The Trouble with the Berenstain Bears

My 5-year-old loves the Berenstain Bears and at first, I did too.  I thought the stories were cute and simple and usually had a message that was appropriate for a young child.  Having a book talk about the experience of going to a doctor or a dentist appointment has been helpful.  I have even been able to get over the fact that the cubs names are Brother and Sister even though the other cubs in the series have REGULAR names.  Not to mention, I can never remember how to spell Berenstain (ei or ai??).  But lately I have been noticing more and more outdated gender stereotypes being perpetuated over and over again throughout the books.  The “Mama does everything and Papa is just like another child” dynamic is painful at best.  I want my children to understand that their father should help clean the house and their father should abide by the “no more junk food” rule like the rest of the family.  He should be ordering him and Mama a pizza after the kids go to bed like normal people.

I realize that all the newer books are being written by Stan and Jan Berenstain’s son, Mike.  And they are terrible.  Even my son asked me what kind of name is “Professor Actual Factual”.  The newer books focus more on adventures than real life lessons, which I suppose is a way of getting around the Mama and Papa Bear 1950’s misogynistic relationship.  The fact that the original books are still so popular though is interesting.  Surely, I’m not the only one who realizes how ridiculous it is that Mama is the default parent (aka the one who does everything) while Papa has to be told what to do and is often perceived as an incompetent fool.  He is made to look like an extra child because we all know how much women love that.

To help illustrate the obvious point, in the “Bedtime Battle” book, Mama has to explain the bedtime routine to Papa step by step even though this is something they do EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  On the cover of “Forget their Manners” Papa is alongside Brother and Sister with his feet up at the table while Mama stands there fuming. And in “Learn About Strangers”, all Papa does is scare his kids with stories of bear cub abductions, while Mama has to calm her children down and explain things at their level.   Wake up, Mama!  He is totally playing you with his “I didn’t realize whites and colours couldn’t go together in the wash” demeanor.  HE KNOWS.  He is just getting away with not having to do it.

To answer your first question, no I don’t have anything better to do with my time than criticize children’s reading material.  It’s just when I googled the year “The Trouble with Chores” was written and it came up as 2005, I practically vomited all over my blue and white polka dot duster (just jokes I only dress like that on the weekends).  I was expecting something like 1975.  Hell, even 1985.  But no.  That book with Papa laying on the couch while Mama cleans the house was published in THIS CENTURY.

To answer your second question, yes “The Trouble with Chores” does strike a nerve with me.  Mainly because I also have trouble.  The trouble lies in the fact that I am the one who does most of the chores.  The regular cleaning and maintenance of our home does fall on my shoulders.  This naturally pisses me off.  I work full time outside the home.  I organize all the school related things.  My husband hasn’t cleaned a bathroom since 2008.  But according to the Berenstain Bears, I should be cleaning up after my husband while he lounges on the couch?  Or worse yet, contributes to the mess and makes my children think they don’t have to learn to contribute? What kind of sphere of hell is that?  I don’t think so, Mama Bear.  Girl, you need to go on a girl’s weekend and pretend you are in your 20’s again with no responsibilities.  You don’t have to put up with a husband who watches too much tv, forgets his manners, and mocks his own kids love of soccer because baseball is his favourite sport.

These gender roles are outdated and they aren’t doing us any favours.  I don’t want my husband to think that cleaning the kitchen on Mother’s Day (or any day for that matter) wins him some type of award.    Mama shouldn’t have to monitor both her kids screen time as well as Papa’s.  If anything, he should use that time to clean a bathroom or do a load of laundry.  Mama shouldn’t have to micromanage the shit out of Papa because he can’t seem to understand simple directions or manage life skills most 10-year old’s can do.  I know Papa is being portrayed as a bumbling idiot, but even simpletons can be 50/50 with their spouse in terms of child rearing and taking care of the home.  After all, they are YOUR children that you had TOGETHER.  That is a dynamic I would like to see illustrated for my children.

Take note, Mike Berenstain.  Your next book could be all about a working mom and dad who have a house cleaner and routinely make macaroni n’ cheese for supper.  They also are smart enough to utilize online grocery shopping, have power naps during their lunch hour, and daydream about the dream vacation they’ll never be able to afford.  You know.  Parenting in 2017.