Friday, January 30, 2009

On Pioneers, Family, and Idiotic Coworkers

So I wasn't going to write about this little occurrence, but I can't stop thinking about it, so I figured that it would be of interest to all y'all.

My coworker recently announced - unprovoked, as is her style - that she wasn't going to let her four-year-old daughter read the Little House on the Prairie series because they perpetuate negative stereotypes of women.

Just... sit on that for a few minutes.

Before I start on my rampage, I'd also like to add that this woman considers herself an extreme liberal and is also strongly against censorship.

So there's that...

Right. I read these books in elementary school. Though... I shouldn't say that I merely read them, because that is misleading - I devoured them. They were like crack, and had the same "oh-my-god-i-must-read-the-next-one-immediately" quality that the Harry Potter series and the (asinine) Twilight series have had on me in recent years.

My mom had a gorgeous, hardcover, complete set of the series from her childhood, in pristine condition, and I was eventually allowed to read them. I was so very careful: I removed the slipcover and left it atop the other books sitting on the bookshelf. I opened them painstakingly slowly. In fact, I feel like I can trace my lifetime treatment of books to this series. To this day, even my well-read books look fresh and new, the spine pristine.

I just loved the smell of them. I loved the artwork on the covers. I loved everything about the books themselves as objects - even before I read the words within.

The stories themselves were just... beautiful. I imagined myself in The Big Woods of Wisconsin. I wanted to take a trip in a covered wagon. I didn't know that I wanted to live in a sod house, but I thought that it would be pretty cool to go inside.

I marveled at Laura's courage and her infinite curiosity. I wanted to be her. I wanted to go to Walden, as it were.

I thought that she was so strong - how could she do the things that she did? She twisted handfuls of hay into little "logs" to make things to burn so that her family wouldn't FREEZE TO DEATH. I mean, how do you compare your own life to hers?

But you can. These books were, in my opinion, about family, and while I wasn't living in a log cabin, I had the same loving family as Laura. I understood how cool it was to have your dad read a book to you and your siblings.

I also loved that the writing style changed as Laura aged. In Little House in the Big Woods, when she was young, Laura's thoughts and worries were those of a little girl. Before you knew it, though, she was an adult, teaching in a town far away, and being courted by Almanzo.

(Oh my gosh, how much did you love Almanzo?)

Laura was a strong, independent woman who loved her family and pushed herself to a career in the classroom, even in a time when men formed the majority in the teaching profession. She openly pursued love. She supported her family financially when her sister went blind from scarlet fever. She was such a badass!

And yet, my coworker thinks that she is a negative example in the representation of women.

I'm not going to argue about this. The role of women has changed dramatically in the last hundred years. Things haven't always been easy. Things still aren't easy. We're still not equally paid. We have to make different decisions about our professional lives due to biological reasons completely innate to who we are.

So yes, if you read books about a woman living in America in the late 1800s, you will encounter a lifestyle vastly different from that to which you are accustomed. Women had different roles then, yes. But that doesn't change the fact that a rugged frontier woman could kick the ever-loving crap out of a prissy MBA jackass today.

If she were to let her daughter read these books (which, at age four? I don't think so...) and offer no context or explanation, then maybe her daughter might get confused. Maybe she would start to think that she should be wearing a corset and churning butter.

So whatever, coworker. I feel for your daughter. I hope she rebels soon.


lem said...

I totally agree HP. Those books are amazing. I can't tell you how many times I read them growing up. Your coworker sounds crazy.

Heather said...

lem - I could start a whole blog dedicated to how crazy this woman is. She's beyond batshit insane - coffee addict, close-talker, no sense of personal space, bidding on clothes for her daughter on eBay, "working" 5 hour days but really spending most of her time on the phone with her lesbian mother in Italy and updating her facebook account.

That's just the surface scrapings.