My weekly visit to my two-year-old grandson, Ethan, has become a ritual (COVID permitting) – a babycino, then the playground, then story time at the library. This is half an hour of stories, songs and little games, with a craft activity – a chaotic jumble of gluing and grabbing – at the end. It’s for pre-schoolers really, but he loves it. He knows all the actions that go with the songs, but doesn’t need to do them.

Sometimes, in a dreamy state, he’ll open and shut his hands, or loosely approximate the movement from heads to shoulders to knees to toes. Sometimes he’ll stand up and clap his hands and stomp
his feet to show he’s happy and he knows it. But mostly he just sits next to me, and watches the librarian. I feel obliged to participate for him, singing the songs and waving my hands and twinkling them above my head. Ethan will then make the diamond, matching thumbs and fingers with care.

What are children absorbing when the characters of the books read to them are all male?

What are children absorbing when the characters of the books read to them are all male?

I go into story time intending to just relax and be with Ethan, but there always comes a moment when I feel a clicking in my brain. Usually by the second book where animals – of indeterminate sex, by the drawings – are all male. The word “he” starts to grate on me like a rusty windmill creaking in the wind. It doesn’t have to be a he. It could be an it. Or there could be a he and a she. I start to feel like a pusher, bringing my grandson to this place where the ascendancy of “he” is drip-fed into him, one book of happy rabbits at a time. I feel the word seeping into him, filling him with the knowledge that the world is populated almost exclusively by males.

The little girls stare at the librarian as she reads. I feel their little souls shrivel as they find so little room for their thoughts and ambitions.

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