Welcome to the age of yellow children’s books. Or green. Any colour really, provided they’re not pink or blue.
Welcome to an era in the UK where a child’s right to select any book they wish to read could soon be over thanks to the latest and very influential PC bandwagon brigade calling for a boycott on the publishing and promotion of books considered to be gender specific.
Censorship? Political correctness gone mad?
Or is gender neutralisation of children’s books the sensible way to proceed in 2014?
What precisely is gender specific children’s literature and why the calls to boycott?
Well, it seems that there is a bit of
debate backtracking going on amongst the public (predominantly female) supporters of this cause around its scope.
The main UK players in support of eliminating gender specific children’s books are: our children’s laureate, some broadsheet literary editors, selected publishers and Waterstones book store.
By way of example, the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, Katy Guest, stated her position in a recent article as follows:
“I, as the literary editor of The Independent on Sunday, along with my colleagues on The Independent and http://www.independent.co.uk’s children’s books blog, support the campaign #LetBooksBeBooks and will not review “any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys”
In response to the furore that her article created, she felt it necessary to answer her critics, amongst whom, she says, branded her a nazi and asked when she would be starting to burn books.
The wheels on the bandwagon go round and round
I have read both the original article and her subsequent response, and it would be fair to say that the message that she is trying to convey is somewhat confusing, demonstrated particularly in her surprise that many in the general public just don’t seem to
“get it” agree.
Probably the most confusing aspect I encountered in reading her perspective is how she cannot seem to clearly define what she means by “aimed at just boys, or just girls” despite her opening gambit seeming perfectly simple and clear. Consequently, a fair bit of digging around within the flurry of recent articles has been required in order to try and understand fully why Katy Guest et al believe this is a reasonable stance to take. I have listed a few of the key arguments in favour of the boycott below.
1. A boycott against any book titled “A girl’s guide to….” or “A boys guide to….”
OK, so there seems to be some validity associated with this point given that many of these gender specific books do tend to err on the side of traditional stereotypes and do explicitly attach gender thereto. For example: girls pictured ballet dancing (etc); and boys with bows and arrows (etc) but not vice versa.
These books are hugely popular – look around any house with children and you will probably find at least one.
Rather than calling for them being boycotted completely though, could authors not be encouraged to update these slightly so as to be more all inclusive and reflective of the equal opportunities open to each sex? If supporters are to be believed, boys and girls would appreciate the opportunity to relate to both ballet and bows and arrows in each edition. To be fair, my experience of newer editions of such books is that they have already moved in this direction but may not be the case for all.
Fair cop and probably fairly easily solved for future editions without a need for these to nuked altogether?
2. Boycott on reviewing gender specific children’s books by certain national newspaper editors on the ground that to do so would “leave out” the opposite sex.
What a headline grabbing load of nonsense (frankly).
Failure to accommodate both girl’s and boy’s (and everything in between) book reviews is an issue of column inch restriction and design. It is also a failure to recognise that girls and boys may have fairly distinct (some may say traditional) gender based interests and that there isn’t actually anything wrong with that irrespective of whether such inclinations were “born” or “made.”
Again, if a key argument in support of eliminating gender specific books is to expose both girls and boys to hobbies and interests in an inclusive way, surely reviewing all types of children’s book is a good thing irrespective of which sex they are supposedly aimed at? At least this would enable boys, girls and their parents to pick out their own preferences rather than this being censored at source? This smacks of a huge “power trip” for the literary editor and it is unsurprising that some parents plan to boycott these newspapers as a result.
Incidentally, the same theory seems not seem to extend to the weighing up of adult literary reviews in the same newspapers. An example would be refusing to review “chick lit” books or say an Andy McNab on grounds of an anticipated target audience.
The broadsheets seem happy to give permission to us grown-ups who have been raised with gender specific books to navigate and even overcome strong masculine and feminine stereotypes/characters to buy the books we want to. Phew, thanks guys.
Sorry to be sarcastic but the argument seems to be an ever circular.
3. To have separate girls and boys editions of books just means that parents have to spend more money buying one of each.
Good point on the face of it, however, if it makes a book more appealing to a child if it sparkles or farts over a computer game, is this not a good thing? Is this not precisely why many books have several different covers – to broaden the appeal? Whilst it is true that a boy may be embarrassed to buy a sparkly book if he is interested in ballet, is this a compelling enough argument to neutralise recognition of gender in books altogether? Surely the role of parental support kicks in at this point? The subject generates many more questions than answers.
Katy Guest addresses this as follows:
“Are pink covers barred?
No… And nor is the word “princess” in a title. Glitter, on the whole, is positively welcome.
The strange process that has turned the colour pink into a code for “stereotypically girlie” (when the Victorians thought that pink was for boys) is an interesting subject, but not one to go into here. However, any publisher who releases a pink book about baking with pictures of girls on the cover, alongside a corresponding blue book about football with boys on the cover, is obviously sending a message. Not quite “explicit”, but really not very far off.”
Where would we be without Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, Nancy Drew, Mallory Towers, Adrian Mole and so on?
As a little girl, I devoured books aimed at girls. Yes, things have moved on since the eighties, but what gives a public voice to arbitrarily decide how and what our children should read?
Yes, a girl might be more drawn to a sparkly cover or a boy to slugs and snails (and in some cases vice versa) but so what. Surely all that matters is the joy, imagination, pride of ownership and reading skills that is fostered with buying a book.
It would also be very sad to see libraries around the country being forced to chuck out anything non compliant. We all have a responsibility to our children to guide them but ultimately they should be free to make their own choices.
I shall watch the debate develop with interest and potentially alarm.
Here is the article from The Independent that inspired my piece http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/we-stopped-reviewing-books-explicitly-aimed-at-just-girls-or-just-boys–the-response-was-incredible-here-we-answer-some-of-our-readers-questions-9200125.html
Anyway, that’s my tuppence worth.
What do you think?