The Independent is no longer reviewing children’s books marketed specifically to boys or girls. I think Dreher hits it on the head when he says that it’s more important that kids read good books regardless of what gender they market towards. But there’s another aspect I want to say something about.
Okay. I’m a dude who has My Little Pony toys on my bookshelf. I’m pretty excited for the Sailor Moon remake that’s airing this summer. And I’m very glad I grew up in a household where I wasn’t expected to conform to some rigid macho standard, have an interest in sports and all that. It’s wrong to be made to feel like you’re a failure as a guy or girl because you don’t have stereotypically masculine or feminine interests. To that extent I’m almost on the same page.
But I’m also glad I didn’t grow up in a household where there was hyperventilating over “demeaning” me by giving me typical Boy stuff to play with. This is a case of running so far from one error that you fall into…the exact same error. Gender neutrality is just as rigid and narrow an understanding of gender as manly man vs girly girl. Both are exaggerations of certain truths: on the one hand, the sexual binary that deeply affects our personal nature, and on the other hand that culture does play a mediating role in exactly how that binary gets expressed. The social mores of the 1950s are not engrained into our DNA, but neither are we the aliens from The Left Hand of Darkness.
The editor brings up the Hunger Games as an example of a book that was marketed successfully to both sexes. Well, yeah. There’s a place for books like that, but why does every book need to be like that? It’s also kind of weird to view it purely through gender politics (bloodsport is something both boys AND girls can participate in!) And could something like My Little Pony even exist in a world where all children’s entertainment had to attempt at attaining some vaunted level of gender neutrality?
Let your kids be kids. Just don’t let them have Bratz.