Because I’m an eavesdropper, I sometimes listen to other people’s conversations when I’m out at a bookstore, library or somewhere book related. All the conversations between parents and children are especially interesting. I’ll give you a little background on two incidents that spurred this post. One happened while I was shopping at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale with my family, the person in question, let’s call her Sarah. Sarah was shopping for a book for her nephew and Isabelle suggests a book with a girl pirate on the cover. Sarah says aforementioned nephew will not like this book because it is for girls. She does not know what the book is about or has ever read it.
The second incident happened when my friend was telling me about a library trip she took with her elementary school aged brother. Her brother loves the Geronimo Stilton books (which are awesome btw lol, I’ve read like 20 books from the series and I’m in college). The spinoff series features a girl mouse on the cover. He says it is for girls and does not want to read it.
Nothing bothers me more than labeling a book for “girls” or for “boys”. What does that even mean?? The two books shown above probably have the same sort of adventure and plot to them yet one is geared towards girls, the other boys as if one gender cannot identify with the other. The substance is the same, yet I know it doesn’t matter what else is on the cover, as long as there’s a girl, a little boy will not want to read it or vice versa. The most annoying thing is that gendered books are so obviously boxed and labeled. Look up books for girls on google images and you get a plethora of pink covers and princesses. For boys, superheroes or maybe a boy going on a quest. How come only girls can like princesses, how come only boys like action? Why is romance for girls and adventure for boys when in fact, there are many girls who like adventure and there are many boys who like romance.
Of course, this trend doesn’t only apply to children’s books. Why is there a category of books called “chick-lit” but no “dick lit”? I remember feeling slightly offended when I went inside a used bookstore had a sign over shelves of books labeled “for women”. There is nothing wrong with chick lit but even the name itself is demeaning. It is usually reserved for books that are fluffy romances that are seen to have no substance. In some ways, it is saying these silly books are for women whereas other books for men can be books for women too. Women can relate to men’s struggles but men can’t relate or hope to or even want to understand women. I mean, don’t men date and fall in love too? Why is it segregated to being a woman?
It worries me that this is still so relevant to today’s society, how off-putting it is when a child is not allowed to read a book just because the person of the opposite gender is on the cover. It defeats the whole purpose of reading. I want kids to be able to empathize with people of the opposite gender, to broaden their perspectives and to know that they don’t have to fit into neat little boxes of gender identity. The time when you’re a kid is the time when you’re most susceptible to societal constructions. I want kids to know that what someone likes is just that and that is not anything to be ashamed of.
For more discussion on gendered books, I suggest these links:
Shannon Hale’s blog post on her school visit experiences:
Maureen Johnson on gendered covers: