At the book fair, I saw several Montessori lower-elementary students with pencils and clipboards in hand as they busily made wish lists. In typical Montessori fashion, the students were very serious about the choices they were making, asking pertinent questions about content as well as asking Katherine for her recommendations. When their shopping time was over, the students politely thanked Katherine for her time and assured her that their parents would be back for parent night that evening.
As I watched the students shop, I couldn’t help thumbing through the books myself. I have a young niece and nephew, and I enjoyed looking at the books with them in mind. As I browsed through the books, I couldn’t help but notice that several titles were specifically for boys or girls.
When Katherine had a free moment, I asked her about these titles.
Katherine told me that, “In general, the kids love them — especially the girls. The parents seem much more hesitant and don't like them as much.” We discussed parents’ worry about gender bias and the perpetuation of gender-based stereotyping.
Gender Equality in Literature
Literary editor Katy Guest says that books marketed “for boys” or “for girls” are exclusionary. (Guest, 2014) Katherine agrees, saying she would “prefer they not specifically say ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ because it alienates a group that might otherwise be drawn to them.” For instance, Katherine says her 7-year-old son would really like to read some of the stories found in the Usborne Illustrated Classics for Girls, but he is put off by the title and the pink cover.
Guest questions the need for such exclusionary marketing, saying “there is no credible evidence that boys and girls are born with innately different enthusiasms, and plenty of evidence that their tastes are acquired through socialization.” (Guest, 2014) The same position is also supported by Tessa Trabue from the Let Toys Be Toys movement, a parent-led campaign that asks retailers to stop gender-based marketing. Trabue says, “Every child is different and has their own individual taste; it makes no sense to push boys and girls towards separate books. We believe that books are for everyone; children should have the freedom to read about or colour in robots, fairies, pirates or flowers, without publishers telling them otherwise.” (Shaffi, 2014) On the other hand, Michael O' Mara of Michael O’Mara Books and Buster Books argues that people search online specifically for “books for girls” or “books for boys." He also points out that Buster Books’ titles that are designated for a specific gender “sold more on Amazon than those that were not.” (Shaffi, 2014)
With increased pressure to create equity in literacy, Usborne and Parragon Publishing (Disney titles) agreed to no more titles that include the words “for boys” or “for girls” in March of 2014.
What do you think? Is there a difference between literary preferences between genders? Do gender specific books promote or hinder literary development?
Guest, K. (2014, March 16). “Gender-specific books demean all our children. So the Independent on Sunday will no longer review anything marketed to exclude either sex.” The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/genderspecific-books-demean-all-our-children-so-the-independent-on-sunday-will-no-longer-review-anything-marketed-to-exclude-either-sex-9194694.html
Shaffi, S. (2014, March 3). “Children's publishers respond to 'gender' debate.” The Bookseller. http://www.thebookseller.com/news/childrens-publishers-respond-gender-debate.html
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.