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Chug chug men are selfish?

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Many know the inspiring story of a little train who thinks it can and then successfully does. “I think I can, I think I can” is something I have heard more than one person repeat. If you have not read The Little Engine that Could (Retold by Watty Piper, illustrated by George & Doris Hauman) recently you may not remember that before the little miracle worker engine successfully gets all the toys and sweets over the hill to the good boys and girls, a bunch of mean power hungry engines tell the train that they don’t have the time to pull it to the boys and girls, even though it would be easy for them since they are strong. They are too important for toys or children. All the bad engines are men. The good engine is a woman. Or at least all the bad trains are referred to using male pronouns and the good one using a female pronoun (and the original toy-sweets puller was also female). Is this because the train is headed for children and the book is kind of sexist (I know I am reading too much into it here, but I find the switching of pronouns weird and would love an explanation)?

The book is definitely not a twenty-first century kids’ book: there is doll diversity because the train has dolls with blonde AND BROWN! hair. Among its toys it lists jack-knives.

Or is the male vs. female engine dichotomy because the last train is good and the books kind of, for lack of a better term, hates men? This reminds me of a moment I had in class when someone asked “Is there a word, like misogyny in terms of women, that means hating men?” and a student replied “Feminist.” No, that is not the right answer. In any case the female engines help, the male ones do not. What you think of this in the book, probably relates to what you think of this more generally, in life. Let me know what you think!

8 responses »

  1. I am interested in the “retold by Watty Piper” part of the title. Are there other versions of this story that have different gender distributions for good and bad? And what is the original version of this story exactly?

    Reply
  2. Gosh it still amazes me that some people think that feminism means hating men. Or that it’s a dirty word. There’s no female equivalent of misogynist just as there is no male equivalent for nymphomaniac. (Hmm.. makes me wonder if these are ripe territory for a book.) I think the fact that the female trains were willing to help fits the stereotype (which may very well be true) that women are keener to lend a hand than prove a point. Maybe…

    Reply
    • Full disclosure: the student who made the feminist comment was Italian, but still! I was pretty surprised and it took me a moment to respond. I like your last idea in terms of the sex of the engines (lending a hand vs. proving a point).

      Reply
      • The female equivalent of misogynist is misandrist. The female equivalent of nymphomaniac is satyrmaniac

  3. Have you ever read Shel Silverstein’s poem about The Little Engine that Could? It’s quite amusing.

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Google Searches and Children’s Books | Children's books

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