Tuesday, June 13, 2006

If only we enforced gender roles more strictly...

...then the world would have no problems at all! David Brooks is at it again (or so I gather from feministing.com and other places, since I didn't actually see the column). This time he's sure that boys are dropping out of school because they're being made to read sissy girl books. The quote given at feministing.com is pretty rich, but my experience bears out the idea that most books for young adults are aimed at girls. Check out the children's section of your bookstore. It's not so noticable in the books aimed at elementary-aged children, but the aisle of books for young adults is overwhelmingly pink. And honestly, I'm not sure how good it is for boys or girls to be reading numberless 9th-grade versions of The Devil Wears Prada. This isn't exactly the phenomenon Brooks is speaking of - he's more concerned about the books that are chosen for kids to read in class, which are of a higher caliber and apparently include yucky things like feelings and girls.

Stupid gender stereotypes aside, I do think that Brooks is onto something whether or not he has any idea how to express it. So do lots of others, which is why Jon Scieszka put together Guys Write for Guys Read, a book aimed specifically at boys who aren't at home in the library. Personally, I feel that when it comes to this kind of thing, parents and teachers have to walk a fine line between avoiding reinforcing harmful patriarchal norms and fostering enthusiasm for learning, which can be easier if you're depending on misguided gender norms. These are both important goals that if you're not careful can work at cross-purposes. Your children don't grow up in a vacuum, after all, and you can't wish away the ways in which their preferences are shaped by gender norms. You can keep open discussions about social issues with your children, though, and I'm sure it's a lot easier to keep that discussion productive if you have a kid who likes learning and reading.

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