Children’s publishers respond to gender debate

gender debateSaw a great write-up this morning from a blog called The Bookseller on the ‘gender debate’ in children’s book publishing. As the article explains:

“A petition launched by campaign group Let Toys Be Toys, aims to encourage publishers to drop what it calls “limiting labels” on books, with publishers Usborne, Igloo and Buster Books, owned by Michael O’Mara Books, among those it is targeting. The petition has so far been signed by close to 2,000 people.”

What I found most interesting about the whole thing was the comment from Mr. Mara about why his company was not prepared to abandon gendered books completely: because, right or wrong, it’s how people shop: they put things like ‘books for boys’ or ‘books for girls’ into the Amazon search engines and while his company does have many books which are not specially geared to boys or girls, they do have a few products which fill this niche.

I think that unfortunately, he’s a little bit right. I try to shop by interest when I buy for kids. If I am looking for a book for my nephew, who loves cars, I look for books about those. It doesn’t have to say ‘the boys book of cars’ on it. But with that said, his baby sister finally got big enough to be interested in his toys, and now we all find ourselves buying more girlie things for her so she’ll have her own things and leave big brother alone. The Beloved has been bewildered by this. He doesn’t understand what there is to do with a stuffed pony, for instance, besides ‘carry it around and then you have a pony’, and he finds the girlie Lego themes much less compelling than those for boys. News van, vs. spaceship? Pink and purple high school vs. castle? No contest, for him. And, much as he loves his girlie little niece, I think he’d be delighted if she turned out to be the sort of girl that preferred the spaceship and the castle.

I think Mr. Mara has it right: a diverse product line, with options for those who prefer and other options for those who don’t, is probably the best way to do business.

2 Comments on Children’s publishers respond to gender debate

  1. Ah, an occasion like this can’t pass without a link to that famous Saturday Night Live special, “Chess for Girls.”

    http://screen.yahoo.com/chess-girls-000000603.html

    Most memorable line: “She smells like strawberries.”

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of Stories for Girls by Hans Christian Andersen
    (And no, I’ve not gotten around to Stores for Boys)

  2. True diversity lies in allowing everyone the choice to be how they like, as long as they don’t harm others. While some might stretch principle to insist any labels “harm,” I put that in sneer quotes quite deliberately. Gender preference is statistically real and has a biological basis apart from socialization. It can be de-emphasized (and arguably should be) but to try to actively stamp it out is just as anti-diversity and anti-tolerance as promoting it.

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