Tuesday, May 08, 2007,12:16 AM
Nostalgia for Childhood Gender Bias

...but wait, how can you be nostalgic for something that never went away?

So here we go again. Rampant sexism, this time aimed at kids. And if the other anti-sexism voices that have spoken out about this are any indication - bring on the hate comments, the name calling, and the attempted censorship of the female voice.

And yes I'm talking about the recent American release of The Dangerous Book for Boys. (read about it here) Amazon describes the book as -
Equal parts droll and gorgeous nostalgia book and heartfelt plea for a renewed sense of adventure in the lives of boys and men, Conn and Hal Iggulden's The Dangerous Book for Boys became a mammoth bestseller in the United Kingdom in 2006. Adapted, in moderation, for American customs in this edition (cricket is gone, rugby remains; conkers are out, Navajo Code Talkers in), The Dangerous Book is a guide book for dads as well as their sons, as a reminder of lore and technique that have not yet been completely lost to the digital age. Recall the adventures of Scott of the Antarctic and the Battle of the Somme, relearn how to palm a coin, tan a skin, and, most charmingly, wrap a package in brown paper and string. The book's ambitions are both modest and winningly optimistic: you get the sense that by learning how to place a splint or write in invisible ink, a boy might be prepared for anything, even girls (which warrant a small but wise chapter of their own).

There's the part of my that likes the concept of the book. Getting kids off their butts, getting them outside and active, and discovering the world around them. These are things I enjoyed as a kid. Learning how to build stuff, writing in code, playing spy games in the neighborhood, collecting all the discarded Christmas trees and making a huge fort at the local park, building fires, learning to identity trees and flowers, studying ancient history... These are all good, fun things. And I agree that often safety and fear of being sued have led to many fun activities (paper airplanes, field trips, snowball fights...) being banned. I think we should all learn about where our food comes from, survival skills, and historical perspectives. There are basic skills that just aren't taught these days (as cramming useless facts for standardized tests takes up more and more time). This book has some good stuff in it.


Here's where women and moms are being muzzled. The premise of the book is that this is fun stuff for boys and dads, of course moms won't like it. So any criticism from women is met with a role of the eyes and a "see I told you so" aside. Pretty nifty marketing plan there. (see the promo video here). So at the risk of being dismissed before I even open my mouth, let me say I have issues with this as well.

No matter how you slice it its sexist. Beyond being marketed as a book for boys, the authors say that the book exists "to celebrate boys, because nobody has been doing it for a long while." Why does this have to be about gender? Why is learning about history, nature, sports, and building things something just for boys? And when have boys failed to be celebrated? Is this anti-feminist backlash or just savvy marketing that capitalized on that backlash? I sick of reading on blogs that girls aren't into this stuff anyway and that its so refreshing to be "beyond" feminism and PC". Give me a break. Do we have to have the "all guys are like this and all girls are like this" lie once again? Must girls continue to feel like unwanted guests at the party and second class citizens? Do we really have to re-interpreted messages like this for our kids (yes Emma, I know it just addresses boys, but really you can try it too)?

So its a how-to book I find fascinating, but it supports gender biases I am trying to change. And the word out there is shut up and just enjoy it for what it is. Sorry, but if everyone does that things will never change.

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posted by Julie at 12:16 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 5/08/2007 06:51:00 AM, Blogger gerbmom

    so......maybe a better title would be the dangerous book for girls ? Yeah, I saw this for the first time on Amazon yesterday. Rolled my eyes and moved on. But then again, my kids are grown so it's easier for me to ignore....

  • At 5/11/2007 11:42:00 AM, Blogger sdk

    The author was on The Colbert Report a few nights ago. I felt the same conflict - glad that outdoor adventure is encouraged, but horrified at the disrespect to women.

    I recommend an alternative book: "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. Louv shares a few too many statistics and is not as funny as the Dangerous book is meant to be, but there is much inspiration for reconnecting ALL children (and adults) back to nature.

  • At 5/11/2007 03:48:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Thanks for the recommendation, I'll have to look into it.

  • At 5/14/2007 12:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    "the authors say that the book exists "to celebrate boys, because nobody has been doing it for a long while." "

    Isn't that the same thing that the KKK says? That they aren't hating "other", they're just for themselves?

    I wonder though, how boys and men might lift up one another, and/or be lifted, without that underlying condemnation of "other"?

  • At 5/20/2007 04:35:00 PM, Anonymous Angela

    I heard about this book on the Today show when the author was interviewed. His motives appeared true and when you have boys, you celebrate these sorts of things. However, I could not help thinking he listed all the things I, such a tomboy did as a girl. I was a "wild girl" as my son calls me. He says "Mom, I have noticed some girls are wild and some are not. Mostly, kids are just kids who like different things. I am proud to be a boy and I am proud you are a girl and boy am I glad even in your wildness you liked babies and took tender care of me." I think we make a bigger deal out of these things than kids do--they are wise to look past the titles and marketing schemes grown-ups give...

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