Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
Silver bells and cockle-shells,
And pretty maids all of a row.

On the surface, this rhyme is innocuous, inoffensive (or is it?). Flowers are lovely and it sounds like Mary might have some serious gardening skills, which is not to be scoffed at. It would be better if she were growing beets and carrots and peas, learning how to provide for herself, but flowers do make the world lovely. However, I have to wonder why Mother Goose describes Mary as contrary without offering any evidence to support this characterization. Given Mother Goose’s bad track record when it comes to portraying women, I wonder if she doesn’t like that Mary is working outside, doing something on her own, instead of sitting around, taking orders and taking care of the house and children.


     Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating of curds and whey;
There came a big spider,
And sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Seriously, Miss Muffet? Don’t get me wrong, I like spending an afternoon sitting on plush cushions eating cheese curds (and drinking wine) as much as the next girl, but this arachnophobia thing is not cool. Most spiders are completely harmless and actually beneficial because they eat other insects. Just as with humans, live and let live. If you are going to let a spider get in between you and your cheese, you really need to grow a pair of ovaries. I want to live in a world full of tough, smart, rational girls. One of the very last things I did in 2017 was to haul a frozen, dead raccoon out of my shed. Who cares? I’m not a ninny, but Miss Muffet sure was.

 Curly-locks, Curly-locks, wilt thou be mine?
Thou shalt not wash the dishes, nor yet feed the swine;
But sit on a cushion, and sew a fine seam
And feed upon strawberries, sugar, and cream.

Ugh…gross. I just can’t. Do men think this is what we want? I suppose some women would be thrilled to be taken care of like this, but I certainly wouldn’t. How boring. Well, not ever having to do the dishes would be nice…but I don’t need a man to arrange that for me. I can make my own money and hire a maid service myself, thank you very much.

Verdict: Clasp those cockleshells to anyone who repeats these rhymes.

It’s widely understood that Aesop’s fables had a lesson to impart to the reader. It’s less commonly known, but no less true, that the original Grimm’s fairy tales contained a lot of violence and sexual content that was inappropriate for children. But what about Mother Goose? Were the colorfully illustrated nursery rhymes in your Little Golden Book really so innocent? Were they carefully curated to be only about silliness and pat-a-cake? Let’s explore the reality together in this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.


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