Monday, March 10, 2014

Why gender books suck - A small missive in support of "Let Books Be Books"

It's not exactly new, this 'gender stereotyping in children's books' thing...

We've been supporters of the campaign to remove gender stereotyping in kid's toys for ages. "Let Toys Be Toys" has now grown into "Let Books Be Books" - it's probably no real surprise that it's something we got on our high horse about back in April last year - Twice in fact - and a wee bit back in 2012 too. 

Looking back at those posts, it's actually good to see such a high profile campaign finally hitting the headlines, and garnering a huge amount of support almost universally across the Twittersphere and Blogosphere - but it does need to go further than that. Given the successes that "Let Toys Be Toys" had with getting retailers to change their ways, removing gender stereotype labelling from stores and some toy lines, I'm hoping to see the same thing happen with children's books. 

It's extremely frustrating as parents of a little girl who DOES like pink, and DOES like dolls to feel some weird sense of guilt every time Charlotte reacts positively to imagery or books that fall into those hideous gender-stereotype pigeonholes. I have always hated pigeonholing of any kind. In fact the campaign as a whole should just be "Let kids be kids" - because it really isn't something that's neatly specific to things children are bought or accrue during their young lives. 

Charlotte has always been brought up with encouragement to pursue whatever avenues of play she desires. At home currently, her bedroom contains things that some folk would call "girly" such as Barbie Dolls, Lego Friends toys etc - but there are also two WRC radio controlled cars (thankfully that weren't labelled as 'boys toys' in any way), a whole host of 'normal' Lego, kinex sets, a magic set and a ton of other toys that we have bought without even pausing to glance at what section they were in, or what colour the box art was. 

We take the same approach with books, and though we do get sent books from time to time that are fairly swiftly tossed aside and never really feature highly in the 'read and re-read' stakes (or for that matter, in our "Book of the Week" slot - note to authors, illustrators, publishers and retailers: Gender-specific books are often the first to get 'culled' when we have a book clearout).

The worst thing is the implied insult that gender stereotyping is needed - for anything, not just books - to somehow ease the pain of selecting something that's appropriate for your child. I feel moderately the same way about age ratings for books too. Obviously some books need it (for instance, you wouldn't really want your 9 year old reading racy YA that's too violent / adult) but some of the age groupings for children's books are puzzling. We often find our weekly haul stretches between books meant for 3-5 year olds, right through to stuff recommended for 7-11. Charlotte is 6 and can comfortably browse and pick between the whole range because of her reading ability and ability to understand some of the stuff that's neatly pigeonholed as 'too complex for 6 year olds'.

With the gender thing, the implied insult doesn't just affect us but anyone who buys books or toys for her. Why do marketers think that people are entirely incapable of choosing what their children play with, and (ARGH) why the colour thing? Why does colour even factor into gender at all? Why do most people always think it comes down to pink or blue?

Once again, hooray for this campaign. We'll be backing it all the way!

1 comment:

maria.selke said...

YES! I detest this. It's fine if girls like pink and boys like blue... but can't they ALSO like anything else they want? And why do we need to color code things?