I have no excuses for not keeping this blog updated other than moving, going back to grad school, searching for new job, finding new job, working at new job, etc (oh, what do ya know- I DO have some excuses up my sleeve!)
Anyways, given the program that I am enrolled in, Study of Children’s Literature, I often find myself brimming with thoughts, comments and observations about some of the books I encounter. I also remain a hopeless bibliophile in that I am constantly acquiring new (not actually new, but books I have not previously owned) ones. I am particularly interested in vintage and antique children’s books, and I feel very inspired by the book blogs Jacket Knack and Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves to pin down some of my thoughts on the vast array of books I own.
One that I recently picked up for a dollar at a flea market has especially affected me: Judy, Junior Nurse. The the story of a young girl who gets her entire school to volunteer with the American Junior Red Cross to make things to send overseas. It was published in 1951, so the Korean War was in its beginning, and was also still recovering (in some ways) from WWII, so the patriotic theme makes sense in the historical context.
What affected me is the way that the gender roles are so distinctly prescribed for boys and girls in this story. Obviously, post-war America had a much higher emphasis on heteronormativity than we do today. (It’s still here of course, but we’re much more sensitive to transgendered individuals and the LGBT movement.) So the portrayals of gender roles do not actually offend me, but they do make me chuckle a bit.
Judy accompanies her mother to a sewing circle. Her mother tells her that if she behaves herself while she is there, she will buy her a bracelet like the beautiful one she saw one of the other women wearing.
-the little girl is in a dress the entire time (we can’t have her sporting trousers, like a boy, now can we?)
-her mother does not have a job outside the house. Not uncommon in the post-war period, although both of my grandmothers worked while raising their families. (they were both nurses, by the way)
-she follows her mother in learning a domestic craft
-her reward, if she behaves herself and acts like a proper young lady, is a piece of jewelry.
WOW- that’s a lot of gender being prescribed for little Judy. It’s probably because I am still coming off the intense emotional academic experience of a graduate level Literary Theory class, followed by my final project for that class- a one and a half hour presentation on gender theory, but I seem to have a heightened awareness now of gender issues in children’s books, and the the children’s books from this time period are so easy to pick on. Don’t be seduced by those charming pastel and watercolor illustrations—they are trying to construct your gender!!!!!!!!
Fortunately, gender is performative. (I really, really hope that my Lit Theory professors, one from undergrad and one from grad school, come across this some day.)