Dear Anne Shirley: Redheads CAN Wear Pink

Misfortune of Knowing WordPress Blog Sam (300x400)“Pink? Of course redheads can wear pink!” My daughter says indignantly, looking down at the copper hair brushing against her bright pink Hello Kitty shirt. There isn’t a day that goes by when she doesn’t wear at least a pink hair accessory (see above). She asks, “Why does Anne say we can’t wear pink? It’s my favorite color!”

S. has just come across the part in L.M. Montgomery’s century-old novel, Anne of Green Gables, when eleven-year-old Anne says to Marilla Cuthbert: “Redheaded people can’t wear pink, not even in imagination.”

“Of course we can!” S. says, rolling her eyes just as she did when Anne proclaimed that nobody with red hair could be “perfectly happy.”

This is my daughter’s first exposure to negative attitudes about red hair. In my daughter’s experience, her hair color has garnered nothing but praise (too much of it, if you ask me; Americans are obsessed with red hair).

I had been wondering how S. and her redheaded twin sister would respond to Anne when they finally read the Anne of Green Gables series.* S. is only six-years-old, a few years younger than I was when I read these novels, but she has been asking to read the first book ever since she has known of its existence. Her sister isn’t quite as interested in this novel at this time; she’s happier reading less complicated chapter books on her own.

So, S. and I are reading Anne of Green Gables together. I am narrating most of the story, explaining the advanced or antiquated vocabulary words as we go along. Occasionally, S. jumps in and reads parts of it herself.

Now that I’m reading this novel with my daughter, I am realizing that aspects of it might be inappropriate for a child who is too young to contextualize our racially charged history. Published in 1908 and set in Canada, it’s a product of its time and place. For example, Marilla refers to “stupid, half-grown little French boys,” and, when explaining her decision to adopt a child, says, “Give me a native born at least.” Thankfully, S. hasn’t stumbled on those words herself, so I’ve been able to skip them seamlessly.**

So far, my daughter hasn’t let her strong disagreement with Anne over hair color get in the way of their friendship.* She has bonded with Anne, the “lonely, heart-hungry, friendless child” whom the Cuthberts plan to return to the orphanage because she was not the boy they had requested. S. exclaims, “But a girl is just as good as a boy!” She hopes that kind-hearted Matthew will be able to convince his practical, less emotional sister to keep Anne at Green Gables. She asks me to re-read multiple times Matthew’s reason for wanting to keep Anne: “We might be some good to her.”

With tears streaming down her face, S. insists we keep reading until she learns whether Anne will return to the orphanage. Two hours later, now knowing whether Anne will stay or go, S. wipes the tears from her eyes, grins, and asks me, “Can we read some more?”

It’s already 10 PM, so no. But we’ll continue with the story tomorrow. According to our Kindle, we have at least 92 hours of reading pleasure left in this series.*** I suspect S. will enjoy every minute of it, just like I did.

*Anne is my daughter’s second redheaded fictional friend.

**For my perspective on sanitizing children’s books, see More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes From Children’s Books.

***We don’t have every book in these series as an e-book. I have all of them in paper form, though.

29 thoughts on “Dear Anne Shirley: Redheads CAN Wear Pink

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  6. fransiweinstein

    I love red hair. And please tell your daughter I have 2 friends with red hair — both natural — and they both wear pink! And it looks fabulous.

  7. I grew up in a time when racist comments were many and thought to be acceptable. No one batted an eyelid, or even noticed. Despite this I have managed to become an adult with compassion for people of all races and creeds so I guess it isn’t the words you hear or read but the feelings in your heart that count.

    1. Hi! Thanks for the very thoughtful comment. I agree that the words alone don’t cause racism. Rather, my concern is that my children are too young to understand the effect of these words on other people if it slips out of their mouths. I can tell them that a certain word or phrasing is “bad” and that we don’t saw things like that, but it’s very hard to remove a word from a child’s vocabulary once it’s in there. I addressed this concern more in depth in a previous post (linked at the bottom of my Anne Shirley post): More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes from Children’s Books. My twins were only four-year-old then, and now they’re six and getting closer to an age when I’d feel more comfortable having discussions with them about racist words and the intent behind them. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Jaclyn

    Too sweet! S looks adorbs in her pink headband. And most of my little strawberry blonde’s wardrobe is pink, so I think she’d agree that it’s perfectly okay.
    We haven’t reached the point of reading these more advanced classics, obviously, so I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’ll probably skim over the touchier subjects, like you, until my little one is old enough for me to use them as teachable moments.
    Love Anne, so glad to hear that your girls are loving her too.

    1. Hi Jaclyn- Your little strawberry blond is just adorable in pink and every other color in her wardrobe! Pink is just one of the colors I’ve heard redheads can’t wear. A redheaded intern where I work once said to me, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your daughters can’t wear red!” Red was the color she wore the most, and it always looked great on her.

      We’ve now had three nights of reading Anne of Green Gables, and S. just loves it. She really identifies with Anne, and it breaks her heart that Anne didn’t have a family. One of the lines S. asked me to read a few times on the first night was: “What a starved, unloved life [Anne] had had–a life of drudgery and poverty and neglect.” We discussed each of these words (drudgery, poverty, and neglect), and I think that she is finally starting to understand these concepts now that its associated with a (fictional) person she loves. Soon, my girls might not think that the leafless magnolia tree in our front yard is just as sad to see as a dilapidated house (which I mentioned in this review: https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/from-glaciers-to-icebergs/).

      As for censoring certain words/themes, I think it’s hard enough for my daughter to digest the negative comments about her hair color and Anne’s circumstances as a neglected orphan. I wouldn’t want to overwhelm her with racism/nativism, which are very hard topics for a six-year-old to process, particularly when they are not a very important part of the story.

      When I wrote about this subject at length (More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes from Children’s Literature, https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/more-thoughts-on-the-censorship-spectrum-cleansing-racist-themes-from-childrens-books/), my twins were four. I was particularly concerned that once a word makes it into their vocabulary, it’s hard to remove it. That’s less of a concern now, but I could still imagine some of these terms and concepts slipping out of their mouths as they play. The intent would be harmless, but its effect on their playmates could be harmful.

      I also try to avoid teaching my children concepts that will only confuse them (and it’s hard enough to be dealing with the meaning of drudgery, poverty, and neglect). Considering that my daughters have only a vague understanding of our racist history for now, I don’t think they can comprehend the depth of the meaning behind these words. Without that depth, they can’t know its effect and the risk remains that these words could slip into innocent play.

  9. There are so many teachable lessons in the books that the girls read. It is especially worthwhile when those lessons are so relatable. I see in the comments too that many mothers are trying to thoroughly read beforehand. It is nice that people take the time with kids today.

    1. Yes, there are so many great lessons in the books we read, and there’s always a lot to discuss. I learn so much about my kids during reading time. 🙂

  10. You’re doing a great job there with your girls AMB. When my two were growing up I was more anxious for them to be active, sporty, fond of the outdoors and curious. I suppose they read their share of books simply because it was the pre-gadget era. There are too many parents who, for their own convenience, rely on schools to provide everything bar the necessities of life.

    1. Thank you! At times, I worry that I don’t encourage my girls to be sporty enough. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything!

  11. Of COURSE redheads can wear pink! Count this proud ginger in 😉 especially bold and bright like your daughter’s headband there! Adorable. (And I love her technicolor cat shirt too) I did read Anne when I was a kid, but don’t remember any of the plots or details. I don’t have kids so I’m not sure I can fully speak to the self-censoring topic, but I think it’s good to disagree with characters in books! You learn a lot about people’s differences (in real life) and yourself.

    1. I also love that technicolor cat T-shirt! My girls have a similar T-shirt with a bulldog on it, but the cat is much brighter. I agree that books are a great way to learn about different viewpoints. When it comes to racism, though, I want my girls to be a little older before they learn the terminology associated with it. Until they have a better understanding of our racist past and the ways in which it remains today, they can’t really understand why those words are so harmful. Thanks for the comment!

  12. Glad to see the Anne love is continuing in a new generation. This PE Island girl is thrilled. Next will be a request to visit PEI, which is full of Anne related touristy things. Many are wonderful.Can’t wait to see you!

    1. I’ve never been to PEI, but I’ve always wanted to go! When the time comes, you’ll have to let me know which Anne-related tourist attractions are the best ones. 🙂

  13. Miss Alexandrina

    I don’t think I ever read the Anne of Green Gables series and I’ve never myself liked pink! 😛 Your daughter’s hair colour is so wonderful, though – I think it could probably go with everything!

  14. Love Anne! And my redhead wore lots of pink when she was little. She looked gorgeous in it. Now she prefers torquiose. 🙂
    I never really thought about racism in the books. I guess I just considered it part of the historical context. Anne was very lucky she didn’t end up on an orphan train. They were a horrible part of North American history during that time period.

    1. And honestly, I wouldn’t censor the racism. I tell my children about it, albeit at their level. I wouldn’t have any problem telling my 6-7 year old that people used to think differently and unfairly.

      1. Thanks for the comment!

        Racist phrases/comments are pretty much the only parts of literature I censor (particularly if it isn’t an integral part of the story). When I wrote about this subject at length in “More Thoughts on the Censorship Spectrum: Cleansing Racist Themes from Children’s Literature,” (https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/more-thoughts-on-the-censorship-spectrum-cleansing-racist-themes-from-childrens-books/), my twins were four. Back then, I was particularly concerned that once a word makes it into their vocabulary, it’s hard to remove it. That’s less of a concern now that they’re six, but I could still imagine some of these terms and concepts slipping out of their mouths as they play. The intent would be harmless, but its effect on their playmates could be harmful.

        When they learn about these words, I want them to have a better understanding of the racist history behind it. Without that depth, they can’t know its effect and the risk remains that these words could slip into innocent play.

  15. Your girl is right, redheads can wear anything.

    I find myself doing the same sort of skipping and censoring as I read, though as my kids are getting older it is more difficult. Either they want to read by themselves, or they are following my words along in the text, a practice I think is really helpful for them (especially my daughter, who struggles with reading). But it does make it hard to alter the sentences.

    It’s a worse problem in old movies, I think, where I really can’t even attempt to censor. We watched the old Disney animated Peter-Pan a few nights ago. Holy moly, the racist comments in that were frequent! I had a lot of explaining to do.

    But I guess that is good, in some ways. It is probably best to face these things head on, instead of pretending they don’t (or never did) exist. And I admit it gives me a good feeling to be able to say with some honesty that “people don’t talk like that anymore”.

    And S. looks fab in pink 🙂

    1. Thanks! I think she looks great in pink, too. I tend to avoid censoring the books we read, except when it comes to racist phrases/comments. My girls are only just starting to understand the history behind those words, and I want them to firmly understand why those words are so hurtful before they come across them in books or movies. Until they have that level of understanding of past and current racism, there is a greater risk that those terms will slip into innocent conversation and pretend play. They don’t yet realize the effect those words can have on other people.

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