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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

TheOriginalSteamingNit Fri 24-May-13 23:54:28

How does writing about the difference between now/then add anything to our understanding of the actual text?

Greythorne Sat 25-May-13 00:16:18

I think the OP is being given a hard time.

We happen to know Steinbeck was very left wing and so we assume that the fact that Curly's wife is never named is deliberate and that he is writing neutrally about the sexism around him....buit what eveidence in the book is there that he disagrees with her treatment at the hands of the men?

Genuine question.

I read it 30 years ago, hated it and really can't remember.

Mind you, I hated it not nearly as much as I hated bloody Grapes of bloody Wrath.

Lovecat Sat 25-May-13 11:00:16

Never read OMAM but am now tempted to do so!

Wrt The Faraway Tree, DD is currently working her way through the trilogy as her first free reading. They are the first books she's been genuinely excited to read and I'm quite enjoying the cliffhanger chapter endings myself (although I think the school edition has been updated as Fanny is Frannie, Dame Slap is Dame Snap and I can't see any racism anymore!).

The one thing that has bothered DD the most is why their mother is only bothered about them getting their clothes dirty rather than them going missing for 48 hours at a time! We have discussed the fact that the books were set a long time ago and expectations of girls and boys were different then, I wouldn't want to lose the first books she's ever shown an interest in.

dancingwithmyselfandthecat Sat 25-May-13 14:04:21

Only skimmed the last few pages, so apols if this has come up. Part of the issue behind this debate is the fallacy that some books inherently aren't problematic while others are. Bollocks. All literature is inherently problematic and this is why it is valuable - we can analyse what themes the author wanted to address and what themes arise which the author didn't even realise might present issues to future generations.

To kill a mockinbird has been cited repeatedly as a "good text". But Mayella's story isn't believed because she is a poor woman. Tom Robinson is believed because he is "respectable". What does that remind you of? Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fascinating article on pre civil rights black white rape trials in which this scenario repeatedly arose in real life and served to act as a defence or mitigation for black men who were accused. Reading Mockingbird against that background is inherently a much more problematic - but also richer experience and I can't believe none of you feminist English teachers don't teach it that way. Against Lee, Steinbeck is fascinating because some of his blind spots and prejudices coalesce and some don't.

Also, if at any age pupils say "its ok to use that word or think that because the book said so" then that is an opportunity to teach them about the difference between a book and real life. How the former can guide us because it makes us reflect on our own experience through something outside of it, not a mandate to act according to it.

ravenAK Sat 25-May-13 17:52:32

'what eveidence in the book is there that he disagrees with her treatment at the hands of the men?'


Greythorne Sat 25-May-13 23:08:43


What evidence in the text?

Greythorne Sat 25-May-13 23:12:03

Up thread The Taming of the the shrew was cited as pure misogyny.

So, just because we don't have a letter from Shakespeare to say it was not misogyny, Shrew is considered misogyny?

And Steinbeck writes a book laden with all sorts of stereotypes about race and sex and gender but because we all know he's a good left wing egg, it's ok?

ravenAK Sat 25-May-13 23:37:31

Greythorne - because of the way he presents her in the final three sections, & the fact that she doesn't get a hearing until then. It's all about the structure of the text.

I teach a Controlled Assessment on the presentation of CW: Steinbeck controls our initial access to CW in exactly the same way as her 'dh' does wrt everyone else on the ranch. It's a huge part of the purpose of the novel that we are obliged to be complicit in gazing at her in the same way that the men do.

When she first gets a voice, in chapter 4, she uses it to threaten a black character with lynching. A less clever novelist would have made her a straightforward victim, but Steinbeck forces us to see that the only power she is allowed is sexual & that she uses it unpleasantly after being told to get lost - she uses it to drive a wedge between the men because they reject her.

& then she is allowed to share her dream in section 5, but the illusion of finding a listener is just that - Lennie couldn't care less about what she has to say.

If you look at section 6, Steinbeck is fairly explicit in his pity for her.

Tbh, I think he's decidedly patronising about it. Which I like, when teaching top sets at least, because you can get into the evaluative stuff that you need for A* - he obviously intended this as a sympathetic portrayal, but is it really? How limited is it because of the writer's intention, & how much because of his own mindset? How is our evaluation affected by being C21st readers of an early C20th text?

I don't think TTOTS is misogynistic, either. Shakespeare's heroines (& villainesses) jump off the page precisely because he gives his female characters so much more ooomph than most of his contemporaries would've dreamt of.

I'd imagine Lady Macbeth or Richard III's mum would've wasted no time in telling Curley's Wife a few home truths when it came to not taking any shit off the men in her life! The message of OM&M is that her options were effectively non-existent - as for pretty much every character in the novel.

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