For generations, kids have longed for more stories about girls

When you’ve got three kids and one husband home sick, there’s not much you can do, except mindless tasks like folding laundry and cleaning out drawers. It was when I was organizing the children’s bookshelves that I came across Corrie and the Yankee by Mimi Cooper Levy.

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I have this book because it was written by a teacher of my mother’s back in 1959. I hadn’t looked at it a long time and completely forgot about the back cover. Here’s what it reads. My mother is Jill.

Mimi Cooper Levy lives in New York City and has taught almost every grade in the public schools from first through junior high. For the last few years she has been a teacher at the famous Little Red Schoolhouse.

 

While she was teaching a fifth-grade class Jill, one of her pupils, complained that in books of adventure it was almost always a boy who did anything of importance. Miss Levy promised Jill that she would write a story about a girl doing “lots of brave and stirring things.”

 

It was some time before the promise could be realized, because Miss Levy was then deeply absorbed in research to find material for young readers on Negro history. However, during this research she came across stories about slave families like Corrie’s, and Corrie and the Yankee began to take shape in her mind.

 

Mimi Levy says, “As soon as I was able, I set to work to write it down–for Jill, and John too, and all the children who used to enjoy listening to my stories. I hope other children will like Corrie too.

It’s remarkable to me that so many years ago– when editors described a female writer as “Miss” and used “Negro” for African-Americans– my mother was complaining about the same thing I’m blogging about right now, that my own fifth grade daughter is experiencing today. How many girls have sat in classrooms over how many years and wondered why female heroes go missing? How many spoke up to their teachers? How many teachers wrote about it? How many girls grew up to write their own stories?

It drives me crazy when I hear people say that girls are totally willing to see movies and read stories about boys, while boys supposedly aren’t interested in seeing movies or reading stories about girls. The truth is that all kids are trained, from birth, that stories about boys are important and for everyone, while stories about girls are trivial and only for girls.

The year is 2014. All kids need to experience narratives where girls do “lots of brave and stirring things.” Can we all help them to that? Parents, please seek out books and movies, apps and games that feature female characters with power and agency. Miss Representation has taught the world, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” but if you can’t even imagine it, that’s the worst of all.

10 thoughts on “For generations, kids have longed for more stories about girls

  1. Are you familiar with the work of Virginia Lee Burton? She wrote picture books with long stories for the preschool set. I’ve been reading them to my 3 year old son and we both enjoy the large, strong, town-saving vehicles who are all female.

  2. Did you watch The Gabby Douglas Story movie put out by Lifetime? It’s not the best movie but it’s pretty good as far as inspirational sports movies go and it centers on Gabby and her mother.

  3. As I’m writing this on the first day of what was once “Negro History Week”, it’s appropriate that Ms Levy’s book is not only about a heroic girl, but about a heroic African American girl. Just as boys are taught to expect narratives to be about them, with girls in the background as support; whites are taught to expect whites to be central to the narrative, with non-white characters as support, (even in “Civil Rights” films like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Mississippi Burning).

    I’m reading a fascinating book called “Jane Austen in Hollywood”. As many commentators on this blog have observed, Jane Austen adaptations can be very female empowering,since women are always central to the narrative, both as heroes and villains. Which is exactly why Amy Heckerling had so much trouble getting “Clueless” made. She says the studio heads, “…were worried about something that was so female oriented…They kept pressuring me to create more of a life for the boys in the film”. Odd that the same studio heads don’t suggest “making more of a life for the girls” in every OTHER film!

    • Hi Lesley,

      Yes, those movies/ books are about heroic white person saving black people. “Freedom Writers” keeps get recommended to me but it looks like the same white savior thing and I can’t promote that in another movie. If it were one image among many, it would be OK but its a dominant pattern there are too few narratives about African-Americans, not to mention female African-Americans to do the white hero trope.

      That book sounds great. I like Jane Austen but ever since I was a kid, I get bored with the marriage, marriage, marriage plot. I cant get that excited about marriage, though love is exciting, so it holds something for me.

      I wish they pressured for more girls, its so sexist. That’s what I’m trying to do here PRESSURE

      Margot

  4. When I was a child, I liked to roleplay some of the stories that I read or watched, creating new stories inside those worlds, and it was very frustrating for me that I usually have to play as a boy, because they usually were the heros.
    Recently, I have read again one of the books from my childhood, to check if my niece could like it. What I recalled was that most characters in the book were women, but really women are aroun half the characters. That was so unusual that it seemed to me then that there were more women that there really were. And even the back cover states that is a feminist utopia because women can do everything and can reach the potencial. Again, when women are half the world and can do the same, is lauded as an unusual story.

  5. I think one of your final points is key – that boys have been trained for generations to think stories about girls are only for girls. We need to move away from this as a society. I’m really starting to become frustrated with my sister’s husband because he is constantly limiting his son and keeping him from things that are “only for girls.” By limiting his son this way, I believe he is limiting his daughter, too. I don’t know what to do about it 🙁

  6. This week I encountered the acronym SJW or social justice warrior for the first time in a comment thread. It amazes me how people can consider the representation of women in media or the representation of any kind of diversity to be a new concern that people are only talking about because it’s fashionable. Putting aside how natural it is to want to see yourself or people like you represented in a respectful, diverse, and compelling way in the media you consume, there are also years of written proof that contradicts the idea that this is just the new hot topic of the moment. Women have always been concerned with how they’ve been portrayed in fiction and the arts. Women want to see themselves represented and represented well.

    • Hi Cat,

      Is it fashionable??? I dont feel like hardly anyone gets it in my mo- 30something-40 something universe, but maybe younger people get it more?

      Couldn’t agree more with your last two sentences.

      Margot

      • Well, I think calling it “fashionable” or any synonym of that word is meant to trivialize and delegitimize arguments. I can’t speak to whether people care more about these issues now than they did before or if more people are speaking up but they’re being heard and they’re finding an audience and a community that agrees with them which scares people who are comfortable with or in fact benefit from the status quo.

        • Hi Cat,

          Yes, you’re right, like being called PC, annoying and trivializing. Part of me would be psyched if females in power were “cool,” beyond The Hunger Games, of course, which is maybe what fashionable always is, just one or two events, not a real change.

          Margot

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