Sunday, April 6, 2014

Book Gendering

There has been a lot of controversey lately around the practice of assigning gender to books.
A petition has been formed to stop publishers from labeling children's books  and publishers have shot back claiming that these books are published because they sell

Just a cursory search on the Chapters website brought me to these two gems:

Here's an exciting book packed with facts about nature, ideas for outdoor activities, and fun-to-do crafts projects that will keep boys interested and busy all year around. It's filled with color illustrations and diagrams that teach kids--
  • How to recognize different kinds of insects and observe their activities
  • How to identify different kinds of rocks
  • How to read a topographic map
  • How to construct a camper's backpack
  • How to tie sailors' knots
  • How to build a periscope . . . and much more
Girls who take pleasure in crafts activities, and who enjoy the outdoors and nature will love this activity book. It''s packed with color illustrations, things to make and do, and ideas for outdoor activities. Instructions, tips, and information on some of the book''s many topics include--
  • How to identify seasonal fruits, vegetables, and herbs
  • How to take professional-looking photos and create good-looking photo albums
  • How to make paper jewelry
  • How to make herbal teas and delicious fruit desserts
  • How to dress and pack for hiking and camping activities
  • How to construct imaginative musical instruments
  • How to weave containers and baskets
The more I look at these book descriptions, the more angry I become.  Even putting the stereotypical coloring and design of the covers aside, boys are instructed in Entomology, Geology and Geography while girls are taught Cooking (not "real" cooking, but just tea and desserts so you are prepared for those kids bakesales and tupperware parties that are sure to be a huge part of your future), Jewelry Making and Basket Weaving?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!  Would girls not benefit from learning to tie knots or read a map?  Are they destined for a life of reliance on a man to rescue them from bugs?  When preparing for a camping trip should their main concern be FASHION?!  The thing that strikes me the most is that a book on enjoying the outdoors DOESN'T NEED TO BE SEGREGATED BY SEX!  This is completely unnecessary.  Many girls would love to build a periscope and many boys would have fun making an instrument.  Why do these activities have to be clearly separated into "Girl" fun and "Boy" fun.   

This entire issue has actually made me question my own practices.  In my reviews, you may have noticed, I add a list of the bottom of notes for Teachers, Parents or any other readers concerned with content.  This includes my own Age Recommendation as well as notes on Sex, Violence, Inappropriate Language, and Drug Use/Abuse.  It has also, up until now, included Gender.

I assure you, I did have a reason for including such a category.  As a teacher, I often encounter teens that actually do fit with the stereotypes when it comes to their reading.  These action-loving boys and romance-loving girls are often some of the harder students to recommend books to.  Traditionally, the boys are the more difficult group, preferring shorter books with intense, action-packed plots.  They also tend to be the more reluctant reader and leave many teachers and parents searching for something to get them engaged.  I created this category of Gender in an attempt to help teachers and parents reach those particular groups, not as a way to marginalize students into them.

In my own classroom, I have always tried to pair books to students preference based on things like genre, amount of action, amount of romance, setting, type of main character etc.  I have also found many books that seem to transcend any stereotypes and preferences and are loved by almost all of my students - books like The Hunger Games and The False Prince.  But, I will admit, on those rough days or when I am particularly stuck, I do fall back on the standard sports books for boys and romances for girls.   

However, given the fact that this issue has come to the forefront in recent weeks (even though the arguement is usually geared towards children's books) I have started to re-think the way that I have approached gender in reading.

It may very well be that these particular teens have fallen into those groups BECAUSE of book gendering and BECAUSE they were always given "BOY" or "GIRL" books.  With constant reinforcement it is no wonder that these kids come to believe that this is actually the only type of book that they like because it is the only type of book that has been offered. 

It may also be that the reason that I (and other teachers and parents) are placing those books and those students into these narrow categories is due to my own subconscious notions of gender - learned from years of being an active member of a society that does the same.  As humans, we like categories, we like things to fit into neat little boxes and never venture outside, but, as humans, we simply don't fit into one box.  It is time for us, as parents, educators and as human beings, to start opening our minds and allowing and encouraging the youth we encounter to make choices without gender bias.

As such, I will no longer be adding Gender to my book reviews and I will endeavor, within my own classroom, to broaden my own horizons when it comes to recommending books.


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