This story becomes a story not just about this boy, but about humanity; about what it means to be human.
Take another story.
About a young girl on an adventure. Off to discover the world. Falls in love. Has children. Grows old. Dies.
This story ends up being about womanhood. About what it means to be a woman. Perhaps about motherhood.
I think a lot about this. About how men represent humanity and women represent their gender.
I think a lot about it when I read stories to my children. So many male pronouns. So many stories about little boys.
And I think about it when I read the classics. So many female characters authored by men; women defined through the eyes of men.
There is a very famous test called the Bechdel test. It is a test that can be applied to any play, film or opera. To pass this test you must say yes to the following three questions:
1. Is there a scene where there are two female characters?
2. Do you know their names?
3. Do they talk about something other than a man?
If you say yes to all three questions the work has passed the test.
Many operas, plays and films fail this test.
I point this out because these things are important.
We learn so much about our humanity from the stories we tell, and if we don’t interrogate the kind of stories we’re telling, the kind of characters we’re seeing, we have no hope of moving forward.
It may seem trivial that the caterpillar in a children’s book is male, but these are the building blocks of a society where inequality is so neatly stitched into the fabric that we often don’t even notice it.
Lorelei presented us the chance to unpick this stitching and take another look at the stories we take for granted.
Photo courtesy Pia Johnson / Victorian Opera.