Thursday, October 25, 2012

Of Pink and Blue and Books - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

I apologise in advance for this mini rant. I recently found myself in the unique position of being a bit miffed about something encountered on a (usually quite excellent) book blog and felt compelled to add my two penneth. My two penneth was subsequently deleted from the blog without explanation (actually no, it wasn't even published) so I thought I'd air it here. 

Our daughter (and the "boss" of this blog) Charlotte is a girl. Charlotte loves pink. Not exclusively, but she definitely loves pink. 

When we first knew we were having a child, we wanted the surprise of not knowing the gender before the birth. Naturally this meant that before she was born and we went clothes / toy shopping, we opted for those drab beige and neutral colours that you can get most baby clothes in. We opted for a 'safe' coloured baby carrier and pram and picking our way through the minefield of what is now termed 'gender specific colours' wasn't a massive problem. 

Now of course, it's a huge bone of contention for a lot of parents who feel that marketing is dictating to them what their girls and boys should like and should be into. As you can see from the attached pic, this goes beyond the mere 'gender specific colour differentiation' thing - it suggests that while boys love fast cars, dinosaurs, footballs and robots - girls prefer skipping ropes, princesses, bags and crowns. 

(There's a clue in the word 'Marketing' by the way. Anyone in the business of making money from selling products wants to do a lot of it so that they can make more products, make more money - and so on, and so forth. That said, I have never met anyone involved in marketing that put me in a hurt hold, marched me down to a store and made me buy something while I screamed in protest). 

When it comes to books, our choices are simple. We buy the books Charlotte wants to read. We show her books we think she'd like to read but not because these are books we'd rather she read in preference to others, even at 4 she's perfectly capable of making up her own mind (and don't we know it!)

We had a recent experience where Charlotte chose a pink covered book (Emma Dodd's "Cinderelephant" - which is a regularly demanded bedtime read, by the way. She loves it!) mostly because it was a huge pink book about Cinderella (as an elephant). We didn't think much to the book but we relented. Now, to our knowledge, Charlotte hasn't been brainwashed at preschool or school into liking pink or princesses, she just does. But Charlotte also likes robots, witches, dinosaurs (oh boy, does she ever love dinosaurs), monsters and a whole ton of other things that cross and re-cross the supposedly rigid 'forced on us' gender boundaries. 

So what are we to make of the constant coverage in the book press, from publishers and from bloggers that suggest that huge sweeping changes need to be made in the industry to prevent the nefarious spread of gender stereotyping, particularly when the colour pink is involved? 

Simple answer really. Stop pushing your own agendas, ideas and hangups on your children and let them choose what they read by introducing them to as broad a range and as many books as possible, whatever colour the covers are. No marketer alive can stop you doing that. 


Mrs H said...

I agree with you completely that we have to be vigilant about our own hangups and pushing them onto the kids. But I also think we have a responsibility to help them learn that life and people, men/women, boys/girls is not binary - blue or pink, dinosaurs or princesses. If people only ever buy girl's pink / princess, because that seems to be the only option that will appeal to them, is that helping? What I'm really pleased with coming out of my post are all the recommendations of fab-sounding stereotype-busting books we can introduce our daughter to. Perhaps the reason for all the commentary is that there is quite a bit of frustration at how much harder it is to do that without extra help or enough time to check out all the books in the bookshop/library? I love the fact that my 6 year old daughter loves such a mix of characters and styles and toys, like yours (she's currently building lego). Long may it continue, in reading and life in general...

ReadItdaddy said...

That is absolutely right and it's something that troubles me greatly, that even as a parent working hard to ensure that Charlotte gets a huge broad range of choice when it comes to books, toys and just about everything else there are always other factors that creep in to try and derail that line of thinking.

Peer pressure is one, and it's something that's extended from her years at preschool into school proper. Girls in Charlotte's class talk about disney princesses, or pink ballet slippers and Charlotte does - at the age of 4 3/4 when children are like sponges soaking up a huge amount, they're also soaking up other children's influence (and influencing other children themselves of course).

I agree that it is very hard, as you said. I also think that some publishers are extremely guilty of using the argument as a fulcrum for charging a premium price for some fairly bland books that are (and here's the irony) specifically designed to be non-gender-specific. Ugh.

At ReadItdaddy, even when we started writing our reviews of books, it never really occurred to us that there was a binary 'right and wrong' way to introduce Charlotte to books and as you can see from our reviews, we cover as many as we can in as huge and broad a range of subjects as possible. Really as lowly book bloggers / parents this is about as much as we can do but anyone in a position to truly make changes in the industry will get a rapturous round of applause from me, but only if they're doing so with brilliant books that don't cost the earth merely because there's nothing that has a parent reaching into their wallet quicker than the sense that they're assuaging their own shortcomings as a parent by doing so.