Lions and Tigers and Sexism, Oh My! (Or Why Does the Cowardly Lion Think He’s a Coward)

My first bucket list item was to become a published writer. Check! Next on my bucket list was to be in a play or musical. I’ve played in the pit for many a production, but I’ve never acted on stage. So when Music To My Ears, where I give trombone lessons and where my daughter participates in the musicals for kids and teens, decided to do The Wizard of Oz with an adult cast, I couldn’t pass up the chance.

I auditioned to be the “cowardly” lion. Kind of fits my life journey. I’ve always known I’ve had a brain and a heart, but I didn’t develop courage until later in life, or at least I didn’t recognize it in myself.

Whether I’m a natural at singing and acting or whether my boss decided to reward me for my ten years of exemplary service, I got the part. I picked up my script and decided to start by memorizing the song “If I Were King of the Forest.” If I were king of the forest, not queen, not duke, not prince.” “Hey,” I thought. “What’s wrong with queens? Dukes and princes have less authority than a king, yes, but a queen could have just as much.” I toyed with changing “queen”  to “earl.”

Next came “If I Only Had the Nerve.” I know the lyrics to “If I Only Had a Brain,” but I didn’t remember the lion’s lines. Right off the bat, it says “Yes it’s sad, believe me Missy, when you’re born to be a sissy.” Sissy comes from calling a boy a coward by way of calling him a girl. Not cool. But I couldn’t change it because it’s part of the rhyme. I’d have to change the whole thing. It’s sad believe me fellow when you’re born a-being yellow? No, whole new problem. “This is why I’m a writer and not an actor,” I thought. I’d be the most obnoxious actor in Hollywood. “Excuse me, don’t you think my character would say something more like this?”

But the more I thought about it, the more those lines seemed appropriate to the character. Wouldn’t someone who thought he was a coward be likely to have fallen prey to the wrong thinking that anything feminine is weak?

Did you know that L. Frank Baum, the author of the original Oz books, fought for women’s right to vote? What a guy! We’ll never know what he thought of the song lyrics, as they were written after he died. Did his books contain any of the same sexist language? I doubt it, even with my reasoning for how they fit into the lion’s psyche, but I haven’t read them, so I don’t know.

Time for a trip to the library, after I work on my roar 🙂



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