Censoring children’s bookshelves does nothing to protect women

Emily Carver

August 25, 2021

The stated aim of Scottish charity, Zero Tolerance, is to end men’s violence against women. How they aim to achieve this is by “promoting gender equality and challenging attitudes that normalise violence and abuse”.

On the face of it, a worthy cause. We know that far too many women in this country are subjected to male-perpetrated violence, driven in no small part by backward attitudes. It is only by challenging this behaviour that we can bring about cultural change.

But as we’ve seen this week, ‘promoting gender equality’ can mean many things to many different people. For Zero Tolerance, it now means trawling through toddlers’ bookshelves to expose bedtime stories for the “sexist” ideas they supposedly contain. And almost entirely at the Scottish taxpayers’ expense.

In the eyes of modern ‘progressive’ feminists who presumably run the campaign – and I suspect the 21 nurseries that participated in the ‘audit’ – books that depict “old-fashioned” gender stereotypes reinforce gender inequality, which leads to misogyny, which then ultimately leads to sexual violence against women and girls. A leap by any stretch of the imagination.

To pass the audit, which has now examined over 3,000 nursery books, stories must “avoid gender stereotypes and promote diversity”. If they don’t, the library fails the test. It’s hard to believe that going through children’s books with a fine tooth comb to hunt out ‘problematic’ characters or plot lines is a priority for some feminist groups – but this may go some way to explaining why so few women identify as ‘feminists’ today.

One book that failed to get the Zero Tolerance seal of approval is well-known classic The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. What began as a simple bedtime story for her two-year-old daughter is now decades later under interrogation for its sexist undertones. It appears one can find offence in anything if you try hard enough.

In an interview with the BBC, co-director of the organisation Rachel Adamson questioned why the tiger is male rather than female or gender-neutral. It troubled her that the story has an “old fashioned, stereotypical” ending, in which the father comes home and “saves the day”. Why on earth a father saving the day could be deemed “problematic” is beyond me. For one, considering the rate of father absence, surely we should be celebrating strong male role models, rather than attacking them as “harmful”?

Rachel, however, believes this is a major cause for concern; though, to be fair to her, she did concede that the book “does not necessarily need to be banned”. How surprisingly tolerant of the co-director of a group named Zero Tolerance.

Many people are wondering how on earth we got to this stage, where censoring children’s literature is a priority for a charity founded to end the very real problem of male violence against women. But it’s the same logic that has driven calls to censor historical art, to desecrate statues, and apply trigger warnings to what we read, watch and listen to.

I wonder what’s next on the woke watch lists of children’s books. The Gruffalo for its all-male cast? Cinderella for the sexist betrayal of a damsel in distress? Or perhaps Matilda for its “dangerous transphobia” pitting the androgynous Miss Trunchball against the traditionally feminine Miss Honey?

The campaign sees children’s books as a source of indoctrination. They see no irony in the fact that their website is committed to indoctrinating children with their own world view, one that ostensibly seeks to eradicate gender norms. It’s hard to imagine most Scots being on board with this kind of activity, yet this group receives taxpayers’ money to push their ideology. Depressingly, I imagine Nicola Sturgeon, the great ‘progressive’, and advocate of gender self-identification laws, is all on board with cleansing our nurseries of male tigers and female nurses.

Of course, it is tempting to dismiss this campaign as just another example of woke gone mad, a story plastered across the press in order to outrage the same people. This might be true were this an isolated case.  But it’s not.  We see time and time again activist groups seeking to assert their own ideological outlook on society at large – claiming to speak on behalf of women or minorities.

Updating our bookshelves with more diverse texts is one thing – and something I’d argue will largely happen organically (indeed any children’s bookshop you enter is packed full of stories on every social justice cause you can think of). But purging bookshelves of books that no longer fit the narrow conception of what is at this moment in time deemed politically correct is quite another.

Let’s let children be children, parents be parents and teachers teach. I hope our elites will listen and stop bowing down to the perpetually offended. And perhaps Zero Tolerance should learn to be a little more tolerant. Sometimes, a story is just a story.


Written by Emily Carver

Emily Carver is the Editor at 1828 and Head of Media at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

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