...Sexism in a Nursery Rhyme
One of the interesting things about getting old, one of the few things, is that age provides a different Weltanschauung on life than I had when I was 50, 21, or a small child. With the advent of my two new grandchildren, I am back to reading nighttime stories especially to Jack. Owen is just over a half year old and is more interested in playing with my mustache than to have me read to him. However, Jack enjoys the interplay of reading several of his hundred books at our place or the several hundred at his place. Along with his small library of book, I have already read him Jack Be Nimble due to his name, Jack. He seemed impressed that someone wrote a nursery rhyme about him.
However, last week, I was taking a class for professors to help them to better assist their students in avoiding plagiarism. I'm still teaching at 70 and love it; I will never quit teaching. However, I have a love/hate relationship with the teaching profession. It rattles me that students will cut and paste from the Internet when writing term papers, weekly assignments, and even threaded discussions.
There are two things that rattle me about this. The first is that when I was my students' age, we didn't have an Internet. Nevertheless, students today see the Internet as an easy means to cheat. Back several centuries ago when I was in college, we'd have to walk over to the library to find books for research papers.
The other thing that bothers me is, that back in those days, the issue of ethics never got to that level. I didn't wrestle with the issue of should or shouldn't I cheat; I knew that I was not capable of writing as an author of a textbook. Nonetheless, students today have the erroneous assumption that they are seasoned writers. Today's student Hemingways assume that professors reading their papers can't tell the difference between their writing and that of an author of a book. That is a sign of great hubris...and stupidity.
Universities are working on means of helping professors wake-up their students to the reality that even college seniors aren't able to write as well as professional writers. The professor who was teaching this tutorial class to fellow professors referenced the old nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, as a means to explain that some students are like Peter. After making the first mistake, they learn. Peter had issues with the first wife and had another wife. The professor's assumption was that some students after a bad experience with cheating on a paper will learn like Peter did.
I agree with the professor's insight. However, with my advancing age, I probably know more about nursery rhymes than anyone in the class. I've read nursery rhymes to three of my own children. It should be noted that my first grandchild is about to graduate from high school. Nevertheless, I have reread many of the rhymes to Jack and soon his little brother, Owen. By the time that I read to my great-grandchildren, I will surely have reached the zenith of being a literary expert on all nursery rhymes written in English.
In the meantime, let me reveal some things that you younger readers of this article might not know. For example, the first possible version or basis from Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater comes from Scotland in the mid-part of the 19th century in this brief rhyme, which is over 150 years old:
There is another possible naissance of our poem, which is as follows:
Now, there are experts in this field, those older than even I, that have varying thoughts about either the Neeper or the Eeper rhyme morphing into one in which we are familiar.
I don't wish to debate which came first or which influenced the rhyme that we all know. However, I do want to discuss the message sent to people in this nursery rhyme. First of all, Peter was married and for various reasons for him and his wife not getting along. I get that.
What I have trouble with is his putting her in a pumpkin shell..."and there he kept her very well." Doesn't that seem abusive? Peter put his wife in a closed-up area and kept her until, I guess, their divorce. There she was totally isolated from friends and family.
After the divorce with his first wife, Peter then married another women and didn't like her either. Again, I have no idea what the martial issues were with number two, but they had problems. How long the two of them struggled is not clear either. Nonetheless, Peter seemed to have gotten his GED and learned how "to read and spell". I assume that he also learned math, science, and composition. After matriculating through school and learning, "he loved her very well."
Apparently, Peter's problems with his wives wasn't their fault. It is obvious that he had issues about himself and life in general. Therefore, the head of the house was not necessarily all that he was cracked up to be. It goes back to sexism. The so-called head of the house felt inadequate and went around life acting macho, which he wasn't.
Therein lies a lesson for all of us...regardless of our ages. We should not act more than we are. Peter's puffed up attitude was a sign of his inferiority not his adequacy. Education, whether in or out of school, is a necessary imperative if we wish to live happy and equitation lives within our families and our society.
I wonder how many of you learned that lesson of life from Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater. I missed it when it was first read to me, when I read it to my children, and I read it to my first grandchild nearly a dozen and a half years ago. As I said at the beginning of my essay that getting to my advanced age has at least one benefit...seeing things more clearly.