12 November 2007

Wouldn't it be more daring to be queer?

This post is a Mother Talk review: they provided me a copy of the book and an Amazon gift certificate. You can see the other bloggers Mother Talk enlisted for this book.

Edited to add a short update at bottom--see comments, too, for another take on the ground cover issue from a commenter.

There's a lot to like about The Daring Book for Girls--not least its sparkly turquoise color which Curious Girl got very excited about--but I find myself troubled by the book even as I flipped through it feeling quite excited at finding sections that remind me how to do things I once knew (like play four square or tetherball) or things I'd never quite figured out (like how to make a cool, round, paper airplane). I like its copiousness, the way it flits from fourteen ways to play tag to how to whistle with two fingers to women scientists to bird watching to math, darts, and yoga. I like the readers this book imagines, readers who might sometimes be in the mood to write a letter, or sit on the couch and think about Cleopatra or Zenobia, or go hiking and flower collecting, or build a tetherball court or play softball. Most of the other bloggers who've commented on the book have loved the myriad ideas covered. Daring does describe a lot of different things to do, and older girls, or families (or Scout or Guide troops) organizing activities might well find this a handy reference. I like the old-fashioned look of the book. It looks good. (And it sparkles!)

But......I'm troubled. Miriam Peskowitz and Andrea Buchanan wrote this book in response to The Dangerous Book for Boys. With the permission of the original authors, they've copied the concept and design, changing colors and a key adjective in the title. Some of the page headings are the same (like the opening list of essential gear, and a paper airplane), although the particulars are a bit different. I've not read Dangerous (but I've looked at its TOC), but I'd say that anyone who owns the pair of books would have two books with plenty of good ideas in them. But they'd also have two books that play up socialized differences between girls and boys, even if they do so capaciously, and that troubles me.

I'm conflicted: I went to a girls' high school, I am loving watching Curious Girl's current all-girl preschool class, and I have just returned, quite refreshed, from a gathering of (virtually all) women discussing women in higher education. I'm a life member of the Girl Scouts of the USA. I value women's and girls' spaces, and I think it's important to take time to think about the way gender works--and that sometimes means talking to/about boys, or girls.

Yet books marketed like this set up gender binaries, and don't offer a lot of ways to think about what makes girls and boys. Daring pushes at some boundaries, to be sure: it includes a great section on how to negotiate a salary, and I wish someone had ever laid all that out for me earlier in my career. While it does include a section on making daisy chains, it also includes sections on hardware stores and toolboxes. But in some respects Daring also enforces gender binaries (one of the dangerous activites it recommends is wearing high heels. Not a good idea.)

I'd love these books if they were published together (although neither would sell nearly so well: it wouldn't attract much media attention to simply have an encyclopedia collection of activities for children). Politica says that it's important, though, to talk to girls to make sure they are encouraged to take up a wide range of activities, and maybe she's right: Daring certainly would encourage girls to play sports, to use tools, to read, to look at nature. (It would also teach them how to fold T-shirts the Japanese way--I'm not sure what's daring about that.)

It would be considerably more dangerous and daring to think about what the Dangerous and Daring Book for Queer Kids would look like. And here I most emphatically don't mean a book only for gay and lesbian kids, but rather a book for kids that would open up possibilities for what it means to be a boy or a girl today. What kinds of encouragement would it take to encourage children to see that there are lots of different ways to be a boy or a girl? Or to think that while being a girl or boy is important, it's not the only important characteristic we have? And that for some of us, being a girl or boy might not be the most important characteristic?

So I'm conflicted, and I'm honestly not sure I'd buy the book. But I will keep it on my bookshelf, and I'll probably be peeking at it for activities for quite some time.

I'll close with some quibbly reviewer comments: I'm hoping that some of the reviews will look at some of the historical content and comment on its quality. The section on camping suggests that campers might want to use a ground cover, and anyone with good Girl Scout training will tell you that ground covers are essential! They'll keep the ground moisture out of the tent. The text mentions taking a cooler camping, but doesn't explicitly say to keep the cooler out of your tent. No food in a tent--it will only attract animals. Keep the food outside. The craft sections mostly seem to work well as written; the sports sections explain the rules, seemingly in faith that knowing the rules translates into being able to play. I wanted a little more on the etiquette of breaking into a basketball game at the park.


Update: so this is my first Mother Talk review. If you click over to their site, you'll see my review gets the shortest shrift in the summary and they quote simply this:
Crunchy Granola says “There’s a lot to like about The Daring Book for Girls–not least its sparkly turquoise color which Curious Girl got very excited about.”
I guess that's OK--after all, this book is a Mother Talk project, and they organized a cheering section. I'll bring the lavender pom poms next time.


Dawn said...

I think this would be a great piece for Slate or Salon!!

Jody said...

I won't buy either book for my kids. If they want to buy it themselves, if they ask for it, of course I'll allow that (even give it as a gift -- the use of the word "allow" here suggests that I censor the kids' reading more than I do). But I won't buy it myself, because both this book and the book for boys send messages I do not support. For all the reasons you outlined so succinctly.

Arwen said...

This *would* be a great piece for Slate or Salon.

S. said...

Do you think HarperCollins would market that one in a lavendar cover? With iridescent gilding?

I don't use a ground cover because unless it's very exactly the same footprint as your tent it will catch rainwater that will then pool and you'll have a much bigger problem than ground moisture. A sleeping pad under your sleeping bag is really all you need to stay dry.

(But my background is long-distance hiking, and the groundcover also strikes me as unnecessary weight.)

niobe said...

Also, the fact that the girls' book is basically a knock-off of the boys' strikes me as unpleasantly Adam's rib-esque.

jo(e) said...

I hate that the books are so gendered. And the book encourages the wearing of high heels? Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Great post. You put this all so tactfully!

Libby said...

FWIW, I clicked over to this review *because* it had the shortest blurb over at Mother-Talk. Having written mine, I wanted to see what other folks said, and I figured you must have expressed some ambivalence (as did I). Glad to have read your comments...

Rev Dr Mom said...

I don't know anything about Mother Talk, but I think they certainly did your review an injustice.

I haven't read either book--my kids are beyond the age where it would be relevant, but I too am distressed by the gendered way they have been produced and marketed, and I think your comments are excellent.

moreena said...

Just a general comment on the Mother-Talk model...

I was originally excited about the whole concept--a way to organize talks about books across the parenting blogosphere? Cool! But it seems to have turned into, as you point out, more of a blog cheerleading section than an honest, sometimes negative, examination of the books chosen.

I can't imagine this model can really be successful. Who really wants links to a kajillion blogs all saying "Yay! I loved it!"??

And, while there is no explicit condition that the review must be positive, I wonder how often bloggers who submit ambivalent reviews are chosen for subsequent reviews?