is that sending to kids? That‘s okay for a male not to have one? What exactly is Milne’s agenda, here? Is he saying that a penisless man is powerless?

AUTHOR #3: You know, that actually makes sense. After all, countless pieces of classic art and literature use the phallus as a symbol of power. Maybe it’s no small coincidence that the only character in the Pooh books who’s undoubtedly male is Christopher Robin, the one character wearing pants in order to conceal his dominant manhood. And have you noticed that, in all of those Pooh books, none of the characters can solve their problems without enlisting Christopher Robin, the one character we know has a penis? Maybe Milne is saying that a penis equals power.

AUTHOR #2: Maybe Pooh’s penis is just really small and hidden by his fur. If that’s the case, then Winnie the Pooh books actually send a positive message to young male readers…that having a small penis doesn’t make you less of a man.

AUTHOR #4: Not according to my ex-wife.

AUTHOR #3: Come on, guys. If Milne wasn’t trying to assert the superiority of males, then why didn’t he create Christine Robin?

AUTHOR #1: Everyone stop! You’re losing focus again! We’re studying gender inequality in kids’ books! And, by the way, any book that would dare make men feel good about themselves is a bad book. Don’t you know that already?

AUTHOR #4: Okay, then. Gender inequality. I think there’s plenty of-

AUTHOR #2: I know! Goodnight Moon! A sexist tale if there ever was one!

AUTHOR #5: What? You are kidding? How is Goodnight Moon sexist? It features a female mouse taking care of her babies.

AUTHOR #2: Exactly! Where’s the husband? Probably out on the town while the wife assumes her society-established, stay-at-home role of the glorified housekeeper! And what is she doing in the book? She‘s knitting…a chick activity if there ever was one.

AUTHOR #1: Hey…enough of that. Say the word chick again and I’ll have your tenure revoked.

AUTHOR #2: Sorry, sorry. But why isn’t the old woman whispering hush doing so while changing the oil in her car or something? You know…something that might empower a woman and make young readers understand they don’t have to fit into a predetermined role?

AUTHOR #5: Hey, the author, Margaret Wise Brown, was a woman. I seriously doubt she had a sexist agenda.

AUTHOR #3: Ms. Brown was probably oppressed by some domineering husband. Maybe even A.A. Milne himself.

AUTHOR #1: Look, we’re not gonna analyze each individual author’s agenda. That’s too much work. Let’s keep it simple…tally up the boy characters and girl characters, and if the results turn out how we like, we’ll publish our assertions. Remember, our task is to discover gender inequality in innocent children’s books, then condemn them for their gender bias.

AUTHOR #5: But what about the countless books with animal characters in which their gender isn’t ever made clear?

AUTHOR #1: Hmmm…that does tend to complicate things a bit.

AUTHOR #3: I got it! We’ll separate the non-gender animal books from the others, and later insist all the illustrations be redrawn, giving all the animals penises or vaginas. Then we can do this study all over again, making sure there are an equal number of penises and vaginas in every children’s book…and if not, we can condemn those books, too!

AUTHOR #1: Thinking ahead. I like that. We can make the same money all over again, with half the effort.

Sounds like an awesome job, huh? Simply develop a sense of moral outrage over some timeless classics that have enchanted and inspired people for generations, then use your intellect to inform everyone how wrong they are for allowing these books in their houses. And if you can relate your findings to its potential effect on kids…well, you’re on Easy Street.


  1. From the way this reads, I'm making the assumption that Authors #1,4 & 5 are male, while Authors #2 & 3 are female. Sexist of me, I know, but...

    Love it! If you find out where to get a job like that, please let me know.

  2. Dear DM--
    I'm an author with an Echelon book also. I was reading your comments on Author Query re: Dawn Dowdle and Blue Ridge Press. That was about two years ago. Do you mind sharing your thoughts or experiences?
    Thanks for your time.
    Barbara DeShong