Taking the Sexism of Max and Ruby in StrideKJ Dell'Antonia
Oh, I could go on. Need I go on? No, I’m sure I’ve wedged Max and Ruby in your head for the rest of the day. You can thank me later.
Do I love Max and Ruby? I do…I love some of the first books, like Bunny Cakes (I adore Bunny Cakes, I could recite it to you right now) and Max’s Dragon Shirt. I love the first board books, in particular Max’s First Word. And then came the TV show, largely charming, mostly harmless. I could plant my three-year-old son in front of it all day. And then came my daughter.
Suddenly I found myself looking at Ruby in a new light. Why did she always have to get a beauty kit, when Max got a toy plane? Why was she learning to twirl a baton while Max learned to throw a football? Why was she trying on dresses while Max explored the store?
I couldn’t put it all down to a throwback in time. Ruby and Louise were romping around Bunny Scouts today; someone, even as we speak, is trying to come up with another way to celebrate Halloween with Grandma. But wait–maybe Grandma saves it. She’s just as mischievous as Max when she’s around–witness her vampire teeth and ice cream breakfasts! Can I cling to Grandma, and write Ruby off as an example of a girly girl? After all, I don’t want all of children’s television and books to adhere to some PC requirements. Some girls (plenty of girls) would in fact rather twirl a baton. So would some boys, but then, this is supposedly only one boy. And One girl. Plus, they’re bunnies. I’m getting worked up about bunnies.
Am I, perhaps, over-thinking Max and Ruby just a tad? It couldn’t be that. I admit, I’ve wondered just a bit about the bunnies–where are their parents? How old, exactly, is Ruby? Or Max, for that matter. He can’t talk, but he can drive a toy car to Grandma’s house? Perhaps bunnies mature differently. And then there are the minutes (maybe even more than minutes) that I’ve spent wondering what my kids take away from this show. My fears about traditional sex roles and Ruby’s fascination with lipstick and rouge (even while I’m wondering if my kids even know what rouge means).
And then there are the books–many of them so wonderful in there tight, complete little universes, with Max delivering the final word every time (Delicious! said Max.) But some books were clearly written by the TV people, not Rosemary Wells, and the TV people just don’t always get it. Ruby should never have the last word; Max should always get his little transgressive triumph. What about consistency in literary characterization?
It is at about this point that I realize that I’ve lost my mind, and I close the door on the kids and the Max and Ruby marathon in whatever way I can and go steep myself in a little Entourage. I love my kids, I do, but sometimes I can feel the not-so-gentle undertow of their world sucking me inexorably under. Parenting, as Helaine pointed out, absorbs every bit of energy you’re willing to give it and then some. We could spend a whole day analyzing Max and Ruby before we move on to the Backyardigans for a full scale debate on the topic “What is Uniqua, anyway?”
We do all of that because it’s fun–it’s fun to apply the same rigor and intensity to Max and Ruby that you might bring to a psych exam or Tolstoy. Helaine suggested that we let go of the quest for perfection, and I agree–but I suspect most of us aren’t really in it for perfection anyway. We’re just in it, and we might as well look it all over and have some fun with it, arguing amongst ourselves in favor of this or that approach and knowing, in our heart of hearts, that in few days or months or years it won’t matter much whether we served whole-wheat crackers or passed on Max and Ruby in favor of Chip and Dale. Is Ruby a sexist role model? Maybe. Or maybe she’s just a cartoon bunny.
Like Helaine, this is my last Strollerderby post, but I have no benedictory advice, other than to go turn on the radio, so you can get the Max and Ruby theme song out of your head. I’ll still be having fun parsing Max and Ruby on Raising Devils, and adding in a little cultural and political analysis of same on Slate’s XXFactor blog. Strollerderby, the Mother of All Parenting Blogs, has been a lovely ride.