My youngest child is totally into books. Every day he toddles over to me, his story of choice in hand, saying “weed to me, mummy! Weed to me!”. And obviously I wish he were more like his brother, staring gormlessly at CBeebies and allowing me to have a quiet cuppa. Maybe Youngest will grow into that. Still, in the meantime, I generally try to give the old “weeding” a go.
Today Youngest dug out the 2009 Thomas the Tank Engine annual, which I haven’t read since 2010, a year throughout which I read it every fucking day. I know this book off by heart. After the contents and intro (“Hello, I’m Thomas! I like being Really Useful blah blah blah”), there are four pages rehashing the theme song (in case, like, you’ve had major brain damage and don’t therefore have it going round your head ALL THE TIME anyhow). After that there’s a bit on the not-so-useful engines, ie the scummers who don’t get to live in Tidmouth Sheds and aren’t in the song.
First you get the narrow-gauge engines – Duncan, Peter Sam, Mighty Mac and Freddie, and then the cranes from Brendam Docks, Rocky and Cranky (good cop and bad cop, if, um, cranes are like cops, which to be honest they’re not). Then you get two vehicles who, as far as I can see, have nothing in particular in common, as one is a lorry and the other happens to be a tank engine. The caption for this pairing isn’t much help either, telling you only that “Madge and Rosie are Really Useful, too”.
You may well be ahead of me in working out the connection. Madge and Rosie are, of course, girl vehicles. They have no other distinguishing features (well, I suppose strictly speaking that’s not true: Madge, “the green and white snub-nosed lorry”, is matronly and reliable, while Rosie “has purple paintwork and lots of freckles!” but is nonetheless a “tomboy”. So no gender stereotypes there).
In the grand scheme of how much everything about Thomas pisses me off, it may seem petty to get irritated by the tokenistic relegation of Rosie and Madge to some girly holding pen at the end of the double-page spread.* It may seem petty, but hell, I’m going to get irritated nonetheless. Because frankly, this is just introducing children to a trend that will continue for the rest of their lives. Girls! You can be Really Useful, too! As long as you remember it’s within the male domain (and don’t give me “what about Emily?” Emily is one priggish engine out of eight posho Tidmouth engines, the rest of whom are all male, and anyhow she was only brought in to replace Duck, who had a number and Emily still doesn’ t, as far as I can see. So no mention of Emily. She’s like the Margaret Thatcher of tokenistic tank engine politics, and I’m having none of it).
My partner used to be a history lecturer and a couple of years ago, a male student produced an essay for him on the lives of women in the Middle Ages. Being a right-on sort, said student noted that things were much better nowadays, because “we now allow women to help us in the workplace”. My partner wrote “who’s “us”?” in the margin. The student didn’t get it (he may have been the same student who voiced the question “was Queen Matilda really a victim of sexism or was she just a stroppy mare?” He may have been that student, but I’ve a horrible feeling that this was a different one).
Don’t get me wrong: I like being useful. I like supporting men in their manly endeavours, believe me, I do. Just as I also like supporting women in theirs. But this is not because I feel it is my place to provide the back-up while men lead the way. IT IS BECAUSE I AM A LAZY FUCKER. This has nothing to do with me having a uterus or wearing a skirt or whatever. It’s to do with me not wanting to do stuff (or rather, I don’t mind doing stuff. I’m just not that keen on asking others to do stuff, so I let the middle managers get on with that).
So anyhow, I read the sodding book. And I said “Madge and Rosie are Really Useful, too, and the fact that they have not been correctly categorized is the fault of the patriarchy”. And then Eldest looked up from CBeebies and accused me of not reading it properly. Sometimes I just don’t know why I bother.
* Reading through this, I wonder if “girly holding pen” sounds a bit rude. On reflection, I suspect it does, but I’m still going to leave it in.