October 1, 2013

How my 8-year-old daughter got some attention focused on sexist kids' books

Our family was browsing in a bookstore when my daughter called out, “Mama, you have to look at this!” Usually this is a happy cry, but not this time.

She'd found a pair of books. One was Boys Only: How to Survive (Almost) Anything! Its cover showed a boy confronting a crocodile. The other book was the girls' version. Its cover had one girl fluffing her hair while wearing a rhinestone-studded miniskirt, and another riding on a zip line while talking on the phone.

It wasn't until my daughter compared the tables of contents, though, that she became truly irate. In case you might find this as morbidly fascinating as I do, I will reproduce the pages here:
For boys:

How to Survive a Shark Attack
How to Survive in a Forest
How to Survive Frostbite
How to Survive a Plane Crash
How to Survive in a Desert
How to Avoid a Polar Bear Attack
How to Survive a Flash Flood
How to Treat a Broken Leg
How to Survive an Earthquake
How to Survive a Forest Fire
How to Survive in a Whiteout
How to Survive a Zombie Invasion
How to Survive a Snake Bite
How to Survive If Your Parachute Fails
How to Survive a Croc Attack
How to Survive a Lightning Strike
How to Survive a T-Rex
How to Survive Whitewater Rapids
How to Survive a Sinking Ship
How to Survive a Vampire Attack
How to Survive an Avalanche
How to Survive a Tornado
How to Survive Quicksand
How to Survive a Fall
How to Survive a Swarm of Bees
How to Survive in Space

For girls:

How to Survive a BFF Fight
How to Survive Football Trials
How to Survive a Breakout
How to Show You're Sorry
How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever
How to Look Your Best for a Party
How to Survive Siblings
Scary Survival Dos and Don'ts
How to Handle Becoming Rich
How to Keep Stuff Secret
How to Survive Tests
How to Survive Shyness
How to Handle Sudden Stardom
More Stardom Survival Tips
How to Survive a Camping Trip
How to Survive a Fashion Disaster
How to Teach Your Cat to Sit
How to Turn a No into a Yes
Top Tips for Speech-making
How to Survive Embarrassment
How to Create a Diversion
How to Survive a Crush
Seaside Survival
How to Soothe Sunburn
How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses
Surviving a Zombie Attack
How to Spot a Frenemy
Brilliant Boredom Busters
How to Survive Truth or Dare
How to Beat Bullies
How to Be a Brilliant Baby-Sitter

Since my daughter loves camping, she was especially aghast at the girls' topic of “How to Survive a Camping Trip.”

She insisted we had to tell the manager how unfair these books were, and a nearby employee heard her and asked if she could help. After paging through the books, the employee was horrified. She agreed that the books were offensive, and although we hadn't requested it, she yanked all copies (boy and girl) from the shelf. She also gave my daughter a coupon, which she used on a YA fantasy novel.

When we got home, my daughter was still not out of steam and wrote a book review, and would not let us alone until we typed it into amazon for her.

I'm very proud of her for recognizing sexism and for speaking her mind.


I've received some comments on this post from people who are concerned about censorship.

I'd like to reassure folks that no one asked the clerk to remove the books. She looked at them, and decided they were not something the store wanted to promote. This is something bookstores do as part of their business.

It's important to draw a line between censorship--the government or other powerful entities restricting speech--and the individual making an impact through their opinion. A good example of this is a critic writing a negative review of a book, which then causes fewer copies to be sold.

What I'd like kids (and adults) to take away from the incident is that it's good to recognize harmful stereotypes, it's OK to speak out against them, and that even at age eight, you can have some influence.

I'm glad my blog post has caused the phenomenon of paired "for girls" and "for boys" books to be more widely discussed.