The princess and taking the pee
Do you tweet? When we became parents, we found it a quick way to read about interesting parenting ideas, really briefly, because we didn’t actually have time to sit down and read much any more. At first we tweeted individually as ourselves, but then after reading the brilliant book by Marianne Grabrucker There’s a Good Girl: Gender Stereotyping in the First Three Years – A Diary (1988), it inspired us to keep a micro diary of our own on Twitter about our then 3-year-old girl and 4-month-old boy. We started tweeting over a year ago as @genderdiary because one of the most surprising things we’ve discovered on becoming parents is how very differently the world has treated our baby girl compared to our baby boy. Not only that, we felt other people denied these things that were happening under our noses. How many times have you heard people tell you that their girls just naturally liked pink and their boys just loved cars?
When you start to make a note of every small thing that happens in a child’s life that might influence their behaviour you’ll notice that boys and girls have very different experiences from the day they’re born. Cards, toys and clothes given to them are different, the language people use about them is different, and there’s the fact that adults handle children differently and direct them to different toys depending on their gender. As parents who would like to see our kids treated equally we’ve found this situation to suck ass. We tweet about this a lot, and the kinship we have found on Twitter with other like-minded people has been really wonderful.
We’ve been asked to write a monthly blog here for Bea and rather than simply expand on our diary entries we decided to use it for something different. Recently someone wrote that most online articles on this subject only address the problem they are complaining about in the last paragraph. Big moan, small suggestion, down to the comments (oh the comments). We figure this would be a good rule to buck. So we’re aiming to make this column as much about solutions as problems. We love a good moan as much as the next parent (we’re so tired), but sometimes that can leave us feeling hopeless. So we’re going to try to address some of the things that are making us furious. We’re not talking about big changes, simply sharing the ways that we try to bring equality into our parenting. Also this is not a one way street, we want to hear your ideas too, because, as we’ve discovered on Twitter, together we’re more powerful.
So what we’d like to do each month is to look at things like media, language, toys, films, sport and relationships, and deconstruct the problems and suggest alternatives. This month we’re going to start with books. Here are the problems (and we’re mostly talking about pre-school/primary books of the kind our kids have seen, but a lot of the problems are universal):
- Male characters outweigh female characters significantly
Here’s a study from the US on the skewed ratios of male to female characters in picture books, which we can speculate gives children a view of the world that expects females to be less prominent but not just that, they also see…
- Male characters partake in ‘action’, while female characters often do not
The original study mentioned above – Hamilton et al. (2006) noted,
“Modern children‘s picture books continue to provide nightly reinforcement of the idea that boys and men are more interesting and important than are girls and women”
This is a bad situation for the psychology of girls AND for the attitude boys will have to girls and themselves.
- Animals are most often referred to as ‘he’
Seriously people, cows with udders are not male. It’s one that most of us find very hard not to do. Most people will be brought up to automatically call an animal ‘he’. Authors of kid’s picture books are no exception. This compounds the problem of males being more important and females less visible.
- The historical position of women is presented uncritically in fairytales
Yeah, we’re mostly talking princesses here. If you’ve never seen this deconstruction of Disney’s upsettingly successful Princess brand, then read it, weep, and consider what message it’s sending kids.
No doubt you’ll have some of your own favourites, but that’ll do for now. So we’ll suggest some books here that you can buy/take out the library which contradict the problems above.
Spot It! by Delphine Chedru is a simple but beautiful book where the reader has to find hidden animals – and some of them are female. Radical! If your kids love it, like ours do, you can get the sequel, Spot It Again!
In The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, a princess uses her wit to outsmart a dragon in order to rescue the prince. The prince, however isn’t grateful enough to run off into the sunset with someone wearing a paper bag. She tells him he “looks like a real bum” and they don’t get married. The classic anti-princess book, but not strictly a traditional fairytale, so how about Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne. Kate climbs the beanstalk, outwits the giant and brings home riches to her mother. Woot.
Finally, a book you can use to discuss the way the world divides us by our gender with your kids. Horace And Morris But Mostly Dolores by James Howe The three characters are great friends until Horace and Morris become part of an exclusive boys’ club and Dolores finds herself left out. Soon, she, too, finds her own club, where no boys are allowed and girls are supposed to have fun doing girl stuff. But after a while, Horace and Morris and Dolores realize they aren’t happy at all doing what everyone in their clubs seems to enjoy. They miss each other. Is it too late to be friends again? Nah!
That’s just a few ideas, but we’ve made a reading list here which has loads more suggestions for the kind of books that show kids there’s more than one way to live life and includes books up to age 14. Feel free to suggest more books for the list.
And if you like these books but they’re not in your library? Suggest them to your librarian. This can really work, our council has an online form for making book suggestions.
You can also buy more books like this from Letterbox Library, a children’s booksellers celebrating equality and diversity. Even better, suggest to a school that they should use Letterbox as a supplier.
Fill your house with the books you want your children to read and give them as presents to others. And for the books that your children choose without your input, edit books as you read aloud – say ‘she’ for every other animal. While they can’t read, this is a temporary solution. When they are older discuss the problems you see with gender in books and encourage them to be critical of it.
Was that 50/50 moan and solution? There’s nothing world changing here, but these are small ways you can show kids the kind of world you want to see.
Next month – Films (with a larger moaning section than this because there’ll be no introduction to us!) – we’d love to hear your problems and suggestions for a film list in the comments below or on twitter @genderdiary.