I was recently perusing a catalog for a Scholastic book order. When I was a teacher, I gave them out half-heartedly. On the one hand, they enabled some students to get books at a very low cost, they encouraged reading, and they also helped me to build my classroom library. On the other hand, I found the offerings to be quite limited, much of the “literature” to be of poor quality, and too often the books came with chintzy toys and the toys seemed to sometimes have more draw than the books themselves. All that being said, I do not think the idea itself is a bad one.
Fast forward to a few days ago. I was looking over the flyer online as I thought I might want to buy a book or two via an online buying option. After just a moment, I knew there were no books that I wanted to add to the library. But as I looked at the flyer, I was more struck by the options that were available. Most blaring was the section “For Girls.” (You can find an example if you look at a flyer here.)
I do not deny that there are books that tend to be better liked by boys and those that tend to be better liked by girls. But the operative word here is tend. There are no books, save perhaps those on particular developmental or biological topics, that are really only for girls (or boys, for that matter).
More troubling, however, is the idea that a boy might get when he looks at the flyer. Let’s pretend he’s perusing the flyer and finds a book or two he likes. One happens to have a girl as the main character. And the cover happens to be pink. His eyes travels up and he sees the header for that section of the flyer: “For girls.” What’s the boy to think? Is he not allowed to read that book? Is he not allowed to be interested in the book? If he is interested in it, what does that say about him? Worse yet, if he likes it, what does that say about him? The messages of exclusion, of narrow gender roles and gendered options are insipid. And their effects troubling. Yet most of us probably don’t even give that little header on the flyer a second thought. Troubling….