Re-authoring stories of gender : Children’s picture books as scaffolds

       In narrative practices we strongly believe that all the problems in this world are rooted in the oppressive structural systems rather than in our identities or our bodies. And one such oppressive dominant idea is that of Binary Gender, the defined prescribed way to be either of the one: Woman or Man(in certain predefined acceptable ways).  A dear friend once shared that when we are born, our bodies are wrapped by stories of binary gendered ways of being and the process of wrapping continues throughout our life. Without us knowing, without our permissions, as invisible layers subjugating our bodies gender fluidness; leaving no choice for our bodies to know any other ways of being. 

Alok Vaid-Menon, a writer, performer, fashionista says “ the body is not a fleshy prison for the spirit. We transcend the arbitrary boundaries drawn around our skin. We are so much more than the physical.” They quote on their instagram profile “Biology is not destiny, Genitalia is not prophecy. We are far more expansive than a body” 

And I wonder what if Alok’s know-how about gender and bodies was available to each one of us and guides the way we relate to each other. What if these alternate stories were available to all of us ? What would become possible….

In narrative practices, we are often interested in making visible the tricks and tactics of dominant discourses and create a space for developing stories of preferred ways of being in this world. In our exploration of ways to nurture alternate stories we use many scaffolds, and one of them is children’s picture books. 

Children’s picture books that tell stories about gender and bodies are little doorways to discover a possibility not known before or are torchlights that will shine a light on a story hidden under the darkness of binary gendered rubble. Here are some of the many stars that we have discovered in our journey of discovering the gender galaxy:

Mala’s Silver Anklets – Story by Annie Basant & Pictures by Nancy Raj

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One of my all time fav for therapeutic conversations with communities and people of any age on how oppression and gendered violence hides itself in cultural practices. It’s a story of a little girl named Mala who loves to scare people by making fun loud sounds. But one day her mother buys her a gift ….a silver anklet ….hoping to make her a GOOD GIRL who doesn’t make loud sounds. What do you think Mala does? 

Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

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This beautiful story with its bright and captivating illustrations; is about Julian, who identifies with nonconforming ideas of gender identity and beauty. Julian is fascinated by mermaids and wants to dress like them. Will Julian be able to ? 

Sadiq wants to Stitch by Mamta Nainy and Niloufer Wadia

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Just like the name suggests, this is a heartfelt story of a young boy, Sadiq who loves to embroider. He is happiest when his long needle dances through a maze of multi-colored threads and wondrous patterns come alive under his fingers. But his ammi wasn’t too happy when he stitched, because in their community it was the women who stitched and men tend to the sheep. But will things change when Sadiq stitches the most beautiful rug in the stillness of night ?

Guthli has Wings by Kanak Sashi

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Guthli is everyones favourite. She loves to draw fairies, swinging on the swings and climb trees. She was very happy until she wore her sister’s frock on Diwali and her mother told her that she was a boy and could not wear a frock. 

But in her frock, Guthli was a golden bird and could fly high up in the sky, over all the rules of the world. Rules that she was a boy because she was born with a boy’s body and not the girl she knew she was. What happens as Guthli and her family navigate through the binary gendered world?

How to be a lion by Ed vere 

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For me this is one of those rare books which manages to question and make visible how toxic masculinity recruits little bodies. This is a story of Leonard the lion who prefers to write poems instead of loud roars and wants to be friends with a duck instead of attacking it. (even when all the lions think “ That’s not what REAL LIONS do”)

 

Just like Mala, Guthli, Julian, Sadiq and Leonard, there are many of us whose stories of gender have been subjugated but we continue to resist and dare in ways that are often not visible to us. There’s a powerful belief by Michael Foucault that I swear by “ where there is power, there is resistance’. These books are testimony to the everyday acts of resistance of our bodies. 

 

We leave you with some more books by some amazing local publishing writers, illustrators and publishers. 

Happy reading and re-authoring stories of gender 🙂

 

Bookish love

 

Rainbow girls – Written by Kamla Bhasin & Illustrated by Priya KuriyanScreen Shot 2020-04-30 at 18.03.58

Rainbow boys – Written by Kamla Bhasin & Illustrated by Priya Kuriyan

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Betian bhi chaahe AazadiWritten by Kamla Bhasin & Illustrated by Shrujana Shridhar

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Soda and bonda – by Niveditha Subramaniam

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Kali wants to dance – Written by Aparna Karthikeyan & Illustrated by Somesh Kumar

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Who will save the Princess – Written by Shital Choudhary

Illustrated by Bindia Thapar, Cornelius Wambi Gulere, Henu, Priyankar Gupta, Rupa Prakash, Somesh Kumar, and Suvidha Mistry

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This article is put together by; 

Raviraj Shetty, a unicorn believer, a picture book hoarder, a time traveller, loves Mary Oliver and happens to be an occupational therapist who uses narrative practices in his engagement with communities, chosen families, families, children and individuals. He also teaches and supervises community health workers, professionals and students of Narrative Practices.  You can contact him at ravirajshety@gmail.com or his insta handle @rantingchaos 

Mithila Jariwala is a photographer, a story teller, a traveller and she is now wandering through, exploring and learning about narrative practices and ideas. She has been working with human interest stories and engaging with various communities in different parts of the world. She too loves picture books (and is thankful to Raviraj Shetty for introducing them to her 🙂 You contact her at contactmithila@gmail.com or @mithila_jariwala on Insta.

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