As the step-father of a “tween” girl — and as a professor of Women’s Studies — I’m deeply concerned about the way “girly” expectations are not just imposed on girls but crammed down their throats (or, better yet, not crammed down their throats, because eating is totally outré for girls these days). Andrea Learned, the “Learned” behind the excellent marketing blog Learned on Women, shares those concenrs in her discussion of the way books are marketed to girls in Selling A Children’s Book By Its Pink Cover: Gender Stereotypes That Needn’t Be. According to Learned, not only are marketers’ ideas of what girls want their books to look like totally out of tune with the actual desires of girls (who, studies show, show equal interest regardless of the color of a book’s cover), but by creating a market of “girly books” marketers are actually limiting the choices of boys who do care about color and are less likely to read pink or purple books.
Girls don’t actually NEED pink marketing to figure out what they like or want to read. On the other hand, boys seem to need for the books (or any product, I’m guessing) to just NOT BE PINK (or purple etc). Seems easy enough.
The book marketers in Frean’s story forced a gender stereotype that needn’t be forced.
One of the upshots of feminism and the Women’s Movement is that (at long last) girls are feeling pretty empowered. They do better in school than boys, read more than boys, attend college more than boys (where, again, they do better than boys). Granted, all this grrrl power sort of ceases once they enter the workforce (where men without college still out-earn women with degrees over the course of their lives), but it’s hopeful. Marketers are, however, still stuck in 1958, throwing products at our kids that virtually mandate girls grow up to be mothers and housekeepers and boys grow up to be construction workers, doctors, and office workers (if, that is, all the superhero positions are already taken; note, however, that there is an absolute absence of “fathering” toys or products on the market). The insistence on clear divisions between boys and girls — in defiance of kids’ own understandings of their lives — is hurting kids. Girls because once they hit teen-hood all the doubts about their bodies and their worth as people start consuming them, boys because they are being shut out of opportunities for educational and other life experiences. They might get something out of books like Hilary McKay’s Saffy’s Angel, The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson, or Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman, none of which tells stories that boys couldn’t get into, but all of which have covers that assure that boys will not pick them up, let alone carry them around while reading them.