If you’ve ever studied literature, you’ll know that feminism and gender equality are among the favourite topics of academics.
Almost every assignment I’ve ever been set has included an option to discuss women and how they are portrayed in texts, and I have not let one slip. I’ve written about sexism and sexuality, power and patriarchy, and lots more contained inside book covers. But I’d never thought much about the covers themselves.
So you can imagine my conflict when asked to arrange the books at work into ‘Boys’ and ‘Girls’ sections. While this may be an effective sales technique, it went against everything I’ve ever written to exclude children from certain books, experiences and ideas based on their gender. And don’t even get me started on the colour of the ‘Girls’ section. (Clue: it wasn’t imaginative.)
Gender-based marketing is happening all over, especially for children’s products. Dolls and beauty products are often labelled ‘Girls toys’, whereas boys are directed towards action figures and cars. All this does is reinforce gender stereotypes that are not helpful or progressive.
Unfortunately I was unable to change the display. However, I would always encourage any child to be curious about books, games or toys that are not marketed for their gender. Adult fiction is not separated into ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ and neither should children’s fiction be separated so. If I want to read a book covered with pictures of creepy-crawlies, computers, and cars, I jolly well will.