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Texts taught in school and sexism

(108 Posts)
sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 10:46:57

I am a teacher, and refuse to teach Of Mice and Men to pupils because of the blatant misogynistic attitudes inherent within it (it is also because of the casual racism flung around.)

A primary colleague tells me they teach Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree to year 3 pupils. Again, sweet story as it is in some respects it is crammed full of casual racism and sexism - "No, you can't do that, you are a girl," sort of attitudes.

I am wondering if I am being unreasonable, I recognise it is in the context of a particular time but my argument is we cannot expect young kids to fully appreciate this and we are teaching them that these attitudes are okay and acceptable because of when they happened.

What do you think? smile

VerySmallSqueak Mon 06-May-13 13:45:57

My DD's are 7 and 8 but have been listening to/reading Blyton since around 4 or 5 I reckon.

I do think that even if they do see Mother cleaning the house and baking bread as the norm at that age,they will soon work it out,just as working out that Moonface isn't real.Mine have always definitely seen it as the 'olden days'.

If they are exposed to sexism at home it may take longer,but I would say that would be the situation to tackle rather than what they're reading.

And I agree that some of the girls presented in the Enid Blyton books are very strong characters full of no nonsense and practicality.

I just think they will miss a huge chunk of literacy and learning if you avoid all books with a sexist slant.Because it's the way it was - it's history and we should learn from it,not turn our backs on it and not discuss it.

It's the ideal opportunity to start discussion about feminism if you ask me!

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 13:52:12

But the point with George is that she wanted to be a boy, even insofar as rejecting her feminine name.

It wasn't enough for her to be a strong female - many of the strong females in Blyton's books are strong because they do not embody the traditionally female characteristics.

Elizabeth Allen in The Naughtiest Girl books is another example of this - strong, intelligent, feisty and rebellious, good female character except that she is dubbed "the naughtiest girl." I think many of Blyton's female characters were very intelligent but this often led them into trouble. I have a real affection for The Family at Red Roofs - one of the little known ones, I think - and the eldest girl in that is a lovely female character: strong, calm, capable and kind. Also the maid in that is lovely. Yet even in that text there are so many examples of sexism. Molly (the eldest girl) tells her younger sister that they need to keep their room tidy because now she is growing to be a young woman, it is what girls do hmm the mother is a terrible female character and essentially falls apart after the father is believed to be lost at sea and leaves her four children to it while she recuperates, and Molly's friend tells a school-friend that "I want to be like my mother and make a nice home and make jam."

Honestly there are loads, I'd be here all day listing them. It surprises me how well I know Blyton though! grin

RiaOverTheRainbow Mon 06-May-13 13:54:31

If I've understood OP you're saying that the best way to reduce sexism/racism/etc. is to completely ignore them? Maybe if they were entirely historical, but of course they're not. The author doesn't have to explicitly condemn bigotry for you and your class to do so.

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 13:55:27

I think that is what is important, Very, is the discussion. I didn't have that as a child, I was given a book, read it, and that was it. I absolutely don't for a moment believe all books with a racist or a sexist slant should be avoided, because as you rightly point out, a huge chunk of literature would be missed that way grin

However, I suppose I was thinking very specifically in terms of schools in my first post, and I do think that schools are different because kids know what is acceptable at home is not at school and my worry, with OMAM is that by having it as an examination text the attitudes in it are seen as acceptable when that text is taught and not, as LRD said, that sexism/racism is OK but more - "Oh, it was a long time ago, no big deal now!" when in fact it IS a big deal smile

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 13:58:29

Ria, you have misunderstood me.

I think the opposite. We should not ignore them. We should talk about them, teach them and teach that they are not acceptable.

Many texts - To Kill a Mockingbird, for example - do this. OMAM does not. It casually refers to women as "tarts" "bitches" and "sluts." It refers to the black character as a "n-gger" quite calmly.

I would not have a problem with this if the underlying theme in the text was that this was not right, but it isn't. The underlying theme in the text is about isolation and loneliness and while a teacher might well point out that these things are not very nice, it isn't central to the pupils' understanding and reading of the text.

RiaOverTheRainbow Mon 06-May-13 14:05:19

Apologies then OP. I still think teachers can have a massive impact on what their pupils take from the text, though I suppose that depends on not being limited by time or the curriculum.

VerySmallSqueak Mon 06-May-13 14:05:59

Agreed re:the discussion sunlight.

I didn't discuss any of the Blyton books I devoured as a girl,but I am sure I remember thinking that it was very old fashioned. But if I am entirely honest I kind of revelled in the whole idea of coming home to Mother and all those lovely cosy fires and helping with the chores.I liked the whole homeliness of the set up with Father out at work and Mother running the whole shebang.

But in a sense,given the times,was Mother not a good capable and positive role model? It was all good wholesome stuff and while she was portrayed within the stereotyping of the times,she certainly wasn't portrayed as weak or helpless.

And in The Naughtiest Girls books,the girls were out there joining the gardening club and doing the digging,and taking an equal role in the School Council (from what I remember grin )

I'm afraid I have never read OMAM,though.

chocoluvva Mon 06-May-13 14:18:21

I don't remember OMAM in enough detail to comment on it specifically, but from a philosophical POV I feel it's narrow minded to feel that we've progressed since OMAM therefore don't bother with it, as we usually lose something with our gains. Eg, we're less racist now, but less tolerant of eccentricities, have poorer manners etc.

So you could point out the things that were better then to counterbalance the racism and sexism.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 06-May-13 14:19:54

I have to say, I think it might be an enormous struggle to point out what was better in OMAM (I know you said you don't remember it in detail, so not having a go, just saying).

VAVAV00M Mon 06-May-13 14:20:24

DDs class did an essay about the racism and sexism. They talked about men's attitudes compared to know and mentioned the feminist movement.

I'd do something like that as it can inspire a generation to speak up for what they believe and if they don't like it do something!!

She's in yr10 btw.

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 14:23:35

It is worth a read, if only because if you have primary-aged DCs now they will probably do it in a few years (not if they are in my class though! wink)

Yes, the girls were, absolutely out joining the gardening clubs and so on, and in some cases the mothers were strong role models. But if you read them closely it is still there - I remember when Elizabeth first wanted to join the gardening club the boy was all hmm a GIRL and the mothers send the children to bed for knocking over a drink or similar!

Choc, I don't exactly think we have progressed, is the issue. It is (I think) one thing to say "these were the attitudes in the 1930s and that's OK then!" (OMAM) and "these were the attitudes in the 1930s and there were WRONG!" (TKAM.)

NeoMaxiZoomDweebie Mon 06-May-13 14:24:34

OP are you going to chuck Shakespeare on the bonfire too? FFS ANY historical literature contains outdated can't just ignore the books!

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 14:25:16

I love your DD's teacher, Vavavoom, nearly as much as your username! grin

VerySmallSqueak Mon 06-May-13 14:28:44

I will make a point of reading it now sunlight so I can discuss it with them as necessary,so thank you!

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 14:30:20

Of course not, Neo. I am in danger of repeating myself here, but in OMAM the sexism and the racism is casual, it is very much an implicit part of the text and as such is often overlooked.

I think the language in Shakespeare makes the fact it is from a different time obvious - and in many cases the female heroines in Shakespeare make sexism such an integral part of the story it's difficult to avoid when discussing it, but in OMAM that is not the case. My concern is that around 90% of teenagers, according to AQA, study a text at the age of fifteen/sixteen which refers quite casually to women as bitches, whores, tarts and tramps. I don't like it, and so I don't teach it. Therefore, I haven't mentioned bonfires and I do rather think that my dislike of a text that is one of the key examination texts being compared to one of the worst dictators of all time is a bit unnecessary.

chocoluvva Mon 06-May-13 14:38:01

I don't mean that racism or sexism are/were ever okay. Able to be explained because of ignorance or the prevailing culture at the time though.

Rather, the culture of OMAM was different from today's. Poorer because of the racism and sexism, but better in other ways.

But that's probably more for a history or philosophy class. I see you what you mean about having to use time in your class talking about things that aren't strictly to do with literature.

Perhaps you could study some literature written by women. Jane Austen was the only female author we studied at school.

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 14:40:35

TKAM, Rabbit Proof Fence and Purple Hibiscus are all female authors. smile The other two options from Other Cultures are Mister Pip (Lloyd Jones, if anyone is interested) and OMAM.

There's a much wider selection under modern texts.

blueemerald Mon 06-May-13 14:40:53

I'm a student teacher who has just finished looking at OMAM with my mid/low year 11 set (all girls, majority from ethnic minorities). Sexism and Racism were casual in the 1930s. My students were outraged and appalled at just how casual it was back then. Several of them made comments to the effect that studying this novel brought that fact home to them in a way that history lessons never had (no offence history teachers, just reporting!).

I don't think OMAM communicates a message that the sexism and racism is OK at all. I think it's used to show that all of the characters (except perhaps 'god-like' Slim) are flawed. These flaws are part of the reason none of their dreams can be realised. My students thought less of George/realised the plot/characters was not as back and white as it may first seem due to his sexist comments.

Knowledge of context is a huge part of the exam for this text, it's built into the Assessment Objectives.

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 14:44:43

The context for the purposes of the examination are more about the depression/American dream, emerald though, rather than sexism and racism.

I'm pleased your girls were so appalled by it though as mostly I have found kids just accept it. sad unfortunately I think they are used to "tramp, bitch, tart" and the like. They do object to the racism, though.

Good luck with your PGCE if that is indeed what you are doing! grin

chocoluvva Mon 06-May-13 14:49:13

Oh yes - TKAM was the only novel written by thingie Harper? You've inspired me to read RPF and PH FWIW. That's lovely to hear.

(Don't know how your pupils are doing, but I'm learning something from your thread) [narcissistic emoticon] grin

NeoMaxiZoomDweebie Mon 06-May-13 14:50:39

Sunlight, The Taming of The Shrew is the very embodiment of sexist.

Takver Mon 06-May-13 14:51:59

I would add that I think even for their time, Enid Blyton books are awash with sexism and racism.

I'd compare them for example with the Swallows and Amazons series (and the horror of Nancy and Peggy being forced into pretty dresses to play the piano), or Little House in the Big Woods (yes, racism against the Indians from Ma, but Pa puts the contrary view and points out that they have had their land stolen).

Having said that, I never stopped dd reading them, just pointed out the general awfulness (including really awful sibling bullying in the Secret Seven) and provided lots of better books!

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 06-May-13 14:59:45

choco, how was the culture Steinbeck was writing about better? Seriously, tell me how.

sunlightonthegrass Mon 06-May-13 15:02:35

Neo, absolutely, just as TKAM is about racism and how awful and unjust things were. My point isn't that these things shouldn't be taught, it is the way they are presented in OMAM.

With The Taming of the Shrew, the point of it is that it is a very sexist text so that naturally comes up in class discussion; OMAM's is implicit rather than explicit and therefore (I think) more damaging and I dislike the fact it is such a widely-taught examination text for that reason.

Choc - PH is a great read, it is by the same author as Half of a Yellow Sun, if you know it. Rabbit Proof Fence is a teensy bit dull but very good film!

KoreRenati Mon 06-May-13 15:04:13

Surely you are severely limiting them by refusing to teach them any books which have outdated gender roles and sexist language? Why not teach the books and use them to talk about changes in the way society views the sexes?

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