Annabella: Mommy, is this a boy book or a girl book?
She's referring to my old paperback copy of The Black Pearl, by Scott O'Dell, which she found on my parent's book shelf. She's recently gotten into her four year old head that everything is divided by gender - people, colors, toys. I try not to let it bother me when she wants everything to be pink. But like so many lapses in my parenting, I am not consistent. Consider my response to her request for a pink bike.
Me: You cannot get a pink bike because when you grow out of it, you will give it to your brothers.
Annabella: But mommy, you said it was OK for boys to have pink things.
The book question also throws me. I want to say that there is no such thing as a "girl book" or a "boy book," but this is not true. In fact, 2007 seems to be The Year of the Gender-Specific Book, at least for kids. Consider The Dangerous Book for Boys, by Conn and Hal Iggulden that came out in May. It's a collection of knowledge that all boys should have and that the authors argue is missing in the age of video games and cell phones.
I'm not sure if the success of this book spawned a return to old-fashioned boyhood, but it has spawned a lot of similar books, with very similar covers. First there was How To Be the Best At Everything (The Girl's Book) and How To Be the Best At Everything (The Boy's Book) and now we have The Daring Book for Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz.
I had high hopes for The Daring Book since I'm a fan of both of these writers. They're veteran authors on this topic, popular mommy bloggers, and also the founders of Mother-Talk, a blogging network that I write for. And from what I understand, this book was written, in part, as a response to the chatter on the blogoshere about The Dangerous Book for Boys: Why did it have to be just for boys? And what would a similar book for girls look like?
This is tough territory. I want my daughter to be tough and to know that she can do anything boys can do. But I also recognized that a lot of gender is hard-wired and if we try to keep our daughters from girly things, it might backfire on us.
In her New York Times Magazine article What's Wrong With Cinderella from December 2006, Peggy Orenstein describes what might happen when we try to explain feminism to a four year old.
"What if, instead of realizing: Aha! Cinderella is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control and power-to-the-people! my 3-year-old was thinking, Mommy doesn't want me to be a girl?...By not buying the Princess Pull-Ups, I may be inadvertently communicating that being female (to the extent that my daughter is able to understand it) is a bad thing."
In the Daring Book for Girls, Buchanan and Peskowitz navigate this tough territory well, with activities that are both gender specific (Let's face it, most boys would not be interested in "Princesses Today" or "How to Tie a Sari") and gender-neutral (Hiking, How to make a lemon-powered clock, How to make your own handlebar scooter.) And then there are those section with activities that should be taught to girls, but sadly, often aren't (Stocks and bonds, How to change a tire, How to negotiate a salary.) I'm even finding it useful for girly things that I'm sure my own mother taught me, or wanted to teach me, if I hadn't rebelled against all things girly (How to make your own fudge).
Annabella and I are slowly working through this book and I hope we'll reference it for years to come. I'm also planning on getting it for a few different of my friends who, like me, are confounded by the difficulties of raising a strong daughter in world where the cards seem stacked against us.
Disclosure: The Parent Blogger's Network sent me a copy of this book so I could write a review.