Pen Is Mightier: Letters I Wrote This Week


1. To Grace’s karate teacher

I’m Grace’s mom, and I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy watching her in your class and what a great job you do with the kids. It’s the perfect balance of silliness and discipline and I know she has a great time and she will carry those lessons forward.

One thing I wanted to point out, and I do this in the spirit of fairness, is that I noticed you commented on the girls’ smiles but not the boys’ in the class. She will go through enough of her life being asked to smile by strangers, and will have the intrinsic challenge trying to balance the importance of how she looks with what she can do. I’m wondering if you’d consider applying the “great smile” comments to all the kids, or none at all in the future. I think you’ve done such a good job at showing that both girls and boys can be powerful, so I know you understand what I’m talking about. I don’t want her to come away with the subliminal message that smiles are less important for boys than they are for girls.

Thanks very much and we look forward to class resuming in the fall.

Please let me know if you want to discuss this.

I received a very nice and prompt reply that he’d certainly be more aware of this aspect in the future.

2. To a “content marketing” company that complimented a story I’d written for Forbes.com, then offered to pay me “double” for writing stories about their clients and pitch them to my editors as actual news

Thanks for thinking of me. What you’re proposing is highly unethical, as I’m sure you are aware.
Content writers generally are paid to write for a specific site, and it’s understood that the site is sponsoring the work–such as my content for BBVA Compass bank. If you’re positioning it as news and then asking journalists to pitch it as such to reputable sites, they are endangering their careers.
Let me know if I’m misunderstanding what you are proposing, because the way it reads now, you’ll have a hard time getting any reputable journalists on board.
No response, as expected.
3. To our library

To the Fine Librarians at Glendale Public Library,

As a journalist and avid First Amendment advocate, I’ve never called for removing a book from library shelves before. But I hope you will consider burning “Super Heroes Opposites” (© 2013, Downtown Bookworks/DC Comics) in the hottest fire you can make.

Here’s why: As I was reading it to my 4-year-old daughter, Grace, I noticed that all the male superheroes featured are performing feats of strength and showcasing their superpowers—jumping off buildings, lifting cars, pulling what appears to be a gigantic oil rig, and the like. The page featuring the solo female, Wonder Woman, shows her pushing a swing with a child in it.

I was disappointed to have to explain to Grace that this didn’t count as a superpower. Why wasn’t Wonder Woman wasn’t shown in a more heroic light, as the others were? It might have been different if they’d added Batman whipping up some pancakes to make it more fair.

In addition, something to consider in these heady days of gender fluidity and flexible designation: The book lists “Women” (Supergirl, Hawkgirl and Batgirl) as opposite from “Men” (Superman, Hawkman, Batman). Do we really need to go there, pitting the genders as opposites when we now understand there’s so much more in between that even young children can grasp?

I hope you’ll consider my request, and I would welcome a discussion with you about this if necessary. Please let me know your decision.

We love the library and hope you’ll fall on the side of fairness and equality.

No response yet on this one, but the librarian who took the letter agreed and promised to run it up the chain.


It’s exhausting fighting for truth and justice.

Vanessa McGradyPen Is Mightier: Letters I Wrote This Week

Comments 4

  1. Flip Wingrove

    Dear Vanessa, Having gone though this with 4 kiddies (many decades ago), I do enjoy your updates on today’s education scene. I also agree with most of what you said about gender differences being aggravated in some books intended for young readers.

    However, after a peaceful night’s slumber, will you still advise BURNING that particularly offensive “Super Heros” book? …or any other book for that matter. For example, Mein Kampf and Mao’s Little Red Book make fascinating reading for history buffs and/or political junkies in today’s enlightened environment. Maybe your still-impressionable young Grace would would be helped if you pointed out to her the failings of that particular book/writer, without resorting to book-burning. She might learn the value of critiquing rather than censoring?

    Just a butt-inski suggestion from an outdated great Grandfather…

    “Never Underestimate the power of a closed mind.” — Flip

  2. Joan

    Vanessa, Thanks so much for letting us read your letters. I love that you write them, especially since you are such a great writer. I really feel that we all need to stand up and write letters when we see a particular offense against any populations but it sure helps when the person standing up is able to get their point across so nicely with out alienating the person they are writing to. Thank you.

    1. Post
      Vanessa McGrady

      Thank you Joan. I hope, that in my many, many mistakes and transgressions each day, that people will offer me thoughtful insight, even though I might not deserve it.

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