This article originally appeared on November 11, 2015
Remember those beloved Richard Scarry books from when you were a kid?
Like a lot of people, I grew up reading them. And now, I read them to my kids.
If that doesn't ring a bell, perhaps this character from the "Busytown" series will. Classic!
Scarry was an incredibly prolific children's author and illustrator. He created over 250 books during his career. His books were loved across the world — over 100 million were sold in many languages.
But here's something you may not have known about these classics: They've been slowly changing over the years.
Don't panic! They've been changing in a good way.
Scarry started publishing books in the 1950s, when times were, well, a little different. So some of the details were quietly updated.
Alan Taylor, a senior editor for the photo section of The Atlantic, noticed differences back in 2005 and decided to photograph them. From his Flickr album:
"The 1963 edition is my own, bought for me in the late 60's when I was a toddler, and read to tatters. The 1991 edition belongs to my kids today. I was so familiar with the older one that I immediately started noticing a few differences, and so have catalogued 14 of the more interesting differences here in this collection."
Taylor found 14 pages with differences between the original and updated versions.
Here are eight changes that reflect some of the progress society has made:
1. First up: The cover got a makeover. It might seem subtle at first glance, but look closely.
Images via Alan Taylor/Flickr, used with permission.
The original has a woman (bunny) in the kitchen, while the updated cover has both a man and a woman (still bunnies) in the kitchen. Also: The "policeman" bear changed to a woman, and the label changed to "police officer." The word "mailman" became "letter carrier," and a female farmer was added. Oh, and we went from a cat-mom pushing the stroller to cat-dad! Progress!
(The bunny brushing its teeth in the house was changed from a boy to a girl, but I'm not gonna read into that because hopefully all bunny-kids brush their teeth, right? I mean, for the sake of their little bunny teefs!)
2. Men can be flight attendants and women can be pilots. And, you know, they don't have to be hot.
While the gender of each role remained the same in the newer version (which is, unfortunately, pretty legit, given the glaring lack of female pilots in real life), the stereotyping was eliminated by making the "handsome pilot" more of an everyday "pilot" (raccoon?) and by turning the "pretty stewardess" into a regular flight attendant.
3. Christmas isn't the only holiday people celebrate.
Shhhh: Don't tell the Starbucks Christmas cup haters this, but there are a lot more winter holidays than just Christmas. The newer version of the book included a menorah in the blank space to recognize those who celebrate Hanukkah.
4. Mommy Bears are no longer expected to have breakfast prepared for Daddy Bears...
...and the subtle change from "called to breakfast" to "goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast" reflects that.
(Side note: Do Daddy Bears realllllly want to be treated like Kid Bears by being called to a meal, where they must promptly appear? I'm thinking not.)
5. Because guess what?! Dads can cook, too! (Even Dad Bunnies.)
And Richard Scarry's book was updated to reflect the late-20th-century realization that everyone belongs in the kitchen!
6. Helping professions aren't just for men.
The updated version recognized that fact by changing "policeman" to "police officer" and "fireman" to "fire fighter." The ever-important job of cowboy was eliminated ( sigh ... how many career hopes and dreams were squashed?), replaced with a gardener and a scientist, both of which are filled by female characters. Three cheers for women in STEM! Also: The milkman was replaced by a taxi driver, but I'm pretty sure that was had to do with the fact that milkman (or woman) isn't a growing occupation any longer.
7. Regular people need rescuing, too.
The newer version did away with the "beautiful screaming lady" (sigh... how many career hopes and dreams ... oh, wait — none) and replaced her with a regular "cat in danger." The "jumping gentleman" label was removed altogether, and the "fireman" became a "fire fighter" again.
8. "I" is for "ice cream" — and not stereotypical depictions of Native Americans.
We're still waiting for our football teams to get with the times, but the folks behind the Richard Scarry book update eliminated the "Indian" character that was wearing stereotypical clothing.
Yay, progress! And before you shrug and say "It's just a book," listen to this:
Florida State University recently led "the most comprehensive study of 20th century children's books ever undertaken in the United States." As you can surely guess, they found a gender bias toward male lead characters, even in books about animals — books like those by Richard Scarry.
Janice McCabe, the assistant professor of sociology who led the study, wrote:
"The widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females that we find supports the belief that female characters are less important and interesting than male characters. This may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys. The gender inequalities we found may be particularly powerful because they are reinforced by patterns of male-dominated characters in many other aspects of children's media, including cartoons, G-rated films, video games and even coloring books."
It's kind of cool to think these changes were made at least two and a half decades ago! That's something.
And we need changes to keep happening! Kids should be able to read books with same-sex couples and characters who have disabilities, for example, because those are everyday occurrences and books are a great intro to the world for kids.
Anyone else up for modernizing other classic kids' books so we can feel good about sharing them with our kids?
In March 2021, a woman named Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered in South London as she was walking home.
Simply walking home alone at night proved to be life-threatening. But this aspect of the story is no new news. Women have long shared their fears on the subject.
Constant glances over the shoulder and walking with keys between the fingers have become well-known protection rituals against potential violence. And these efforts, though necessary measures of self defense, can at times feel like small band-aids over a larger wound.
As Alice Jackson and Rachel Chung, two students in Edinburgh, attended one of Everard’s vigils, an idea struck them. And it’s helping women in the U.K. gain not only a sense of safety, but something else too. Something of equal immense value.
Jackson and Chung together created Strut Safe, a volunteer organization where women can request a pair of volunteers to escort them home, or stay on the phone with them while they are in transit.According to Strut Safe’s website, all volunteers are vetted and subject to a strict code of conduct. And as of now, they have more than 50 volunteers across the U.K.
In an interview with indy100, Chung shared how Everard’s death inspired a call to create change.
“The idea of ‘she was just walking home’ was, I think, a very prominent idea. So many of us don’t always feel safe when walking home so we basically decided that we wanted to put something structurally and tangible in place that anybody could call…We wanted to be the universal number for people to get in touch with if they feel unsafe walking home,” she explained.
“The view we take is if we’re there on the phone with you, we’re there with you in live time so if something did happen we are going to be able to alert the authorities,” she added, likening it to “being a professional friend.”
So just what is a phone call like? Well, that depends.Sometimes, it’s merely gossip. Other times, “you come off a 20-minute call that's been really emotionally intense, really serious,” Chung tells BBC News. “The caller might have been running at the end, crying. And then you'll hang up, and you're sitting on your sofa, the telly paused, and there'll be silence.”
Though the goal is to be available every night, Strut Safe currently runs its services Friday and Saturday nights between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.That goal might not be too far off, as social media has added exponential visibility to the service. Currently Strut Safe has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram.
Writing this, I can’t help but be reminded of a Twitter thread, created by activist Danielle Muscato, which went viral back in 2018.
Muscato asked women what they would do if men had a 9 p.m. curfew. The answers were both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Running with both earbuds in, enjoying quiet nighttime strolls, looking up at the stars are some examples.
The answers, though varied, all have a similar theme: freedom.
Muscato's thread offered some long-overlooked insight as to just how un-free many women felt over something easily taken for granted.
Luckily, the volunteers at Strut Safe are helping to change this narrative and helping women reclaim empowerment through their services.
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On Tuesday, Upworthy reported that actor Peter Dinklage was unhappy with Disney’s decision to move forward with a live-action version of “Snow White and the Seven Drawfs” starring Rachel Zegler.
Dinklage praised Disney’s inclusive casting of the “West Side Story” actress, whose mother is of Colombian descent, but pointed out that, at the same time, the company was making a film that promotes damaging stereotypes about people with dwarfism.
"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Marc Maron on his “WTF” podcast.
"Well, you know, it's really progressive to cast a—literally no offense to anybody, but I was a little taken aback by, they were very proud to cast a Latino actress as Snow White," Dinklage said, "but you're still telling the story of 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.' Take a step back and look at what you're doing there.”
"It makes no sense to me, because you're progressive in one way and then you're still making that fucking backward story of seven dwarfs living in a cave. What the fuck are you doing, man?" Dinklage added. However, he could get on board if Disney made some drastic changes to the fairy tale.
"If you tell the story of 'Snow White' with the most fucked-up, cool, progressive spin on it—let's do it!" he said.
Dinklage is one of the most high-profile dwarfs in the world, so when he speaks out about matters facing the dwarfism community, his words carry a lot of weight. They clearly caught the attention of Disney, which responded with a statement on Tuesday.
“To avoid reinforcing stereotypes from the original animated film, we are taking a different approach with these seven characters and have been consulting with members of the dwarfism community. We look forward to sharing more as the film heads into production after a lengthy development period,” a Disney spokesperson said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Hollywood Reporter notes that the film will have cultural consultants and that the updated “dwarf” characters will be “CG/animated.” Disney has employed cultural consultants in the past on films such as “Coco” and “Mulan” to avoid promoting any harmful stereotypes. It's a tough lesson that the company has had to learn. Some of Disney’s most classic films now come with a disclaimer notifying people that they contain outdated depictions of certain groups.
The story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is a sensitive topic for the dwarfism community. Although it’s a cartoon, it’s often a child’s first exposure to dwarfs, or "little people" as they are sometimes called, and it promotes some of the worst stereotypes attached to them.
Throughout film history, dwarfs have been depicted as magical, communal people, villains or characters to be laughed at. Only recently has Hollywood has begun telling stories where little people are portrayed as fully developed humans. Dinklage has been a wonderful example of someone with dwarfism playing characters that are about more than simply being short-statured.
Historically, bigots have used “Snow White” as a cudgel against little people by comparing them to the characters in the story and by playing cruel jokes such as shouting “Hi-ho” at them in public. So it’s important for Disney to get the characterization of Snow White’s short-statured friends right or risk giving more fodder to those who wish to victimize them.
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