Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Dangerous Book" Inspires Counterpart for Girls

Over the weekend, NOW President Kim Gandy wrote to USA Today about the troubling message of the bestseller, The Dangerous Book for Boys. She said, "While it may be a noble endeavor to inspire an interest in nature and hands-on adventure in today's kids, why should this message be geared specifically toward boys? Proponents of single-sex education must love this book, with its message that boys and girls are 'quite different.'"

If anyone doubts that The Dangerous Book for Boys is promoting harmful gender stereotypes, they need only consider the spinoff it has inspired, the Great Big Glorious Book for Girls -- or at least this review in the Guardian, where Carole Cadwalladr calls it "a primer for any girl whose ambition is to be a Fifties housewife." She further laments:
Please! Everybody -- male and female -- should know how to sew on a button, just as they should be taught how to cook. But to package these as 'Girl' activities alongside chapters on ponies and make-up isn't helpful to anyone. There are lots of activities and suggestions in the book that come into the category of harmless fun (although the great beauty of most craft and cookery books is that they employ a modern invention called 'photography' to help show you how), but, taken as a whole, it's not: it's retrogressive claptrap dressed up as nostalgia.
The existence of The Glorious Book helps prove Gandy's point about what's harmful about The Dangerous Book. A message that boys = outdoor adventurers contributes to the assumption that girls must therefore = cautious homebodies. As Gandy points out, this line of thinking is underlying our education policy, as more and more schools are experimenting with single-sex classrooms based on the people's assumptions about the differences between boys and girls. Where do these assumptions come from? Not from valid scientific studies, but from our culture, which produces and consumes books like these.

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