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The Truth About Princess Books
“Mommy, this book is whose?”
“I borrowed it from Lisa so that I could read it to Kui.”
“It’s about a princess called Snow White and all the friends she made in the forest.”
“Can you read it for me?”
“I already picked out a book for you. I think you’ll like it. It’s about doing things yourself and has all your friends from Sesame Street in it.”
“Mommy, how come you don’t read me princess books?”
Whoa! Wait! What? My mind went completely blank as he stood looking at me, Snow White’s Forest Friends in his hand. I was flustered. At a loss for words.
“I’m sorry, Kamau. I didn’t know you liked princess books. I will start reading them to you.”
As he went about his business, completely unaware of the effect his innocent question had on me, I mulled over it. Why, indeed, have I never read Kamau a princess book? When did I decide that certain books were read to boys and others to girls? I realized just how deep-rooted this ridiculous distinction of mine was when I thought about the books I have read to Kui since I included reading in our bedtime routine.
When I first made the decision to start reading to her, I reached out to Lisa. To borrow books from her collection. Forget the fact that Kamau has an impressive assortment of books. My first thought was that if I needed books to read to Kui, I would find them in Lisa’s house. I then thought of the few books I have borrowed from Kamau to read to Kui: The Little Lion Who Lost Her Roar. Penelope The Piglet. Never Treasure Island or Big Pig On A Dig. No. Books about dirt and digging, or jumping and building, or great adventures were not to be read to Kui.
I was embarrassed and I still am. I walk around thinking of myself as a forward-thinking, 21st Century woman. The kind that wants to raise a son that isn’t a jerk (seriously, my best description for the kind of man I don’t want my son to grow up into). Yet, here I am, perpetuating gender difference through something as innocent as bedtime stories. It is tough enough that at four our kids are declaring that, “pink is for girls and blue is for boys.” It is- for me- another thing, all together, to fail at passing certain lessons involving the sexes to my children. To be part of the problem.
Kamau’s question taught me that I have it all wrong.
It reminded me that as I dream of a time when we can have open discussions on weighty issues such as objectification of women, I am failing at the here and now. The little things, right from within our homes- the lessons I teach from the examples I set, that mould who our children become out there. It’s about separating what books Kamau and Kui read at bedtime that I am sending the very message that I hope to fight. It starts now. Not when he is, maybe, twelve and can understand things a little better or at eighteen as we give that you-are-now-going-into-the-world speech.
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