A school in Barcelona has reportedly removed 200 children’s books — including Little Red Riding Hood and Sleeping Beauty — from its library over concerns about sexism.
According to Fox News and El Pais, the Tàber school, which is run by the Catalan government, has stated that 30 percent of its library books for children under the age of six were “toxic,” with a mere 10 percent being written from a “gender perspective.”
“Society is changing and is more aware of the issue of gender but this is not being reflected in stories,” said Anna Tutzo, one of the mothers who reviewed the books.
The most common problem she found with the books was an association of masculinity with courage and competitiveness. “Also in violent situations, even though they are just small pranks, it is the boy who acts against the girl,” she said. “This sends a message about who can be violent and against whom.”
“Kids are like sponges and absorb everything around them, which allows sexist stereotypes to be normalized,” she continued.
Personally, I don’t think that Tutzo is giving children enough credit. Young or not, I highly doubt that any boy is going to read a story like Little Red Riding Hood and think “Hmmmm . . . the wolf was a dude and he was trying to eat Little Red Riding Hood who was a girl, therefore I should stalk and eat girls!” When violent actions occur against characters in a book, anyone who has the ability to grasp the content of a story also has the ability to grasp the concept of a villain as a character whose conduct should not be emulated. Think about it: Any kid who reads Little Red Riding Hood and sympathizes with the Big Bad Wolf obviously has some serious psychological problems that have nothing to do with the story itself.
What’s more, it simply isn’t true that all classic fairy tales have males as villains, that it is always “the boy who acts against the girl.” It’s been a while since I’ve been a kid, but stories such as Snow White, The Little Mermaid, and Cinderella come to mind immediately. Hell, even Sleeping Beauty, which the school banned, features a female villain, Maleficent.
Now, I’m not saying that critics of some classic fairytales don’t have a point. For example, I’ve always found Sleeping Beauty to be creepy and just generally weird as hell. I mean, a woman pricks her finger, which then infects her body with some kind of weird magical poison, and the only antidote for that poison is a non-consensual kiss from a man? What?
In fact, I myself had some issues with classic fairytales as a child — exactly because of the way that they too often painted female characters as being fully completed by the companionship of a male character. My parents always tell me that, after the first time I finished watching Beauty and the Beast, I asked my dad: “Okay . . . so what does she want to do now?” Even as a toddler, I wasn’t happy with that ending, because I couldn’t imagine myself being truly fulfilled and “happily ever after” without having some kind of ambition to do something myself. (My parents should have guessed I’d grow up to be a 30-year-old woman with multiple jobs who is not even close to getting married, but I digress.)
Still, I don’t think that these issues mean there is no value in these stories at all. They are enduring classics for a reason: They represent something about our culture and its past, and honestly, it is really never too soon to start having conversations about those things with your children. After all, that history does exist, and does continue to affect the present, whether you shield your kids from that fact or not. To me it seems clearly better to have those discussions rather than to hide your children from reality.
As for Little Red Riding Hood specifically, though, I’ve got to say that I’m honestly kind of stuck on where the “sexism” concerns come from. Was Little Red Riding Hood, a girl, stalked and endangered by the Big Bad Wolf, a man? Sure, of course she was, but there never seemed to me to be any indication that her predicament — nor her need for rescuing by a lumberjack — had anything to do with her gender. Rather, I always thought that her falling for the wolf’s tricks seemed to have had more to do with her age and the naïveté that comes with it than her sex — and that the choice of character for her rescuer had more to do with the fact that, biologically, it is a fact that a big, strong lumberjack would obviously be more physically suited to defeat a wolf so large that he’s named after his size than a child like Little Red Riding Hood would be, even if her character had been a male child instead. And I’d argue that the reason he was a male lumberjack was — and sorry if I’m blowing your mind here — that a male would be much more likely to be out in the woods lumberjack-ing than a female would be.
Gender roles are changing, and I’m certainly glad that they are — as a woman who often stores her clean laundry in the dryer to avoid having to put it away, clearly I’m much better suited for career endeavors than for housewifery. That doesn’t mean, however, that any story that doesn’t reflect the modern reality has no role in a child’s life. After all, even though I myself was a kid who couldn’t identify with, for example, Belle potentially being satisfied with a prince and a prince alone (I also always told my parents I really hoped she kept reading as much as she did when she was single), that didn’t mean that I didn’t still enjoy the story. In fact, it was one of my favorites — and beyond that, it provided an excellent opportunity for me to discuss my values and ambitions and the way things have changed with my parents from a very young age. Things did use to be much different for women, and I don’t think a child is ever too young to learn about the realities of the past.