The Independent announced that it will no longer review children’s books marketed to a particular gender, maintaining that “Gender-specific books demean all our children.”
In its official statement, the publication explains an online campaign called Let Books Be Books (part of a larger Let Toys Be Toys campaign), devoted to pressuring publishers to stop printing gender-specific children’s books, managed to convince “Parragon (which sells Disney titles, among others) and Usborne (the Independent Publisher of the Year 2014),” to “no longer publish books specifically titled ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls.'”
Children’s books (along with toys) are some of the earliest and most influential factors in the creation of children’s gender identity. Some children are aware of this, and they know they don’t like it.
Forcing gender norms on children is a form of oppression; it tells them they have to be, they are, a specific way, even if they don’t want to be that way—and it inspires negative feelings, cognitive dissonance, and emotional and sometimes even physical pain when they break out of the shallow stereotyped strictures they are conditioned to operate within.
In the opening lines of the statement, author Katy Guest demonstrates how gendered children’s books reinforce patriarchal standards of what it means to be a girl—and thus bolster and reify patriarchy in the form of institutional misogyny and structural sexism.
Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of. And boys? They’re made of trucks and trains and aeroplanes, building blocks, chemistry experiments, sword fights and guns, football, cricket, running and jumping, adventure and ideas, games, farts and snot, and pretty much anything else they can think of.
Boys are allowed a diversity of interests and goals; girls are not.
Guest makes very good points about further problems with gender-specific books, beyond just the fact that they reinforce stereotypical gender roles (which then reinforce already extant power relations in society):
There are those who will say that insisting on gender-neutral books and toys for children is a bizarre experiment in social engineering by radical lefties and paranoid “femininazis” who won’t allow boys to be boys, and girls to be girls. (Because, by the way, seeking equality of rights and opportunities was a key plank of Nazi ideology, was it?) But the “experiment” is nothing new. When I grew up in the 1970s, and when my parents grew up in the 1950s, brothers and sisters shared the same toys, books and games, which came in many more colours than just pink and blue, and there was no obvious disintegration of society as a result. Publishers and toy companies like to say that they are offering parents more “choice” these days by billing some of their products as just for boys and others as just for girls. What they’re actually doing, by convincing children that boys and girls can’t play with each other’s stuff, is forcing parents to buy twice as much stuff.
This last line is the clincher. Corporations exploit gender essentialism for profit. It is precisely in this way that capitalism reinforces patriarchy.