Robert Hampton

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23rd March 2014

Fully Booked
Posted by at 7.28pm | Books | No responses

One sad aspect of marketing to kids these days is the increasingly strict gender-segregation. In the minds of marketers, boys get to play with trains and guns and pretend to be astronauts; girls get cooking and princesses and pink (oh, so much pink). Of course, a lot of kids will naturally gravitate to those things anyway, but if a boy wants to play with dolls or a girl wants to break out the Lego, there shouldn’t be any artificial obstacles stopping them.

It’s not just toys that are affected. Books are increasingly being marketed specifically at girls or boys. If you think this isn’t a serious problem, check out the Amazon listing for The Boys’ Book: How to be the Best at Everything:-

Find out how to slam dunk a basketball, how to build a basic raft, how to write in secret code, how to find water in the desert, how to do an Ollie on your skateboard, how to work out which way is north without a compass, how to fly a helicopter, how to win at conkers, how to tie essential knots, how to take a penalty kick and how to build a campfire.

Now, here’s the listing for the equivalent The Girls’ Book:-

Girls can find out: How to keep a secret diary; how to make the ultimate playlist; how to encrypt your text messages; how to customize your mobile phone; how to customize your clothes; how to set up your own web page; how to do the perfect manicure; how to make a friendship bracelet; how to write a best-selling novel and much more!

Not only is this patronising to all sexes, it’s a major problem when society as a whole is trying to eliminate glass ceilings for women. Some decidedly mixed signals are being given out to kids. Therefore, it’s good to see the Independent on Sunday report on a new campaign, Let Books Be Books, which is seeking to end this sort of nonsense.

As IoS literary editor Katy Guest points out, splitting children’s books strictly along gender lines is not even good publishing:

Just like other successful children’s books, The Hunger Games was not aimed at girls or boys; like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Robert Muchamore and others, Collins just wrote great stories, and readers bought them in their millions. Now, Dahl’s Matilda is published with a pink cover, and I have heard one bookseller report seeing a mother snatching a copy from her small son’s hands saying “That’s for girls” as she replaced it on the shelf.

I think I read Matilda cover-to-cover about ten times when I was a kid. It’s a story about a child who is misunderstood and unappreciated by the adults around her; a fairly universal theme. Are people really dismissing it out of hand for 50% of the child population just because the main character is a girl?