Last week Ryan North, purveyor of the excellent webcomic Dinosaur Comics, stumbled across a pair of books published by Scholastic. The books are titled For Boys Only: How to Survive Anything and For Girls Only: How to Survive Anything, which already should be a tip-off, but the tables of contents really hammer home a message. As North says, "Maybe - MAYBE - How To Pick Perfect Sunglasses is actually in the same class as Surviving When Your Parachute Fails." However, it's obvious that boys and girls are not expected to want to survive the same things, and that the very idea of survival is gendered in these books.
Thanks to the outcry, Scholastic has already announced they will discontinue the titles, which is great. However, I wonder why they approved them in the first place, and their announcement shows that they don't really understand what the big deal is. My friend JeNel, who is a children's librarian, points out that Scholastic's displays are always gendered, with a lovely regressive social agenda. So, shall we break it down for Scholastic?
First, anytime you name two books "For Boys Only" and "For Girls Only", put an alligator on the cover of one and a pink cell phone on the cover of the other, you're telling your audience of impressionable children that these books aren't going to be equivalent. It's almost inevitable that the "boy" book is going to be full of adventure and the "girl" book is going to be full of social stuff, and that's the case here. "Survival" for boys includes broken legs, tornadoes, and earthquakes (since boys are obviously the only ones who will ever experience those), while "survival" for girls includes frenemies, brothers, and teaching your cat how to sit. (I suppose treating cat scratches and bites is kind of a survival skill.) In other words, "survival" for girls is a set of potentially useful social skills - which I guess boys don't need to know. I split the contents into five categories, and assigned each chapter to one of the categories.
Here's the breakdown:
- True survival skills, where the knowledge could save your life or at least help you cope with injuries (forest fires, flash floods, snakebites, etc.). Not all of these are likely to be experienced (such as polar bear attack), but at least they could happen. The score: "boys" 22, "girls" 0.
- Survival skills for science fiction or fantasy scenarios, which are fun, but will never happen in real life (ghost attack, vampire attack, dinosaur attack, etc.). The score: "boys" 4, "girls" 3.
- Useful skills and advice for daily life or unusual situations (dealing with annoying people, getting over rejection, etc.). Not all of these are of equal um...significance, unless you think picking the right sunglasses is equivalent to coping with bullies, but I didn't want to break the categories up too much. The score: "boys" 0, "girls" 23.
- Skills and advice for sudden stardom or suddenly becoming rich, which are fun to dream about, I suppose. The score: "boys" 0, "girls" 3.
- Teaching your cat how to sit. The score: "boys" 0, "girls" 1.
|So, like, talking on a cell phone held in |
one hand while engaged in this activity is so
totally NOT a survival technique.
Table of Contents
- How to survive a BFF Fight (Boys don’t have friends and fight with them? What is that thing they're doing when they're rolling around all over the floor trying to kill each other?)
- How to Survive Soccer Tryouts (assuming very male David Beckham once had to do this)
- How to Survive a Breakout (like this?)
- How to Show You’re Sorry (because being a boy means never having to show you’re sorry)
- How to Have the Best Sleepover Ever (My sons have sleepovers; just discreetly double-checked their gonads)
- How to Take the Perfect School Photo (like this guy did?)
- How to Survive Brothers (My sons have brothers, two each; they could really use some tips on this)
- Scary Survival Dos and Don’ts (if it's scary, don't do it)
- How to Handle Becoming Rich (Nooo! Not RICH!)
- How to Keep Stuff Secret (It’s like, so hard, to like, keep your mouth shut, you know?)
- How to Survive Tests (At first I thought this said “testes,” and I was confused. That said, apparently females do have more test anxiety than males. It’s because we’re too stressed about that perfect school photo).
- How to Survive Shyness (Have you met my husband? No? That’s because he’s shy)
- How to Handle Sudden Stardom (Boys and men never suddenly become stars. Ever)
- More Stardom Survival Tips (because one chapter on stardom just isn’t enough)
- How to Survive a Camping Trip (Boys never go camping. Or they automatically know how because they have testes. Or something like that)
- How to Survive a Fashion Disaster (You see, fashion is an equal-opportunity threat, people)
- How to Teach Your Cat to Sit (a critical skill, no doubt, but one boys need to know, too)
- How to Turn a No Into a Yes (I just … no)
- Top Tips for Speechmaking (because we’ve never, ever seen a boy give a bad speech)
- How to Survive Embarrassment (gentlemen, clearly no concern of yours, sudden erections during algebra notwithstanding)
- How to Be a Mind Reader (I see what you’re thinking here. No. Just no)
- How to Survive a Crush (So for boys, is the corollary “How to Survive a Lust?”, or what?)
- Seaside Survival (More than half of the US population lives in a coastal county. I guess all the males in that portion are expendable)
- How to Soothe Sunburn (like this fellow did)
- How to Pick Perfect Sunglasses (living proof that boys could use some help with this, too)
- Surviving a Zombie Attack (two of these people are male)
- How to Spot a Frenemy (Paul, meet John. Mick, meet Keith. Simon, meet Garfunkel. Freud, meet Jung. See? Boys have frenemies, too!)
- Brilliant Boredom Busters (Am copying these now for my three sons, for whom a houseful of toys, books, art supplies, games, videos, and movies simply isn’t enough)
- How to Survive Truth or Dare (see “No., Just no” above)
- How to Beat Bullies (Is this a recommended approach? ‘Cause I need to do some time traveling, if so)
- How to be an Amazing Babysitter (You can start by not taking a gendered approach to every single facet of existence of the child you’re babysitting)