This morning, my four-year-old daughter spread out her “bird map” (the Peterson FlashGuide to Backyard Birds–a laminated fold-out with illustrations of various birds), gathering characters for a play scenario. She has lately been fixated on the name “Oriole” (which came about when she misheard someone who said “Ariel,” referring to the Disney Princess) and the name “Oriole” has stuck. (If you’re new to my blog, I’ve ranted here and elsewhere about Disney Princesses.) It’s been a refrain for her pretend names. So this morning, she perused her bird map for the Baltimore Oriole. As she often wants to play that she’s the mama and one of her dolls or stuffed animals is the baby, she looked for pictures of the mama and “girl” Orioles. She asked which picture was the baby girl. There are drawings of adult male and female Baltimore Orioles, and an “immature” male. But no immature female. Quickly switching species, she asked if there were any other baby girl birds shown. We looked. There were none. There were other youngsters listed as simply “immature” and a couple other “immature” males, but no females. I told her she could pretend one of them was a girl (maybe it was, after all!) but she did not want to pretend, she wanted to find a real girl bird.
As she became increasingly frustrated, I told her I would look on the computer to find a picture so she could see a young female Oriole. I did, and found the image you see above.
I assume the lack of immature females depicted on the Peterson FlashGuide has to do with conserving space, and most males birds being more colorful and showy, so the “before” and “after” images of males are more dramatic. Perhaps male birds are more relevant for serious birdwatchers. (Following my daughter’s lead, I appreciate and admire birds, in particular certain raptors, but I don’t go with binoculars looking for them. Nothing against it, it’s just that I am not even a novice birdwatcher, so I’m ignorant about these nuances.)
I do not mean this post to sound humorless: Sexism in a bird map? Is she nuts? But ever since today’s pre-breakfast grapple for images of young female birds, I’ve been increasingly troubled by not being able to easily find an avian model for my daughter to cast in her homespun theatrics. I’ve been reading blogs lately that deal with the incessant sexism young girls are subjected to (notably Reel Girl and Peggy Orenstein’s blog) and while I know it might sound far-fetched to claim that a bird guide can disenfranchise human girls, the thought has stuck with me today.
It’s such a tiny moment in my daughter’s life, and I know she’s getting plenty of other things that will not tear her spirit down. But that I even thought about this lack makes me sad. Bird guides aside, we have a long way to go, baby.