Tuesday, April 9, 2013

#ReaditMD13 - "The Gender Gap" Are Dads the 'toughest sell' when it comes to reading to their kids and breaking gender moulds?

Come on Dad, break the mould!
In the process of this year of gathering together #ReadItMummiesandDaddies2013 stories, anecdotes, links and brilliant brilliant supporters (that's you lot, by the way) we've heard the same thing again and again. In fact it's still something that niggles away at the back of my mind whenever a new national campaign to get parents reading to their kids is announced. Dads are a very tough sell. You are. We are, and it's probably why the big headline grabbing national Booktrust campaign spearheaded by The Duchess of Cornwall and James Patterson specifically singles out and focuses on dads reading to their kids.

Not all dads, of course. We've been bowled over by the response from a lot of dads who recognise the importance of reading to their children and actually thrive on that connection and interaction, as well as that quality time. So why is the message still not getting through?

Some of it seems to have a lot to do with this week's #readitMD13 theme - the gender gap. From the experiences gained so far this year and in the years we've been writing this blog, we find that mums seem to naturally assume the role of storyteller and bedtime book reader more readily than dads (some dads - again, we cannot over-emphasize that this is by no means a black-and-white / open and shut thing, with a whole raft of factors that contribute to why dads either don't or can't read to their children as regularly as they would like to!)

Dads that do read to their children (girls or boys) will also tend to play it safe, and stick to the sort of books that they would have read as a kid themselves. I am extremely guilty of this at times, I find it really tough to read anything overtly 'girly' to Charlotte but I do try and ensure there's a good spread and balance in the stuff we read.

Speaking to a lot of dads, we've found that again and again this ties in with their own experiences, and some also carry this beyond just the children's books but into other areas of their parenting as well (for example, dads with daughters are quite happy to play with Lego with their little girl but wouldn't play with dolls, princesses or 'domestic' roleplay stuff).

Trying to crack this tough nut and get to the root of what we (dads) are worried about is like twiddling about with an unexploded bomb and a monkey wrench. Perhaps it's the fear that over time, challenging a child's perception of gender boundaries will radically alter their behaviour and preferences for the worst in later life (which sounds completely daft, I can't imagine how or why this could possibly be the case but I've heard it far too many times from dads to ignore it).

Or perhaps it's because parents (not just dads) prefer the notion that a child will be more readily accepted by their peers later on in life (in school etc) if they go with those pre-built ideas of masculinity and femininity programmed in.

I'll leave you with an anecdote from the founder of Bookstart, Wendy Cooling - who I completely failed to recognise but was very lucky to meet earlier this year - talking about the scale of the problem of gender stereotyping linked to books.

Regularly, the organisation encounters fierce resistance and criticism from parents (particularly dads) who strongly argue that some book choices will somehow 'turn their children gay / effeminate' (this story was told completely straight facedly to a room full of gathered booky folk who couldn't quite believe what they were hearing).

If an organisation that offers free (and brilliant) book packs to children, chosen extremely carefully, can meet that sort of resistance then it's going to take all of us and a heck of a lot more effort than we think to challenge, change and eradicate that kind of thinking.

But oh my, it'll be a change for the better, don't you think?

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