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Adam Behnke COMM 223 Dr. Emily Langan 2 February 2010 A Very Gendered Outside Over There As the author of the popular book made into a major motion-picture Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak writes children’s book full of adventure and discovery. In Outside Over There, Sendak tells the story of Ida, a young girl who cares for her baby sister and who waits, along with her mother, for her father to return home from sea. The book affirms the value of committed and loving families; the mother and daughter eagerly watch the ocean, Ida goes in search of her baby sister, and the father gives Ida advice on how to rescue the baby sister. However, Sendak ascribes specific roles, attitudes, and characteristics to the female gender that are limited and somewhat inferior to those inferred about the male gender. In this essay, I will discuss the portrayal of the mother (“Mama”), the father (“Papa”), and Ida, as well as some ways in which I might rewrite the book to make the message more gender-neutral. Mama does not say anything throughout the story, but her facial expressions and body language speak a clear message. She is downtrodden, unhappy, and completely focused on her husband’s absence. Sendak does not give any more information to the reader about Mama except for these characteristics. Mama presumably does not busy herself with other work, nor is she seen in any other context than yearning for her husband to return. In the wider scheme of things, Sendak’s portrayal of women (through the medium of Mama) is narrow and weak.

Ida widens the description of women. do not have an occupation. As the only representation of men in the book. he is strong and stable. resourceful. it is not due to any cleverness of Ida. Even to greater alarm. nor do they have other activities removed from their husbands. His occupation separates him from his family. she is completely dependent on him. Were Outside Over There to be rewritten and published by me (with Maurice Sendak’s illustrative prowess of course). in a letter from him at the end of the book. Mama cannot operate when Papa is away. Lastly. it is Papa who somehow communicates to her the specific way to rescue the baby sister. eager to save. though dependent on males (Papa) for the means. Children’s authors may have good intentions and innocent motives. though inadequate caretakers. It is assumed he is doing what fathers do: he is working for his family. This carelessness is expanded on as Sendak uses phrases such as “serious mistake”. smart. and “foolish Ida” to describe her and her actions as she goes in search of her baby sister. She is the primary-caretaker of the baby sister. husbands envelop all of their wives’ thoughts. but not necessarily in a good way. advising Ida to take care of her Mama and younger sister. I . Men are providers and the most needed members of the family. Papa portrays men as independent. he never says “I miss you” or “I long to be home with you. specifically wives. and hard-working. but the underlying gender messages often reflect a degrading view of the female gender. When Ida goes “outside over there” in search of her sister. There is no indication he is miserable while apart from them. The baby sister is rescued due to Ida following Papa’s advice. granting him independence. but messages about him and men are clear. Papa is away at sea throughout the book.Behnke 2 Women. Young girls are portrayed as nurturing. but her baby sister is kidnapped by goblins while she is blowing her horn and staring out at sea.” Rather.

Papa would not give Ida the idea on how to rescue her baby sister. and I long to be with my family again.” Changes such as these would strengthen the story and give the reader gender-neutral messages. I would have him express emotion similar to Mama’s in the original story. Being away from you for this long is almost unbearable. In addition. He would write. Mama and Ida would still miss Papa who is away at sea.Behnke 3 would make a few major changes. I would describe Ida as courageous in her efforts to find her sister. in Papa’s letter to the family at the end. Finally. “I think of you as each new wave passes. Ida would think of it on her own. but Mama would wear a confident expression as she plants vegetables and chops firewood for her family. proving that young girls are smart and capable. .