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Purple Penguins, Womyn’s Rights, And Semantic Silliness

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In 1994, a clever man named James Finn Garner published Politically Correct Bedtime Stories. Garner did fabulous send-ups of familiar stories, with a twist: all of them were carefully constructed so as to offend NO ONE:

There once was a young person named Red Riding Hood who lived with her mother on the edge of a large wood. One day her mother asked her to take a basket of fresh fruit and mineral water to her grandmother’s house—not because this was womyn’s work, mind you, but because the deed was generous and helped engender a feeling of community. Furthermore, her grandmother was not sick, but rather was in full physical and mental health and was fully capable of taking care of herself as a mature adult.

So Red Riding Hood set off with her basket through the woods. Many people believed that the forest was a foreboding and dangerous place and never set foot in it. Red Riding Hood, however, was confident enough in her own budding sexuality that such obvious Freudian imagery did not intimidate her. On the way to Grandma’s house, Red Riding Hood was accosted by a wolf, who asked her what was in her basket. She replied, “Some healthful snacks for my grandmother, who is certainly capable of taking care of herself as a mature adult.”

The wolf said, “You know, my dear, it isn’t safe for a little girl to walk through these woods alone.” Red Riding Hood said, “I find your sexist remark offensive in the extreme, but I will ignore it because of your traditional status as an outcast from society, the stress of which has caused you to develop your own, entirely valid, worldview. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way.

Garner’s book was best-sellers, primarily because it was so ludicrous as to invoke snorts of laughter to nearly everyone who came in contact with it. Nearly everyone…

The P.C. police are back, and they want you to know this is serious stuff. No more “boys” and “girls” in elementary school, for that, non-gender specific readers, is offensive to children who may have gender-issues. Let’s call them “purple penguins” instead. (No word yet from the Penguin Coalition For the Study of Species Discrimination.)

Oh, if only this were a joke. But satire (like Garner’s work) is funny precisely because it is true: something stupid is going on, and no one seems to be willing to stand up and say, “That emperor guy ain’t got no clothes on.”

Rachel Lu, at The Federalist, knows what’s going on. And she wants to make sure we are ready to include everyone, even if it kills us. She is ready to slash through beloved poems, stories and literature.

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the gorillas and made them cry.
When the bonobos came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away!

That’s a lot better, wouldn’t you say?

Then there is this:

You can run but you can’t hide. Girls (err, rather, an unspecified but probably non-universal subset of schoolchildren) love their princess stories. We’re going to have to do something with the classic slim-waist-meets-hunky-biceps trope.

In princess stories, the protagonist normally has to distinguish herself as special, unique and true to her royal nature. So let’s capture those themes by converting Cinderella into a story about expressive individualism. Instead of holding a ball to find a bride, the prince holds a rave to find a non-gender-specific soul mate. Cinderella catches his eye with her personalized, one-of-a-kind footwear. The moral of the story, kids, is to always be yourself. Also, pay whatever you have to for the right shoes.

No one is safe, even the beloved Jane Austen:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that an unattached person in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a gender-unspecific companion.

It doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it? And the truth is that rescuing Jane Austen is a challenge. She really is a thick, putrid swamp of gendered space. Ladylike or gentlemanly behavior oozes from every page. Ladies are forced to sit out dances because “gentlemen are scarce.” Gentlemen discuss the achievements proper to accomplished young women. It’s a grim situation.

My recommendation is just to put Austen on the “censored” list.

We laugh, but as we guffaw, custodians are putting up gender-inclusive signs on bathrooms in elementary schools, teachers are calling purple penguins to get their math books out, and librarians are searching for books that address how to tell 3rd graders that their classmate Jimmy is now Janie.

The superintendent of Lincoln schools said, “We have 39,000 students. We want every single one of them to be successful. We don’t want any child ever to feel as if they don’t belong in our schools.” And therein lies the problem: we are so willing to be accommodating, inclusive and welcoming that we end up lying. Children are not penguins. Boys are not biologically girls, nor vice versa. Calling something one name when it is clearly another is not inclusive; it’s is threatening. It threatens the truth, it threatens reality, it threatens the very nature of who we are as humans made in God’s image and likeness. Laugh all you want, but the inclusivity police may be coming to a town near you.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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