The great relabelling | Victoria Smith | The Critic Magazine

A quick glance at the news might create the impression that the adults who spend the most time selflessly reading to small children are drag queens. Actually, it’s mums — boring old mums, with their boring old rules, routines and low-heeled shoes.

It is thus with some irritation that I’ve watched recent debates over the posthumous editing of Roald Dalh’s work. Suddenly, the stories we tell our children are deemed to matter, if only in the context of a primary colours battle between good and evil, past and present, in which you’re either with the censors or behind the times. It’s a battle in which individual words are deemed to capture entire worldviews. Strip them out, and then you’ll be pure.

There has been no attempt to rewrite entire stories, because of course this would not be possible. The Witches is still about the need to eliminate all the evil women who walk among us; Esio Trot is still about a man who deceives a woman into having a relationship with him. It’s just that the evil women might be masquerading as top scientists rather than secretaries, and Mr Hoppy might be attracted to Mrs Silva’s “kindness” rather than her body. These are, I might add, the kind of off-the-cuff “edits” one might slip in whilst reading to a child, all the while thinking “why am I even bothering?”

Changing words isn’t the same as changing endings. This is quick-fix, find-and-replace diversity and inclusion, social justice as in-group etiquette. Then again, how could it be otherwise? Misogyny runs through The Witches; remove it, and there would be nothing left. What you can do is put the story in context, accept its imperfections, perhaps even draw links with sexism and othering as it exists in the world around you now. Alternatively, you could just not read it at all. What you can’t do is use it to demonstrate not just how much better — how much purer and kinder — you are in relation to readers of the past, but how easy it is to correct everything.

Drag Queen Story Hour is viewed by many as a way of getting a concentrated shot of gender nonconformity into your child. One hour and you’re done! Whereas actually encouraging your child to question social and political norms is a daily, constant slog. It can be boring. They often think you’re making things up.

Nonetheless, this is the only way to change the way children interpret the world — alongside them, in dialogue, giving up things you might hold dear. These are how better stories get written. There are no shortcuts.

Source: The great relabelling | Victoria Smith | The Critic Magazine

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