Pronouns, Gender, and Feeling like an Outsider

A few months ago, I read an article about a mother who read The Hobbit to her daughter. The little girl insisted that Bilbo Baggins was, in fact, a girl, and, after some discussion, the mother agreed and began reading the story as if Bilbo was a women, changing the pronouns appropriately.

Initially, I recoiled at this. I’m somewhat of a literary purist, and Tolkien ranks up there, for me, as some of the finest works around. Certainly, his work is the basis for almost all modern fantasy. Changing his work is like changing… the Bible or something. You just don’t do it.

But the more I thought, the more I wondered, “Why not?” How does having Bilbo as a female change the dynamic of the story? Wouldn’t a female Bilbo be an exciting adventure story for our little girls to connect to? Isn’t this what I ask for over and over in stories? A rollicking adventure with a dynamic female lead who isn’t concerned with finding a darn prince for once?

The more I thought, the more I wanted to give it a try. So I did. For the past few months, I have been switching the gender pronoun of the main characters in all of Cricket’s stories. I tried it with the Grasshopper once, but she can read and quickly and firmly corrected me.

It has been an interesting experiment. Hearing the female pronouns over and over is jarring. It has gotten me thinking about how othering our language is. The default for everything is male. That can leave non-males feeling like outsiders and that’s not good.

Slowly, I’ve been getting used to hearing and saying female pronouns. It doesn’t feel as awkward as it did at first. I take that as a positive sign that thought patterns can be changed.

Words are powerful and I want the words my daughters grow up hearing to be about them. I don’t want them growing up feeling like outsiders.

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