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What about Goodnight, Moon?

As I was ruminating on Girls’ Books and Boys’ Books yesterday, I put the question to my Perfect Non-Reader: Are there Girl Books and Boy Books. She answered affirmatively without hesitation. When I asked for details, she thought a bit, but said that Girl Books were about princesses magic, and Boys’ Books were about fighting “and other rough stuff”. Hmm. I asked about a few other topics. Horses? Girl Book. Indians? Boy Book. Rockets? Boy Book. Buildings? Neutral. (I explained that that a book that was neither a Boy Book or a Girl Book could be called neutral, and she responded that “yellow is a neutral color!” which, I then recalled, was a direct quote from a playground mother in regard to the Youngest Member’s cute little ducky hat. But I digress. Sorta.) I asked if girls could enjoy Boy Books, and boys enjoy Girl Books, and she effectively said duh, of course. Then we moved on to individual books and series.

The Oz series are girl books. Charlotte’s Web is neutral. The Droon books are Boy Books, but the Magic Treehouse books are neutral. Alice is neutral. Which Witch is neutral. The Just So Stories are neutral. In fact, when we got down to specific books, it emerged that (a) she considers most books she reads to be neutral, and (2) the sex of the protagonist(s) is weighted very heavily. So when asked generally what makes a book a Girl Book, the sex of the protagonist didn’t come up, but when I asked specifically, it was pretty nearly determinative. Although, there was the weird Alice thing, because Alice seems to me to be very much a Girls’ Book, but evidently not so much. Although I’m not sure she remembers Alice very well, athough for a while it was her favorite book. So was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, now that I think about it, but I didn’t ask her whether it was a Boy Book.

Anyway, I note that Mary Ann Mohanraj just this morning wrote about sexism in specfic, and I think she overdelineates the matter. I mean, I’m sure she would acknowledge overlap, but what was interesting to me was the extent to which the criteria we use when we slap gender labels on stories are not the criteria we think we use. At least when we’re five years old, but I think it’s true well beyond that.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,