Ramona the Feminist

Saturday, March 27, 2021


Today is a very sad day for me, as Beverly Cleary, whose books helped make me a lifelong bibliophile, has passed away at the age of 104.

Like my friend Carolyn, I found Beverly Cleary's Ramona books utterly relatable. I was a younger sister, and my sister would often tease me and called me a "pest" in the same way Beezus would tease Ramona. It bothered me at the time, but now that I have the perspective of age, I realize now how large a compliment it was, even though she didn't mean it that way.

Ramona was unapologetically RAMONA, and that is a splendid thing to be, indeed. As Carolyn notes, she took up space in the world when girls and women were expected to shrink their true selves to accommodate the egos of men and societal norms. Not Ramona, who had a very large heart and cared for others, while simultaneously trying to find her worth in the world. She knew she had value, but the circumstances of her age, gender, birth order, and social norms combined to label her Ramona-ness as something to be criticized, suppressed, devalued.

Ramona the Pest was published in 1968, when I was three years old. The expectations for girls were evolving, but the toxic social norm of deferring to boys and men because girls were "less than" was in full force, and continues to this day, to a somewhat lesser degree.

For me, the lesson of Ramona was that it was right to become frustrated and upset when I was being disrespected based on my gender, my age, and the expectations of others. As I grew, I lost that lesson for a long time, and trying to twist myself into something I wasn't for the comfort and benefit of others made me deeply angry and resentful. But Ramona stayed with me, quietly reminding me that my feelings were valid and worthy of consideration and I should not sacrifice my well-being in service to the patriarchy. The result? Now that I'm older, I still rage against the machine but I am more content in my efforts, knowing the goal of egalitarianism is not an aberration but a desire for society to be its best self, without marginalization and suppression of the other. My goal is morally defensible, and utterly correct.

The real feminist in this story is Beverly Cleary. And she expressed the essence of feminism - the right to be who you will and make the choices that define you - through Ramona. Ramona the Pest, Ramona the Brash, Ramona the Egalitarian, Ramona the Brave, Ramona the Feminist.

Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for writing stories about ordinary kids with ordinary problems, who nevertheless dream of greatness. Thank you for influencing generations of girls in a positive way, giving them permission to be who they are, and to view themselves through the lens of self-determination. You will be missed in this world, but Ramona - and all your characters - will live on.



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