A couple weeks ago I took my girls to their first reading at BookPeople, a really great independent bookstore here in Austin. I know the children’s book author and I must of course get my children used to behaving like complete angels at book readings for when COMMUNITY KLEPTO comes out. It also helped that the girls are obsessed with turtles right now, and the book is The Box Turtle.
As a reward for them being generally well-behaved during the reading and other activities (even if one of them pulled a sex book off the shelves and wanted me to read it to her in the middle of the turtle’s journey of self-discovery), I told them in addition to The Box Turtle they could each pick out one new book to take home. As soon as we meandered over to the children’s book section, me trying to keep them from breaking things, they were immediately drawn to a spinning shelf with all the Dr. Seuss books on it.
We spun the shelves for less than a minute, at which point a young couple with a baby (yes, just one) in a carrier walked by us. The mom must have assumed that my shrieking 3-year-old twins rendered me hard of hearing, because she turned to her partner and said “I would never read Dr. Seuss to our children because those books are sexist.” The dad looked horrified as he registered the fact that I was not in fact, deaf. I must have also looked horrified because I now felt like I was doing my girls a serious disservice by feeding their brains with the rhyming couplets of a sexist pig.
We’ve read plenty of books about girl empowerment – some I’ve enjoyed and some I wish would fall behind the couch forever (I’m looking at you, Olivia). We’ve read books about climate change and gay penguins. But my girls always come back to their Dr. Seuss books. We don’t have the entire collection, but here’s my take on the sexism in the ones we do have:
- The Cat in the Hat: I should probably be more horrified that this neglectful mother left her young children at home, unsupervised, without a list of mind- and soul-enriching activities to do. Thing 1 and Thing 2 appear to be gender non-binary, so that’s a good introduction. And my girls need to know that cats cannot be trusted in real life.
- Green Eggs and Ham: There are only 2 characters in this book and we’re pretty much led to believe Sam is male, but I’m far more worried about the message this book sends about asking for something over and over so much that the other person relents just so you’ll STFU.
- The Foot Book: His feet. Her feet. Scary clown feet.
- Oh, The Places You’ll Go: I’ve never actually finished this one because my girls get bored halfway through and ask for Are You My Mother?
- Fox in Socks: It’s not about an attractive lady wearing fishnet stockings. It’s about a fox. Wearing socks. To the great chagrin of Mr. Knox.
Maybe these books are sexist, but they’re definitely not as blatantly sexist as some of the things I had to read in my 18th century British literature classes in college, and I have no intention of shielding my girls from Ben Jonson or Lord Byron either. We don’t live in the world of Dr. Seuss any more than we live in the world of Byron. Maybe this mom will manage to get her kid off to college without ever hearing Horton Hears a Who, but good luck with that, Judgy McJudgerson. I guess they’re also never going to take a history class or go to the movies with their friends lest the film not pass Mom’s Bechdel Test.
As for me and my house, we will read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish and not dwell on the gender identity of the marine life. And apparently Dr. Seuss once wrote books called Boners, More Boners, and The Pocket Book of Boners, so I know what I’m getting myself for my birthday.