Is “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” a girls’ book or a boys’ book? Is “Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom”? These are books for any child. But as children grow past the board-book stage, it doesn’t take long for gender stereotyping to creep in, with princesses and cupcakes for girls and superheroes (OK, a few not-so-interesting super-heroines, too) and robots for boys. Last I knew, boys liked cupcakes, too. Too bad the ones in books are always pink.
The UK grassroots (moms and dads) gender-neutral toy campaign, Let Toys Be Toys, has launched a “Let Books Be Books” effort to encourage publishers, booksellers, (and bookbuyers) to be reexamine their marketing practices and better reflect the diversity of kids interests, rather than channeling them into girl-boy stereotypes. It’s gaining support. I loved Nancy Drew until I read my first Hardy Boys adventure, and I never looked back. The “boys books” were just more fun!
The covers of the books on the Let Books Be Books web page tell the story. The boys’ covers feature adventure! Skills! (Submarines, kites, soccer, vikings, rocket ships); the girls’ books? Cupcakes, butterflies, flowers, balloons, jewelry. You’re nothing if not slathered in cutesy stuff. The message is clear: Boys DO. Girls look pretty. In 2014? (You can sign a petition here, if you care to).
“Artificial boundaries turn children away from their true preferences,” the LBBB website says. They narrow kids’ perspective on the world. A recent birthday party for a four-year-old girl provided cloying evidence that “Princesses Rule” in the constricted world of gifts for diminutive females. This tiny effort may be a dragonfly wing in the hurricane of gender-based marketing, but still worth taking a stand.