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We Must Revise Classic Literature To Promote Gender Inclusivity

Calling kids purple penguins instead of boys and girls in Lincoln, Nebraska schools is just a first step towards remaking gendered thoughts.

Great news, parents of Lincoln, Nebraska! Your local authorities are hard at work to give you the world’s most gender-inclusive public schools. In a new initiative orchestrated by Gender Spectrum and the Center for Gender Sanity, public school teachers have been urged to stop calling students “boys and girls” and instead refer to them as “purple penguins,” or some other suitably bestial name. Students heard referring to “boys” and “girls” are to be gently encouraged to “see things differently.”

Predictably, the move has occasioned some controversy. When rolling back centuries of gender oppression, you expect some heavy sledding. Also, some people just get all jittery when their actual lives start resembling Orwellian dystopias. That’s yet another prejudice we have to fight.

But it’s going to take a concerted effort to convert an entire culture of “gendered space” into an inclusive, genderless paradise. Practically every book in the children’s library is going to need some editing. To get that ball rolling, I’ve come up with some suggestions for how to deal with some of the thornier points in children’s and classic literature.

The Dick and Jane Stories

It’s discouraging to realize how immediately society burdens our children with restrictive gender norms. They walk into school all fresh and innocent and ready to learn, and what do we hit them with? Dick. Jane. Boy. Girl. We just can’t wait to attack them with inflexible gender dichotomies.

Why not try for more gender-ambiguous names? We could have the Taylor and Jamie Stories. Or what about Sage and Phoenix?

Mother Goose Rhymes

Unfortunately, these are chock-full of references to boys and girls. It’s hard to rewrite rhymes without ruining the meter, but perhaps in the spirit of Gender Spectrum’s suggestions, we might solve the problem by substituting animal names for gendered references.

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the gorillas and made them cry.
When the bonobos came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away!

That’s a lot better, wouldn’t you say?


You can run but you can’t hide. Girls (err, rather, an unspecified but probably non-universal subset of schoolchildren) love their princess stories. We’re going to have to do something with the classic slim-waist-meets-hunky-biceps trope.

In princess stories, the protagonist normally has to distinguish herself as special, unique and true to her royal nature. So let’s capture those themes by converting Cinderella into a story about expressive individualism. Instead of holding a ball to find a bride, the prince holds a rave to find a non-gender-specific soul mate. Cinderella catches his eye with her personalized, one-of-a-kind footwear. The moral of the story, kids, is to always be yourself. Also, pay whatever you have to for the right shoes.

Romeo and Juliet

The bad news is that Romeo and Juliet is pretty stuck on gender. The good news? It’s a tragedy. Our star-crossed lovers fail to overcome their provincial gender assumptions, and die horribly.

The Tempest

The difficulty with this story is that the heroine, Miranda, is amazed and delighted by the noble Ferdinand precisely because he is the only young man she has ever seen. How to explain the significance of that meeting in a non-gender-judgmental way?

How about making this a tale about embracing diversity? Having been raised in an environment with no ethnic diversity, Miranda is thrilled by the opportunity to expand her cultural horizons.

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unattached person in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a gender-unspecific companion.

It doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? And the truth is that rescuing Jane Austen is a challenge. She really is a thick, putrid swamp of gendered space. Ladylike or gentlemanly behavior oozes from every page. Ladies are forced to sit out dances because “gentlemen are scarce.” Gentlemen discuss the achievements proper to accomplished young women. It’s a grim situation.

My recommendation is just to put Austen on the “censored” list.

Adam and Eve

All right, so I know this isn’t really a problem. I’m sure Lincoln schoolteachers aren’t crazy enough to allow schoolchildren to study the single most significant book in all of Western civilization. But in case it comes up, let’s just think about this. In the beginning, there was just Adam. Then God divided humans into two sexes. And how did that go? A genderless world is looking better all the time.

The Lord of the Rings

What child isn’t thrilled by the story of Lady Eowyn, who dressed as a man so she could perform feats of valor in company with the Riders of Rohan? It might seem hard to capture that girl-power thrill without referencing girls. But obviously, this is properly understood as a story about gender heroism. Eowyn, a transgendered man, is barred from the military service, owing to bigotry and his two X chromosomes. Fortunately, he games the system and triumphs on the battlefield. And then marries the second-hunkiest man in Middle Earth. Because, why not?

Twelfth Night

There is all kinds of gender dysphoria in this epic tale, in which we learn that people who are prepared to switch genders at any time generally land on their feet in the end. This is the model story, and as such, it could be placed at the center of the curriculum. But is it possible that the kids might take all the switching as evidence that there really are two fixed genders? Oh dear. We can’t have that kind of binary thinking, can we?

Writers around the world, take up your pens. These fudges may suffice for now, but if we truly wish to bury our gendered past, we must author new classics that can more fittingly teach the values of our bright, progressive future. Our work is cut out for us.

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