"Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

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"Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby misskwiz » Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:13 pm UTC

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080731/ennew_afp/swedenliteraturechildrenwomengays

STOCKHOLM (AFP) - Two new publishing houses for children's books have sparked debate in gender-equal Sweden over their professed aim of instilling the country's open-minded social values in the next generation.

"Our goal is for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or other such things, to have the freedom to create their own identity and be respected for their personal qualities," said Karin Salmson, the co-founder of the new Vilda publishing house.

But several critics are outraged, saying they are simply pushing propaganda disguised as literature.

Vilda and another small publisher, Olika, both opened their doors last year with the express aim of making children's books that promote liberal values and challenge traditional views on gender, race and sexual orientation.

"Many parents feel forced to change he to she or she to he and other details as they read stories for their children, because so many details in children's books are so very traditional," Salmson said.

Vilda has therefore introduced a so-called "hug label", guaranteeing that its books have been "scrutinised from a democracy, equality and diversity perspective" and contain no details "based on prejudice or traditional gender roles that rein in individual freedom".

The publisher for instance makes sure girls are not always dressed in pink and boys in blue, that dad is not necessarily the one rushing off to work while mom stays home whipping up dinner and that same-sex parents are portrayed as a natural part of life.

Olika's co-founder Marie Tomicic also says her publishing house aims to "break down traditional gender roles and offer children broader role models, allowing them to be all they can be."

...

"For both Vilda and Olika, their values are the top priority ... and I think that is simply the wrong approach when you want to make good children's books," says Lotta Olsson, a literary critic at Sweden's paper of reference Dagens Nyheter.

If the whole aim of a story is to promote an idea and alter children's behaviour and attitudes, the artistic and literary side of the book tends to suffer she insists.

"You cannot write a book simply because you want it to be gender equal. You can however write a good book that is gender equal, but as soon as you can see the thought behind the book, I think the artistic side has failed," she tells AFP.

...

"We are trying to break a pattern," Tomicic responds, insisting that it is important to show children that there are many natural alternatives to traditional ways of describing gender roles, including the colours girls and boys wear, and family structures.

Salmson agrees. "Portraying a gay family in a story that is not simply about gay families shows that these families exist too and are just as normal as other types of families."

...

"I don't think it works either," she insists. "Children do as we do, not as we tell them to do. If you look around and see women being treated worse than men, it makes no difference that you've read a children's book in which the mother goes to work and the father stays home with the kids."


I understand the concern over having (a possibly) forced context in these stories but it's better then nothing I suppose.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Jahoclave » Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:53 pm UTC

My only real concern is that these stories are quite crappy because the goal was to be rather overt about how they examined ideology rather than having a decent story and having the rest of the ideology be a secondary concern.

I mean, if it's something as simple as changing the color of the picture or showing two guys as parents in a picture and it's not really something that's going to affect the story really then it's not really a problem. I just have an issue if they go out of their way to point out that the character has gay parents. Because even as a book for adults Invisible Man got annoying with the black/white symbolism shoved in just about everywhere.

I think the funniest part of the article is the critic. Oh no, they only take authors that agree with them. That just isn't healthy. I'm glad you're so concerned for the bottom line of a company that's publishing books you don't like.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby existential_elevator » Thu Jul 31, 2008 9:44 pm UTC

It would be quite interesting to see one of these books though. I quite like the idea, it would be nice to see how [or if] it works.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Mother Superior » Thu Jul 31, 2008 10:47 pm UTC

Everyone should just do what my parents did. My brother only ever got red/pink clothes and my sister always blue.

...thank god by the time I was born they'd abandoned all their ideals.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Indon » Thu Jul 31, 2008 11:39 pm UTC

It seems to me that it might not matter, depending on the age the books are written for.

I mean, if you're trying to write a good book for a two-year old, I imagine it would be very difficult to fail in that objective. Story: not a major consideration in See Spot Run.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Jahoclave » Fri Aug 01, 2008 1:39 am UTC

Indon wrote:It seems to me that it might not matter, depending on the age the books are written for.

I mean, if you're trying to write a good book for a two-year old, I imagine it would be very difficult to fail in that objective. Story: not a major consideration in See Spot Run.

Oh, I find the story in See Spot Run to be a highly compelling saga.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Joeldi » Sat Aug 02, 2008 12:32 pm UTC

Mother Superior wrote:Everyone should just do what my parents did. My brother only ever got red/pink clothes and my sister always blue.

...thank god by the time I was born they'd abandoned all their ideals.


My brother got a rainbow fairy princess castle or something when he was young, and I a polly pocket...I can't remember under circumstances, but it was definetely mum trying to fuck up our perceptions of society. Worked on me, not on him.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby TheStranger » Sat Aug 02, 2008 8:47 pm UTC

I'm reminded of "Basically Decent Bedtime Stories" and other such satire that came out in the mid 90's. Though this seems to be a more serious take on the subject.

We need to go back to the original Grimm's tales, like the version of Cinderella where the evil step sisters get their eyes pecked out by birds on Cinderella's wedding day.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Lucrece » Mon Aug 04, 2008 7:06 am UTC

Haha, that critic's utterly shameless.


Quality? It's not like Children's books require refined literary qualities to succeed. Often, the formula is simple, pretty pictures, and relevant to the children.

I don't see how cosmetic changes detracts from the story. And to say that they're pushing an agenda is quite insulting, to say the least.

The fact is, there ARE other family configurations, and it's not comforting when you're seeing your family utterly left out in every type of media. You have gay parents, but depictions of these families are forced into utter invisibility; what do you think this does to a child raised by gay parents?
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby VannA » Tue Aug 05, 2008 4:56 am UTC

Wut?

What does this idiot think fables and stories "are"?

Children's Fables are the tribal myths, which are intern the mechanism for passing along/re-inforcing sociological thought.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Lt Greatsocks » Fri Aug 15, 2008 6:57 am UTC

TheStranger wrote:I'm reminded of "Basically Decent Bedtime Stories" and other such satire that came out in the mid 90's. Though this seems to be a more serious take on the subject.

We need to go back to the original Grimm's tales, like the version of Cinderella where the evil step sisters get their eyes pecked out by birds on Cinderella's wedding day.


I have a collection of Grimm's fairy tales. That shit is fucked up. Real good read.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby FurbyFubar » Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:02 pm UTC

Indon wrote:I mean, if you're trying to write a good book for a two-year old, I imagine it would be very difficult to fail in that objective. Story: not a major consideration in See Spot Run.


Image

Um, yeah, no possible way a book about dogs could give away anything about expected gender roles... By the way, giving flowers to your dad is apparently a bad idea.

I'm slightly sorry for having brought this thread back to the dead, but by the time I noticed it was old I had already hosted the above pic.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:24 pm UTC

Eleven months later, does anyone know how these publishing houses are doing?
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby icanus » Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:26 pm UTC

They're printing these.

spot.jpg
Dogs love flowers regardless of gender or familial situation. Also poop.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon Jun 29, 2009 10:58 pm UTC

:|

Why is it always assumed that our culture's particular social norms are necessary to produce a children's book?
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby FurbyFubar » Mon Jun 29, 2009 11:18 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Eleven months later, does anyone know how these publishing houses are doing?

Well, Vilda Förlag seems to be still alive: http://www.krammarkt.se/ their site's only in Swedish though. Note that one of their books IS about a dog, and, also poop, so icanus was right on the money.

Image

Olika förlag also seems to be still be in business: http://www.olika.nu/ They also have a much better looking website and a small "In English" section if you look in the right sidebar.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby icanus » Tue Jun 30, 2009 12:03 am UTC

(just in case it's ambiguous, I do think what they're doing sounds like a positive thing - I just thought it was funny, already had GIMP open, and hate the Spot books with a passion)
TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:Why is it always assumed that our culture's particular social norms are necessary to produce a children's book?

One of my classmates at college did a research project about gender and early reading - the whole "Boys must read about Dinosaurs and characters who DO Exciting Things and Girls must read about Princesses Who Have Exciting Things Done Near/For Them" thing builds up frighteningly early, and unfortunately a helluva lot of teaching staff and parents don't do much to challenge it.

There are some children's authors who deal with this sort of thing really well. Anthony Browne, for one (a lot of stuff about single parents and parents separating, though he tends to focus on boys and single dads). It just seems to me that it works better when it's just *there* as part of the story, rather than being the entire point of the story (like my facetious example), but maybe that's just me looking at them as an adult.

I guess it's harder in some ways for books for really young children, because they don't just have to acknowledge different gender roles and family structures, but to some extent to introduce them.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby TiPerihelion » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:15 pm UTC

Lucrece wrote:And to say that they're pushing an agenda is quite insulting, to say the least. The fact is, there ARE other family configurations,


THIS. Sure, bucking a stereotype that has insinuated itself into our concept of "normal" will always seem like agenda-pushing, but the reality is that the stereotypes in place are just that - stereotypes. And they have no objective, valid reason to be treated as the norm - they're not the norm. Pointing that out is not agenda-pushing - trying to squash them is agenda-pushing.

I wholeheartedly support more "egalitarian" media (as I'll call it). Sure, children's books may not do much in the long run - nothing will on its own - but the more that's out there, the better. We imbibe stereotypes from the media around us - movies, books, commercials, etc. If more of those promoted egalitarian values, I believe egalitarianism would flourish. Hopefully, it won't all be as silly as making sure mom isn't in pink and dad isn't in blue. I confess, I fail to see any sexism there. Pink is not inherently a "woman" color, and blue is not inherently a "man" color. One is not inherently prettier than the other. Some people go a little overboard in these things.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby i » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:18 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote::|

Why is it always assumed that our culture's particular social norms are necessary to produce a children's book?


So I had this econ teacher, who assumed that all of his students came into his class as conservative, lassaiz-faire capitalists. He wanted to "challenge" that position, and to do that, he chose to undermine the conservative elements in the curriculum while leaving the rest alone. Another incident occurred in one of my teaching courses, who "challenged" our perceptions by emphasizing one particular teaching philosophy as unqualifiably superior to the status quo.

The people who declare they are "just asking questions" or "challenging the status quo" easily end up trying to force their own ideologies through with a sledgehammer either intentionally or not.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:20 pm UTC

And one time I had a puppy with a really fluffy tail. Relevance?
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Lord Aurora » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:27 pm UTC

Belial wrote:And one time I had a puppy with a really fluffy tail. Relevance?
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My vague take on the subject, from the POV of someone who loves literature: If you need to consciously force examples of alternative lifestyles and gender roles to appear in your work, you have failed in producing a piece of literature (children's or other) that will have the desired effect. It needs to be a seamless, quiet integration, not something that is meant to be trendy and topical and noticeable. The idea is right, here, but the execution is all wrong.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Tue Jun 30, 2009 9:37 pm UTC

They're children's picture books, are they not?

They're not precisely works of great literature anyway.

When you're writing for two and three year olds, you kindof have to club them over the head.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby i » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:16 pm UTC

Belial wrote:And one time I had a puppy with a really fluffy tail. Relevance?

:?

I'm suggesting to Bolshevik that objections to the companies' mission may have more abstract reasons other than a want to maintain the current social order.

I can't think of any smaller words to use. I'm sorry.

Belial wrote:They're not precisely works of great literature anyway.

When you're writing for two and three year olds, you kindof have to club them over the head.


There are specific reasons why books like Hop on Pop are more successful as a child's book than an encyclopediac explanation on the rules of grammar. And the companies in question write books for children as young as one to the age of 12.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Tue Jun 30, 2009 10:22 pm UTC

i wrote:
Belial wrote:And one time I had a puppy with a really fluffy tail. Relevance?

:?

I'm suggesting to Bolshevik that objections to the companies' mission may have more abstract reasons other than a want to maintain the current social order.

I can't think of any smaller words to use. I'm sorry.


Right, but your story is irrelevant. You're talking about people giving an unbalanced viewpoint in a classroom.

As opposed to a story portraying a nontraditional family arrangement.

One has nothing to do with the other. They only kindof look like they do.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 30, 2009 11:46 pm UTC

i wrote:So I had this econ teacher, who assumed that all of his students came into his class as conservative, lassaiz-faire capitalists. He wanted to "challenge" that position, and to do that, he chose to undermine the conservative elements in the curriculum while leaving the rest alone. Another incident occurred in one of my teaching courses, who "challenged" our perceptions by emphasizing one particular teaching philosophy as unqualifiably superior to the status quo.

The people who declare they are "just asking questions" or "challenging the status quo" easily end up trying to force their own ideologies through with a sledgehammer either intentionally or not.


Soooo... you're afraid of the scary Swedish Gay Agenda, that will force all the little swede boys and girls to become infected with teh gay?

Or, worse yet, they might have the 'ideology' of not hating people 'cause they have sex with different people hammered into them? My god! Before long we'll be allowing bestiality! Why did those fools ever allow interracial marriages!

...no, wait, wrong decade.

Why did those fools ever allow homosexuality!
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby SummerGlauFan » Wed Jul 01, 2009 12:03 am UTC

Indon wrote:
Soooo... you're afraid of the scary Swedish Gay Agenda, that will force all the little swede boys and girls to become infected with teh gay?



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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby aleflamedyud » Wed Jul 01, 2009 1:53 pm UTC

VannA wrote:Wut?

What does this idiot think fables and stories "are"?

Children's Fables are the tribal myths, which are intern the mechanism for passing along/re-inforcing sociological thought.

Exactly! All children's books are propaganda! The kids figure it out pretty early on, too.

Why is it always assumed that our culture's particular social norms are necessary to produce a children's book?

Because all the oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. And while children are generally quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving, the people who write for children and read to children are total pussies.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Princess Marzipan » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:13 pm UTC

TiPerihelion wrote:Pink is not inherently a "woman" color, and blue is not inherently a "man" color. One is not inherently prettier than the other.


Pink is prettier than blue can ever be. You shut the god damn hell up.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Sourire » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:19 pm UTC

I just feel like someone should say it-

As for the whole "if you need to consciously force gay characters into the story..." argument(s), well, I don't know about what everyone here was exposed to as a child. But stories currently on my shelf from childhood consciously attempted MANY things, from avoiding five (and up) letter words, and rhyme schemes for comedic affect.

It doesn't have to "just flow". Because the interaction we're concerned about is with the reader, not with the writers. And it's early socialization to other forms of human behavior. Without getting into a personal anecdote, too many children are completely and purposefully shut off to any behavior their parents do not themselves condone, and it's these sort of blinders that inspire discrimination in future generations.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:23 pm UTC

Sourire wrote:Without getting into a personal anecdote, too many children are completely and purposefully shut off to any behavior their parents do not themselves condone, and it's these sort of blinders that inspire discrimination in future generations.


And the ever-popular "that's just (not) how I was raised!"
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Sourire » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:28 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Sourire wrote:Without getting into a personal anecdote, too many children are completely and purposefully shut off to any behavior their parents do not themselves condone, and it's these sort of blinders that inspire discrimination in future generations.


And the ever-popular "that's just (not) how I was raised!"

Like it matters.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Wed Jul 01, 2009 2:30 pm UTC

"What, you mean my parents aren't completely untouchable bastions of moral rectitude such that I can refer to the way they raised me and therefore deflect all criticism? It's....it's like you're saying I have to grow up or something...."
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby fjafjan » Wed Jul 01, 2009 3:16 pm UTC

"It's just the way I was raisd" = "I'm stupid like that"
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Zamfir » Wed Jul 01, 2009 6:16 pm UTC

My parents-in-law had the almost perfect solution for this. When they considered a story too traditional-role-patterny, they would read it to their kids with the characters changed to the other gender.

Because I am geeky, I will adopt the superior version of this scheme for my kids, and toss a coin to decide the gender of the characters. Or, because it's the future, type floor(rand()*2) in the book.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby i » Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:04 pm UTC

@ Belial and Indon.

When these critics called the books propaganda, they didn't read or cite any particular books the company released. They based their comments on the companies' mission statements.

I can list example after example of heavy-handed bull that hides behind these kinds of mission statements (from creationists to white power advocates), and it's very easy to see this company simply rehash stories like Snow White with the sexes reversed and claim it's "promoting diversity" when it's just arguing for a new set of stereotypes.

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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Belial » Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:33 pm UTC

When you put something counter to the stereotype into an environment saturated with the stereotype, you don't create a new stereotype. For that to be true, you'd need to be able to first undo THE ENTIRE REST OF THE CULTURE instantaneously.

All that creating something counter to the stereotype does is help break it down. This is a good thing.
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Indon » Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:33 pm UTC

That might be of concern if the company's mission statement includes a desire to destroy all culture that does not comply to its' standards.

But to my knowledge, it doesn't.

So it isn't.

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GoC
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby GoC » Sat Jul 04, 2009 6:32 am UTC

I'd say stories should have the approximate proportions of family types, genders, ethnicities, ect. that modern society has.

Because all the oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. And while children are generally quite keen on blood provided it's being shed by the deserving, the people who write for children and read to children are total pussies.

Best thing I've read all day!
Belial wrote:I'm just being a dick. It happens.

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Amarantha
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Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby Amarantha » Sat Jul 04, 2009 11:11 am UTC

GoC wrote:Best thing I've read all day!
Then you ought to be reading Terry Pratchett :)

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TheGrammarBolshevik
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Re: "Children's books become ideological battleground in Sweden"

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sat Jul 04, 2009 4:00 pm UTC

GoC wrote:I'd say stories should have the approximate proportions of family types, genders, ethnicities, ect. that modern society has.


What about genders and family types that society actively suppresses?
Last edited by TheGrammarBolshevik on Sun Jul 05, 2009 2:39 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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