So I went to Barnes and Noble today . . .
The store was chock full of more gender-separated books like those I saw at the grocery store last week. For inquiring minds, girls search for items hidden at the beauty shop, shopping mall, beach, and rock concert, as well as a page full of cats and one full of hearts. Boys, meanwhile, search for items hidden at the ballpark, in space, at a silly circus, the dog Olympics, and a rock concert, as well as a page of dinosaurs, and one called “cat and mouse free-for-all.” So boys and girls find their overlap at rock concerts . . . interesting! Also interesting that to include cute animals in the boys’ book required athleticizing them (dog Olympics) or making them a battle of some sort.
Let’s see here, girls doodle mermaids, unicorns, dragons, cats (again — who knew we were culturally conditioned to become crazy cat ladies!), microphones and sunglasses, crowns, horses, castles, ballerinas, frog princes, food, and animals. Boys doodle knights and dragons, cowboys, kites, trains and bulldozers, superheroes, rockets, a boy shooting a slingshot, a caveman, and also animals, although most of them seem to be predators — a tiger, a shark. Oh, and a skull and crossbones.
So, dear readers, if we were going to crowd-design a fun book with items that don’t assume or prescribe gendered interest, what would you include? I can tell you that both my kids adore mermaids and fairies (some boys as well as girls would be nice). I know five boy ballet dancers (or how about ice skaters, with their super fancy sequined outfits?) Both my kids like cute animals and also dinosaurs and tigers. They both love shooting bows and arrows. They like space (a girl astronaut please!) Unicorns are popular — in fact, any mythological animal is a hit. Pirates — love ‘em (and there were women pirates, by the way). There are also lots of women warriors in myth and history, as I’ve mentioned in the past. My daughter is so-so on trains, but I know a girl whose mom is desperate to find a Thomas the Train dress (good luck with that). And wouldn’t it be nice to have some referents from cultures besides northern European? I love turreted castles and unicorns, but how about djinn, Ananzi, Coyote? How ’bout some variation in skin tone? What would you add?
By the way, let me emphasize that I was NOT going around looking for these! They seemed to be everywhere I looked. And on the way out, by the exit door, the story book entry:
As we were on our way out, I didn’t stop to review the tables of contents. However, it seems that “tales of mystery, suspense, and adventure” appealed to readers more than standing in a field wearing pink, because there was only one of the “boys'” books left.
There is a great recent blog post about the need for strong female role models in children’s books that you should just go and read. A taste:
Why is it that little boys should be guided towards tales of adventure, fantasy, pirates, and danger, while females are limited to stories of damsels in distress and Prince Charmings who wake the sleeping princess with a kiss?
Indeed. I think it’s time to upset the applecart, folks!