G.I. No – Ending Gender Division in Children’s Books

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“The Hunger Games… isn’t that a girls’ book?” – this was the lukewarm reception I received from my sister when I told her that I’d finally started reading ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy in anticipation of the new film. Understandably, the same sort of statement would have been said by me if I caught her reading Captain Underpants. Was it just one of those “sibling comments”, or has society not progressed when it comes to gender perceptions in literature?

These problems have been prevalent in kids’ products for generations, specifically in fashion, television and food. ‘Friends’ taught us that it isn’t cool for boys to be playing with a Barbie, but instead they should be pretending to shoot their dad with a ‘G.I. Joe’ doll; yet the recent ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ movement is already putting sitcom scenarios like that to bed. ‘Let Books Be Books’ is next in line and it seems to have arrived at the perfect time if views on the entire market are to change.

This recent push by parents to break down ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ categories in books has been met with a positive response from numerous retailers and book publishers. From Toys R Us to Usborne, the publisher behind the likes of ‘Girl’s Activity Book’ and ‘Boys Activity Book’, it seems that there are plenty of companies willing to put an ender to gender-stereotype reinforcements and move forward with the rest of society.

Funnily enough, when I was back at sixth form, we hosted a ‘Pirates and Princesses’ day to raise money for local charities. Of course, I could probably guess who was going to dress as whom – oh boy was I wrong. Some of my male friends came gallivanting through the main doors in their sparkly dresses, when two minutes later they would be kidnapped by a gang of Somali pirates, both male and female!

Now, I don’t mean to be encouraging cross-dressing, piracy or kidnapping in that example, but it just shows that gender doesn’t define what views we impose on each other, particularly in children’s books. There is a vast amount of literature out there that can appeal to a vast range of interests and beliefs, without catering to a certain gender, race etc.

I may be too young to want kids myself, but it gives me a wave of relief to know that in ten years’ time, my child may not have to make the choice between pink and blue, ‘G.I. Joe’ and ‘Barbie’ or Jacqueline Wilson and Chris Ryan. Imposing gender views on children before they’re old enough to establish their own shouldn’t be encouraged, especially in books, which take such a vital role in a child’s cognitive development.

If movements such as ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and ‘Let Books Be Books’ can work to reinvent the children’s market, then that can only mean good news for the future. Ross, pivot your views elsewhere – ‘Let Books Be Books’ gets a great big thumbs up from me!

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