Children’s tales and novels shape world views and values of people from the earliest age. Most importantly, children’s literature influences the views of its young readers on gender roles. However, many children’s novels reflect the ideas of male-dominant society, oppressing female characters and giving them roles of little significance. For instance, Alan Alexander Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh is a great example of male chauvinism in literature. The reason is that all the animals except Kanga, who has an episodic role, are male. Moreover, the only female character is made to struggle against the patriarchal order that tries to exclude and enslave her. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh communicates the ideas of stereotypical gender roles of male-dominant society and neglects the value of women’s contribution to community.
Kanga’s role is episodic and seems to be unimportant at the first glance; however, it demonstrates the position of a woman in a patriarchal community. Kanga appears only in the seventh chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh. Before her appearance, the enchanted forest was an overwhelmingly male society (Goodman 17), where men could do whatever they wanted. When Kanga emerges, she cannot participate in most events and becomes excluded from the company of other characters. For instance, she is not taken to the expedition to the North Pole. Moreover, the treatment to her is different from that to the male characters. Ya Long states that Kanga “is placed in a marginal position and prevented from having more influence in the stories afterwards” (57). The female character does not play a leading role in any of several events in which she takes part. Therefore, her position in the enchanted forest is similar to that of a woman in a male-dominant stereotypical society.
Kanga’s character represents a generalized and stereotypical image of a woman and her role within patriarchal society. In most scenes in which she is present, Kanga is indoors and performs her duties as a mother and a housekeeper. By making her seem the same in each scene, Milne denies her uniqueness as an individual. Moreover, the author seems to suggest that Kanga has lost her individuality and has just become Roo’s mother. According to Long, Kanga is made to worry about housekeeping and nurturing, while male characters play games, enjoy the adventures and explore the world around them (57-58). For instance, at Pooh’s party, Kanga is busy feeding Roo instead of having fun with others. Long states that Milne thus supports sexist notion that female biology serves as the determination of her domestic role in society as a child bearer and a mother (58). Therefore, Kanga embodies men’s ideal of a woman, who spends all her life in the domestic sphere and loses her identity.
Through the character of Kanga, Milne tries to show that women’s interests should not exceed housekeeping and especially should not touch the fields of knowledge. In Winnie-the-Pooh, only male characters demonstrate their cognitive skills, while the only female animal is preoccupied with primitive needs and duties and is “a quintessential female airhead” (Giffin 28). For instance, in one of the scenes, the scholarly Owl enthusiastically shows his erudition by telling Kanga an anecdote full of difficult words such as Encyclopadia and Rhododendron. However, the female character ignores Owl’s demonstration of knowledge because she gives all her attention to her son, who washes his face himself for the first time. The other characters do not understand why the latter is more important than a smart anecdote. In such a way, the author tries to show that women’s interests do not exceed domestic and motherhood trifles, while men are preoccupied with much more important intellectual things. In another scene, Kanga lacks interest in Pooh’s poetry. In fact, poetry has been widely considered solely a male field for centuries. The author tries to show that appreciation of poetry is a very difficult task for women. Thus, Milne presents the only female character as an ignorant, inattentive and primitive individual “presumed to be inferior in the ‘privileged’ academic field” (Long 58). Therefore, the author stresses the ignorance of women in the field of knowledge.
At the same time, Milne underestimates Kanga’s contribution to well-being of community as a good mother. Milne praises the achievements of the male characters of different importance that overshadow the female character’s efforts (Lyon). Long argues that in Winnie-the-Pooh, “the feminine valuing of domestic and maternal ideas is dwarfed by the disproportionate emphasis on adventure, power, honor and public success” (60). In fact, Kanga is a great example of a mother, who embodies pure warmth, love, care and kindness. Moreover, she is the only breadwinner in her family as well as performs the role of educator of the young generation (Bauckham 3). For instance, Kanga teaches her son Roo a technique of jumping well that can help him to survive in the future. Moreover, being a single mother is much tougher and requires enormous courage and wisdom to rear a child than being an ordinary mother. Kanga’s children are not merely her offspring; in fact, they are the inheritors of their community, who will determine its future (Long 60). Therefore, the role of female character in community is bigger than it is demonstrated by the author. Despite being underestimated by Milne, Kanga’s achievements as a mother are not less important than those of male characters in terms of their contribution to community.
At the same time, the only female character of Winnie-the-Pooh has to resist oppression and disrespect of the male-dominant society. In one scene, chauvinist Piglet tries to mock Kanga in order to prove that she lacks cognitive skills and demonstrate male domination over women in terms of knowledge and logics. Piglet replaces Roo in Kanga’s pocket to prove that the mother cannot distinguish her son from any other animal. However, Kanga discovers a plot at once and understands that the other male characters try to tease her. However, Kanga demonstrates her wisdom and cunning by not letting the others know that she learned about their secret and decides to play the trick on Piglet in turn. She pretends that she thinks that Piglet is Roo, who tries to act differently to avoid taking a bath and going to bed. To give him a lesson, the mother makes Piglet take a cold bath. Long explains that in such a way, “Kanga successfully violates men’s conspiracy and blows up their arrogance by a feminine approach” (59). Moreover, the character challenges the stereotypical image of primitive, humorless and foolish women as they are seen in the patriarchal society.
Furthermore, Kanga acts as a rebellious feminist when she names her child after herself. In such a way, the female character “disregards the long-established way of naming a child after its father” (Long 61). In fact, giving names is a men’s privilege in the patriarchal world. However, being a single mother and the only breadwinner gives Kanga courage to call her son Roo after herself and as a part of her official name Kangaroo (Long 61). Therefore, the female character establishes a closer mother-child relationship than it is allowed under patriarchal order. Most importantly, she expresses the opinion of women who devote their lives to children to be distinct and heard by the society.
Nevertheless, the author of Winnie-the-Pooh does not make Kanga’s voice as visible as that of the male characters. Hereby, Kanga rarely participates in dialogues. Most importantly, the word choice and sentence construction she uses differ from those of other characters of Winnie-the-Pooh. For instance, in her dialogue with Piglet, Kanga uses simpler words and incomplete sentences if compared to Pigler,
“Kanga, I see that the time has come to speak plainly.”
“Funny little Roo,” said Kanga, as she got the bathwater ready.
“I am not Roo,” said Piglet loudly. “I am Piglet!”
“Yes, dear, yes,” said Kanga soothingly. “And imitating Piglet’s voice too! So clever of him” (Milne 95-95).
By making Kanga speak this way, Milne tries to show the difference between men and women and emphasize that the female character has primitive thinking. Hereby, in sexist world of Winnie-the-Pooh, a woman’s voice and thoughts are underestimated and considered too simple.
Thus, in Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne expresses his anti-feminist position and communicates the ideas of stereotypical gender roles of patriarchal society. Milne creates the world in which male characters enjoy the full range of activities and benefits patriarchal society can offer; however, the only female character is made to stay indoors and perform her domestic duties for the most time. Even though Kanga’s role is episodic, she embodies the ideal of a male-dominant society. By making her indifferent to poetry and preoccupied with well-being of her family, Milne tries to express the idea that women’s interests should not exceed housekeeping. As a single mother, Kanga has to defend herself and her family using her cunning. Even though her own voice is rarely heard by other characters, Kanga makes the ideas of women of patriarchal society recognized. Furthermore, she raises the issue of gender inequality in children’s literature.