Happily, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, there is something that I can do about this. So I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
Independent rejects gender-specific children’s books March 16, 2014
What’s missing from this puzzle? February 14, 2014
From boingboing, here‘s an example of how not to promote disciplinary diversity. And, if you scroll to the bottom, also a handy example from Elsevier’s Tom Reller of how not to respond to legitimate concerns about gender exclusive advertizing.
Young Feminist Philosopher of the Week: Natalie, Founder of the Brave People Protest February 5, 2014
A guest post by Amie Thomasson, University of Miami:
Natalie was just over six when she noticed something. She had been to science camp before. She saw the new flier coming in the mailbox around spring break, announcing the new science, space and rocket camp. Awesome. But where were the girls in all the pictures of happy campers? Natalie went to camp anyway, full of enthusiasm. When she got there, she noticed something. There were only about three girls in a camp full of about twenty children. She had two friends who were four year old girls, and, as she put it ‘that was about it for her friends in science camp’. She decided to talk to the camp director about it—at lunch break, all sitting on the floor in the over air-conditioned function room of the large student union, she asked around the young counselors until they could point her to the Big Cheese. She didn’t have to get up the nerve to talk to him: she had the nerve already. Told him he needed to put more girls on his fliers, recruit more future scientists. He readily agreed. Natalie was thrilled. (This new flier we got a week ago still showed no girls in any of the 5 face shots.)
Long tired of pink, frills and hair gear, and never interested in princesses, it was time for Natalie to expand her protest. So she got out her markers. She made a sign. She got out her colored pom poms and glued them around the sign like footlights. (To attract attention.) She found an old green plant stake in the garden shed to attach the sign to. She led marches (with Mom, Dad, baby sister) whenever they went out to eat. Talked to anyone who would listen (and many who wouldn’t) about her ‘protest against girl/boy differences’. Even found one enthusiastic ally, and got a few high fives. But the work wasn’t done. So she organized a bicycle protest: attached signs and bells to the family bikes, laboriously hand-wrote fliers (four whole copies) explaining the problem, rode behind her mom on the tandem bike to the park. Handed out her fliers to anyone who would talk to her, including a rather hostile French woman (‘I don’t understand what the problem is. There is no difference. You do whatever you like to do’). She made protest t-shirts using fabric markers and cheap cotton t-shirts (for her) and onesies (for the baby sister). The writing may have been hard to parse, but the super-girl insignia was unmistakable. This past Sunday she had plans to sell pink and blue lemonade (pink only to boys; blue only to girls), but Mom and Dad said there wasn’t time for lemonade making and a sale at the park. There was homework to do, errands to run.
So Natalie had an idea, and she got to work. If they were going to Toys R Us, the protest could be brought there: The perfect place: the very symbol of segregation in the toy industry. She set to work making signs. Got out her pink and blue glitter. ‘No More Girl-Boy Differences’, ‘Princesses for Girls, Trucks for Boys: NO!’ ‘Cleaning for Girls, Trucks for Boys: NO!’. She snuck in the tape and feigned interest in toys, then posted her signs in every section of the store: between the princess and dinosaur pajamas, underneath a row of princesses, on the giant green trucks. She even optimistically put up a ‘Sign up to help’ sheet on a kitchen she found that was in brown and tan, showing pictures of both a girl and a boy playing together. That would attract the right kind of kid to help join her protest, she thought. (The kitchen, of course, was located in the pink ‘girls’ section of the store, despite the thoughtful marketing by its maker.)
The Brave People Protest is ready to go worldwide. Make your own signs, share your own ideas. Post on her new Tumblr site pictures of your own guerilla protest posters against the early channeling of girls and boys into separate and narrow gender roles.
Or as Natalie says:
“Join my protest. You can join my protest too you can, put posters up in your own Toys R Us and some other places that you think aren’t fair. You can try to get people in your own neighborhood to join and find other unfairnesses and just try to stop them. That’s how you can join my protest.”
Natalie turns 7 today. Nothing would make her happier than for her protest to spread. I don’t know if she’ll manage to change the world, but I’m so proud of her for noticing, and for trying.
Says Natalie: “I will manage to change the world. Cause I can do anything if I put my mind to it”.
More gendered products January 26, 2014
21 of them, over at Buzzfeed. The captions are pretty funny. Here’s one:
I was ankle-deep in my boyfriend’s mucus before we bought these man-sized Kleenex. Ordinary tissues just couldn’t contain his oversized, masculine boogers.
Gendered Name Tags December 31, 2013
I think this is a gendered product I could actually get behind; from Storenvy, ‘Hello’ name tags with handy pronoun preferences.
Gendered Advertising Remix November 28, 2013
This website lets you take the sound from one commercial and the video for another, to experience a a gendered advertising mash-up. One of my favorite combinations is the audio for the Battleground: Catapults and Crossbows and the video for the Barbie Glitter hair dryer.
Mary Jane or Jean Valjean? Take the quiz! November 27, 2013
So, there’s a new quiz going around Facebook, sponsored by the Scottish Book Trust, in honour of “Book Week Scotland 2013.” You answer a couple of demographic questions, and then a few Myers-Briggs style questions, and the quiz tells you which literary character you most resemble. I got Coraline. And then I started noticing the results popping up on Facebook. One friend got Mary Jane from Spiderman. Another got Alice (from Alice in Wonderland). And then, the first of my male friends to do so took the quiz and got Atticus Finch. Atticus, I thought. He’s a grown-up! And kind of a hero. And that’s when I realized that the M or F question in the demographic section was actually affecting the results in a way that, for instance, the age range question wasn’t. (I’m 44, but this didn’t stop me from getting Coraline.) So, I tried taking the quiz with all the same answers, but answering M instead of F. I got Hercule Poirot. Now, I’ll grant that Coraline is smart and capable, but she’s no Hercule Poirot. I know I’m gonna piss off Gaiman nerds here, but no smart, capable lonely child quite measures up to one of literature’s most brilliant detectives.
So, I urged others to take the quiz both ways. One friend who’d gotten Mary Jane as an F got Jean Valjean as an M. So, as F she got a spunky, attractive love interest (Blergh. Now I’m pissing off the Spiderman nerds.) versus a rich, complex, grown-up, noble hero type character. Huh. I got my daughter to take it both ways. She got Hermione Granger and Dr. Watson. Prompted by my challenge on Facebook, another friend took it both ways and got Albus Dumbledore and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.
I don’t have anything as robust as a hypothesis about this yet. Scout’s a pretty good character. So are Coraline and Hermione. And Watson is clearly sidekick rather than a hero. So, I’m not claiming that the female characters are worse than the male ones. I’m a little worried that slightly more of the female characters are children/youth, or from fiction aimed at youth, or from books with pictures rather than just text (And *now* I’ve pissed off the graphic novel nerds. So sorry. I get that they’re genuine literature. Really, I do.)
And, I get that the canon (at least the well-known mainstream canon; we probably can’t expect Scottish Libraries to use Fun Home in their public outreach, alas.) isn’t an embarrassment of riches when it comes to awesome, well-rounded female characters. So, I’m not bummed at Scotland or anything.
But, I’m really interested in some of gaps between outcomes attendant upon a mere M/F. Choice. At this point, my sample is too small to draw any conclusions. But if you’re interested in taking the quiz and sharing your results in the comments below, that would be kind of cool. And, if you have any reflections on the results you’re seeing, that would be cool too!
(What better way to celebrate Book Week, right?)