Sexism in Literature

A week or so ago I read this piece about sexism in Prince Caspian. While I wasn’t fond of the author’s editing out things she was reading to her children, she does go on to say in the comments section that she does deconstruct what she reads with her children. Whether you agree or disagree with her beliefs, the fact that she sits down with her children and discusses what she reads with them is a plus. But I digress. 

Shortly after reading that blog, I read a piece from Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. Her point is not the same as Deborah’s, but she is talking about sexist language in literature. She says,

I am a female, of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word, man, includes both.…

That is scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being a part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words. I have a hunch that those who would do so have forgotten their rightful heritage. 

I know that I am fortunate in having grown up in a household where no sexist roles were imposed on me. I lived in an atmosphere which assumed equality with all its differences. When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it, or that I was in some way being excluded.

I don’t know what Deborah would think of this statement by L’Engle, and I won’t assume, but I do know it would not sit well in lots of places. And yet I wonder if girls were raised in the type of home as L’Engle, would the generic he be such an issue? I don’t know. The real issue of sexism in my mind deals with the way we treat one another.

Is a woman inferior to a man? That is a loaded question, and the follow up question should be: In what way? No black and white answer to that question exists. For every “in general,” an exception to the rule can surely be found. In general, though, men’s physical and emotional make up is different than a woman’s. This leads, unfortunately to stereotypes. Stereotypes are based upon some truth, however hidden. 

So men are generally stronger than women physically. Women, in general, are more empathetic. I am sure picking those examples will get me in trouble. But the pendulum has swung too far. Instead of seeking balance and righting clear wrongs, some have dug in their heels to avoid any and all hints at differences. This is plain silly, for differences exist that cannot be denied. The problem, then, rears its ugly head when someone takes a difference and makes it an issue of better or worse, right and wrong, can or can’t.

We are not the same, and we should rejoice in the fact that together we can complement one another as we fulfill the functions that we were created to fulfill instead of fighting against those and trying to do what we were not created to do.


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