Sunday, January 6, 2013

Creating a more gender neutral world through books

Rainbow books
I have a long and proud history of changing the words when I read books to kids. Mostly, I would alter genders so that some of the best loved children's books of all time, like Dr Seuss's works, would have some female characters. The problem with that is that I am still bringing my cultural programming to every book I read. I make choices without realizing why about which animal is a girl, and reinforce the cultural stereotypes I would like to bring down.
So I made a radical decision. I have been changing all gendered pronouns to gender neutral ones. It wasn't, and still isn't easy, but I've already noticed a difference in the characters my daughter gravitates towards in her play, and a marked reduction in the phrase, "Girls/boys don't do that!"
I started out just replacing ones for unnamed characters with "it" and "they." Once I got used to that, I started replacing all pronouns for children and generic characters with "ou" for "he/she," and "hir" for "him/her." Mailmen became mail carriers. I am now working on getting used to replacing "Mom/Dad" with "parent," "son/daughter" with "child," and "brother/sister" with "sibling." I may work next on adding other gender neutral pronouns. It would certainly make some stories easier to read to have more options to differentiate people.
It's been pointed out to me that this will only work until the kids start reading on their own. I think that's only partially true. By starting them out in a world where they can be any character, I'm hopefully that I'm increasing the realm of possibilities for them. Not only can Moira imagine that the knight is a brave girl like her, but Davis can imagine that he is the pretty princess. Once they start reading, we can have discussions about why I made that change.
They can both like pink with less of an expectation that he is bucking a standard by doing so. I have a life long love of the Teen Titans comics and bought her some of the Tiny Titans series only to discover there are two issues that used the idea of boys in pink as a gag. A horribly sexist, cultural stereotype reinforcing gag. But if none of the characters have a gender, then the whole thing just turns into a farce where some people seem to think pink isn't an intimidating color, and that's pretty silly, isn't it?
Moira has started referring to people with indeterminate gender (strangers in coats, babies, dogs) as "Ou," and so far no one has noticed enough to correct her. She's still happy to tell anyone who asks, or assumes wrong, that Davis is her BROTHER, but as far as we know, that is true. I've also noticed that as I get more used to doing this, I'm more likely to do it in my head as I'm reading my own books.
One of the great joys of parenting is that you get to push your agenda on your children. People who like watching football are more likely to have children who enjoy watching football. People who love the theater, have children who love the theater. I hope that I have children who know that they can be weak and strong, gentle and tough, pink and blue. I make no bones about my agenda.


  1. I love this idea and am going to try it with my children, thank you for the inspiration!

  2. I think it's a great idea, especially given the fact that it's reduced the genderization reactions. I've been told by my trans Danish friend that they don't have two sets of pronouns in Denmark, just one, so that bit, at least, is less reinforced for them. Makes me wish it were true here, too.