Mary Wears What She Wants
Written and Illustrated by Keith Negley
I needed to own this book. A tribute to the real-life Mary Edwards Walker, one of the first woman to wear pants, this picture book recalls a time when pants were not allowed for females. I for one LOVE wearing pants. Friends may have heard me say how grateful I am that I can wear pants but I’m sure they assume it’s a joke and not a truth. I am absolutely serious every time I say it. I am a bit of a history nerd and read (and watch) a lot of historical fiction which allows me to see how far woman rights have come, although admittingly not far enough. Stories from the past reveal how amazing it is for a woman today to have careers, own homes, own businesses, vote, and yes, wear pants. This little story is more than a tiny slice of history, it is a beautiful story for our current modern times.
WEAR WHAT YOU WANT! BE YOU.
During a cross-dressing party I once co-hosted, many males were honest about how comfortable dresses were for them. In some ways, it seems like men should wear dresses and woman wear pants. The reality, however, is that dresses restrict motion and activity. That’s why Mary didn’t want to wear a dress. That’s why I love Mary. I loved climbing, running, getting dirty, all the things many happy children enjoy in life. Being forced to wear dresses would have taken all that away from me.
I realize this topic can get drawn out with ideas about free expression and what is “offensive” and what is “normal”, but I’d prefer to just admire this cute kid-version of Mary who wants to wear clothes that are comfortable, nothing more. My mother let us pick out our clothes (from a weather-suitable selection of course) since we were old enough to talk. When I did wear dresses they were often with my favorite cowboy boots. I wore what I wanted, like Mary.
As a reader, you may find much more in this story as there is much to be found. I will not give anything away or try to create more than what may be intended. But I have heard others dive much deeper into the artist’s work, right down to color choices on the pages. Pink and Blue vs Mary’s bright yellow speaks to some about gender roles. It’s not the first time Keith drew a story dealing with gender roles. He also wrote “Tough Guys (have feelings too)”. Whether you feel this story about Mary speaks to anti-bullying, or gender roles, or just simply enjoy being yourself, it is undeniably a wonderful children’s story.
Such a fun and cute book for anyone, and a great little tribute to the real Mary.
When I say I love wearing pants, it’s really a greater gratitude for all the accomplishments woman have made over the centuries that have allowed me to live this life of mine the way I do.