Gender and Oz
The issue of gender also
plays an important role in the Oz series.
One issue that is not lost on many literary historians is the fact that
the main character, Dorothy, is a girl and not a boy. In and of itself, this is significant. There are also several female characters in
the book and movie who are very strong (even if they
may practice witchcraft). Also, the one
character who was supposed to have the ability to save Dorothy (the Wizard) not
only turns out to be a fake, he is also male.
Below are some specific references to the role of gender in Oz and a
brief discussion of the author’s attitudes toward women in general, and the
issue of women’s suffrage in particular.
Maybe Baum’s wife and mother-in-law influenced his attitudes toward
women and the portrayal of female characters in his books…?
“Who is Dorothy?
Baum’s choice of a girl instead of a boy for this central role is
significant in several respects. Many of
the rulers and protagonists in Oz were female.
In addition to Dorothy and Glinda, later books
introduce Ozma and Lurline,
both benevolent rulers. Frank Baum was
committed to the cause of women’s rights.
Both his wife and mother-in-law campaigned for women’s suffrage [the
right to vote for women]. The Populists
of South Dakota were also proponents of women’s rights. As the editor of the Saturday Pioneer,
Baum published political tracts written by his mother-in-law, and the paper
endorsed women’s suffrage in
“The Wizard of Oz is now almost universally
acknowledged to be the earliest truly feminist American children’s book,
because of spunky and tenacious Dorothy.
Homely little Dorothy refreshingly goes out and solves her problem
herself rather than waiting patiently like a beautiful heroine in a European
fairy tale for someone else, whether prince or commoner, to put things
right. Katharine Rogers praised Dorothy
in “Liberation for Little Girls” (Saturday Review June 17, 1972,
p. 72) for being ‘a brave, resourceful girl who rescues three male characters
and destroys two evil witches.’ Baum’s
books are full of girls who are enterprising, ingenious, adventurous, or
imposingly self-reliant.”2 This may not seem significant over 100
years after the first publication of the Wizard of Oz, but very well may
be. Traditional fairy tales often
portrayed young heroines as passive characters who allowed boys, men, fathers,
or some other male character (such as a passing woodsman in Little Red
Riding Hood), to solve their problems for them or save them from
disaster. In Oz, Dorothy not only
protects herself, but also helps to solve the problems of the male characters
with whom she has become friends. In
contrast to Dorothy’s exploits, we can view another male character, the
Wizard. He is known as the “great and
powerful Oz” but in fact, he is a fake.
He has not seen his subjects in years and hides behind the technology he
has developed to improve his image. He
is unable to help Dorothy and Dorothy and her friends discover he is a fraud
(like many politicians in the East…?).
1 Gretchen Ritter, “Silver Slippers and a Golden
Cap: L. Frank Baum’s The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Historical Memory in
American Politics,” Journal of
American Studies, 31 (1997), 2, p. 178.
2 Michael Patrick Hearn, The
Annotated Wizard of Oz,
Norton & Company, 2000, p. 13.