Confounding Rampant Genderism, Then and Now

Cover of "Bob the Builder: Let's Find Shapes"


Right now my 18 month-old daughter is in that stage where she wants to have the same book read to her over and over, and over and over, and over and over . . . The book of choice is Bob the Builder: Let’s Find Shapes, which isn’t the least bit surprising considering her favorite toys have always been things like dump trucks and toy construction equipment.

The book is a little unsettling, though, due to the context in which the only clearly female character in the book appears. I realize that on the Bob the Builder TV show, many of the construction vehicles have female voices, but we don’t normally watch the show, and you can’t tell the machines’ genders from the book. Instead, the only woman, Wendy, appears holding a tray of cookies with the caption, “Wendy has star-shaped cookies for Bob.”

It’s flabbergasting, considering the book was published in 2002. As bad as that is, the book isn’t nearly as cringeworthy as some of the older things we have around the house.

Take, for example, the series of 25 pamphlet-style cookbooks I somehow wound up with from my parents that were published in the early 1960s. They’re littered with such gems of statements as, “Here are 250 recipes gathered . . . to help the hostess increase her repertory and add variety to her family’s everyday menus,” and “Sunday night suppers . . . give Mother an opportunity for training the children in the entertaining of their own guests.” Throughout the series of books, the person for whom the recipes are compiled is always assumed to be a woman, a mother, and a “homemaker.”

Better yet, the recipes in question are always for things like “Chicken á la King with Ham Rolls,” “Paté de Foie Gras,” “Chicken Pie de Luxe,” pies, cakes, cookies, and even candy made from scratch, because the female homemaker and parent in question clearly has nothing better to do than spend all day cooking an absurdly complicated evening dinner. There’s even a category of “After Sports Suppers” to be made when, you guessed it, the men are all sitting around watching sports on TV. My personal favorite is a recipe for something called “Chicken Calcutta,” because adding a pinch of curry powder and a pinch of chili powder to something apparently makes it Indian (it’s part of a “Cosmopolitan” recipe section of “Oriental” food).

I can’t help but wonder what a person who helped compile that crap would think of our household today, where I stay home with the kids while my wife goes to work, and our daughter plays with toy dump trucks and rugby balls when she isn’t busy trying to wrestle her two year-old brother to the ground. To top it off, our son likes to pretend to go to work. When he does this, he says, “Go to work,” and puts on one of my wife’s necklaces, rather than a tie.

I hope that individual could withstand passing out from shock just long enough to hear me to say, “Welcome to the 21st Century, dickhead.” It wouldn’t matter if the cookbook author in question was male or female; you don’t need to have one to be one. This is the 21st Century, after all.


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4 Responses to “Confounding Rampant Genderism, Then and Now”

  1. Sarah Baram Says:

    I like this post, a lot. You’re right, some how stale gender roles have managed to mosey their way in to children’s shows. Handy Manny’s show is much like Bob’s. The woman is rarely seen doing “manly” things. But you know what, your children sound unaffected by the roles present to them in the picture book. I would suggest reading your children the Magic Tree house series. They aren’t picture books, but short chapter books. BUT, they boast one thing: breaking the gender roles that we all seem to be forced to with stand.

  2. Revel Says:

    I’m watching the show right now, and am flabbergasted as well. I normally don’t find it too horribly offensive – at least not after I realized there were additional construction characters (other than “Dizzy”) with female voices. However, in this episode, a cat was stuck in a tree, and the whole episode was about how everyone (Wendy included) had to find Bob to save the cat — no explanation for why Wendy couldn’t do it. When Wendy was approached by the construction vehicle characters to find Bob to save the cat, she never once considered that she might be able to save the cat herself. At the end of the show, Wendy was encouraging Bob to rest after his busy day. Blech. On to Thomas… I don’t know if it’s much better.

  3. Amine Says:

    32:00 We NEED to ruedce our Military. Essential! However, we also need to ruedce our Military commitments.As Bob said, this has happened beforeI had a friend who had trained as a career Officer during Vietnam. One day a letter in the mail told him he was being rifted out (sound familiar guys?)Also, my Vietnam Lt husband refused to sign up for the weekend warrior program after Vietnam. The extra $ was appealing, butHe said, the gov could call him back up’Wars wind up and down

  4. Marianne Says:

    Keeping half-a-dozen running chainsaws airborne is certainly a feat of considerable skill, but
    that hardly makes it a sport. With Chevy introducing the 2010 Camaro and Dodge with the all new Challenger, the muscle car industry is alive
    and kicking. They often involve environmental variables including weather as well as terrain related,
    such as snow, water, ice, wing and mountains.

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