We got a big box of hand me down books the other day, and it’s an incredible collection. Mac is over the moon about all the construction and truck books, and there’s a whole new stack of Curious George adventures for us to discover.
One of the first books we read was Dig, Dogs, Dig! It’s a GREAT book, with the glowing Amazon reviews to prove it. It’s a triple threat of all of her favorite things: heavy machinery, rhymes, and animals. It’s fun for me to read and it’s educational, all about working together, completing a project, problem solving, and of course being able to name construction equipment (something this mama had to learn recently).
There’s just one problem.
Her name is Roxy.
Look at this cute pink dog:
She has luscious eyelashes.
The problem isn’t that she’s pink, or even that she spent her her overtime pay getting false eyelashes.
Or maybe she applied many coats of super volume mascara alone in her room?
Because, look, she’s not included in this madcap scene of dogs waking up and getting ready for work.
I don’t care about her eyelashes. I’m a little jealous of those eyelashes, but too tired to take any action. What gets me going is that she’s evidence of some words of PC-caution from an editor: “you better include a female dog.”
Or better yet, why can’t all of the dogs remain ambiguously un-gendered? Neither gender nor biological sex have any bearing on the content of this story.
Pink little eyelashed Roxy doesn’t just let you know she’s the token female. She also signifies that all the other, basically indistinguishable dogs, are male.
They’re the ones who drive the heavy machinery.
They’re the ones who dive down into the big hole to find the dinosaur bone.
Roxy stays inside and assembles furniture under the watchful eye of Duke the supervisor dog, with the cautionary words that she better follow directions.
Look, here she is drinking coffee!
No hate, Roxy, I’d much rather drink coffee than dig a big hole. But I’m also not a construction dog, so you know, apples and oranges.
But my kid, my kid who loves garbage trucks and pink rain boots in equal measure, saw Roxy and knew that she was supposed to identify with her.
My two year old kid picked the pink dog out of the lineup—the pink dog who is excluded from the camaraderie of construction dog dorm life and who is explicitly supervised to make sure she follows directions—just like she was supposed to.
This isn’t just about my daughter. My son, when he’s able to understand this book, will learn passively that women are incidental to the story and the action. That their sidelining is the natural order of things. I don’t want him to grow up to dismiss the girl dog. I want him to dig holes and find dinosaur bones with all kinds of dogs.
Dear writers of adorable, rhyming, good-message kids books: do a better job. Whatever your intentions were, you thoughtlessly (or thoughtfully? That’s worse.) deployed a tired token that put my kid in a box she didn’t get to choose for herself.
Representation matters. Do better.