Arthur the racist, heterosexist aardvark

Children’s books with anthropomorphic animals reproduce “racist, colonial, consumerist, heteronormative, and patriarchal norms,” according to paper presented at the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, in Victoria, British Columbia, reports the National Post. Arthur the Aardvark lives with his married parents — one male and one female — and two sisters in a suburban home.

Most animals portrayed in children’s books, songs and on clothing send a bad message, according to academics Nora Timmerman and Julia Ostertag: That animals only exist for human use, that humans are better than animals, that animals don’t have their own stories to tell, that it’s fine to “demean” them by cooing over their cuteness. Perhaps worst of all, they say, animals are anthropomorphized to reinforce “socially dominant norms” like nuclear families and gender stereotypes.

Children’s books should present animals kids really encounter in their “full richness and ambiguity,” Timmerman argue. Kids 0 to 4 won’t value their own experiences if the books they read are full of talking tigers, cuddly bears, elephants, rhinos and toucans, instead of ants, bees and perhaps squirrels,  she believes.


Arthur the aardvark and his family

When Franklin the turtle, Arthur the aardvark and the Berenstain Bears wear clothes, talk and live in nuclear families, it teaches cultural stereotypes, she says.

Authors are often trying to convey good social values in children’s books with animal characters, whether it be acceptance or generosity or inclusivity. But Ms. Timmerman wishes these authors would acknowledge that “animals themselves may have lessons to teach us.” For example, bees buzzing around a hive or ants in an ant farm can teach the importance of community and teamwork without having to be anthropomorphized, she said.

“Billy the Bee doesn’t necessarily project any kind of cultural bias unless we ignore, for example, that worker ants are mostly females and we call them male because we tend to think of workers as male,” she said.

Billy the Bee would be a drone, who lives only to impregnate a new queen bee, not a worker bee. (Not sure how the ants got into the last half of the sentence.) Or is it Bilia the transgender bee? There’s not all that much ambiguity embedded in the life of a real bee, ant or squirrel.

Via Ace of Spades HQ.

In another paper, Bums, Poops, and Pees, University of Alberta professor Ann Curry confirmed that children love books with scatological content, while parents do not. Many librarians said they used such books as Walter the Farting Dog to encourage boys to read.

Perhaps a book on how worker ants give their all for the collective would be a better choice.

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