Should we boycott gender-marketed books for kids?

What's so bad about gender marketing books?
What's so bad about gender marketing books? Photo: Getty

The lovely Nick Barnett over at Four Legs Good sent me the link to a great article by Katy Guest, literary editor of The Independent on Sunday - where she declared they would no longer be reviewing gender-specific children's books. 

It was a big line in the sand to draw, and I say "Ms Guest, this is long overdue".

We don't live in a post-feminist society, despite what Miley Cyrus and her other sparkly fairy friends believe. We live in a world where gender discrimination is still embedded on many levels - where pre-teens (that's girls as young as 6, which I think most people would agree is too young) are being sold padded bikini tops in chain stores.

Yes, things have improved immeasurably for women since the 1950's, but are those really the times we want to hold up as a benchmark? The price of freedom, as they say, is eternal vigilance. I am of the firm belief that true equality cannot be achieved until we get buy-in from the other 50 per cent of the equation - men. 

And there's no better place to start than the small and impressionable. Let all parents start with their children. They are still relatively moldable clay, without too many pre-conceptions (or at least few that can't still be changed) about the world around them.

There are active movements happening right now that seek to encourage more girls into STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics). There are campaigns, like Let Toys Be Toys and Let Books Be Books that actively lobby against gender-specific toys and children's books.

Those are fine things, good things. This is a positive change for society. When you think about it, the best sort of children's books, the kind you really enjoyed, had nothing at all to do with gender. The Harry Potters and Katniss Everdeens of this world are the sort of kid characters that real kids look up to because of their ability to transcend the challenges of childhood and become extraordinary - even if only in fiction.

As Katy Guest said in her column, the marketing of gender-specific children's books must be stopped because it's so insidious.

What's so bad about gender marketing books? Well, it speaks of a cynical system that seeks to make parents buy twice as many toys if they have both boys and girls. It preys upon the insecurity of the very young and vulnerable, of little Sally's fear that she won't fit in if she doesn't like pink and frilly frou-frou, or little Tom's fear that he won't fit in if he does.


And let's all be honest here, it's a way of boxing in kids from a young age. If you look on the shelves, "girl books" are mired in equal parts domesticity (bracelet making, tea parties) and essentially how to look beautiful and be pleasing, polite and non-confrontational. "Boy books" value intelligence, bravery and practicality (learning to use tools, for example). It speaks volumes about society that we have let things get to this stage with so little, until now.

So if you're a parent with small children ... if you're a reader ... especially if you're a reader WITH young kids, then let the revolution begin with you. Refuse to buy books that are plainly marketed specifically toward one gender or another. We all know a good story doesn't need that kind of marketing anyway.

What do you think of gender-specific children's books?

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